Date: 12 April 2015.
Location: 1.30pm train from Paddington, London to Cardiff, Wales.
Because being an Australian in London is apparently much like being in high school again, let's talk about boys, shall we?
Behind door 1.
Last week my phone rang. It was the Manatary. He's due to visit London in May at the tail end of a romantic Euro-venture he's taking with his girlfriend. She heads home on the Friday. He has a few extra days. He's staying with me. (Cue groans from Bunky, and everyone who knew how crazy he drove me in 2012.)
Manatary had warned me that he was ringing with 'an emergency'. I steeled myself and answered his Skype call. The emergency? His girlfriend didn't much like the idea of him staying with some girl she didn't know — what should he do? On my end of the line, I was struck dumb. This was like … calling to tell me that water is wet and expecting me to exclaim in surprise. I eventually managed to sputter something cynical to that effect.
I am no femme fatale. Even should I be, the poor girlfriend would have nothing to fear from me: I've had plenty of awfully close calls with the Manatary and, if I'd wanted that to happen, it would have. And I can say that with the confidence of one who's two continents away from him. There's nothing like putting an ocean between two could-be lovers to show them how they really feel about one another. The distance either frantically fans flames or rapidily cools ardour.
I'm feeling pretty cool.
On the phone, Manatary explained his new plan: lie to his girlfriend and tell her that he's staying somewhere else. Through gritted teeth, I explained on behalf of women everywhere that this was a bloody terrible idea.
Half joking I proposed that we all three have dinner together before she leaves and he stays, but I only suggested this because it was late and I was exhausted from counselling him through a problem on which I was really most uniquely ill-placed to advise. It was like the dog asking the cat where he should tell the mouse to hide. It's patently a stupid idea for us to have dinner because while, as discussed, I am no seductress, I am a functioning female with two arms two legs and no visible defects so, if Mrs Manatary is already feeling possessive, I doubt meeting me is going to assuage any fears.
And yet, Manatary has taken up on the suggestion. We're all having dinner.
'That's —-ed,' Joey stated, when I told her. Yeah.
Behind door 2.
Date 2 with Frenchman Frank (whose surname defies pronunciation and who, therefore, has been saved to my phone as 'Frank Underwood', which brings me great delight for his iMessages pop up with the initials 'FU' and I am, as established, prone to childishness.)
Date 2 begun inauspiciously. I was exhausted from a work trip to Leeds, he was exhausted from a deadline crunch and series of 2am finishes. Plus I'd given him the nigh-on impossible Thursday task of securing a Friday night booking in Soho, and banning Chinese food — by decree of my thighs, not my tastebuds — when Soho is home to China Town so I was being unashamedly difficult. However, the fickle dating gods had spared us a sprinkle of fairy dust and he'd managed a booking at Compagnie de Vin Supernatural, the Frenchest of French wine bars tucked into fairylight-lit Neal's Yard.
He's a funny one. I haven't worked him out at all, which keeps my peverse and twisted mind interested. Purely superficially — which is, to be frank, what's gotten us so far — he's patently attractive. He's tall, blonde (as if I've started liking blondes!), and well-tailored with glasses. A pleasant mix of chic and geek, and always immaculate. He's very, very French.
We settled into a courtyard table and ordered much-needed therapy wines. The wine list was intimidatingly immense. There were several pages per region of France. Item 1 on the 'per the glass' menu was intriguing: Mystery Wine. Should you guess the mystery drop from the hundreds and hundreds in their cellars you would win a whole bottle. Frank fixated on the idea of a challenge and I got a glimpse at something flinty and difficult in him. I don't mind, but I can see why some would. We ordered mystery wines. He'd been spring skiing in France with his family over Easter, and I'd been — well, you know what I'd been doing — so we had plenty to talk about. In between trading stories and lessons on French wine, we ordered food. He gentlemanly deferred to my tastes, but I could almost hear his mind clicking through and it was obvious that he's not accustomed to having to take anyone else's opinion into account. The staff were all gamine French mademoiselles and the combination of that and the burgundies conjured the heady illusion of being in Paris, not London. So much so that a conversation about Pret food lead Frank to forget where he was and exclaim with passion, 'The English! they know nothing!' Giggling, I shushed him before he got lynched, let him pay for dinner, and we tumbled out into midnight.
Only bad part of the night: if you got it wrong, they wouldn't tell you what the mystery wine was. Rats.
Behind door 3.
I perhaps like The Journalist more than can possibly end well. Inexplicably. And I continue to feel relatively, and agonisingly, in the dark about what he thinks of me. You'll be pleased to know that we do now exchange clumsy text messages. (I did warn you, my London is basically high-school.) It's horrid and yet thrilling. Again, I feel 'ergh' quite eloquently sums up my awkward package of feelings on that and on him.