What the hell's going on? I've now been approached three times in less than a fortnight by a man wanting to talk with me. OK, these were all fifty-something men, but even so. It's a bit much, all at once. This is the story.
Tonight I had been going out to a bistro in Shoreham-by-Sea with three other friends, Emma, Amanda and Jane. But one of them wasn't feeling well, so at almost the last minute we agreed to cancel and rebook for the following Saturday instead. I have to say that I was at something of a loss. I had nothing ready to eat at home. It was gone 6.00pm. I'd just washed my hair, and was mentally geared up to going out all dolled up, and spending a bit of cash on my share of a nice meal (we all like to eat well).
Well, I decided to drive over to Lewes and get something special from Waitrose, and cook it at home. I was dressed tidily but casually in black leggings underneath a black mini-skirt, with a brown top, brown flats, and for outer wear my aqua hooded jacket. It was a damp and chilly evening.
So I set off, and as half-expected it began to rain. It's only 15 to 20 minutes to Lewes, but it suddenly seemed a long way to go, and an unwelcome journey to make in the dark. I was on the B road between Ditchling and Lewes, and a lit-up pub came into view. It was the Half Moon at Plumpton, just beyond the Agricultural College. Why not? I turned into their car park, and with the jacket hood up against the driving rain, went in.
They seemed a little surprised to see someone dressed for shopping rather than for a Saturday evening out, but I got a table and ordered something from their interesting menu. I hadn't been to this pub since the 1990s. Back then it was very much the country local, with patronage from the students at the Agricultural College. It served hearty but plain pub grub. Now it was in different hands, and had gone upmarket. Not so much as, say, the Jolly Sportsman at East Chiltington, but it had definitely become a dining pub, with a leaning towards fine dining at that.
So, for starters, Andouillette sausage (a French pork, tripe and intestine sausage: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andouillette); for main, red partridge; and I finished off with home-made ice-cream and coffee. And I sunk two large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. This was basically a good tasty substitute for whatever I would have enjoyed at the Shoreham bistro. They gave me prompt attention, and seemed keen to know what I thought of the dishes served. I gave them considered feedback. Presumably they regarded me as a serious diner!
It was still a pub, however, and there was a bar, and sat at it was a local man. He seemed friendly and pleasant, and exchanged a few words with me when I was selecting a table. I ended up sat a little distance away from him, but in his clear field of view. I felt sure he was giving me the eye. For much of the time, however, he was busy talking to other people who came in. Clearly a chatty sort, happy to speak to anyone nearby. I didn't encourage him by looking in his direction, but intuitively I knew he was trying to listen to what I said to the staff, and to another (much younger) chap sat at a table close to mine, who had tried the ice cream. I feel perfectly able to ask total strangers for their opinion on things worth ordering. As I spoke to this younger man, I sensed someone else's ears flapping.
At length I paid my bill and left. It was after 8.30pm by then, but by no means late of course. The car park was lit up a little, and it had stopped raining. I had nothing in my mind but the drive home, and had opened Fiona's door, had sat in, and was about to shut the door and fire her up. But just at that point, Mr Man-At-The-Bar spoke. He'd left directly after I had, and had followed me out. He was intent on having a conversation with me. Ah, right.
He was still pleasant, but clearly eager to establish some key facts about me. He already knew I was well-spoken, confident, chatty to strangers and staff, could afford a jolly good meal, and drove a nice car. All these things had raised his hopes. He now found out by asking that I was fairly local, had been married but was presently single, and had no children of my own but did have a step-daughter. All this with my car door open. I was trying to be politely friendly but not available for a prolonged chat, nor a return to the bar, and certainly not for a rendezvous somewhere else that night or any other night. So the point quickly came when I said I must now go home. I had things planned for the rest of the evening. He seemed pained, not being part of these plans. We left it at that. He walked over to his van, and I drove home.
So nothing very startling had happened. But it was disconcerting to be followed out to my car. Once again I was amazed how it was that I could seem so attractive to a man, that he'd make a bold effort to catch my attention. Also that it was OK (in their way of seeing things) to ask me all kinds of personal questions.
When, I wondered, would the questions begin to get really personal? In fact, absolutely to the point? I suspected that my getting used to these approaches was going to be both good and bad. On one hand, I'd acquire better skill and confidence when a man spoke to me, and not be thrown. But that very confidence would encourage the man to be frank, and not beat about the bush.
Hmm. I did not want to be on my guard all the time. Was life as a single woman going to get a bit complicated from now on?