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