So, picture the scene. I have had a seven hour meeting and driven two and a half hours and I am nearly at Cheltenham, scene of the Cyberman date. Traffic is lousy and I am running late. It's dark, it's raining. It could be the scene from Scary Movie.
Despite running late I pull into a layby and do a quick change into something not covered in builders dust and slap on whatever makeup I can find on the floor of the car. Then I text the cyberman to say that I am nearly there. Get the encouraging reply 'OK'. I am faithfully following the ludicrous directions but as I get closer to the hotel where we are to meet the directions fail me horribly. This is because they are filled with helpful things like 'there is a street that runs off at right angles - don't take this!'. Ten minutes later I have been swept round the one way system twice and seem to be heading from Edinburgh. Desperate I pull over and ring the cyberman to get new directions.
He doesn't sound remotely sorry that I am having difficulties, in fact he sounds impatient and has that tone in his voice that says I am being stupid and must be an idiot to be lost in a city that I don't know, finding a hotel that I don't even have a street name for. Despite this I finally locate the wretched place. It is the only commercial building in what is otherwise a residential square and it looks as dull as the proverbial ditchwater. Standing outside the doors is the Cyberman.
It's dark and raining hard so he is just a dark outline and I don't get a chance to assess who I am meeting until I am inside. I apologise for being late and don't get a word of apology for the fact that his directions were useless or sympathy for the fact that I have had to come 90 miles to meet him in the middle of a 250 mile journey.
By the light of the lobby I realise to my horror that I am apparently meeting one of my father's school friends. He's tallish, with greying hair swept carefully back from his forehead. He is wearing a tweed jacket with a handkerchief nattily arranged in the pocket, dark jeans, a red and white stripe shirt nd the piece de resistance; a paisley CRAVAT!!!!! Who wears a cravat for god's sake? Tucked into his coat pocket is a flat cap. My heart sinks but I am determined not to judge the evening on the basis of his sartorial approach to life. I give myself the pep talk where I point out that I am not 20 anymore and can't expect the cream of the crop. There is a strange sense of familiarity to him though. It niggles at me and as we walk back to the bar I realise what it is.
For those of you who watched Four Weddings and a Funeral, there is a character in it who has a thing for the Andy Macdowell character. He's the one who is staying at the same pub as her character and Hugh Grant's and she spends her time hiding from him while he calls her 'a damn fine filly'. I think it is his brother that I am meeting. Shit.
The bar is horrible. Reminiscent of a railway bar it is all dark wood, plush red velvet and fake pictures. It is virtually empty with only a depressed looking old woman in it and a bar man who is overcome by having three people to serve at once. This is not going to help with the atmosphere. In fact I wonder if I am going to start hyperventilating. Was there nowhere else in cheltenham that we could have gone? Somewhere with people and life? If this was his idea of a 'suitable' venue then we were already worlds apart.
We've not said much to each other at this point. The cyberman wonders if I would like a 'snack' as he thinks they do them here. I picture a tiny pack of peanuts such as you find on aeroplanes and realise that this might extend the date so hurriedly say that I am not hungry. The drinks are ordered. I've gone for a soft drink due to driving, despite the fact that a bottle of tequila suddenly feels like the only way through the night. I then realise that cyberman is taking an awfully long time to produce any money. I hadn't really thought about the paying thing much. To be honest, I didn't think the £1.20 my drink cost would leave me indebted to him and having done the bulk of the work to get to the date then one drink would be the least he could do. It seems I was wrong. I fumble in my bag and pull out my wallet at which point he grandiosely says 'Oh no, don't worry I'll get this' as though he is doing me the world's greatest favour. I wonder how soon I can leave.
We move through to the front of the hotel where he says there is, and I quote, 'rather a marvellous regency portrait'. Why would I care? However I dutifully follow him and we stare at a portrait of a bewigged man in brown velvet. It could be my date. I hurriedly sit down at a nearby table and cheerily ask him if he has had to travel far to get to the hotel. With the air of a man who has been greatly put out he announces that he has had to come at least '400 yards'. I start to boil over. All his insistence that this was the only place we could possibly meet, despite me pointing out that it took me out of my way, and he WALKED HERE. Could he be more self centred? Apparently yes.
The next hour dragged by as he told me of the biography he had written on Le Clerc (a french general). I vainly tried to make this interesting by saying how lovely it must have been to go and see all the places he had been. The crushing response was that 'he couldn't possibly allow a £20 - 30,000 budget for travel expenses'. Where the hell was Le Clerc fighting? on the moon? No. Morrocco and France. What is this man's idea of suitable travel? I am then informed of the difficulties of finding an agent, the cruel monopoly that history professors have on publishing historical books (odd that!). I change the subject.
"So, do you manage to get away from cheltenham much?". Instantly the autocratic mother is brought up. Apparently he can't leave her though further investigations reveal that she is in the peak of health. The poor woman is probably desperate to have him leave the house once in a while but he just won't go.
Every conversational avenue I try is quashed and I want to run away / weep / stab him through the eye with a cocktail stick. The few questions he asks me, he kindly answers for me and the rest of the time is spent telling me about how vast his family is, how they all hate each other and are constantly falling out with each other bickering over inheritances. I point out that I wouldn't fall out with a sister over heirlooms if I could possibly help it. He points out that heirlooms are more important than family. The cocktail stick route is starting to look really appealing.
After what feels like a lifetime, but is only an hour, I brightly announce that I must get back on the road as I have at least another three hour's driving to do. It is seven thirty. He says 'so you'll be home by nine then.' WHAT??? I resist the urge to explain the maths to him and gaily laugh in a brittle way that I despise about myself but has to be better than the bloodbath that such falseness is preventing.
As we go through the doors back onto the street he pulls on his flat cap and says 'well, I'll be off then'. Not a word about my journey, or how to get out of Cheltenham. I call out to him as he walks off. 'How do I get out of Cheltenham?' and I can see the look of exasperation on his face under the glare of the streetlight as he comes back to tell me how to get out. He doesn't see me to my car or say anything further. I can see he is disappointed but I couldn't care less.
As I pull out and drive around the corner I see a lovely wine bar not 50 yards away. It is the perfect venue for a blind date. I wish I had gone there instead and left him on his own in his flat cap with his Georgian ancestor portrait.
The price of health
12 hours ago