I’ve had four blind dates in my life. Well, two proper ones, one half-blind date, and one date where me and the Japanese lady, an ex-wife of a friend of mine, who I had gone out with, couldn’t actually see each other or anything else. We spent the entire date in pitch blackness. I’d like to tell you about it. But first..
I had the enormous pleasure recently of being reunited with my old schoolmate, Nigel Chapman, who I met up with on social media a while back. When we finally got together in person, the years, of course, fell instantly away. What about that girlfriend you had, I reminded him. The one who’d tried to get me off with her mate, who she said had a Purdey haircut. Purdey being the Joanna Lumley character in The New Avengers. I was a bit of a slow starter girls-wise and a bit shy. One time, Nigel turned up to play snooker, and surprised me by having his girlfriend and her mate in tow. I told Nigel, I remember exactly what I said to your girlfriend when her mate went to the loo. She’s asked, ”Well, what do you think?” And I had replied. ”She is rare goosy”.
Nigel cracked up. I can still see your girlfriend’s astonished face, now, I told him when she retorted. ”And who do you think YOU are, god’s gift to women?”. We had a good laugh about it, not at the girl I hasten to add, but at my schoolboyish turn of phrase. However, that wasn’t one of the aforementioned blind dates. They came a short while later..
Another mate, Stewart, who was a couple of year’s older than me, and had had loads of girlfriends, was determined to pair me off. So he arranged for his girlfriend to bring her friend out. We went to the cinema to see The Food of The Gods, some HG Wells malarkey about animals that eat some stuff, grow massive and eat humans. I watched some of it back on YouTube recently, quite a hoot if you’re a cheesy vintage horror fan. Anyway, I paid for the ginger lass I’d been set up with to get in, and afterwards, at the bus stop, had a long sloppy 70s teenage snog. I never saw her again.
But Stewart was nothing if not dedicated to getting me a girlfriend. I only had to wait one week, before another one of his girlfriend’s single mates was recruited. So, after another week of stressing out in front of the mirror, scanning my chin for any sign of spots, off we went, again to the local Odeon, this time they were showing The Outlaw Josey Wales. It did not go well. I didn’t even sit next to the girl. There was me, Stewart, his girlfriend and her mate. And on the walk to the bus-stop, this girl walked 5 paces in front, obviously as unimpressed with me as I was with her, and fuming to have been press-ganged into it. Cut to 20 years later.
Now, just for the record, in the intervening years, I did have some proper relationships, thank you very much, but then, with the previous blind-date disappointments well in the past, I allowed myself to be set up again. This time by a female friend, my date to be someone she worked with. This was the half-blind date, as her friend had seen me at a gig, but I’d not met her. The rendezvous was The French House pub in Soho, where they famously only served beer in halves. Half pints for our half-blind date. And one year later, our son was born. Our own little half-pint.
But, he said, adopting his best Clint Eastwood, as Josey Wales scowl and aiming imaginary tobacco spit at an imaginary scorpion in the sand, that relationship eventually bit the dust. But let me tell you about the Japanese lady and that very literal blind date, the one where we couldn’t see. It was an experience I’ll never forget..
Okay, this was the mid 90s and I’d already been out with this person a few times, when I asked if she fancied coming along to a very interesting looking art installation on the south bank, called Dialogue in the Dark. I read her the leaflet and she agreed to come with me. It was an afternoon thing. I duly booked the tickets. I was intrigued.
On arriving at the venue, we two and about 12 other people, mostly couples and a few singles, lined up outside a curtained doorway. Then, from behind the curtain, a voice began to address us, a male voice, welcoming us and explaining what was in store. He said that once we passed through the curtains, we would spend the next 45 minutes in total darkness. We would then experience what it would be like to be blind person in several different environment. We were invited to choose a walking cane each from a pile by the door, one that we felt comfortable with and was size appropriate. The voice assured us that we would be safe, as there were no dangerous obstacles, but that if we did feel scared or disoriented, to not be scared to reach out for someone else’s arm, and of course, we could always call for our partners, if we had come with someone. We all chose sticks, exchanged nervous glances and smiles, and entered.
If I’d been expecting near darkness, with some shadow and chinks of light, I had been wrong. This was totally, nothing moving in front of your eyes, pitch black. It’s amazing how quickly you become at one wit your cane, sweeping it from side to side, prodding and poking around for sensory info on what’s around you. The first experience would be a walk by a duck-pond in the park. There were sound effects and underfoot, the pavement turned to grass. Then we ‘crossed a road’. There was some stumbling and strangers hands grasped at each others sleeves, embarrassment all but gone now. Next we were to experience visiting an unsighted person’s adapted apartment. We were encouraged to wander around the kitchen, opening drawers, touching whatever we could find, and then into the living room for a good route around. The guide’s instructions were getting less, as we all became more confident, and simply felt our way around less fearful, more inquisitive. The last part of the tour was the most enjoyable, partly because it was ‘in a pub’, and partly because we now felt fairly in control and at ease. Me and my lady friend found a table, and I went to the bar, where I used proper money to buy two bottles of proper beer and some crisps. Then back to find my date at the table, managing with only one called out, aural clue to help find my way back. This time holding two bottles of beer. Not something I would have dreamed I’d feel ok about doing, some 30 odd minutes earlier.
So there we sat, in the blackness, sipping beer and chatting. And my hand found hers and we held each other gently. It was nice.
As we made the short-cut back to the curtained exit, the guide said that once we were back in the light, we may well be surprised at his appearance, as people’s voices often generate a visual image that is at odds with what we then see. (He was 20 years ahead of The Voice). And he was right. Not just because he was much taller and stockier than I had imagined. But because was blind. I hadn’t consciously thought about it, but I think most of us had assumed that, what with him being in charge of some 14 people, suddenly deprived of their sight, wandering around with sticks for 45 minutes, that he would be sighted, for safety reasons. Completely wrong of course, because who else better to put you at ease and guide you confidently and calmly around in the dark so that by the end, you feel confident and able, than someone who lives like that all the time?
It was a memorable experience, it didn’t feel gimmicky at all, but rather an education and an insight, albeit a brief one, into how the unsighted live. It made me feel a wee bit more that, should I ever lose my sight, maybe I could learn to cope.
Oh, my date? No, that didn’t come to anything. And the whole idea of being set up on blind dates seems very old fashioned nowadays. What with social media, and everyone being much more ‘visible’ to each other. I suppose the modern equivalent, is falling for someone in your timeline. You sort of know them, but not really. Drawn in by their tweets, and updates, and their avatars of course. Well, I’ve been there too, and got the t-shirt. And the offspring.
But that’s another story..