There is, apparently, an epidemic of loneliness amongst the middle-aged and elderly. Opportunities to meet other single people in an ‘organic’ manner are vastly reduced as we get older and for some people, many of whom may have been in a stable relationship for many years, the whole business of meeting new people can be a bridge too far. It is with some surprise, therefore, that I learn that Speed Dating, the most synthetic and pressurised mode of social intercourse that humankind has yet devised, has, for an increasing proportion of ageing singletons, become the preferred manner of meeting people and, perhaps, finding a partner. I tried to imagine how this might work…
Mary: …Are you alright?
Tom: Yes, it’s these chairs. What’s the point of the arm rests? It’s a bugger of a job to get into them without popping the front of your shirt out of your trousers – not ideal when you’re trying to make an impression; especially when you’ve not really had time to change your vest since last Sunday’s gravy incident – also, could put your hip out; twist too far trying to get your knees under these tables…
Mary: Right… well… I see. Yes. Well, I’m told that the best thing to do, because we’re obviously time-limited, is to get the personal details out of the way first, so, I’m Mary, I’m a retired teacher. I like walking on the beach in the early morning. I love music and books – clichéd I know, but true – and I’m allergic to cats. You?
Tom: I’m… ooh, excuse me. I had beans for lunch. Always do that to me, beans, still, better out than in eh?
Mary: Well… I suppose…
Tom: Tom. I spend my time in the pub mainly. Don’t have many friends, that’s why I’m here: thought that I might be able to get a bit of… well, you know, woman of the world and all that. Teacher. Don’t just learn about such things, if you catch my drift, eh…
Mary: Er… well, I don’t really… Oh, there’s the bell.
Mary: Yes, the bell. Time to move on I think.
Tom: I didn’t hear a bell.
Mary: Really. I definitely heard the bell.
Tom: Nobody’s moving.
Mary: I am…
Mary: How are you?
Dick: I’m ok, thank you.
Mary: I’m Mary.
Mary: And this is?
Dick: Ah, this is my mother, bless her. Can’t leave her at home on her own – don’t want her setting fire to the beds again, do I hey mum? Always bring her along to these things, don’t I? Yes, gives her a bit of a day out… doesn’t it mum?
Mary: So… you do this regularly then?
Dick: Oh yes, every week. We get a nice cup of tea – although it could do with a bit more milk if I’m honest – and a biscuit, and mum gets to meet all of my new lady friends, don’t you mum?
Mary: Lady friends?
Dick: Oh yes. Like to check people out, don’t you mum? Spends hours when we get home going through people’s Facebook accounts. I think it’s so important that older people have a hobby, don’t you? Do you have a Facebook page?
Mary: Oh, there’s the bell.
Dick: No, we have another two minutes and fifty-two seconds yet. Must have been somebody’s phone.
Mary: I definitely heard ringing. I’m sure it was the bell… Actually, I feel a little hot. I must just go and powder my nose. Don’t wait; I might be a while… and can I have my phone back please. I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with your mother licking it…
Mary: Hi, I’m Mary.
Mary: Hello Harry. Look, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but do you do this sort of thing often, only I…
Harry: No. No. This is my first time. It’s been a couple of years now since my wife died and I…
Mary: Oh, thank God!
Mary: No, not thank God that your wife has died… obviously. It’s so sad, I… It’s just that you’re the first person I’ve met here who actually appears to be sane.
Harry: Oh, I see… I’m sorry, I’m not very good at this…
Mary: No, it’s fine. It’s my first time too. Although my wife hasn’t died. Well, husband… probably. That is, I have never had either, so they couldn’t have… died… at all… How old was she? No, you don’t have to answer that. I don’t know why I… Look, just so that you know, if I’d had anyone that might have died, then it would be a husband and I haven’t. I had a partner, but he isn’t dead, unfortunately. He’s in Tunbridge Wells with his wife. I made him choose, you see – so he did.
Harry: I’m sorry…
Mary: No, don’t be. I’m over him. I’m better off without him. I… oh bugger, now I’ve made my lip bleed again.
Harry: I think you bit it.
Mary: Yes, yes, I know, thank you very much. It’s just something I do when I… It’s just something I do. So, you say your wife has been dead for two years now…
Mary: How do I know I can believe you?
Harry: I’m sorry, I…
Mary: How do I know you haven’t got her tied to a chair somewhere? How do I know she’s not waiting back at home for you with a freshly opened bottle of Chardonnay and a packet of those wrinkly little black olives? How do I know that you don’t have half a dozen children waiting for you to read them a bed time story? I know your kind. You’re all the same, you…
Harry: Oh, there’s the bell…