Michael Hodges, Time Out’s executive editor, has been listing the 1,001 worst things to do in London, and this week it’s no. 881: go on an accidental date with a workmate.
“‘Hello,’ beams the woman who steps out of the lift as I am about to step in. I don’t usually come to this floor and I don’t know who the woman is, but she knows me. ‘It’s Michael, isn’t it?’ she says. ‘Yes, it is,’ I admit. ‘I’m Monica. Stuart said we might want to get to know each other.’ ‘Did he?’ ‘Yes, he thought we could talk some stuff over.’ ‘Okay. Right.’ A pause. ‘He said perhaps we could go for a drink.’
Although I’ve never met Monica before, I do have a vague idea of who Stuart is. He might, I think, be important. So, there’s no point in needlessly upsetting him and, actually, he’s had a pretty good idea. It’s six o’clock: why not go for a drink with Monica? ‘Okay, then. I’ll go and get my jacket.’ ‘It’s not here?’ Monica looks momentarily puzzled. ‘No. But I won’t be long. See you downstairs.’
‘Where do you fancy?’ I ask Monica when we meet again outside reception. ‘Oh, I don’t mind. I’m easy. Anywhere, really, as long as it’s out of this wind.’ ‘I know just the place, it’s not far.’ ‘Great,’ says Monica. We walk into the gale, crisp packets and chicken boxes hurtle past and Monica’s scarf blows across her mouth. We hurry along without speaking, until we get to the door of the pub. Inside it’s packed and loud. I point at the heaving throng of people around the bar and shout, ‘Drink?’
‘A red wine, please,’ Monica yells back. I get her the red wine and one for me. It’s only a small bar and most of the seats are taken, but there is space for two skinny people on the bench in the corner between an agitated fruit machine and a man apparently trying to get his head inside an open crisp packet. ‘Shall we?’ I suggest and gesture that she should go first. Monica pauses, stuck between choosing the clanging fruit machine and the man with his head inside a crisp packet. Wisely she sits next to the machine. I squeeze in beside her. Neither of us is comfortable with this but I try and make the most of it. So far we have yet to have a proper conversation.
‘So, you’re on the third floor,’ I offer above the noise of the machine. ‘Yes, the third.’ ‘Right and what do you do down there?’ ‘That’s…’ We both take our first sips of red wine at this point. There are worse fluids that you could put in your mouth, there must be, but none of them is actively sold for public consumption. The wine is so unpleasant that neither of us speaks for a minute or two. When Monica recovers she says, ‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, really…’ The man with his head in the crisp packet starts coughing. Soon he is choking on his crisps and he drowns out Monica’s voice. I only hear the end of her sentence: ‘…your involvement with forward planning.’
I assume this is a joke and smile. ‘Not me, no. Not my department that.’ She doesn’t smile. ‘But it is.’ ‘What?’ ‘Your department. You work in forward planning.’ ‘Do I?’ ‘You’re not Michael from forward planning on the fourth floor?’ I’m almost certain I’m not, and looking back I’m pretty sure I’ve never claimed to be. ‘No.’ ‘You’re not putting together the third-quarter package?’ ‘I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding, Monica.’ ‘Yes, there has,’ she says, attempting to get out from between the fruit machine and me. ‘Shall we have a drink anyway?’ I ask. ‘I don’t think that would be appropriate,’ Monica replies, looking down at the choking man and then me, ‘do you?’ And, no, I suppose I don’t.
Also not recommended: four more disasterous London dates
Oscar Wilde and Bosie, 1893
Wilde splashes out on his young paramour: lunch in the Café Royale at noon, followed by several hours’ worth of digestifs at Whites in the afternoon, then dinner at the Savoy. And after all that? Bosie goes home.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, 1963
The world’s most famous actress plans a night in The Dorchester with the world’s most famous actor. Bubbly on ice, Taylor adds the finishing touch by hanging up a £92,000 Van Gogh: they’re all set for a night of fun. Sadly, Burton has gone drinking.
Terry and Julie, 1967
As The Kinks song notes, Terry’s idea of a hot date is standing on Waterloo Bridge. As ‘millions of people are swarming’ around, this decision backfires. So they gaze at the sunset: it becomes apparent tightwad Terry won’t be buying drinks.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, 1526
The sex-mad monarch dumps Mary Boleyn and invites her sister Anne to Hampton Court for more of the same. Disgusted, she turns him down, but by 1533 she is betrothed; by 1536 beheaded.