Nervous tic seeks host…
I’m on the tarmac at Stornoway Airport watching ground staff being battered by Atlantic winds when Billy Connolly enquires after my “room and kitchen” in his old childhood neighbourhood of Partick, Glasgow. Our London cameraman Jaimie looks puzzled, one ear on our conversation, one eye watching his flight cases of expensive camera equipment being blown along the runway like curling stones. He learns that flats in Glasgow’s Victorian tenements were often just two rooms – a front room and a kitchen – with a recessed bed space, where entire families would sleep together for warmth. There used to be two people in mine but I’ve been flying solo for 20 months after infidelity ruptured a seven-year relationship. Despite a diminutive 5ft 5 stature, it turned out my ex was the absolute height of nonsense. I haven’t been on a date since.
After a long filming day in Harris, and an even longer dinner, conversation turns to what floats my boat romantically. Manly jaw, elegant wrists and – the deal-breaker, thanks to the limitations of my traditional bed recess – 5ft 9 or under. Smiling wryly, Jaimie persuades me that dating apps are the way forward: I can specify height preference. I decide to give it a go.
‘Nervous tic seeks host’ … Jacqueline, television producer, Glasgow.
Scotland has extremely slim pickings. An eternity of swiping and there’s nobody I remotely want to get my teeth into. Meanwhile on Facebook, setting my status to “single” has been an eye (if not leg) opener after I’m plagued with strangers sliding in to my DMs overnight. Guys like Adam, a Scottish artist, make me want to place a wardrobe against my front door:
5.42 am “…Would love to watch you bathe and dress. You have great style so your underwear may be interesting. I would like opaque… How do you prefer to be woken? Tea or coffee?”
And Matt, photography fan and late riser in more ways than one:
11.15am “…So very, very, very sexy. Your legs I could stare at all day … I woke late today and looked at this picture as I laid in bed. It was so enjoyable…”
There’s no end of messages: most of the men have wives, many have teenage daughters. Different decade, same shit, and I didn’t ride the third wave of feminism in the Nineties for this. With my 50th birthday looming, I intermittently want to kill my ex for pulling the rug from under me without warning.
I’ve all but given up with the dating apps when suddenly in May a beautiful creature appears to rescue me from the dross: Christopher, 45, a carpenter, who wields his chiselled jaw like a weapon. He’s 6’5”. Of course he bloody is.
I enquire if he’s of aristocratic stock, Scotsmen being traditionally short. Apparently not: merely “a delightful mix of chromosomes”. Friends encourage me to get my pins out and go slay, and so we tentatively arrange coffee in espresso martini form – my first date in 12 years. Walking there I’m acutely aware that my feet tapping the pavement feel like they belong to someone else. When I see him, there’s no disputing the charming genes: a party-starter with glittering eyes, Christopher fizzes with energy and intelligence. His profile didn’t mention a “GSOH”, but he has one: all limbs, he might laugh me in to bed if there was a hope in hell of fitting in to it.
At the end of June, we share oysters, monkfish and ceviche, and then we share a taxi. In the end his tallness is a moot point – we don’t make it to the bedroom, our clothes come off in the hallway. Seventy-two hours later, I’m coughing with the frequency that a lighthouse throws out its warning beam and the River Clyde is suspiciously odourless as I walk to the Covid-19 test centre. I come up positive. Turns out it wasn’t just Christopher’s laugh that was infectious.
Some names have been changed.
Jacqueline Houston is supported by A Writing Chance, a UK-wide project from New Writing North designed to discover new writers from underrepresented backgrounds whose voices have historically not been heard in publishing and the media. You can read work by other writers in this initiative here.
A Writing Chance is co-funded by Michael Sheen and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and supported by the New Statesman and the Daily Mirror. The project is delivered by New Writing North and literature organisations nationally, with research from Northumbria University.