“I hear you had a date last night,” Amy started, teasingly. “Oh God,” I groaned.
The date the previous evening was a friend of a friend and I’d agreed to it because I couldn’t find a reason to say no quickly enough. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about hurting his feelings or getting hurt myself in the long-term, because it was clear from the off that this relationship was going to be short-lived. I was fine with him choosing the restaurant, and more than fine with him paying. I’m all for feminism and a woman not being financially dependent on her date, but when the woman is broke and paying rent and her date is neither, I’m happy to go along with the old-fashioned way. I wasn’t fine though with him telling me what I was going to have, and ordering for me. I did almost swoon, but that had nothing to do with his charm – more a combination of the tiny portion size in the restaurant and the excessive John Paul Gaultier emanating from him, which he re-applied, right there at the table, twice before even the starter arrived. The couple at the next table moved to one further away half way through their meal. I wished I could do the same. The food was pretentious and overly fussy in its presentation, but at best mediocre in texture and taste. Knowing I would be eating out, I had gone for a long run earlier to work up an appetite and it took all of my concentration and willpower to eat slowly and delicately. The restaurant itself was opulently decorated, and the waiters wore tuxedos. We were the youngest customers – doubtless the maître d’ would prefer “guests” – by about forty years and it felt like people went there to be seen there rather than to eat and enjoy themselves. When he said “we’ll get something to eat” I’d assumed we’d be heading somewhere young and casual like Captain America’s or one of the Chinese places on Parnell Street, and had turned up in a pair of jeans. Smart jeans paired with a blazer from Penneys, but still jeans. I think I was only allowed in to the restaurant because they were desperate for any customers at all. I couldn’t feel comfortable in there and the “date” wasn’t helping to put me at ease.
Humphrey was something I hoped the recession would get rid of. Blackrock College is one of the most expensive private schools in the country and “Blackrock Boys,” marked out by their arrogant sense of entitlement, contrived accents (roish, not right, loike, not like, and I, not the sun, as the centre of the solar system), had for me always represented the worst of Dublin’s grandiose pretensions. So finding myself on a date with one of them, loud, brash, and incapable of talking about anything but his not very interesting self did not lead to any warm and fuzzy feelings. I hoped no one I knew had seen me with him as he started on about how third level fees should be re-introduced in Ireland because “let’s face it, the lower classes have neither the capacity or desire to better themselves .” I wanted to tell him that I was one of “the lower classes,” and that one person who had earned their education and made it count was worth five thousand of him, but I felt too suffocated by his arrogance and the stuffy, self-conscious little hell of a restaurant to get angry, so I got sad instead.
The main course arrived after about two hours. Grattan potatoes that were a perfect one inch squared and tasted like cardboard, with some kind of art deco sculpture made out of carrot shavings and balsamic reduction on the side. I couldn’t even eat to amuse myself as Mr Egotastic regaled me with tales of his rugby prowess while he was at school (a whole decade ago), and the combination of boredom and hunger led to a frustration that had me close to tears. If Humphrey noticed, he probably just thought I was so overwhelmed by his mere presence that I couldn’t hold my womanly emotion in check.
After the main course I left him to go to the bathroom – I was sure he’d choose my dessert for me and equally sure I wouldn’t like it – and did something both out of character and not very nice. The toilets were down in the basement, at the end of a twisting corridor, and when I came out, I opened the door that I thought would lead me to the stairs to the restaurant. Instead I felt cold Dublin wind on my face, caught the faint smell of chip fat on the air, and heard the hustle and bustle of life above. I barely thought about it. I took what Mr Blackrock Bore would no doubt have thought of as the servants’ steps two at a time and all but ran to the chipper, giddy and fuelled by the relief of not having to sit through several hours more tales of questionable adolescent rugby prowess. I very briefly contemplated feeling bad for leaving him, and then I thought “nah.” I wasn’t anywhere near as quick to stop contemplating of ending my friendship with the person who’d set me up on that date.
Amy was in stitches as I recounted that ill-fated evening and soon, I was too. “At least you cost him,” she said, “and money’s all that matters to that lot.” “It was an act of kindness,” I giggled. “I know true love when I see it and I wasn’t going to come between him and his soul mate.” “Who was that?” Amy asked, apparently not sure if this was a serious point or not. “His ego,” I answered and soon we were both giggling into our cappuccinos again.