Sunday People

Fourth time lucky

Her husband has left her for a much younger woman and her daughters have signed her up to a dating agency. What could possibly go right?


Itake a last look at myself in the long hall mirror as the taxi draws up outside. Smart/casual, the brief suggested, which I find ridiculous. Where do these expression­s come from? Surely it’s one thing or the other, but as the girls said, “Mum, you’re in the 1970s, not the 1870s. Just go with the flow.”

And apparently going with the flow was the pair of them buying me a sixmonth membership with the Cupid Dating Agency as a surprise Christmas present.

The taxi beeps as I slip my new coat over my new dress and pick up my wildly expensive handbag that matches my shoes. They’d all been the result of another pep talk by the girls. “Mum, when do you ever splash out on yourself? You’ve got a fab figure – show it off.”

I’d protested, but not too much. When your husband of 26 years tells you out of the blue over breakfast one rainy Sunday morning that he’s leaving to find himself, and a week later you discover via a friend that he’s found himself with his young secretary in a love-seat above a bakery in Notting Hill, it serves as a wake-up call. The girl’s barely out of nappies, for goodness sake.

Following an indulgent period of self-pity which included plenty of chocolate and wine, I phoned Bill and told him I was divorcing him forthwith (he was actually shocked – I really think he’d imagined he could waltz home after his mid-life crisis), got myself a job in a buzzing little coffee shop and decided to give Cupid a go to please the girls. They make gagging noises whenever their father and his girlfriend are mentioned, by the way – childish for an 18 and 21-year-old but sweet, neverthele­ss.

It’s Cupid’s fourth attempt tonight and his arrows have been going seriously amiss thus far. My first date was with a massive individual called Ronnie. He shovelled plates of food into his mouth without saying a word but sweating profusely and then expected me to go back to his place for a bit of “slap and tickle”, as he put it.

The second assignatio­n was with poor Dave. The agency photo must have been at least 30 years old, when his hair grew on his head rather than sprouting from his nose and ears.

The last was Patrick. He was scarily leery, talked about serial killers and asked if I was into bondage.

Tonight it’s John – allegedly the same age as me at 48, a widower with twin girls of 16, and from his photo he has a touch of Captain Mark Phillips, Princess Anne’s husband, about him. I’ve learned not to trust photos.

The waiter at the Italian restaurant knows me by now and beams conspirato­rially as I walk in the door. “He’s waiting, lovely lady.” He began calling me that after I’d explained my situation when Dave had a bit of a turn at the table and we had to call an ambulance.

I look across the room and stifle a groan. Another Dave. To be fair this one’s hair is all on his head and a thick silver, but he looks

Bill left to find himself, but found his secretary

80 if a day. However, he’s all togged up and has clearly made an effort, poor soul, and what’s one more night out of my life anyway?

I stitch a warm smile on my face. As I reach the table he stands up and I’m taken aback by the piercing blue of his eyes. If he was 30 years younger… “You must be John?” I say brightly. He smiles. “Not exactly.”

I sit down, we order drinks and he explains.

“I’m Henry, John’s father. One of the twins had an accident earlier and he’s been delayed at the hospital. The X-ray has shown it’s a bad sprain, nothing broken, and he’s on his way, but I’m his stand-in for a while. “You must have been disappoint­ed when you saw an old man sitting here,” he adds mischievou­sly.

“Not at all,” I lie.

He grins. “You’re very kind, and, may I say, very pretty too. Age allows one such presumptio­n on occasion.”

I grin back. Suddenly I feel pretty. We sip our wine and talk. Apparently John’s daughters, like mine, signed him up at the agency. “Since he lost Shirley, he’s concentrat­ed solely on being the best father he can, but the twins feel it’s time for him to start living his own life again. The trouble is John’s shy at heart. Between ourselves, he’s as nervous as hell about this evening,” Henry confides. I’m finding I like Henry and the more we chat I like his son too.

He glances over his shoulder. “Ah, here’s John.” A tall, broad-shouldered man is approachin­g, a somewhat flustered, contrite expression on his face. He’s better looking than Mark Phillips. He reaches our table full of apologies and I find my heart is beating faster. I smile, reassuring him I’ve had a lovely time with his father. He visibly relaxes.

He has Henry’s eyes.

Our gaze holds just that bit longer than it should. Suddenly, corny though it sounds, I know it’s fourth time lucky.

Suddenly I feel pretty. We sip our wine and talk

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