Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 7 July 2012

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In her profile photo she was curtseying prettily in a floral dress. In her written profile she described herself as a ‘nice lady, with a nice and open soul, and with common sense’. Not what I was looking for at all, but she lived quite near, and, with petrol the price it is, I was willing to overlook things. I also admired her advice to any chaps contemplating sending her a message. Our profiles should not tell her that we like good food ‘as if you are living to eat’. Nor should we say that we liked to laugh, because ‘everybody does this’. Finally, we shouldn’t claim to be happy, because ‘all serious profiles from dating sites are sad’. 

The five things she couldn’t do without were fresh air, freedom, health, nature and hope. I sent her a message agreeing vehemently about the eating business. I’d read so many profiles that were merely expressions of boredom plus lists of food and drink preferences. I’d rather breathe than eat, I told her. She agreed to meet for a coffee. Her name was Narcissus, she said. I said I’d drive over and pick her up.

Narcissus was living in a village called Hope. It’s a fishing village at the end of a long country lane. Twenty years ago, I used to empty the people of Hope’s dustbins. A mile inland of Hope is a hamlet called Galmpton. A dry local proverb goes: ‘Live in Hope — and die in Galmpton’. I was ten minutes early and she was already waiting in the village square. She was every bit as attractive as she’d looked in her photo, and she ducked into the passenger seat with grace and something approaching alacrity. 

We shook hands. My initial impression was of a calm, kind, self-sufficient person. She apologised that her English wasn’t yet fluent: she’d been in Britain only two weeks. And could I please drive her to the nearest main post office before it closed as she had urgent business there.

I took a less direct, narrower, but more picturesque route back to civilisation and the main post office, priding myself, as it unfolded, on local knowledge acquired during my dustcart days. We hadn’t gone very far along this lane when she sat bolt upright in her seat and said, ‘No, no! Go back! This is the wrong way!’ I suavely assured her that I knew exactly what I was doing because I used to come down this lane every week hanging on to the back of a refuse truck. 

Admittedly the lane was incredibly narrow and its meanderings at times appeared aimless, but her refusal to accept my reassurances was absolute. ‘No, no! You must go back! This is not right. I don’t know this road. I think you have made a mistake. I think you are crazy maybe.’ And she kept up this commentary continuously until we rejoined the main road and she at last recognised with some surprise that it had been a minor but effective detour. 

If this woman was going to argue the toss as implacably about small matters such as this, I thought, and always from a position of complete ignorance, I should nip this relationship in the bud straight away. She was in the post office for about half an hour. I sat in the car and read the paper. When she returned she was triumphant and happy and touchingly grateful. ‘Now I am free,’ she declared. 

We went and had a coffee each in Costa. We talked about people who lie on their dating website profiles and then about lying in general. I told her about a study I’d seen reported in the Sun newspaper that had found that men lie on average about once every three minutes. For me, I said, this was about right. I lie all the time, I said, even when I think I’m telling the truth, because I’m always using the truth for my own ends, selectively. In fact, I have no idea of what the real truth is from one moment to the next, I said, which is why I am a hesitant and inarticulate speaker. 

She dismissed this lightly. She seemed to expect little else from a man. She was far more interested to know about this Sun newspaper. I tried to explain it to her but failed completely. ‘Do you ever lie?’ I said. 

‘Never,’ she said, folding her arms. She tried to be honest in everything she said and did, she said, because then she felt good about herself, and that inner peace which she felt in her breast (she laid a palm over her heart) was her entire wealth. 

‘An honest woman, then?’ I said. 

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘That is correct.’ 

‘Another coffee, Narcissus?’ I said, revising my earlier decision to strangle this one at birth. 

‘No,’ she said. ‘Thank you. Now I must go back.’