My friend set me up with his coworker – failure ensues

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An old fashioned, oft-overlooked approach the introduction is the classic low-risk/high-gain manoeuvre. And it got me excited. Luke wanted to meet his colleague one-on-one. Should it go well, I could join his work pals; we could form a Summer Gang and link up for festivals and beer garden larks. A sunny montage unfolded in my mind, a reverie not unlike a cider commercial – a season in fast-forward. I imagined an Antipodean-looking me in a straw hat, laughing in slow-motion with a beautiful woman on my arm. It could be amazing. And of course there was little risk – should things go south, there would be no obligation to abandon the circle and start anew elsewhere. Luke would probably suffer some minor inconvenience at work, but I was sure he could handle it

“So you want to meet her then?” he said.

“Definitely, I think I love her already. What’s her name again, Tinka, right? Where’s that from?”

“Slovenia.”

“Ok, I will google a few facts for the date, hit her up with a bit of Slovakian trivia.”

“Slovenian.”

“Yeah, that. It’ll be great, what’s she into? Wait, don’t tell me, long walks, the countryside, and spending time with friends and family, I’ve got it.”

“She’s into environmentalism, or something.”

“What does that mean? She likes Greenpeace’s Facebook page? Anyway, doesn’t matter,
I’ll do a bit of research.”

“You’re scaring me.”

I had to admit, there was something urgent about my approach. Perhaps, it was the tangibility of the date; we had both been vetted and approved by a friend, it was likely we had Lego-like compatibility. It should be noted, however, that when the idea was first postulated, Luke described Tinka as a ‘really nice girl’. Naturally, I insisted on viewing several photographs before committing.

Later that week we met in Shoreditch. It was a rainy night and I had again forgotten my umbrella. I turned up in my sodden suit, holding a mushy copy of the Standard over my head.

“Tinka, I presume,” I said, then winced.

She smiled and we kissed, I got caught in the single-or-double kiss quandary, adding a certain coarseness to the greeting. We found a quiet bar where I bought a bottle of wine, lower-to-mid-range, two increments up from the house stuff. After a couple of glasses, we started discussing life in London, default first date talk. I usually commence by making a caustic remark about anything north of the river. As a born South Londoner, I feel compelled to perpetuate the cliches; to convey an unwarranted sense of ownership. A droll line that is variously ludicrous or boorish – depending on how much I’ve had to drink.

Tinka said, “But you know we are all one people, why this division?”

“What division?” I said. “Everyone knows they’re all snobs in North London – they don’t like us South Londoners either.”

I blame the second part of my sentence on the wine. It was too sneery a comment for such an early hour.

“What about on a global level?” She said. “Don’t you care about the world?”

I nodded – the only possible response to such a loaded question.

Tinka said, “I used to work for an organisation that promoted ethical considerations in the investment community. They really did some great work. They wanted asset managers to consider what we call ESG issues – environmental, social and governance.”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s great. I would agree.”

“Agree? Agree with what?”

I gestured at the busy surrounds.

“That we are all one people.”

Tinka looked away.

The threat of being caught out was omnipresent. Why didn’t I know more stuff, I thought? The city was stuffed with wise and urbane men – the holders of niche knowledge. How did they all acquire this useful junk? If only I had been more effective with my pre-date googling, I could have avoided this farce. Perhaps I was just a boring person. Maybe, it really was that simple.

“Well, anyway,” she said. “‘They didn’t believe in the north south divide – unless, you’re talking about hemispheres.”

“Ha, good one.”

She put her glass down.

“What?”

Our encounter had descended into a monosyllabic farce. I was out of my depth and all I could do was offer flaccid platitudes. I was drowning in the beige waters of ignorance, completely unable to contribute. And here is the thing, people like Tinka have a theme – a grandiose interest that defines them, some worthy hobby-horse that overshadows every other aspect of their being. Laudable as this was, I couldn’t help but think there was something rigid about her attitude, conservative almost. In any case, I am not interesting enough for Tinka. My personal beliefs are contradictory and inconsistent. I frequently shift my mindset, twisting with the zeitgeist according to the meme of the week. To get a woman like Tinka, I too had to have a theme. And this was my problem, I just didn’t have anything to tie it all together, my hair was too neat, my work-wear labels too mainstream – I was crushingly conventional.

We kissed at the end of the night. I gripped her shoulder.

“We should do this again,” I said.

She shook her head.

“No, I do not think so.”

Tinka didn’t even preface it with you’re a nice guy, but. Still, I didn’t mind, I actually liked her style – so honest, so lacking in pretension. It actually made me want her even more. Encouragingly, we are locked together through mutual friends. Given enough time, I was sure I could wear her down.

This is a serialisation of my book ‘I am Marcello’.

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