It’s Halloween, and Lucy is dateless.
Lucy likes Halloween. Although she’s bah humbug as fuck about Christmas (which is undoubtedly the WORST holiday of all for single people – and if you want to know why, read this), Halloween’s a different story. Without the enforced family time, and the inescapable reminders of how terminally single she is, and the having to spend a fucking fortune on presents that she knows are only going to get returned in the first week of January, Halloween’s a holiday perfect for single people. There are parties, and the opportunity to dress up in a slutty outfit, and everyone is in a good mood. What more could a single girl want?
But this year, she has nowhere to go. She used to get invited to a friend’s house party, where everyone dressed up in creative costumes and got pissed on super-strength punch, and where three years ago, in the space of about three hours, she snogged a very handsome 24-year-old skeleton, and then a delicious 31-year-old pirate. Both asked to come home with her (though not at the same time, I hasten to add), but she said no because Lucy’s not really that kind of girl. Though later, on the way home in the Uber at 4 am, she rather regretted this decision. Because they were both, y’know, hot).
But the house party friends have now moved, and the Halloween fun is no more. How. Fucking. Rude.
So Lucy looks online for events, and finds one that might do: a Halloween singles ghost-walk-slash-pub-crawl round some graveyards and haunted Victorian boozers. This might not be too terrible, she thinks. Get to dress up a little, go on a tour of some interesting bits of London, and maybe, if I’m very lucky, meet a nice man. Worth a shot, at least.
So she ropes in a single friend for moral support, and makes the booking.
But when October 31st rolls around, Lucy’s feeling a fuck of a lot less confident. First off, her friend calls in sick, and despite Lucy’s best efforts (panic texting every single person she’s ever met and even publicly announcing the vacancy on Twitter) she’s unable to find a replacement at such short notice. Could she bear to go on her own? It’s bound to be fucking hideous. I mean, who the hell even goes to singles events like this? Especially on Halloween! It’ll be full of 20-somethings taking the piss, or foreign students who just want to practise their English, or ageing weirdos with no friends who don’t have an actual party to go to (never mind that Lucy’s apparently one of them now). No, she can’t go. She’d rather just curl up in front of the TV.
But then there are post-work drinks, and Lucy has three glasses of prosecco, and before she knows it, FOMO and the confidence that comes with alcohol have got the better of her. It might not be so bad, she thinks. Maybe there will be just one cute guy there, who’s been reluctantly dragged along by his mate, and their eyes will meet across a tombstone… And if there isn’t, well, it’s just a pub crawl. If it’s shit, she can leave.
So she throws on a pair of lion ears as a nod to a last-minute costume, applies a swipe of scarlet lipstick for confidence, and gets on the tube.
Outside Barbican station, a man with a torch directs her to a nearby bar. Inside are about thirty people, some clearly alone, some in pairs and small groups, everyone looking like they’re about to make a break for the exit. Lucy does a quick scan of the room – a bit like the Terminator, but with better hair. The age range seems to be about 25-50, evenly spread. There’s one very tall man and several extremely short ones. A handful of pretty girls. No one immediately fanciable, but no one too weird-looking either. So far, so not-too-godawful.
Lucy buys a drink and looks for someone to talk to. Nearby is a woman about her own age, and the tall man, who’s wearing furry animal paw gloves. Lucy spots an ‘In’.
“Nice paws!” she says to him. “With your paws and my ears, we might just about have the beginnings of a costume!”
“Ha! Yes!” he says. “All we need now is a tail. Do you have one?”
He’s blonde with glasses, and looks like Stephen Merchant. Lucy decides she could potentially fancy him, if he can prove he has a personality.
A guy and a girl join the conversation. They have American accents and have clearly come together.
“What brings you here?” Lucy asks them.
“We’re just visiting the UK, for our anniversary. We thought a ghost walk sounded interesting,” the girl says.
Oh FFS, thinks Lucy. What’s a couple doing at a dating event? Did they accidentally book the wrong thing, or are they one of those more ‘adventurous’ couples, looking for someone to spice up their holiday? Either way, she decides not to waste any more time talking to them. Eyes on the prize.
A few stragglers enter the bar, followed by the man with the torch. His name is Rob, and he’s the host. He tells the awkward crowd of optimistic singletons that they have 20 minutes to mingle before the walk beings, so Lucy decides to scope out the rest of the room.
There’s a guy dressed as an axe murderer, wearing a boiler suit and carrying a toy machete. Five women in their twenties who’ve come as a group and seem to be only interested in talking to each other. A pretty girl, about 28, wearing a pink wig and a feather boa, who’s already been claimed by an older gentleman in his late 40s. A boyband-esque young man, definitely the fittest one in the room, but who looks rather socially awkward. Gru from Despicable Me – though this isn’t a costume, it’s his actual face. A guy dressed as a vampire with fake fangs in his mouth and a full-length leather coat. And the rest, a random assortment of relatively-normal-looking and entirely unmemorable men and women, all, just like Lucy, looking for love, or at the very least, a not-entirely-shit evening and hopefully a story to tell tomorrow.
Graves and Ghouls
Mingling done, the ghost walk begins. Rob leads them down a side street to a nearby graveyard. This, he tells them, is a burial site for victims of the Plague, and is known for paranormal activity. Everyone looks around, as if expecting a slimy hand to thrust up out of the earth and grab onto someone’s leg – and then they all remember that this is speed dating, not Tinder. When nothing happens the older gentleman looks a bit disappointed, and Lucy wonders if he was hoping for an opportunity to rescue pink wig girl from some unnamed horror. She wonders if he might turn out to be the horror.
An older, entirely bald geezer with a cockney accent and a cheeky-chappy demeanor falls in step with Lucy. He compliments her on her lion ears, and tells her she looks like she could be a TV presenter. Lucy’s willing to bet he’s already tried that line on at least five other women since the start of the evening.
“Who out of this lot do you think is going to hook up tonight then?” she asks him.
He points to a tall, geeky-looking guy with glasses, and a woman with cropped platinum hair. “Those two,” he says. “He hasn’t left her side since the start.”
“My money’s on them,” says Lucy, pointing to the older gentleman and the girl in the pink wig.
“She’s way too young for him, surely?” says Cockney Geezer.
“Well that’s never stopped anyone before!” Lucy shrugs.
The gaggle of would-be lovebirds arrive at another pub, the Rising Sun. This, says Rob, is where, in the 18th century, body snatchers used to spike people’s drinks, murder them, and then sell their corpses for medical research. Allegedly the ghosts of some of the victims still haunt the pub, so watch out for strange happenings!
Lucy’s pretty that the only spirits in this pub are the ones on the shelves behind the bar.
Since no chivalrous man has offered to buy her a drink (FFS!), she gets herself a glass of wine and puts it down on a nearby table while she takes off her coat. Suddenly, without obvious cause, the untouched glass tips over onto its side, splashing its contents all down the leg of Stephen Merchant, who’s standing nearby.
Lucy gasps in surprise as the wine glass then rolls slowly to the edge of the perfectly flat table, topples over, and smashes on the floor. Everyone turns to stare.
“OMG!” Lucy squeaks. “How did that happen?! I swear I didn’t touch it!” She tests the table, which doesn’t wobble, and frowns in confusion.
Stephen Merchant is dabbing ineffectually at his leg with a paper napkin.
“I’m so sorry!” Lucy sighs, looking miserably at the damp patch that used to be her drink. “If you like I can suck the wine out?”
It’s a golden opportunity for Stephen to engage in a little gentle flirting, but he misses it. Poor show, Stephen.
Everyone else is excessively interested in the spooky incident. Was it a teetotal poltergeist trying to warn of the dangers of alcohol consumption? Did a killjoy spirit choose to ruin Lucy’s fun for kicks? Or was it a benign ghost, who took one look at the poor specimens on offer and decided to save Lucy from getting drunk and doing something she’ll regret?
Obviously that’s all bullshit, she thinks. Ghosts don’t exist. And yet… the table is sturdy. No one touched the glass. This pub is supposedly haunted.
And judging by the slim pickings amongst the men, it’s probably the most exciting thing that’s going to happen to Lucy tonight.
With forty people all trying to get served, there’s no way Lucy’s going to get another drink before it’s time to leave. She hovers near the bar, hoping the barman will offer her a replacement out of pity, but the tight-fisted bastard ignores her and carries on serving other – paying – customers.
The vampire guy sidles up. “Well that was dramatic!” he says, with a weird, squeaky, high-pitched laugh.
“I know! Maybe it was a poltergeist!” says Lucy, playing along.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” he asks her, spitting through his plastic teeth.
Vampire guy then proceeds to tell her a mind-numblingly tedious story about how, many years ago, he was taking photographs in a churchyard (y tho?) when he saw a flash of light coming from a grave.
“Probably a passing car? Or someone with a torch?” Lucy suggests helpfully.
It definitely wasn’t, apparently. And the spookiest part, he tells her, is that when he got his film developed, none of the photos came out! Imagine that!
Lucy suspects he probably just cocked up and accidentally exposed the roll of film, but doesn’t want to burst his bubble. So she feigns amazement, and then runs away to the loo to wipe the spit off her face.
Back on the walk, the next stop is a spooky church, where apparently a ghost can sometimes be seen at an upstairs window. Rob tells the group that if you knock on the front door, sometimes it knocks back, and invites someone to try it. The guy with glasses and the platinum blonde step forward. Lucy notices they’re now holding hands. That’s fast work! You go girl!
They knock, and of course nothing happens. But Lucy suspects there’ll be another kind of banging happening between those two in due course.
She turns to Rob. “Did they arrive together?” she asks. “If not, that’s impressively quick!”
“No,” he replies. “They’ve met before, at another dating event, but they’re definitely not already a couple.”
Lucy’s impressed. She thought the chances of meeting someone on one of these things were slimmer than Kate Moss after a particularly bad bout of food poisoning.
“Have you had many successes?” she asks hopefully.
“Some. I’ve even had two weddings!”
Looking around her at the motley crew, Lucy’s pretty certain her future husband isn’t among them. Unless she’s planning on becoming one of those batshit women in the Daily Mail who’s so desperate to find love that she ends up marrying a ghost. Maybe that would be ok, if it was the ghost of someone hot like Heath Ledger or Cory Monteith from Glee, or Elvis before he got fat. Do ghosts come back in the same state as when they died? she wonders. And is it weird to fantasise about a dead person?
If she dies she’s definitely going to come back and haunt her Ex as 30-year-old Lucy. It’s about time someone ghosted him.
The walk ends at one last pub, a former Victorian Gin Palace near St Paul’s Station. The group of five girls and the pretty one in the pink wig have left – much to Creepy Older Gentleman’s obvious disappointment. Lucy gives him a smile, and he turns away. Clearly at only eight or so years younger than him, she’s just too old. She wonders if she should leave too.
Two people who are having better luck are Glasses Guy and Platinum Girl, now having a tentative kiss on the other side of the bar. Lucy gives Cockney Geezer a congratulatory nod – he did call it early, after all.
A much shorter, older man strikes up a conversation. He’s currently on jury service, he tells her, except because he can’t pronounce his ‘Rs’, it comes out as ‘cuwwently on juwy service’. The case sounds like it might be quite interesting, but since he’s not allowed to actually talk about it, it’s a shit topic of conversation. Lucy decides it’s time to go home.
On her way out she passes Glasses Guy and Platinum Girl, who are now pressed up against a side wall, going all-out with the tongue action. At least someone pulled tonight, she thinks, a little jealous.
The next day Lucy gets an email from the organisers reminding her to log into the site and check her matches. Although this is the first time she’s logged in, five guys have already sent messages, which is odd because from their photos she doesn’t even recognise three of them. She wonders if she was drunker than she thought. The fourth is the short ‘juwy service’ guy. She sends them all polite ‘thanks but we’re not a match’ emails. Juwy Service Guy replies wanting to know why. Fuck off, Juwy Service Guy.
The fifth email is from Stephen Merchant, asking for her number. Lucy’s a bit surprised by this, since he made no effort to talk to her on the night, but she’s willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and hands it over.
He contacts her a couple of days later, first by text, and then, just to confuse her, by WhatsApp.
OK, so Stephen’s chat leaves a bit to be desired. Lucy briefly contemplates ghosting – it would be in keeping with the theme, after all – but she’s too polite, so she replies anyway and happily the conversation fizzles out of its own accord.
Still, all told the evening wasn’t a total disaster. She didn’t have nearly as terrible time as she’d feared, learned a few interesting facts about London’s history, and discovered a couple of new pubs. And even though she didn’t meet the love of her life – or even get a snog out of it – the other people who showed up were actually – gasp! – pretty normal! In fact, if invited, she could probably be persuaded to go again. Partly because of bastarding FOMO, but mostly because in the World Cup of unlikely ways to try and find a husband, spending a random evening kicking about in the pub with a bunch of total strangers beats the horror of swiping on Tinder hands down every time.
This ghost walk was run by Date In A Dash who offer a wide range of dating events including speed dating. Check out their website for more information. Lucy never accepts freebies in exchange for positive reviews.