Here I was, or there, or even here and there. Well, OK. On a towpath, walking back quite early in the morning after sampling the local brand of fresh air, lightly seasoned with diesel fumes and a sprinkling of cement dust from some roadworks when I spot a lone lady walking towards me at a current range of approximately two-hundred yards,
I do not like this happening. In the country life is simple. As you pass her you would say, “Vegetables failing again Doris” or “Hi there, how’s your Mum” and with complete strangers a simple, “Bit chilly eh?” and onwards you would go with, in my case, my mind firmly fixed on a plate of scrambled eggs and some decent conversation with my much loved goldfish, Jacinta. In London things are more complex.
A claxon sounds on the bridge and all senses and instincts go to action stations. “Keep it light, Keeeeep it Light, no panicking among the nerve-endings paleeeese” says our noble leader, who speaks from somewhere in the centre of the brain. Now the range is only 150 yards and you can see she is wearing a nice blue dress, tucked in at the waist with a matching belt. Some reckless molecules from the waist region suggests you say, “Lovely dress if I many say so, and worth discussing over breakfast,” while remaining out of slapping distance in case your invitation is declined.
Ninety yards and time for sensible suggestions only if we may. Heart rate rising slightly, and a sense of unease evident in thickening neck symptoms. “Eye contact and a brisk but courteous nod” suggests someone from the earlobes, while other canny folk say, notice something interesting on the other side of the river and walk past without comment.
Almost too late for strategy meeting now as we approach the twenty-five yard mark. No more suggestions seem forthcoming and a glassy grin, rich in unease and discomfort floods across your face and you open and close your mouth weakly in the manner learned from Jacinta, who has no wardrobe to speak of, the shameless hussy.
The lady looks at you and is clearly alarmed by evidence of palpitations and mouth flapping, together with some head-nodding to show that, strangers we may be, but we are all companions in the world village apart from some rough-necks on the Ukraine border, a number of folk in the middle east, and other places where head nodding may result in execution.
Still for better or worse, apart from her moving as near to the fence as possible to maximise distance, the moment is over, and a pleasing absence of humans is evident between you and the gate you are seeking. Now all that matters are the eggs and the prayer that you hope to never meet her again.Botched first meetings are always made worse by the clumsy efforts to explain them on re- meeting.
For example. You meet her three days later, and she is getting as near the fence as possible, and quickening the pace. You serve towards her and raise your arm to demonstrate there is nothing to worry about. “I say” you gush, “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you the other day, I was………” Sliding sideways she just manages to get past you and scuttles on at speed. You have managed to create an “incident” from poor planning and your clumsy efforts to put her at her ease. There is no manual for what to do on the third meeting.