Must I submit to the lesbian club scene?

It's the only way I can surround myself with gay girls. But flirting in Lesbianese is a fine art.

“So, uh, what’s your favourite drug?” I ask a sallow woman with pretty blue eyes.

She has just told me that she likes drugs, so I’m being polite.

“Oh, that would have to be heroin. Heroin’s really nice. But never do heroin.”

My new friend, an ex-junkie, proceeds to list all the reasons why I should steer clear of smack. This is the highlight of my evening. I’m standing in a drizzly smoking area, outside a warehouse, being lectured to about the dangers of drug use. Inside, nearly every eligible young lesbian in London is doing her bit to make the walls sweat.

The lesbian scene has me by the balls. Yet every Hackney girls’ night or Soho piss-up ends with me sitting on the night bus, face like chewed ham, listening to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. “That’s it,” I say to myself. “I’m retiring from The Scene.”

A week later, I’m back for another healthy dose of gin and humiliation. See, submitting to the lesbian club scene is the only way I can surround myself with gay girls.

The advantage therein? Well, the chance of my being in the proximity of a person kind enough to sleep with me goes up 17 per cent. I’ve done the maths. Then again, me in a club is a bit like Nigel Farage in a Polski sklep. The only way to communicate with your fellow woman, when house music is invading your every orifice, is through the arcane medium of dance. When, like me, you don’t so much dance as move weirdly, you have no voice.

If, on the other hand, it was socially acceptable to go up to a woman in a club and scream facts about tropical diseases in her ear, I’d be made. Reality is a sour bitch.While trying to look as dour and inconspicuous as possible, I’m avoiding eye contact with girls I recognise from unsuccessful OkCupid dates. Throw in a regrettable one-night stand and you have yourself a bona fide fruit salad of broken dreams.

Flirting in Lesbianese is a fine art, especially in the inscrutable East End dialect. It involves mastering a facial expression that says exactly this: “I loathe you, but I would dearly like to put my thumb in your vagina.”

From what I can tell, it’s somewhere between a glare and a snarl, with a sprinkling of leer. On the way to the bar, for my seventh G&T, I pass a stunner with a pixie haircut and a baggy, “wouldn’t you like to know . . .” button-down.

We frown at each other, so things are looking good. A bit later, I see her leaving hand-inhand with a girl whose grimace she clearly preferred. I stand at the bar, sipping my drink and praying to every imaginable deity for the DJ to play a song that I actually know. Feigning enthusiasm for early-Noughties R&B tracks remixed by people with beards and opinions about post-ironic synth revival is surprisingly hard work. With a genuine scowl, I empty my glass. “I’m retiring,” I repeat to myself.

The next weekend, I’m lying face down in bed, having a glorious dream about tractors. My phone rings. It’s a lesbian.

“Are you coming to Fanny Palace tonight?”

“To what?”

“The Facebook page says it’s a ‘post-queer trip-hop extravaganza’.”

“Sounds great,” I say.

Is this the ideal place to find a date? Image: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad