After months with no dates, Lucy decides that if she’s ever going to get laid again, she needs to take action. Despite the bullshit crap that well-meaning morons spout – it’ll happen when you least expect it; stop looking for love and let it find you – the awful truth is that if Lucy wants to see a penis again before she dies, she’s going to have to get out there and look for one. Those penises sure ain’t gonna come knocking at her door.
She needs to pull herself out of her dating funk and get back out there.
Since dating apps have been proven by actual science and Lucy’s own years of extensive research to be the official dictionary definition of the seventh circle of Hell, Lucy decides to give them a swerve and try another dating event instead. That way, she figures, even if she doesn’t meet the love of her life, she can avoid weeks of endless chitchat and maybe even have a passably tolerable evening out. But what should she do? Speed dating? Crazy golf? A cookery class?
Wine tasting could be good, she thinks. Lucy likes wine. And if the men are all shit, as they probably will be, she can just get drunk.
But when she goes to reserve her space, there’s a problem. As usual, all the girls’ tickets have already sold out. The only ones still available are boys’ tickets, and mixed pairs of boy/girl tickets. If she’s going to be able to go and search for the love or her life while necking tankloads of passable plonk, she’ll need a boy to take with her, and luckily Lucy knows just the man for the job…
A Dating Dad
Glen is a year younger than Lucy, and also single. Lucy met him because he also writes a dating blog (if you haven’t read it, check it out at www.adatingdad.com – it’s ace) and they bonded on Twitter over their hatred of dating apps and Brexit and their shared love of words. After chatting online for a while they met for a picnic in Green Park, sank four bottles of wine, ran around drunkenly getting drenched in a sudden rainstorm, and became instant and lifelong friends. Glen is exactly the sort of helpful chap she can call on in her hour of need, and sure enough, when she asks him to go wine tasting with her, he immediately agrees.
And so it is that on a Tuesday night, Lucy and Glen meet after work in the downstairs bar of the hotel where the wine tasting event is being held.
“Hey you,” he gives her an affectionate hug. “Can I get you a drink?”
Lucy, who is not supposed to be drinking because she is on antibiotics, orders a glass of wine. Well you can’t exactly not drink at a ‘wine tasting’, can you?
They sit at the bar eyeing up the other clientele. Who’s here for the wine tasting, and who’s just a hotel guest?
“What about that guy?” Glen nods towards a handsome bloke at a nearby table.
“Too young. The age range is 38 to 48.”
By some miracle at the younger end of the spectrum for once, Lucy’s a bit wary. Men lie about their age on dating apps all the time. What is there to stop them being ‘creative’ here too? She desperately hopes she’s not going to be forced to spend two mind-numbing hours making polite conversation with a bunch of astonishingly deluded sexagenarians trying to pick up a girlfriend 20 years younger. Still, she thinks, if that happens, at least I have Glen to talk to. Hopefully he’ll be the perfect wingman.
They finish their drinks and head up to the event, where a private area has been reserved. It’s prettily decorated with foliage and fairy lights, and down one side of the room three tables have been set up with glasses and the much-needed vino. Standing awkwardly to one side are about twenty singles wearing name badges. Lucy checks out the men; predictably as always they mostly appear to be either pushing retirement or unlikely to meet the minimum height requirement to ride on most of the attractions at Alton Towers. She allows herself a tired inner eye roll.
Where does wine come from?
The organiser says hello and explains that since this is the first time they’ve run this event, feedback is welcome. Then he divides them up, six to eight to each table. Lucy finds herself with Jerome, a tall, slim, black Londoner; a white, dark-haired American named Shane; a short old guy with a grey chinstrap beard who looks like Papa Smurf; and two girls, Hollie and the creatively-named Persephone, the latter wearing the sour face of someone who’d clearly rather be home alone with Netflix and a takeaway. Glen is on another table, already holding court with jokes and banter. He’ll do well here, thinks Lucy. After all, it’s not like there’s even any kind of competition.
The wine tasting expert introduces himself. His name is Tom, and with his strong European accent, dark hair and bushy moustache he’s probably either Greek or Italian. Either way, with his imperfect English and the noise from the bar downstairs, Lucy can’t really make out what he’s saying. But that’s OK, she thinks. She’s tasted wine before. It’s not like she really needs instructions.
A waiter pours a small portion of wine into the two glasses in front of her; on the left, Pinot Grigio, and on the right a Picpoul de Pinet. Lucy looks at them, and then at the others. What now? Is she allowed to drink? They’ve been there about 20 minutes and her mouth is dry – this is definitely not how dating events are supposed to go.
But Tom steps forward with a bunch of plastic grapes and Lucy’s hopes that she might be allowed an actual taste of wine any time soon are immediately dashed. For their enthusiastic teacher has clearly decided that none of them has ever encountered wine before, nor has any idea where it comes from, so he launches into an interminable lecture explaining the history of grape production since the Middle Ages while Lucy, with a sinking feeling, realises they are going to be here until she dies of dehydration.
As the wine in front of her grows warmer, Tom finishes his history lesson and moves on to the viticulture process, taking great care to describe every stage of wine production in minute detail. All the while Lucy and her fellow daters sit in silence, occasionally catching each others’ eye in horror, but not drinking, not speaking, and clearly all wondering why they’ve paid £25 to come to a random bar on a Monday night and be tortured by middle-aged overweight Italian guy. This is, after all, hardly the way for romance to blossom, except possibly if they start snogging each other out of sheer boredom.
But Lucy’s not one to put up with this kind of ridiculousness for long. “Are we allowed to just start?” she mutters to her group. “It seems ridiculous to have this wine in front of us and not drink it! What do you think?” Happily the others are in complete agreement, so Lucy boldly throws etiquette out of the window and starts on one of the glasses in front of her, and the rest of her table follows suit.
How to taste wine
Tom has now reached the part of his lecture where he describes the process of tasting wine. Apparently this is not, as Lucy has always thought, a matter of chucking it down your gullet as enthusiastically as possible; it is in fact a complicated six-stage process involving analysing it from every angle before you are even allowed to put any in your mouth. This is also apparently the part where audience participation is required, which is unfortunate for Lucy since she has entirely stopped paying attention, so when Tom comes over and asks her if she thinks the wine is lemon, gold or amber coloured she’s caught out like a naughty schoolgirl passing notes in class. Fuck! Which wine is he even talking about? Since by now she’s already finished one of them she’ll just have to hope he’s talking about the other – it looks pale yellow to her so she takes a stab in the dark and guesses ‘lemon’ and somehow gets away with it. Thank fuck.
After what seems like eleventy trillion years, Tom finally tells them they’re allowed to actually taste the wine that’s been getting warm in front of them all this time. With great drama, he demonstrates the slurpy swilly winetasting procedure that makes people look like pretentious twats and encourages them to have a go, but since Lucy has now finished hers she’s unable to join in. Disaster! Except not, because like a hero riding to the rescue Tom notices her distress and comes over with the bottle to top up her glass. Win!
With the lecture finally over and a fresh glass in front of her, Lucy’s finally able to chat to her fellow daters. Shane, the American, turns out to be monosyllabic and hard work, but on determined questioning he eventually reveals that he’s only visiting the UK for a week and booked to come to the event at the very last minute. Fuck’s sake! Girls’ tickets sell out months’ in advance and here’s some random bloke who not only gets a ticket on the same day but isn’t even a genuine dating prospect?! What the fuck is he even here for, because if he’s looking for a hookup he really should just stick to Tinder. Furious and frustrated, Lucy gives up on him and turns her attention to his neighbour instead.
Jerome, who is actually from London and able to string whole sentences together, tells her he’s a teacher.
“Oh nice, what age kids do you teach?”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” muses Lucy. “Like, they’re still quite cute at that age and mostly respectful and do as they’re told, right? Not like the older ones who are little shits.”
“Well to be fair some of mine are still little shits. It’s a real shame you can’t smack them, but that’s frowned upon these days.”
Lucy doesn’t fancy him, but at least he has some semblance of a sense of humour.
At least, she hopes he’s joking.
How to open a bottle of wine
With the white wine over, it’s time to move onto reds, and a new group. In traditional speed dating style, the women stay put and the men move, so Lucy’s table is now joined by four new guys: Sergio, a Spanish tour guide; Ollie, who is quiet but rather handsome; Dan, who barely says a word; and her friend Glen. Hurrah! Finally some decent conversation! Lucy gives him a cheery grin, and the rest of the table looks scandalised. She’s so forward! Why is she being so friendly to this guy?!
The waiter pours them three tasting glasses: a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Malbec. Lucy doesn’t really like red wine, but when Tom, the wine guide, reappears and clears his throat for the start of the next lecture, she knows she’s going to need all the alcohol she can get.
If you’ve ever wanted to know precisely and in great detail how to open and pour a bottle of wine, this event is for you. While the wine gathers dust and spiders build cobwebs in front of them, Tom proceeds to spend all of eternity explaining a corkscrew, how it works, how to use it to cut the foil from the bottle, how to insert it, turn it, remove the cork, how to check if the wine is corked, what a carafe is, how to aerate wine and why, how to pour wine, and on and on and on until a new day dawns and everyone has died from deep vein thrombosis.
From the opposite end of the table Oliver catches Lucy’s eye and mimes hanging himself, which makes her smile. Handsome and funny… could he be a prospect? Maybe they will tell their grandkids stories about how they bonded over a near-death experience.
Eventually Lucy’s patience cracks again: she starts drinking the wine anyway and the others follow suit. The waiter brings over bread and charcuterie and things improve immeasurably.
While the lecture drones on Lucy starts quietly chatting with Glen, joking and taking the piss out of him and their surroundings in their usual familiar way, and the rest of the group finally cotton on.
“Hold on,” whispers someone, “do you two know each other?”
“Yes, we’re friends, we came together,” confesses Lucy.
Seeing his opportunity, Glen leaps immediately into wingman mode. “Lucy’s amazing,” he says. “She’s so cool and interesting. You know, she worked in Kenya last year.”
Silence. Apparently no one gives a shit. They all turn their attention back to the lecture.
Lucy smiles gratefully at Glen. Bless him for trying.
“Maybe they didn’t hear,” he whispers, and then, louder, “I’d love to have a cool job that takes me to Africa, like Lucy.”
If anyone in the group wants to find out what Lucy actually does for a living, they hide their interest like a champion poker player. Tumbleweed blows through the bar.
“I’ve been to Africa,” says Sergio, the tour guide, neatly making the conversation about him like a pro.
“Oh really?” asks Lucy politely. “Where? What did you do there?”
“I worked as a tour guide in Cape Town before I moved to London.”
Spurred on by Lucy’s apparent (faked) interest, Sergio proceeds to give Lucy his entire career history and his views on London, the tourism industry, and some of his clients while Lucy nods politely and asks appropriate follow-up questions. But when he starts mansplaining to her about travelling in Africa, even chatty Lucy can’t fake interest anymore, so she tuns to Dan instead.
“So, what’s your most unpopular or controversial opinion?” she asks him, hoping to see if Dan might have a sense of humour under that quiet exterior.
He does not. “I think Universal Credit is a really bad idea,” he replies seriously.
“Oh, OK,” says Lucy, and her will to live convulses, splutters its last breath, and dies.
Defeated, she returns to chatting to Glen, who is starting to get frustrated because there are two pretty girls on the next table and he wants his chance to talk to them. Of course Lucy would rather keep him by her side, since he’s the only man in the room capable of stringing a sentence together and if he leaves she will have to go back to trying to drag words out of this bunch of pointless robots. But she wants him to be happy, so in a moment of breathtaking self-sacrifice she takes advantage of a break in proceedings to have a quiet word with the organiser and remind him that it’s time to rotate the tables again. Well he did ask for feedback, right?
And so the men move on, and Lucy’s table is joined by two random older blokes whose names Lucy can’t be bothered to remember. The third in their group was apparently so bored he already went home. Lucy starts to think he might have had the right idea and decides to just chat to the girls instead.
Last chance saloon
After 3876 hours the wine tasting event finally ends, and the organiser asks them to vacate the area so staff can clear up. Glen, Lucy, and a few others go back down to the bar for another drink.
While Glen continues his pursuit of the two pretty girls, Lucy stands by the bar and Jerome, the quick-witted teacher, comes over to talk to her. He’s extremely flirty and full of compliments, telling her she has a great sense of humour and that he thinks she’s brilliant, and later, that she’s very pretty, all of which makes her more uncomfortable than sitting down on a toilet and finding it still warm.
So naturally she tries to divert attention away from herself and towards the first thing that comes to hand, which happens to be a bizarre decoration standing beside her on the bar: a sort of ornamental tree with small bowls hanging off its branches containing a variety of herbs and spices. To avoid having to make eye contact Lucy makes a point of studying the contents of each one and trying to work out what they are – “Star anise! That’s fennel seed! Is this juniper?” – until she leans in too close and her hair gets tangled in one of the branches. Jerome laughs wickedly at her very obvious discomfort and Lucy is forced to hastily detach herself, point out that it’s late and she has work in the morning, and run away.
What the fuck is wrong with me? she thinks as hurries to the tube. Why is it that when a man is quite full-on and thinks I’m attractive that I blush and I can’t deal with it? Is this why I’m single? Or maybe it’s just because I don’t fancy this guy. He is being quite forward, after all. If I fancied him back then maybe I’d enjoy it. But how would I know? I can’t remember the last time I met a single guy who I fancy, who fancies me back. But this guy is chatty and articulate and likes me, so why don’t I fancy him?! WTF is wrong with me?
Lucy doesn’t think she’ll be going wine tasting again. From now on she’ll just stick to regular wine drinking like a normal person.