The second date is always a quandary. I never quite know where to go - in the literal sense.
The first date is easy. I have a rolodex of venues in my head (well, I would if it were the '80s, and I carried a satellite phone). As it is, the browser of my mind is full of meeting place favourites - whether it be a cosy locale, or a louche eatery, I tend to get it right. Then again, the first date venue is inconsequential, it's all about first impressions, 'connecting' - and of course, liking each other's faces.
The first date is the tester, the initial round where the deranged and emotionally infirm are weeded out. Hence, all first dates occur on a week night - they are rarely given prominent billing, and rightly so.
The second date is a different beast altogether, something akin to the fabled 'difficult second album'. You've made a fabulous impression, and now the stakes have been raised. You're expected to recreate the majesty of your first offering - back when you burst onto the scene with your ludicrous hair, and mercurial smile. And this is the problem - what if you wanted to show your sensitive side? What if you wanted to 'go acoustic', would they still like your stuff?
Your choice of date venue is part of this, it says something about you. And it's at precisely this point that I fall down. I tend to dither, and over-think. Just like the Stone Roses's 'Second Coming' - it's too little, too late.
I was in the teeth of this mania when I received Rachel's text. It was a Friday night in the West End, and I was heading towards date number two.
After gesturing at a pavement-hopping cyclist, I read the message:
"Hurry up, I'm in the lobby of the W hotel."
The W - my regrettable choice - an eyesore on an already grim vista. The place wanted to be hip but was hindered by its location - no one wanted to stay in Leicester Square. It was meant to be somewhere for the stars to repose after a West End premiere. However rather than the Hollywood elite, the hotel was filled almost exclusively with spray tanned wastrels from the provinces.
Another text arrived, "FYI the doormen are idiots."
"Ok, be there soon. Just go up to the bar, I'll see you in there."
"I don't want to hang around there on my own. I'm all dressed up, seems weird."
"Sure," I texted, "you might be mistaken for a high-class prostitute."
I walked through Soho Square, without breaking my stride I wrote:
"That was a compliment..."
On arrival the doormen barred my way. I was wearing my work suit and long dark coat, if I had a brass handled walking cane, I surely would have ushered them aside with the pointy end. As it was, I had to rely on my insolence.
"I'm here for the bar," I said.
There were two of them; the larger one had a square shaven head.
"Sorry, sir," he said, "you have to wait for the lady."
"She has a list."
"Ah, but of course - must wait for the list."
"Nothing," I said, feeling my neck burn. I called Rachel.
"Sweetheart, I can't get in. They're going on about some list, it's ridiculous."
"Funny that, maybe you're not high-class enough."
A gust picked up and I drew my coat collars close.
"I...the woman, the list."
The phone went dead.
The doorman looked on with dead eyes. Regardless, I continued my end of the conversation.
Rachel appeared on the other side of the glass, accompanied by a clipboard wielding woman.
I put my phone away.
She turned to the woman, who motioned to the doormen. I smiled as I passed, they didn't reciprocate.
I kissed Rachel on the cheek and we headed for the bar.
"God," I said, "what was their problem?"
She just raised her eyebrows.