Tuesday, 24 June 2008

On not talking to strangers

It's all too easy to criticise another person's efforts to find a mate. Let none of us glass-house-dwellers feel too smug – all of us have been, are, or will be at some point involved in wild gestures of self-abasement in an attempt to stave off the dreaded loneliness.

But with that caveat firmly in place, you have to conclude that, sometimes, people aren't really helping their cause.

I was having lunch at the weekend and a friend was telling me that a few days earlier she had been walking down a local street when a van stopped suddenly in the middle of the road, impeding the progress of the cars behind it, who had to begin manoeuvring around the now stationary vehicle. The driver got out and sprinted over to my friend, alarming her slightly from the off, and asked her for directions to Sevenoaks. My friend is the very epitome of goodness, so she started to respond as best she could, but soon his more amorous intentions became apparent, and he asked her out. As I'm typing this, I feel that it's in danger of sounding almost romantic – you're walking along and a man just has to stop and talk to you. It's like the Impulse ads of the 80s which I considered, at my impressionable age, impossibly romantic. But let me first say that my friend is in her early-mid 30s, could easily blag mid-20s, and hot. Her suitor was in his mid-40s, could easily blag mid-50s and, well, not so much. In addition, him telling her 'Don't worry, it's not an assault' may not have carried the reassuring warmth he was hoping for. Further more, having grown up in the heyday of public safety information films, a strange man in a van propositioning you is maybe not so much the answer to your wistful, girlish prayers as just quite weird and creepy.

I know this because it also happened to me, a couple of years ago. Again, a street; again, a van. He wound down his window to talk to me – but not to ask for help, as I'd thought. Oh no. He wanted to enquire whether I would go out for a drink with him. I know he was not the same character as my friend's admirer as he was a much younger man, but he had also armed himself with a verbal disclaimer – 'I know this is a bit weird but…' – guaranteed not to make you feel safer in any way.

I must make one thing clear at this point. Coyness aside, the mere sight of me trundling along a pavement is unlikely to make anyone slam on their brakes, and believe they hear a celestial chorus starting up. Which led me to wonder just how long he'd been cruising the streets of south-east London looking for not so much The One as Anyone. My suspicions of premeditation crystallised when he produced a scrap of paper with his name and number on it, without taking even a second to scrabble around for a pen and something to write on. Was there a stash of them, pre-written, in the glove compartment, all set for the moment when a lone female should wander across the crosshairs? How many had he already given out? I would have been borderline impressed if he'd had a pad made up of them, ready to tear off and hand out, like the world's least rewarding raffle tickets, but that would have been more about my enthusiasm for stationery than his caramel-smooth moves.

It's not that I don't believe in love at first sight. I might do. I don't know. Do I? Maybe. I do know very happy couples who met on public transport and struck up conversation, no doubt ignited by physical attraction, but realised in a more genuine, spontaneous and, oh, I don't know, healthy way. These three-door kerb-cruisers, though, seem to be scuppering their own plans by the heady scent of desperation they've splashed on all over, an apparent lack of discernment, and their insensitivity to women's concerns for stuffy old-fashioned values like personal safety. But I'm curious. Do these tactics ever really work? Really? 'Well, I was on my way to Sainsbury's, but stuff the Nectar points. A drink it is. Should I just get into the back of your van now? I could bind and gag myself if it will save you the bother. Just let me know where you keep your gaffer tape.' And it is hugely unlikely I would ever go out with a man who sat next to me on the bus and opened our conversation with 'You have boyfriend? You come with me? I make it real good for you.' Also a true story.

Certain members of my family are probably reading this and thinking 'Well, lord knows you're not getting any younger. A nice offer like that, and him with his own van. You could do a lot worse.' But I'll take the shepherd's pie for one and the promise of not appearing posthumously in a Crimewatch reconstruction, if it's all the same with you.


Anonymous said...

Miss Jones,
This is quite possibly your best blog entry yet. Admittedly, my long-standing fear of the white-van-man might create some bias.
Lady Cx

Miss Jones said...

Lady! Thank you, but I cannot claim all the credit, since it was so very much inspired by the freak magnet that is The Blonde One. xxxx