Every day for the last seven years I have walked past the same female 'Big Issue' seller outside Waitrose in Fulham. I feel in some way we have shared a journey exchanging smiles at each other for those brief three seconds a day. One day early last autumn I noticed she was starting to show the beginnings of a tiny pregnant bump. Over the winter months she grew bigger and just as the first blossoms of early spring appeared, she disappeared. Every day when I walked passed her empty spot, I thought of her and hoped they were both happy and healthy. Later that summer, she came back, smiling with her baby proudly strapped to her chest. For me this smiling lady is my personal Hugh Grant in a Notting Hill scene where you can look from a distance as the seasons, people and places change around you within the year. This week it all slowed down for those short three seconds as she stood with a hot drink, long coat and a pair of gloves. Winter had arrived in London.
This week Britain has had its first seasonal glimpse at what the next five months are offering, and it was looking bleak, the only thing looking bleaker are the chances of London's singletons finding a winter love with only nine weeks until Christmas. Seeming the only option for us now is downloading the Tinder, Grindr or Uniform-Dating apps which seems to be the only way half of London is getting dates, or getting laid anyway.
It's now last Saturday afternoon and my phone lets off its offensively loud repetitive triple beep in order to remind me of my upcoming dinner plans that evening. Every month I sit down with my six favourite dinner party guests in a different restaurant around London. These are the hilarious gays; a mixture of an ex-banker, a struggling actor, a fairly bad model, a very camp lawyer and a magazine editor who's recently lost his job though sleeping with his married boss.
With the view of the sun setting over the Thames and first bottle of wine ordered, the conversation leads with the discussion of Jeremy losing his job and how the affair was kept a secret for years, hidden to all except the fashion cupboard. With four of the seven of us single, Internet dating was fresh on my mind and so I casually broached the subject of finding a soul mate online. Little did I know, everyone around the table had either the Grindr or Tinder dating app open under the table waiting for the next 'match'. Had I been living under a rock? Has Internet dating become the non-romantic, no frills way of finding true love?
"But Ollie, you're on Grindr," Hugo piped up.
I wholeheartedly disagreed.
"I assure you are, we spoke last week, we were talking about drinking in Mahiki."
As I stood there thinking, making sure I wasn't going completely mad and drunkenly registered to a gay dating app on a lonely Thursday night.
Hugo then produced his phone from under the table and displayed his previous conversation with the apparent Ollie Locke.
I was shocked, not only was Ollie Locke a registered member of Grindr, he was also VERY active. My photographs had been uploaded (including one from a holiday in Thailand) a quote I had once said as a tag line on T4, and even my real age, which even the press have never seemed to confirm. I couldn't believe it. I had been cloned. Somewhere out there is a man pretending to be me to get laid or to meet his soul mate. Little did he know, obviously not having read my book, Laid In Chelsea, that being me does not often grant access to getting sex regularly.
The dinner continued and glass turned to bottle, bottle turned to Mahiki Treasure Chest and Treasure Chest turned to a deep meaningful conversation in my flat until the early hours with the guys.
I woke early to find the morning after a huge evening of mixing every drink in South West of London to reflect on the alcohol-fuelled decisions we have made the night before. Always the fear of millions of weekenders all over the world, I was alone except five empty bottles of wine, an ashtray full of cigarette butts and the strategic Barocca I had made the night before and forgotten to drink. Suddenly my phone made an alien noise that could only be described as an angry pterodactyl. The phone proudly displayed a message saying 'Grindr has a new notification'. I suddenly had the mortifying realisation that last night I had joined Grindr in the aim to find the man pretending to be me and to message him.
On opening the message a surreal message was shown, a message from the pseudonym Ollie Locke from me a thirty-five-year-old man named Orlando, an actor from LA living in Shoreditch currently writing a screenplay, apparently my new alias. In a half hangover, half still over the limit state, I accepted a dinner date next week!
To be continued...