Sitting outside the Café Delice in Chingford, it's March, it's snowing, nice, at least it has not deterred my quarry from their afternoon shop and tipple with their friends.
The wine bar across the road is not one I have frequented during the day, at night it's loud, expensive and trendy, not my scene at all but I'm not here to review the bars and pubs of Essex. I'm here to study the growing number of cougars in Essex.
Well it all started when a couple claimed they spotted (and photographed) a lion in a field. I'm sure you'll remember it if you read about it before so I won't repeat the details of that farcical event. It did, however, prompt me to look at how many cougars there are in Essex, cougar being a mountain lion. You see I work for IllicitEncounters.com and we are UK's largest online dating site for married people and a quick look through our records indicate that there are over 1,000 cougars in Essex.
Am I getting ahead of myself here? What is a 'cougar'? In this context, the most common definition is a woman of over 40 years of age who preys on very young men. Think Mrs Robinson in the film The Graduate and you should get the picture. No? Then maybe Demi Moore? Eva Longoria or Halle Berry?
The powers that be figured it would be a good idea for me to try and meet or perhaps even go on a date with these 'cougars' and then share my experiences, right here, in my blog...
Rebecca, or Becki as she likes to be called, with an 'i' I hasten to add, was late. Like a true gentleman I did not criticise her for it of course. On her profile on the site, her stated age was 39... still the true gentleman I did not question her on that either!
So what is it about younger men? Well that is exactly what I asked after she ordered her hazelnut skinny latte (they didn't have blue WKD). Our interview went a bit like this...
Becki: Well they love older ladies, don't they?
Mike: Okay... but what is it about younger men that appeals to YOU?
Becki: They like, have more stamina and don't take it too serious.
Mike: Are there any down sides to dating a much younger man?
Becki: Not really, unless they're younger than your children! Gotta draw the line somewhere...
Mike: How old are your children?
Becki: Nineteen and 16. Have to be careful, would be a bit embarrassing if I was going out with my son's mates or something.
Mike: What do your children think about you dating much younger men? Incidentally what is your largest acceptable age gap?
Becki: Twenty years? It's none if their business is it? I don't tell them who they can or can't date!
Mike: What about your husband?
Mike: What about your ex-husband?
Becki: What about him?
Mike: What does he think?
Becki: I ain't bothered what he thinks, that's why he not my husband anymore.
Mike: Are there any famous cougars that you admire?
Becki: Yeah, Demi Moore, I think she's brilliant! She looks amazing.
Mike: What do you think younger men find attractive about you?
Becki: Well... I'm funny, confident, experienced... What's not to like?
Mike: Where is your hunting ground?
Becki: Anywhere really but I like to shop and I've been out with a few young guys working in department stores.
Mike: How do you spot your prey?
Becki: I don't need to find them! They come to me.
Mike: Do think think there are many cougars in Essex?
Becki: Yeah! We're everywhere, not just Essex. I have friends in London too, all like me, like a bit of younger guys.
Mike: Do you get competitive about your conquests?
Becki: What do you mean?
Mike: You know, do you brag about how younger your latest catch is? How many? Compare notes and such?
Becki: Oh yeah we talk about all that, actually last year, one of my friends, I won't say her name, she actually stole a bloke off me the cheeky cow!
Mike: And you didn't mind?
Becki: His younger brother was fitter anyway!
I asked Becki how long she thinks she can keep this going, she just laughed, shrugged and said, "There's always going to be younger guys aren't there?"
Well, she's right there. I couldn't tell you if she is typical of the cougars in Essex but certainly the number of women in Essex signing up to our site looking for younger men is on the rise. I'm going to find out why...
*Names have been changed to protect identities