'Please Dad!' My son pleaded.
'Do your own dirty work.' I replied for the fifth or sixth time.
'It's not my fault. It's Tess's. As usual.' He moaned.
Tess was his older sister and as was usual with my eldest child, she was trying to organise his life for him, whether he appreciated it or not. This time she had arranged a blind date for her single brother and had bullied him into agreeing to meet one of the sisters of a work colleague of Tess. I could hear her oft-repeated excuse for her meddling. 'He's twenty-five and needs a woman in his life.' Steve and I agreed with Tess in that a girlfriend would be a nice addition to his life, but where we disagreed, was her role in the process.
'I forgot Stoke were at home tonight.' He continued moaning.
'Stoke' was Stoke City FC, his main passion. I was not too surprised he'd forgotten; when Tess 'persuaded' people, they soon became so bewildered that they could easily forget their own names never mind anything else, plus our local football team rarely played on a Friday evening.
At first, he was just going to stand the poor girl up but I wouldn't hear of that. I insisted he turn up, even if it was to explain that it was all a mistake. Steve was too much a coward for that, and, it also meant that he would have to miss the start of the match. Instead my son was trying to talk me into meeting the girl and apologising for him.
'You usually go down the Museum on a Friday anyway, and that's almost in 'castle.' He explained as if I didn't know.
Our nearest town was 'castle, short for Newcastle-Under-Lyme, not the famous Newcastle of the Geordie's in the North East but a small town at the north edge of the English Midlands. My weekly visit to the Museum wasn't the cultural event it sounds, as the Museum is the name of my local pub and lies just on the outskirts of Newcastle's town centre.
Eventually I gave in and agreed to meet his blind date and offer his apologies. To be truthful, I did feel just a little sorry for him because even I knew how hard it was to stand up to my daughter at the best of times never mind when she considered that she was 'helping' you.
'You owe me big style!' I cried after him as he ran out the house just in case I had a change of heart.
'Cheers Dad! I won't forget!'
I laughed inwardly. Steve will have forgotten before he reached his car.
Ten minutes later I rang his mobile phone. I could almost hear his sigh from here as he realised who it was.
'You haven't changed your mind have you Dad?' He asked dejectedly.
'No! But a name and place where you're supposed to meet might prove useful.' I said laughing at his discomfort and our mutual forgetfulness.
Steve laughed too. 'Sorry Dad! I suppose you're right, although the idea of you walking around town asking girls if they're waiting for a blind date has a certain appeal to it.'
'Don't push it.' I said more sternly than I felt, as his comment was typical of our families' sense of humour.
Steve then told me that the girl's name was Mandy and he was supposed to be meeting her below the Clock Tower in the high street. She was tall with long blonde hair and would be wearing a red top. Not much, he admitted, but it was all he knew.
Ninety minutes later I was standing below the said Clock Tower looking for a young woman that met Steve's description of Mandy. A few matched the tall blonde bit, but none stopped long enough to warrant approaching. The only woman who was hanging around was quite petite with long dark hair, although she did have a red top on. She was also obviously waiting for someone so after ten minutes I tentatively approached her.
'Mandy?' I asked.
She looked up at me; I was nearly a foot taller, and said. 'Steve?' The question in her voice echoed my own.
'No, but I am here on his behalf.' I explained.
'Ah! That explains why I didn't think it was you.' She said, her voice now strong and confident. 'I'm Claire.'
She saw the puzzlement in my face and went on with a small laugh. 'I'm here on behalf of Mandy.'
We talked for a few minutes with me explaining who I was, and truthfully why I was there and not my son. Claire laughingly told me that she was here for almost the same reason; Mandy didn't have anywhere else to go, but felt that she too had been bullied by HER sister into meeting Steve. Mandy was a shy girl, who had a thing for another man and although she had yet to do anything about it, she did not want to spoil her chances by being seen with someone else. She had been stood up in the past and did not like it at all, so she had no intention of doing it to someone else and had persuaded Claire to come in her place.
'Why you?' I asked.
'First, I'm unattached and secondly Mandy knows that I have a mind of my own and that I'm quite capable of telling a man to "piss off" if that's what's required, ' she smiled before adding, 'and it usually is.'
I returned her smile, but I was old enough and, I believe, wise enough to know when to keep my mouth shut, besides I was not too old to remember what young men are like around attractive women, so the comment was probably well warranted.
'So what were you hoping for tonight?' I asked, more to make conversation than the desire to know.
'Hoping for? I suppose a nice meal with good conversation and an attractive man to look at.' She answered with a grin. 'What I expected was some lout, looking for a quick lay, for the least outlay.'
Once again I found it difficult to argue with her expectations but was compelled to try and defend my sex.
'I'm sure some men are like that but I'm sure Stephen isn't.' As I spoke I saw Claire's eyebrows rise so I corrected myself, because I actually thought my son was just like that. 'OK! He's not that bad.'
I was enjoying talking to this young woman, so I decided to prove that some men were honourable, if not many young ones and of course, prolong our conversation.
'I'll tell you what, ' I began, 'how about two of your hopes instead of your expectations?'
'Sorry?' Claire responded, unclear as to my meaning.
'As an apology for my sex, I will supply you with your nice meal and I hope I can provide reasonably stimulating conversation but the handsome face to look at will have to depend on who's sitting at the next table.'
This time she laughed properly, lighting up her eyes. Without hesitation she said, 'you're on.'
We swiftly agreed that a Thai restaurant a few minutes walk away was the ideal choice, so we set off. Playing the gentleman to the hilt, I offered my arm to Claire and was surprisingly pleased when she hooked her own arm through it with another laugh.
'I've never done this before, ' she commented, indicating our linked arms, 'it makes me feel a real lady.'
I turned and smiled at her. 'Deservedly so! For the rest of the night that's exactly how you will be treated.'
The smile I received was enough to make my evening and I still had the meal to look forward to. Obviously, by now I had also looked at Claire as a woman. As I said earlier, she was slimly built, about 5' 5" tall with long, almost black hair, held away from her face with a silver hair clip. Her lower legs were shapely but her knee length coat prevented better inspection. Her eyes were grey/green and quite large for her elfin face, which itself was beautiful and adorned with minimal makeup. I felt extremely proud to have this young lady on my arm when we entered the restaurant. My one complaint was that no one I knew witnessed the scene.
Inside I continued the gallantry, pulling her chair back for her and standing whenever she did. The removal of her coat enabled me to further appreciate her, this time the shapely figure enhanced by a subtly patterned black blouse tucked in a simple black skirt. A slender red belt, colour coded to her lipstick, emphasised her equally slender waist. I also loved the way her hair flowed about her as she moved. The overall effect was pure femininity. I was amazed that she was unattached.
On the whole it was a good meal made memorable by the company. I could easily see why good conversation was high on her wish list, for she revelled in it; agreeing and disagreeing with equal passion. She listened as well as she talked; a rare combination. A number of times Claire's laughter and beauty would bring me an envious look from some other man in the restaurant. After ten years of the single life and almost six of complete celibacy, a topic that amused Claire no end, I remembered just how good a woman's company could be. OK! I wasn't kidding myself about any relationship but I did bask in her reflected glory.
Our conversation touched briefly on Mandy and Stephen and what we both believed they were missing, but I knew, as I'm sure Claire did, that if either or both had been in our places then it was unlikely to have worked out as well. One of the reasons Stephen had capitulated was because he was told Mandy was blonde with big tits. For all her beauty I knew he wouldn't have looked twice at Claire - his loss.
A few times during the evening I almost reached for her hand, as if we were on a real date, but each time I managed to restrain myself. It was as close as I got to overstepping the mark.
I learned some, but by no means all, about my delightful young dining partner. She was twenty-six, almost thirty years my junior, single through choice and with no current boyfriend. Although she'd mentioned that when we'd first met, I found that, unjustly, I was pleased about the last snippet. She lived at home with her widowed mother and worked as a graphic designer.
.... There is more of this story ...