â€œThatâ€™ll do, pig. Thatâ€™ll do.â€
As the credits climbed the screen, the title music was drowned out by the sweeping of popcorn off laps and mutters of mildly surprised approval.
I dabbed a tear from the corner of my eye and turned to my companion. â€œSo what did you think?â€
â€œâ€˜Sâ€™all right, I sâ€™pose.â€
Ally was 26, blonde, a smidgen above her ideal body mass index, and evidently not easily impressed. I held my tongue until weâ€™d shuffled as far as the foyer. â€œThereâ€™s a nice pub not far from here. Fancy a quick one?â€
Ally sniffed and fiddled with her scarf. â€œActually, I should probably be getting back.â€
It was 8.30pm.
I shouldnâ€™t have been too surprised. We had met once, at a dinner party at Neil and Yasminâ€™s a couple of weeks befoer. Weâ€™d exchanged five words, half a pint of saliva and our phone numbers. The date was a sop to formality, really.
The silence as we waited for her bus was agonising. When the 341 finally arrived, I went to peck her on the cheek, spat out the mouthful of hair I got instead, and falteringly wished her a safe journey home.
So much for plan A.
For once in my life, I actually had a plan B: a magazine launch party about a mile away. I would know hardly a soul there, but free wine was definitely in order.
It was one of those suffocatingly trendy affairs, in a bar so hip no one could find it, with guests so hip they didnâ€™t turn up for three hours, wearing clothes so hip they hadnâ€™t been designed yet. That week, the in-crowd had deemed, once again, that smiling, enthusiasm and intelligent conversation were out of fashion, so I sat in a corner and cradled my Moscow Mule looking vainly for a friendly face. When none had appeared an hour later, I made for the exit.
At the doorway, a voice said hi. It was Adam, a guy in his early 30s who worked in the office next to mine. And he appeared to standing next to Neneh Cherry.
â€œThis partyâ€™s a wash. Weâ€™re going for Chinese. You in?â€ All of a sudden I was ravenously hungry.
As we waited for our dim sum to arrive, I discovered Adamâ€™s friendâ€™s name was Frankie. She was from the States, though she now lived in Camberwell, and she worked in the music business. She was about my height, with Hollywood teeth and catwalk cheekbones, and her lithe, yogic body crackled with sexual energy. She asked me how old I thought she was. I guessed 27. She smiled.
We talked about everything on Godâ€™s green earth: philosophy, Chechnya, our favourite flavour Skittles. Adam barely got a word in edgeways.
The food came and went far too quickly. I didnâ€™t want to call it a night yetâ€”and neither, to my relief, did Frankie. â€œIs there anywhere we can get a late drink in this town?â€
Adam took us to a small, modish club a short taxi ride away. Frankie and I bantered all the way thereâ€”but once we were inside, something strange happened. We unclicked. I donâ€™t know if it was a faux pas, or the brain-numbing music, or the wearying ranks of the wankerati, but the conversation conked out.
I wandered off for a while to refuel with tobacco and alcohol. When I returned, there was a man in my placeâ€”one of the woolly hat brigade. He was nodding and faking an interested smile. I could feel Frankie drifting away. And Iâ€™m ashamed to say it, but the feeling rather made the blood rush to my head.
â€œHey! I want a word with you.â€ I grabbed her by the arm, dragged her away from the bobblehead, and wheeled her round to face me.
â€œWhat do you think youâ€™re doing?â€ When I saw the fire in her eyes, I almost lost my nerve.
â€œI didnâ€™t come to this dump to listen to this shit music or drink these overpriced drinks. I came here to talk to you.â€
The fire dimmed to a warm glow, and I heard a click. My gambit had paid off.
Two hours later, for the second time that night, I was waiting for someone elseâ€™s bus. â€œIâ€™d love to see you again,â€ I said. Frankie ripped a page out of her Filofax, scribbled on it and handed it over.
I spent the next three days racking my brains to think of somewhere to take her. She was so gorgeous, so graceful, so effortlessly cool â€¦ it would take a stroke of genius to impress her.
A gig was out of the question. Sheâ€™d probably turn out to be mates with the band, while the extent of my musical knowledge was the UK pop charts, 1981-88. Pub? Not classy enough. Restaurant? Too much pressure. Theatre? Too taste-dependentâ€”and you canâ€™t talk. Opera? Overkill. A walk, maybe? No; nothing to draw attention to the fact that she was taller than me. Picnic? Yeah, in the middle of January.
I needed something relaxing, yet exciting. Something original, but not too threatening. Something incredibly cool that didnâ€™t look as if Iâ€™d made too much of an effort. When the time came to call, I still hadnâ€™t come up with anything. Oh well; sheâ€™d probably changed her mind about me anyway.
â€œHi. Itâ€™s Andy. Did you, uh, still want to meet up some time?â€
â€œI know itâ€™s lame, but Iâ€™ve been hearing good things about this movieâ€”you know, the one about the talking pig?â€