Maggie and I decided to meet at the South Bank - being home to the British Film Institute and Royal Festival Hall it is my default spot when wishing to appear cultured. Unfortunately, I hadn't accounted for the Saturday afternoon tourist crush. At Maggie's request, we met in an open beer tent next to the throng. I couldn't think why she picked the place, presumably a Bourne style accomplice was to have me in his crosshairs throughout.
This was our first date, arranged via text after a few frivolous emails. I was only on my second online date and already beginning to find such text exchanges wearing. At this stage, it's clear the time for witticisms has passed, and the correspondence serves only to fix the meeting. It was down to brass tacks - Where shall we meet?Shall we book somewhere?Have you aged considerably since your profile pictures were taken? And so on.
At this point, the value of quick-fire repartee has greatly diminished. Both parties have agreed to meet, that is it. There is no further requirement for sharp, Twitter-eque messages - particularly en-route to the date itself. No one wants to read supercilious remarks about London busses, or the unpredictable nature of South West Trains. A scathing text critique of the Tube network can appear ill-judged - believe me, I've tried it. Once the transport-texts have been exchanged, the die is cast, and it's all about first impressions.
As someone who frequently has to engage in public speaking, I like to think I am rather good at making a favourable first impression. On arrival I saw Maggie reclining and studying the Thames. She looked better than her profile pictures, suggesting perhaps a lack of vanity.
"Hello," I said with my back to the sun.
Maggie squinted up at me. The tables either side were full.
"You look nice."
"Hey, let's pretend we met in a normal way and not on a computer!"
A couple next to us looked over.
"Sure, I'm okay with that."
She stood as I went in for the double-kiss; missing the target I met her ear.
Maggie tried to sit, not expecting the second peck. I quickly withdrew, narrowly averting a clash of heads.
We soon settled into a gentle rhythm of organic cider and bad house white. Fortunately it was bright so I had an excuse to wear my sunglasses. This allowed me to evaluate Maggie's figure at leisure. She asked about my work in HR, and I tried to sound sincere:
"People are our greatest asset," I said, to which she nodded.
I was trying to recall more of the profession's greatest hits when she left for the ladies'.
In her absence, I ran through the usual ritual of phone checking, hair fixing, and sharp line composition.
Presently, Maggie arrived with two drinks.
"Thanks," I said, "great view of the Festival Hall. An interesting building, don't you think?"
She glanced upwards, "I guess so."
"Did you know, it was built as part of the Festival of Britain?"
"I did not know that."
"Yes, it opened in 1951 or thereabouts."
I was trying to remember the rest of the Wikipedia entry when she cut in:
"Look, is that a tenner over there?"
A few metres away a ten pound note was blowing up against a table leg. At the table sat two bald men in football shirts.
"It is," I said.
"What do you think?"
Trying to disregard my own financial preferences, I tried to come up with the ethical answer.
"Leave it," I said.
"But it might belong to one of those guys."
"Of course, but who are we to assume."
"Sorry, I don't get you."
Playing for time, I shrugged:
"Let serendipity take care of it."
Maggie gave me another moment before getting up and retrieving the note. She asked the men if it belonged to either of them, it didn't.
She went into the bar emerging later with two half pints for the men. After passing them on she fetched two glasses of wine for us.
"Four drinks for a tenner," I said, "that's cheap."
"I put in some money myself."
I watched the men drinking their half-pints. They looked over and raised their plastic glasses.
I said, "I would have just kept the cash myself."
Maggie frowned so I added:
"Selfish, but I suppose I just can't think outside the box."
On the north bank of the Thames, the sun was dipping down behind the Savoy.
"Listen," I said, "do you think we could start again?"
Maggie laughed and agreed, but of course it was already too late.