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The Beginning (Our First Date)

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I think it’s time to tell you about my first date.

Recently we celebrated our anniversary. I want to make a patchwork quilt of experiences that I can look back on when times aren’t as rose-tinted and to keep them fresh. You never know, I could by some freak chance (and I seem to have rather too many of them), end up like the girl in the film “50 first dates” and need reminding.

So, let me tell you about that night…

We had been messaging each other for two weeks and had found out the basics. He had two sisters, he was the oldest,  he was a Scout leader, he was an engineer.

I’d seen his photographs and his description: “tall, dark and handsome, well tall and dark, you can make your mind up about the rest”.

I’d told him he was tall and handsome, but not particularly dark-haired. We discovered that we shared some friends, having gone to neighbouring schools, that we lived in the same area and even went to the same weekend running event.

I carefully selected a knee-length blue wool dress with sleeves, which I wore with black tights. It was blue which brought out my eyes. I straightened my hair and applied subtle make-up. I cinched in my waist with a thin leather belt. I decided on flats – I can feel self-conscious in heels and I needed to feel comfortable. I took my small purple leather handbag which made any outfit feel classy.

I arrived at the venue with my heart in my mouth. We had arranged to meet at 8.15 on a Friday night. I scanned the room and couldn’t see him. I felt dazzled by the lights. I went straight to the bar. There was a bit of a wait, so I nervously checked my phone.

He had text to say he would be about 15 minutes late, he had been visiting a friend. So I asked what drink he would like, keen to reverse the stereotype that the man buys the woman a drink on the first date. He said “bottle of beer? surprise me”. What a wide choice, I had been hoping for something more specific, more foolproof for a girl whose only dabbling with alcohol involved Malibu and the occasional cocktail.

“Excuse-me”, I asked the bartender, “what’s your finest ale”? I’d heard ale was classier than beer and if I got the right one I thought I would definitely be a hit.

He looked at me sideways, frowning slightly. “Sorry?” he replied. I raised my voice a little and stood on my tip-toes so he could hear me better, “what is your finest ale?!”.

He still looked a bit puzzled so I explained in more hushed tones, “I’m on a first date and I asked him if he wanted a drink, and he said he wanted beer or something”.

He saved me the embarrassment of repeating myself. “Ohh” he said, grinning. Well…I wouldn’t recommend ale to be honest because there’s too much choice, you could quite easily pick the wrong one. But in terms of beer…Peroni’s probably the best one we sell here.”

“Ok, I smiled, relieved,”I’ll have that please”.

I found half a table in the corner that was free. There was a happy couple on the other side and they didn’t have a problem with me sitting there. I was still feeling rather anxious, and struggled to steady my breathing. So I looked around to distract myself. Damn. I’d chosen the wrong place. This was a middle-aged wine bar. Would he judge me on my choice?

It took me a while to get comfortable. Should I sit cross-legged? No, not good for the circulation and would make me look too unavailable. Or was that a good thing? Should I sit with my back to the room to look more mysterious? No that was a silly idea. I shifted about, fiddling with my silver bead necklace, checking my hair was still neat. By the time he arrived some 20 minutes later, I was feeling completely relaxed. I had drunk about half of my Malibu and coke, and had decided to sit facing the room with one arm on the table, laid back but not slouchy, attempting to project an air of sophistication.

Suddenly I saw him and life became cinematic. The clock seemed to stop and sound faded as I zoomed in. In a bar full of those near pension-age he stood out like a sore thumb. It seemed like there was a halo of fuzzy light around him. I blinked to refocus.

I decided to observe him and let him notice me. Then I’d have a little more time to check him out, seeing as this was the first time we had met in person.

The first thing I noticed was that he had lovely skin. He looked like he looked after himself. He had a nice neat haircut (he later admitted he’d had it cut that day) and a good figure.

Then I noticed his eyes – dark, bright, intelligent eyes darting about looking for me. But what a pity about his attire – he’d opted for a hoodie and jeans. He hadn’t put much thought into that. But at least he looked like the photographs.

He walked right past me and was about to look outside,  so I announced my presence. He visibly relaxed a little, flashed me a dazzling smile and settled down next to me, gratefully accepting the Peroni.

I asked him about his work. He clearly enjoyed talking about what he did and I was intrigued. We talked…and talked.

From there we went over the road into a square to a bar with a French name and red, dimmed lighting. He bought me a drink and another Peroni for himself. The choice was a good one then. We chatted about running and he showed me the impressive jog routes he’d done on his phone. We went on to a Cuban-themed bar, with salsa music and lovely cocktails. 

All too soon the night had come to an end. We didn’t want to miss the last bus home and we took that together, seeing as he lived nearby. As he left, he bent down and we nearly bumped heads as he clumsily kissed me on the cheek.

I was enjoying single life and I thought “if I don’t see him again I’ve had a great night and I’m pleased we met.” But a bigger part of me was drunk with excitement (the only drunk you should get on a date) and couldn’t wait to see when and where date two would be. Hopefully soon. But did he like me? Did I score enough points to make it through the first hurdle?

He text at midnight saying he’d had a good night, with kisses. Two. Things looked promising…

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The Groping Scandal

Lord Rennard is accused of the sexual harassment of up to a dozen women

Lord Rennard is accused of the sexual harassment of up to a dozen women

Nick Clegg MP recently gave an accurate description of what journalists are – self-appointed detectives. They dig up the facts and then report them, exposing things liars, cheats and wrongdoers would rather keep hidden.

The media are the third estate – sometimes called on when power-abusers cannot be dealt with by the police or the law. They may be able to escape the legal system but they cannot risk their reputation. Parliament had failed to act on groping claims directed at Lord Rennard. He was a Lord “holding the purse strings for any winnable seat [in Parliament]” and abusing his power, behaving as he wished with no consequence. Women had apparently gone through official channels and been let down. His friend Lord Stoneham is now accused of harassing the lady who went to the press.

Lord Rennard's chum, Lord Stoneham

Lord Rennard’s chum, Lord Stoneham

The fact is that Lord Stoneham was responsible for his friend’s conduct and one would hope that he addressed it with him. It is alleged that he promised a victim he would. A groping offence is no laughing matter, I have suffered this walking out of a bar and I felt shocked and disgusted. It was a complete stranger. My manager once said “we could have sex right now and no-one would know” when the office was empty. I often spoke about my boyfriend to remind him that I was not interested. A previous colleague had alleged sexual harassment and it had been brushed off as “banter”. This it is certainly not. It is inappropriate, ignorant and disrespectful.

It’s time the offence stopped being viewed as something comical that women “bring on themselves” or worse, that they “should be flattered” or even “enjoy” it. Women in the scandal were dismissed as “red hot babes” “silly girls” and “hormonal women”. If a woman says no or becomes uncomfortable men should know when to stop. Lets shift the focus away from the victims and onto the perpetrators.

Another problem this story highlights is the issue of management accountability. I was once in a company where bullying of a colleague was addressed in the internal post, as the accused was friends with her manager. Prior to this, when it happened to me, I went through official channels with the perpetrator’s manager. I was hauled into her office for a good dressing down from both of them. The frustration colleagues felt was epitomised in this picture which they laughed about. >>>>>image0011

How can a situation be addressed when the person responsible for the accused’s conduct is their peer? Surely they would side with them, as seems to be the case in this scandal, with the result that the problem was not dealt with. This leads to whistle-blowing. Victims are then hounded. We need to have management systems whereby whistle-blowing is not necessary, where someone can address an issue with someone more senior – a “my door is open” approach.

When there is no redress for disgruntled workers this may result in a negative working environment. Productivity may decrease as a result. I was in a company that was the most successful branch in the country. They had a culture of communication – the managers would talk to you on the same level, would hold meetings with you and would listen. They would work with colleagues, not above them. We were inspired by their success.

As for sexual harassment, I expect to encounter this again as it is so endemic. I will not hesitate to point out that I am not OK with it and find it inappropriate, and I hope readers will. If it is not addressed it will only continue.

Lets make management more approachable and accountable and lets stamp out sexual harassment, not only in the workplace but elsewhere.

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