Miraculously, mysteriously, almost supernaturally, I found a man. I’m sorry for not mentioning it earlier but it crept up on me. I didn’t realise I had found him until ages afterwards. I had to have the whole thing signposted in neon, and even then I did my best to drive past it.
What happened was this: my friend Ingrid rang me in a state of considerable excitement last June. She had been shopping in Cobham and had got chatting on the street with a man in jodhpurs. She decided he would be perfect for me and, with a flash of extraordinary matchmaking flair, persuaded him on the spot to move his horse to the yard where we keep our horses.
My friend Ingrid is a very persuasive woman. I can only imagine the conversation which concluded with him agreeing to load his horse on to a lorry and drive him straight over. When the lorry arrived, I was heavily briefed and waiting in my tightest jeans and long riding boots. The lorry ramp was lowered and a handsome grey thoroughbred was led off.
He was solid and dependable looking, with a kind look in his eye.
‘So far so good,’ I thought.
The door of the cab then opened and the owner got out. He was a tall, handsome blond. I wouldn’t say he was thoroughbred. Warm-blooded certainly, but on the rugged side.
He was tanned, windswept and wearing white breeches. And he was immediately swamped by a dozen teenage girls.
He walked entirely shrouded in hysterical teenagers to the tea room, where he sat down with a mug of tea amid the din of giggling girls, and held court for the next three hours.
‘Well, what do you think?’ said my friend when she rang for an update.
‘And? Have you talked to him?’
‘I’ll tell you why. Because he’s never going to notice a middle-aged woman in a sea of nubile 16-year-olds in a million years. It was a very nice try. But I’m afraid it has fallen at the first hurdle.’
But I was wrong. Just before Christmas, he took me for pizza. It turns out I only had to stop ignoring him to prove I wasn’t bothered about him for two minutes to give him a chance to ask me out.
It turns out he’s a builder. It turns out he’s unflappable. It turns out he responds to most things by saying, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll sort it.’ Hallelujah!
If I throw a wobbly because my television gets stuck on smart mode, he fixes it. Hosanna! For some reason, he doesn’t seem to register my freak-outs as freak-outs at all.
The other day, over lunch at The Black Swan, I got myself all wound up and launched into an emotional rant about how difficult I found relationships and how frightened I was about starting another one. On and on I went, spouting the most odious psychobabble as he tried to eat a potted ham hock. At one point I attempted to string together the words boundaries, defence mechanisms, co-dependency and abandonment, which, as we know, only Americans can do with any degree of lucidity.
The next day I relented. ‘I really must apologise for that dreadful nonsense I came out with at the pub.’ He looked up from fixing a drawer in the kitchen. ‘Hmm? What’s that, my love?’ ‘That long rant in the pub, when I tried to explain my intimacy issues.’
‘Did you? Oh, I wasn’t really listening, to be honest. Have you thought about opening this chimney up? You could put a range in.’
He’s a total genius. ‘You do know you’re a total genius, don’t you?’ I keep asking him. I’m keen for him to know how utterly he has nailed the technique of being my boyfriend. It has never been done before. It is the first time anyone has managed to work out that the only way to deal with me is to stare at the space just above my head and say, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll sort it,’ while not really listening to a word I’m saying.
It’s perfectly simple really. All I ever wanted was for a man to be handsome, resilient, dependable, patient, kind and capable of fixing everything. Thank goodness, someone has finally hit upon this formula.
I feel a bit sorry for Stefano, mind you. The Albanian builder has already worked out that something is up. He was due to start redecorating the spare room.
‘The thing is,’ I said, ‘I’ve got a load of stuff piled up in there and…’
‘I come and start job? You need me soon?’ asked Stefano, sounding desperate.
I don’t know how to break it to him that, with any luck, I’ll never need him again.