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4 April 2017

I felt like a million dollars with her on my arm. I even offered to pay for my half of the bill

Over dinner, S—— tells me of her latest dating woes.

By Nicholas Lezard

Now here’s a funny thing. I got taken out the other night by S——, a woman of roughly my age, but considerably better looks. She took me to the South Bank to hear Steven Isserlis play Haydn’s cello concerto in C and the rest of the orchestra play Beethoven’s seventh symphony. S—— has invited me because she knows I love Haydn, even if she doesn’t like his music that much (she loves Beethoven).

And it is a superb concert: Isserlis has hair that makes Brian May’s look subdued, and during the Haydn’s solos he goes proper heavy-metal mental with the barnet; and the Beethoven ends at such a lick that the elderly lady on my right is virtually pogoing with excitement. (We turn to each other at the end, and I say, “Well, that wasn’t too shabby,” ie, the highest praise an Englishman can give.)

S—— and I go to dinner afterwards, and she is such a classy dame, I feel like a million dollars with her on my arm – an unwise feeling, as it turns out, because it translates itself into an offer to pay for my half of the bill. (Paying for her would be out of the question; anyway, she’s not short of a bob or two.) I am in the middle of a financial crisis so grave that I cannot even bring myself to write about it here, not now, not yet; but the idea of splurging out on a decent meal, with three courses – yeah! – brushes away any notions of prudence and responsibility. I am in far too deep water for those virtues to do me any good now.

Over dinner S—— tells me of her latest dating woes. She is single, sadly, and has been so for some time. This is not caused by a lack of desirability. It is because, largely, of a lack of decent men. To give you an idea: the more decent ones are already married. Some of them even get round to telling her this. The other ones seem to be boors, buffoons, and clods. Naturally, every one of them has more money than me, but: a) that’s not saying much and b) that has had no bearing whatsoever on my assessment of any of these men’s character, I assure you.

She mentions one particular dating site, of unimpeachable reputation, apart from the time it sent me a woman of such startling dullness that I withdrew from it the next morning. But that’s another story for another day.

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“They said,” she tells me, “that they can’t accept my profile, as there are no men looking for women my age.” I am baffled by this, because she is quite a corker. (She once told me about a time when she ran into Will Self, whom she had met at some overseas jolly a couple of years earlier. “You probably won’t remember me,” she’d told him. “Oh yes I do,” he replied, “because everyone else was f***ing ugly.”)

“However,” she continued, “they do this thing called an ‘executive search’ for £7,500.” I have a little think about what an “executive search” might mean in this context, and decide that it involves finding a rich man, kidnapping him, blindfolding him and bundling him into a van, and then chaining him to a radiator at an undisclosed location until he agrees to take the woman who has paid for the search for several dinners and a trip to the opera, unless she doesn’t like opera.

Ah well. We part, chastely. We may be flirty with each other, but that’s where it ends.

The next night, as it happens, I am being taken out to dinner by M——, another woman of around my age (a few crucial years younger). I’m still a bit full from last night’s dinner, and also a bit more oppressed by my money worries, so my appetite has gone somewhat, but M—— pays, as always, and it is also very nice to see her. I flirt with her, too: but not as much, because she’s married, and happily.

So I go back on the Tube, thinking about this and that, as one does, and I look up as I reach the final stretch of escalator at Baker Street, and who do I see, coming down on the other side, but S——, my companion of the night before? I go “ahem” at her very loudly, and then gallop down the up escalator, which is great fun, and then suggest she comes back to the Hovel for a nightcap, which she does. (She also gets a foot-rub, but nothing more, I promise.)

The next day, I think on how extremely unlikely this coincidence is. How many live in London? Nine, ten million? What are the odds? She even lives south of the river, for crying out loud. Which is why, the next day, when people are asking me if I am safe after the attack at Westminster, I feel a bit mean for saying, “Come on: look at the odds.”

This article appears in the 29 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition