Lucy has been back on Guardian Soulmates and has been approached by a man who may very possibly be an atrocious hipster.
In his photos, Malcolm is sporting a variety of tweed jackets, brogues, and bowties. He also has an ample, luxurious and neatly trimmed beard. In other words, all the signs point to him being a member of the Shoreditch quinoa and artisan pizza brigade.
But Lucy is also trying to be open minded, and give chances to people she would not normally consider. And in spite of the slightly alarming photos, Malcolm has a witty, original and correctly-spelled profile (shock!), and is tall and slim with lustrous silver foxy hair and a handsome face. So even though he has a giant beard, and may very well turn out to like mismatched rustic furniture, deconstructed coffee, and eating all his food off wooden boards, Lucy decides to give him a chance.
Since Lucy is between contracts, and Malcolm appears to be able to set his own hours, they agree to meet for a drink on a Wednesday afternoon. This suits Lucy perfectly: she has a work event that evening so she has a nice safe excuse to leave if Malcolm’s hipster credentials turn out to be too appalling to tolerate.
The venue he suggests is the very posh Aviary bar on the top floor of the five star Montcalm hotel in London’s Finsbury Square. Lucy’s never even heard of the place, but she likes it when a guy comes up with somewhere nice that she hasn’t been to before, particularly if the place does good cocktails. And from the look of the website, this bar definitely fits the bill.
As usual, Lucy is deliberately and precisely five minutes late to allow time for Malcolm to get there first. When she texts to let him know she’s almost there, he replies promptly saying that he’s in the bar, and so earns himself his first point. Lucy decides that if being a hipster means he’s efficient and reliable, then maybe she could actually learn to love cloud eggs and kale salads after all.
A tall and handsome man with a beard is standing just inside the door as she approaches, and Lucy has a moment of confusion. Is this Malcolm? He doesn’t look exactly like the person in the photos, but when half the guy’s face is hidden behind a mask of fuzz, how is she supposed to know for sure? Her uncertainty is compounded when the bearded man sees her staring at him and flashes her a welcoming smile, and Lucy nearly gives him a friendly hello and a kiss on the cheek, but then at the last second she looks past him and sees the man who is definitely Malcolm sitting in the empty bar behind, and an awkward faux-pas is narrowly avoided.
The Maitre D’, for it is he, shows Lucy to the table, and she feels a moment of disappointment that this particular handsome guy was not her date after all. Would it be inappropriate to ask for his number on the way out?
Malcolm stands up to greet her. He looks exactly like his photos, and has come in full hipster attire: a tweed jacket with a velvet collar, skinny trousers, red socks and two-tone brogues. His clothes are neat and well-tailored and he looks very smart and handsome – but Lucy doesn’t fancy him in the slightest. It never ceases to amaze her that attraction can happen or not happen in a split second: just something about the way someone carries themselves, or certain subconscious cues, or maybe it’s pheromones, she doesn’t really know, but there’s something that happens in that nanosecond when you first clap eyes on someone that can make all the difference between having ‘the feeling’ and not having it.
And in spite of the fact that objectively he’s a good-looking guy, Lucy doesn’t feel it, not in the slightest. She feels it even less when he gives her a breathy and rather weak hello. His manner is very gentle and unconfident, his voice soft and somewhat high-pitched, and when he asks her what she’d like to drink, he does so with a sort of nervous intake of breath that is somewhere between a laugh and a hiccup, and Lucy thinks Gosh he’s really nervous, that’s sweet, but not Wow! What a hottie. Which is obviously more the reaction she (and possibly Malcolm himself) had been hoping for.
He already has a large glass of wine in front of him, so Lucy chooses one of the fancy bar’s even fancier cocktails. While they wait for it to arrive, Lucy asks Malcolm about his day: it turns out he’s a spirits buyer for a supermarket (proper hipster job!) and has just come from a tasting, where he tried around 15 different flavours of artisan gin. In an attempt to break the awkwardness, Lucy asks him if he spits or swallows, but either the joke goes over his head or Malcolm doesn’t approve of it, because he doesn’t laugh, and Lucy realises that this date is going to be hard fucking work.
Presumably in order to justify the £13.50 price tag, the pink drink turns up in a martini glass with two charred marshmallows speared onto a bendy wooden skewer that’s curled round the stem and over the top, making it impossible for Lucy to sip the drink without poking herself in the eye. It’s over-designed, entirely impractical, and perfect for a date with a hipster. Lucy doesn’t normally eat sweets, but she’s forced to consume one of the marshmallows, and offers the other to Malcolm just to get rid of them so she can actually enjoy the cocktail.
Malcolm’s nerves – or maybe it’s just his personality – appear to be getting in the way of him being able to hold a conversation, so Lucy suggests they go outside to check out the view from the large rooftop terrace. That way at least she won’t have to sit next to him awkwardly, and maybe the views of the City of London lighting up for the night (stupid fucking winter, getting dark at 5 pm) will provide them with a topic of conversation.
But outside, Malcolm stands awkwardly and says very little. Lucy gets her phone out and takes a few pictures, and tries to engage him in conversation about the relative merits of Samsung versus iPhone cameras, but Malcolm’s not interested. So Lucy looks at the view and waits for him to ask her a question or offer an alternative topic, but he doesn’t do that either. They stand in silence, both looking out into the distance, until Lucy can bear it no longer (in other words, approximately 7.36 seconds) and is forced to fill the void.
“Oh look,” she observes brightly, “You can see into those offices there. Look at all those poor sods still at work!”
“Well it is still only 5 pm,” replies Malcolm.
“Oh yes. So it is.” says Lucy, and wonders if she should just throw herself off the roof to end this now.
Reluctant, however, to cause a scene, instead she tries again.
“So spirits buyer is interesting,” she says, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Is it as fun as it sounds?”
“Well it’s about 60% spreadsheets,” he replies, somewhat morosely, “but I do also get to travel to nice places and drink with nice people, so…” he tails off.
“Well that’s pretty good,” Lucy says, “and at least it’s more interesting than just being an accountant or working in IT or something.”
“Well yeah, but it can get boring to talk about. On dates lots of girls only want to talk about drink, and it’s what I do all day so I’d rather talk about something else. One girl spent the entire evening asking about flavours and techniques…”
Lucy puts away all her gin, rum and vodka-related questions and tries to think of another topic of conversation. But she’s all out, so she decides to go to the loo instead.
When she gets back, she’s finds herself slightly disappointed to discover that Malcolm is still there and has moved back inside. If she’d returned to tumbleweed and a pitying look from the barman she doesn’t think she would have been upset at all. As it is, she doesn’t really have a convincing excuse to leave after just one drink – her work event is not for another two hours – so she is forced to accept his suggestion of a second.
Over a glass of wine she tries again. “So… the beard isn’t as scary as I expected. I’m not normally a massive fan of beards.” That may be the understatement of the year but it’s probably best to play down her beard phobia for the time being.
“Well I trimmed it a bit before I came; it was getting a bit wild.”
“So are you a hipster then?”
Better to know sooner rather than later, right? Get it all out in the open before wasting any more time.
“I dunno, maybe?” he shrugs.
“Well let’s see…” Lucy takes a step back to assess him. “You have tweed… is that hipster? Maybe, maybe not. And two-tone brogues, they’re pretty hipster I think.”
“I only wore them to annoy you,” Malcolm jokes, displaying a rare moment of humour.
“Socks? Hipsters don’t wear socks.”
“Yes, I have socks on, but they’re red, so maybe that’s just as bad.”
Lucy hesitates, unsure what to say.
“Maybe I’m more of a dandy than a hipster,” he continues. “The spirits business can be quite dandy. It’s mostly made up of posh boys who know rich people. I’m actually a bit of an outsider because I’m not posh. And if it helps, I don’t live in Shoreditch…”
“Oh? Where do you live?”
“Tottenham – it was the only area I could afford to buy a flat. It’s a bit rough now but maybe in five to ten years I’ll do ok… if I live that long!”
“And what do the good folk of Tottenham make of your bow ties and beard?” Lucy inquires.
“Well actually I don’t make a habit of wearing bow ties out and about in the ‘hood – it wouldn’t be a good idea. But I did once wear one coming back from a wedding. I forgot I had it on and went to meet a friend in a bar near my house – quite a stabby bar actually. I only realised when I noticed everyone was staring at me. I was the only white guy in there too – but it was ok, I think they just thought I was eccentric and funny – and at least they didn’t want to kill me, which is the main thing.”
“Sounds pretty scary!” Lucy says, and finishes her cocktail.
“It’s not the best. Another time a kid threw half a brick at me. I was walking home, and I took a short cut through an estate that I really shouldn’t have been walking through at night. As I passed these kids, I heard glass breaking, and when I looked round, there were four pairs of eyes staring back at me…” he tails off.
“And then they threw a brick?”
“Yes, but it didn’t hit me, and it was only half a brick.”
“Cutbacks, eh!” jokes Lucy. “Two years ago they’d have been able to afford a whole one. I blame Brexit.”
Malcolm doesn’t laugh.
A staff member walks past their table wearing skinny trousers with polka dots on them and loafers with no socks.
“Check him out,” she nods, “now “HE’s a proper hipster.”
“Nice trousers,” Malcolm observes.
“And look, no socks. How is that comfortable?”
“Yeah, his feet must stink and be covered in blisters!”
It’s the first time they’ve properly agreed on something, but it’s definitely too little, too late.
And then, after over an hour, Malcolm finally asks her a question.
“How was your day?”
Lucy wishes she had thrown herself off the balcony while she had the chance.
After another ten minutes, she’s had enough. She drains her wine and makes her excuses (got that work thing, it starts in half an hour – it doesn’t, but Malcolm doesn’t know that – lovely to meet him, sorry she has to dash yada yada yada…)
The only slight issue with this brilliant plan is that she doesn’t actually want to leave. The event isn’t actually for another hour and a half, and Lucy would very much like to stay in the warmth of the fancy bar and read her book (aka surf Twitter) until it’s time to go. But presumably Malcolm is expecting her to exit the building with him. Could she maybe walk outside, pretend she’s going a different way, wait for him to turn the next corner, and then go back in? Possibly, though it’s risky, and the bar staff would undoubtedly think she was weird. So she tries another approach.
“It was lovely to meet you. I won’t walk out with you, though, I’m just going to pop to the loo first. No need to wait!”
But it appears Malcolm also wants to use the bathroom, so they end up walking together down the corridor and saying a stilted goodbye in front of the doors to the ladies’ and gents’. Hardly the most atmospheric place for a fond farewell, but then this farewell was never going to be particularly fond anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.
Once inside, Lucy breathes a huge sigh of relief. Never have the decorated tiles of an upmarket bathroom looked so welcoming. If only this were one of those fancy loos that has a seating area where she could hang out, and a lady handing out lollipops – but sadly it isn’t. Nevertheless, she waits inside anyway, hiding out by the basins and idly catching up on the goings-on on Twitter until she can be confident he’s left.
After about ten minutes, she returns to the bar, reclaims her table, and spends an altogether far more enjoyable hour hanging out by herself with a book and another glass of wine. She never sees or hears from Malcolm again.
Next week: Lucy goes on a second date with Pardeep, the separated dad.