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Authors: Monica Porter

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BOOK: Raven
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CHAPTER EIGHT

The evening for the mooted home-cooked dinner at NiceMan's had arrived. He lived in a tiny terraced house in one of those godforsaken, dismal outer suburbs with absolutely nothing to commend it. A place I had managed to avoid during the course of my four decades of living in London. Until now. To make matters worse, it was drizzling. It took me almost an hour to drive there through the soggy north London backwaters.

He had gone to some trouble to prepare a few hot dishes and we sat at a small table in a corner of the small sitting room (everything was small), carefully laid with condiments and folded napkins and a little vase containing a single flower. (Briefly I played with the idea of asking him to take the vase away, as he had done weeks earlier…)

As we ate he inquired about my recent online dating experiences. I regaled him with my Max story – such good copy, I'd be dining out on it for years to come – and he stared at me, horrified. ‘How could you bring him home? A stranger! That was such a stupid thing to do.'

Yes, well, perhaps so, but after Vanessa's admonitions and the expected rebuke from Sara which followed (‘
Really
, I can see we'll have to lock you in a room for your own protection'), I didn't need another scolding. Especially not from him.

And I knew it wasn't just about concern for my safety. Behind his words was resentment for the fact that I would gleefully take a raunchy bad-boy like Max home with me, but not a Nice Man like him. And what an old story that is in the annals of male-female dynamics.

He told me he was convinced there were lots of dubious men on the dating site, alongside the fishy women. ‘The men who don't put a photo up are obviously hiding something. They're probably married. Or on the run. Ha!'

While recalling a deceitful man I'd had dealings with many years earlier, I used the word ‘cunt' and his eyes lit up.

‘Ah,' he said, ‘my favourite word…and my favourite place.' He sounded wistful, like someone without money dreaming of a holiday in the Maldives.

‘I think you should give us a chance,' he said. ‘We could have a good time together.'

He waited for an answer. I couldn't think of one. Instead I gave him an apologetic, closed-mouth smile.

Later we squeezed up together on his (very small) settee and watched a comedy show on the telly. He
almost
lay his arm around my shoulder but fortunately it didn't quite get there. Then at about ten o'clock I yawned and said I really had to get home. ‘It's a long haul back to civilisation,' I said, pretending it was a joke.

He tried to persuade me to stay, but I insisted. On the front doorstep I pecked him on both cheeks and it was with a certain mild relief that I stepped out into the damp night.

He'd been a perfect gent, but I wouldn't be going down this road again (in both senses). Because Vanessa had been right. You can only be ‘just friends' with someone who is equally content to be just friends with you. Otherwise you are raising their expectations. And that, in the final analysis, isn't a nice thing to do.

*

RAVEN: ‘I've never been with a black man. I've heard wonderful things, though…'

COOL BLACK STUD AGED 28: ‘Ha! That's good. I think you need to be shown what you've been missing out on.'

RAVEN: ‘I might be up for that. We should meet and see if we like each other. So what is your considered view of older white women?'

BLACK STUD: ‘That they've been missing out by being with white men all their lives. I think the younger generation of white girls are more open (or maybe even prefer) to be with a black man.'

RAVEN: ‘Well, I'd like to find out what I've been missing.'

BLACK STUD: ‘Want to find out soon?

RAVEN: ‘I'm pretty busy for the next few days but I'll see if I can fit you in.'

BLACK STUD: ‘Mm…it'll be interesting to see if you can “fit me in”. It'll be very exciting, I'm sure.'

RAVEN: ‘Hey, I've an idea. I'm at an event in town this evening but it'll probably be over by 8.30. Meet for a drink afterwards?'

BLACK STUD: ‘I actually have a date tonight, with a white chick. She's 23 and fun. How about Saturday? We could have the whole day/night together, rather than one rushed evening.'

RAVEN: ‘As it happens I've got a date myself on Saturday.'

BLACK STUD: ‘With a white guy?'

RAVEN: ‘Yup.'

BLACK STUD: ‘Can you change it? Black men should always take priority. We'd have an intense day together…a new experience for you, your first black guy.'

RAVEN: ‘I can't just blow him out. Not fair.'

BLACK STUD: ‘Been trying to control myself from getting too excited thinking about spending time with you. Ditch those white guys. You need it big and you need it black.'

RAVEN: ‘Really, you're incorrigible. And just as you're about to go off on a date with some nice kid. I'm shocked!'

But I wasn't shocked in the least. I was growing accustomed to this sex-talk messaging with young guys on the dating site. Most of them cut straight to the chase. I was discovering an army of males in their twenties and early thirties all harbouring fantasies about being with older women. And they had found an easy way of making the fantasies come true. I had been aware that this sort of thing took place on tacky cougar websites, designed specifically for the purpose. But this was an ordinary mainstream site, it was supposed to be about ‘dating', not fucking. On their profiles these men were all sweetness and cherry pie, looking to have lovely dates with lovely people and maybe even find that ‘crazy little thing called love'. But behind it all there was a lot of hunting going on for the next free shag. Why pay? At this rate hookers would soon be out of business.

There was a 25-year-old in the catering business who caught my eye because, like me, he hailed from Hungary. I sent a jovial hello to this compatriot, who also happened to be easy on the eye. He immediately asked whether I wanted to fix up a ‘rendezvous'.

‘Sure we can meet up sometime. Although my children are older than you!'

‘But you like young guys?'

I thought of Pup. ‘Of course.'

‘Why do you like them?

‘Great bodies and lots of energy, less emotional baggage. Simple!'

‘So tell me if I'm wrong but I think you are looking for some fun.'

‘Well I'm certainly not looking for a full-time partner right now – been there, done that and got the crummy teeshirt.'

‘If you are looking for some sex…well I can give that to you.'

‘Well, you certainly don't waste time. So I guess you're into older women?'

‘Yes I am. I find them very attractive and they turn me on much more. You like young bodies. So that's it. If you are looking for the same thing as me, why not?'

‘That sounds reasonable. Just as long as you don't expect me to make goulash.'

We exchanged mobile numbers and the next thing I knew he texted me to ask what kind of ‘undies' I was wearing. Now it was getting silly. Then he sent a picture showing his washboard stomach and muscular arms. ‘Stop showing off,' I replied.

I never heard from him again. My contact with Black Stud fizzled out too, before I had a chance to find out what I'd been ‘missing out on'. But that's virtual dating for you – some guys are all jabber and no action. You can be getting on famously with someone, hammering out your hot-blooded messages, hinting at all kinds of future delights, only for the whole shebang to evaporate like snowflakes on the palm of your hand. But as there were always new prospects heaving into view, it really didn't matter.

Not altogether comfortably, I felt as if the process could be changing my attitude towards people. It was slowly commoditising them. And if I commoditised them, surely they did the same to me. It was a worry.

But not a very big one. I was having too much fun. Who would have thought that at sixty I'd be having more down-and-dirty fun than I'd had in any previous decade? In my twenties I was married and starting a family and changing nappies. In my thirties there was more of the same, plus a deteriorating marriage. In my forties I was a single mum toiling in the crucible of Fleet Street in order to survive. And in my fifties I was locked in an unsatisfactory full-time relationship. So, the sexy sixties then. Letting it rip!

*

It's a cliché, which is why it is so true. All women are enticed by the idea of a man in uniform. Not any uniform, obviously. Not, for example, the uniform of a park attendant. It has to be a
heroic
uniform. So when I got a wink from a tall, dark-haired (albeit thinning-haired) fireman, it got my attention at once. I winked back. He thanked me and our messaging began.

LondonsBurning, aged 39, might have been a hero but his grammar was terrible. He was also a liberal user of the abominable lol. These things offended my literary sensibilities. Nevertheless, I had never been out with a fireman, so this was an opportunity not to be missed.

He was a biker with a Harley Davidson (even more thrilling), so he suggested that as a ‘retired biker chick' I might want to get my leathers out of mothballs and hop on the back of his machine.

I had assumed my biking days were definitely over. But perhaps I should think again? I was glad now that my attempts months earlier to sell my panoply of leathers on eBay had been a total flop.

That evening, as he was lounging around at the south London fire station where he was based, we texted each other to arrange a meeting for the following weekend.

‘You don't sound too busy,' I said. ‘When did you last put out a fire?'

‘Today, funnily enough. Nothing major. Small kitchen job. Now we're playing with our hoses. Lol.'

‘Sounds kinky.'

‘We like to get them out now and then. Does kinda sound naughty.'

‘Well I look forward to hearing more naughty firemen's tales at the weekend.'

‘U might be shocked.'

‘I doubt it.'

I suggested we meet up in my neighbourhood. (Another of Vanessa's diktats: ‘Never put yourself out by travelling to some distant part of town for a date; make him come to you.') But LondonsBurning – who was contemplating riding up on his bike – didn't know north London very well and was confused about the route he should take.

‘No satnav?' I asked.

‘On the Harley? Don't be silly.'

Fair Enough. My ex and I had used a satnav on the Honda Pan European (would have been lost many times without it) but Harley riders were a different breed. They considered themselves
hard
. And on reflection, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda wouldn't have been nearly as bad-ass in Easy Rider with little coloured screens in front of them, showing them where to go.

In the end, though, LondonsBurning decided to take the tube so that he could drink. As usual, the venue I chose was The Bells. By now I suspected that the regular bartenders there – two gangly Australian youths and a Czech girl with short dark hair who vaguely resembled Sheena Easton in the eighties – had started to wonder about me, always turning up as I did for an assignation with some new young man. I hoped they wouldn't get the wrong idea…although the
right
idea was possibly not a whole lot better.

My heart sank when I walked in and saw him standing by the bar. I wasn't expecting him to be in full fire-fighting kit, but a little effort would not have gone amiss. Smart casual wear and a pair of decent shoes, perhaps. Or at least some well-fitting jeans and a tucked-in shirt. But LondonsBurning didn't dress to impress. He wore baggy, frayed jeans and a shapeless, un-ironed shirt which hung loosely at his sides. Plus a pair of crappy old trainers. Not quite the image of that valiant heart-throb you would want to heave you over his shoulder and carry you gingerly down a very long ladder. A hero in uniform, maybe, but a hobo out of it.

He was polite and a tad bashful as he bought me a glass of wine and we took our drinks to an outdoor table. Out in the sunlight I noticed that he was looking a little rough, as if he'd been on a bender the night before. And was that a bruise above one eye?

After we sat down he apologised for not being at his best and told me he'd got into a brawl the previous night at a dive in south London where he and his fellow fire-fighters had gone drinking after their shift. He was set upon by an ‘evil' East European bouncer and got battered. He lifted up his shirt to reveal an ugly yellow-blue blotch on his left side.

‘It's mostly my ego that got hurt, though,' he added with a crestfallen look.

I smiled sympathetically and warmed to him a little. ‘I suppose when you're a fire-fighter you're seen as a tough guy and the thugs want to try to bring you down, right?'

He nodded. ‘I guess so. If this had happened to me years ago I'd have gone right back there the next night with a couple of mates and we'd have beaten the shit out of that bouncer.' He sipped his beer, looking pensive. ‘But now…' A pause. ‘Now I think I'll go there in a couple of weeks, on my own, and do the job myself.'

You had to admire him, in a way.

Like me, he had split up with a long-term partner a few months earlier. He had loved her, but they'd had a turbulent relationship and fought all the time. She was more than a decade older than him. Smiling faintly, he said he preferred older ladies, although when an attractive blonde who looked no more than twenty-two walked past, his eyes followed her all the way to her table.

By this stage I knew there would be no second date but I was curious about his background – call it journalistic inquisitiveness – and so I heard all about his career-criminal father who had spent years in jail and who LondonsBurning hadn't seen for a very long time, as well his ‘lovely mum' who had slogged away to support him when he was growing up and whom he clearly adored. (Hence his attraction to older women, I surmised, with
no shit, Sherlock
acuity.)

BOOK: Raven
11.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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