COUN­TRY LOV­ING

Imo­gen Green en­joys a fes­tive ren­dezvous and dis­cov­ers that the on­line dat­ing world is full of sur­prises

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

Ru­ral life isn’t al­ways idyl­lic, es­pe­cially when it comes to dat­ing, as our colum­nist Imo­gen Green dis­cov­ers

“SO WHEN ARE YOU GO­ING ON AN­OTHER DATE?” my sis­ter-in-law Susie asked crossly. She ac­tu­ally had a right to be an­gry – she’d signed me up to Coun­try Lov­ing and I’d done noth­ing about it since. It was a frosty morn­ing and we’d been feed­ing the heifers, be­fore stop­ping to gaze in at a neigh­bour’s pad­dock, where a re­tired rid­ing horse lives with his don­key friend. The horse is blind, and the don­key looks af­ter him in the sweet­est way, guid­ing him to the wa­ter trough, the sta­ble and the fresh­est grass. I love watch­ing them be­cause it’s all done with the light­est of skin-to-skin touches, and such skill that you would never guess they both couldn’t see per­fectly well.

“I’m not look­ing for love any more,” I said, turn­ing away from the gate. “I just want friend­ship.” But if I thought that would put Susie off, I was wrong. As soon as we got home, she ac­cessed my pro­file and scrolled through all my matches, com­ing up in tri­umph with ‘Catsmeat’, a semi-re­tired busi­ness­man liv­ing in Devon, who wanted ‘a friend to help me eat my way through 103 mac­a­roni and cheese recipes and come body­board­ing in an icy sea’. These were strange needs, but I was pre­pared to give them a go.

Catsmeat and I ar­ranged to meet in Ex­eter for tea. It was the night that half my vil­lage goes carol-singing (and the other half stays in and hopes they won’t be sung to) and I didn’t want to miss it, which was why I sug­gested meet­ing ear­lier in the evening.

The city was crowded, and I soon tired of be­ing jos­tled, so drifted down to the qui­eter streets near the cathe­dral, where I slipped in­side a sec­ond-hand book­shop. I was hid­ing be­hind a stack of an­nu­als, en­grossed in a thriller, when I re­mem­bered Catsmeat. Maybe he was early, too. I sent a quick text, and al­most at once heard a bleep be­hind me. I peered round the stack and saw a man in an over­coat tap­ping into his phone. Sens­ing me, he glanced up, and I recog­nised Matthew An­tiza, who was a new­comer to our vil­lage. Back in the spring my cows had es­caped and trashed his gar­den, and he had sent me an eye-wa­ter­ing bill for the dam­age – so we have good rea­son to be en­e­mies.

I was so sur­prised that I said the first thing I thought of: “What are you do­ing here?”

His dark eyes nar­rowed. “None of your busi­ness,” he snapped.

Just then my phone vi­brated. I glanced down. Catsmeat had sent me a mes­sage: ‘So am I.’

“You’re not… you can’t be… Catsmeat?” I said.

Matthew looked as hor­ri­fied as I felt. “Pseu­do­nyms!” he said, and made a de­spair­ing ges­ture.

We still went on our date, though, go­ing to a ta­pas bar be­cause Matthew is half-spanish. He ex­plained that he’d got the name ‘Catsmeat’ from PG Wode­house (my favourite au­thor), and ad­mit­ted that he wasn’t look­ing for­ward to eat­ing all that mac­a­roni cheese, but he’d do it be­cause his daugh­ter had given him the recipe book. (He’s wid­owed, too.) And I tried to per­suade him to come carol-singing by talk­ing about the giggly ca­ma­raderie. He smiled but shook his head. It was odd find­ing a date in­tensely at­trac­tive af­ter months of feel­ing noth­ing at all. Dis­con­cert­ing, too, be­cause Matthew is so dif­fer­ent from my late hus­band: dark and wiry in­stead of fair and tall; prickly rather than oblig­ing. Maybe he had the same reser­va­tions: he didn’t of­fer to meet me again.

Later that evening, as I sped past his house in the back of a Land Rover, packed tight with carol-singers, I saw one lone light in an up­per win­dow. And I couldn’t help won­der­ing if, like me, he was dream­ing about body­board­ing in an icy sea.

‘In­de­ci­sive widow seeks ec­cen­tric friend­ship – or maybe love’

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