Go on, they said. Go on a date. Let your friend fix you up with a nice eligible man. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Try something new. Be open-minded. Give it a chance. What’s the worst that can happen?
I’ll tell you what’s the worst that can happen. It started with me trying to get to his place to meet him. In my head, the 150 miles between us made it a non-starter but the wisdom of well-meaning crowds was that I was being a boring old stick-in-the-mud. Go on, they said. Give it a go. You never know what it could lead to. Well, I’ll tell you what it led to.
I stopped overnight at my parents’ house near Coventry. How could even I louse up a journey of a few miles from there to Leicestershire?
I managed to get myself on the M42, and the iPhone satnav sounded happy enough for a change. Usually it insists on trying to take me to Lostwithiel in Cornwall, no matter what I programme into it. But on this occasion it accepted that we were going to Leicestershire and chirruped that we would be getting off at junction 10.
At which point I should have carried on but I weakened and phoned my date to tell him I was 20 minutes away. There then ensued one of those driving conversations in which the person at your destination suggests better and more interesting ways to reach them. The cut of my date’s jib was that I didn’t want to get off at junction 10, I wanted junction 11. And then the A-something or other.
I was approaching the slip road to junction 10 as this was happening, shouting ‘are you sure?’ into the speakerphone. Yes, he was sure. And so, not wanting to question his judgment before we’d even met, I stayed on the motorway looking for junction 11. But junction 11 came there none. On the other hand, I did suddenly find myself on the M6 toll road. I got off at the first exit I could, but had to put my credit card to the reader of the barrier, paying £5.50. And then I took a long detour trying to get back the way I came but the only way to get back was on the M6 toll — and pay another £5.50.
Hence, £11 down and 40 minutes later I was approaching my date from the way I had nearly come in the first place feeling a tad indisposed to the whole escapade. However, I have to say that when I got there the date itself — in which he and I took our dogs for a walk together around the countryside where he lives — was absolutely delightful. When I set off for home as dusk fell, I was almost feeling like I had been wrong in assuming it would be a total disaster.
Maybe we would decide to meet again. Maybe the 150 miles between us would somehow dissolve in fairy-tale fashion. Maybe we would walk off into the sunset, via the M6 toll.
I drove away with his instructions to take this left turn then that right turn, and go up this hill and round that bend, and then I would find myself on the A something or other and all would be plain sailing.
I found the first few turns but then I was on a big main road in the pitch black, which may or may not have been the right one, with drivers tailgating me and flashing me to go faster as I crawled along not knowing where I was. I switched on the iPhone satnav and it maliciously made its pitch for Lostwithiel.
I was on my own. In desperation at the peeping horns and cars screeching past me on hairpin bends, I took a right turn into a smaller country lane, which I meandered along, desperately looking for a sign. No signs. Just a flash. Then another.
The letter from the police came in the post two weeks later. They were throwing the book at me. Of course they were. I had been doing 35mph in a 30mph zone.
Informing me in doom-laden tones that I was being prosecuted, they included a handy menu of penalties I might face, which ranged from pretty much rotting in jail down to a ‘speed awareness workshop’, but only if I hadn’t attended one for three years, and only then if my offence was not deemed excessive. Who knows? Doing 35 in a 30 when you’re a woman out driving alone after dark might be a capital offence in the area I stumbled into, which knowing my luck was probably an enclave run by Sharia law.
But never mind. Because I was being open-minded. I was trying something new.