Valentine's Day dates aren't all hearts and flowers. Sometimes they're Nisa Local mezze, silent jewellery-swapping and falling down the stairs, says Dolly Alderton
The year is 2014. I am two months into writing a dating column for a national newspaper and I am aware that I’m going to have to really deliver a corker for my first Valentine’s Day. This is the time for a big scoop. I am Carl Bernstein; this is my Watergate.
Alex, a man who I met on Tinder and went for a completely pleasant but quite platonic date with, invites me to his flat for a Valentine’s Day dinner. He asks me to bring two single friends. Persuading my friends Sabrina and Belle to go to a singles' dinner party is quite some task. Sabrina’s reservations aren’t helped when, by chance, on the morning of the dinner party, she is watching an old rerun of the trashy ITV programme Dinner Date and spots Alex as one of the contestants.
“He was on Dinner Date?!” she yelps. “Why didn’t you tell me?! That’s a very vital piece of information to miss out.”
“OK, well, I didn’t know that. He’s lovely.”
“He didn’t get chosen. He came across really badly.”
“Well there are two other ones as well,” I say reassuringly.
“When we go in, do we ask who is allocated for who?”
“I don’t think it works like that,” I say. “Look, you might meet the love of your life tonight.”
“It’s more likely that I’ll grow a third boob than meet the love of my life tonight.”
We arrive at his beautiful West London pad and Alex presents all the guests with a red rose. It’s a nice touch, one that would have earned him extra points on Dinner Date, at least. He’s brought two friends, one beardy and a bit zany, one more clean-cut in good knitwear. They’re both easy on the eye, but not my type, and I know for certain they aren’t Belle or Sabrina’s either.
We begin drinking heavily. I corner Alex, Sab takes the beardy one, and Belle takes the one in the roll-neck. At 10pm, we have the starter. Alex apologises that he doesn’t have much in the way of crockery or chairs, and Sabrina and I have to sit on a sofa footrest, our chins just grazing the table as we share a plate of mezze served out of the Nisa Local plastic containers they were purchased in. We also have to take turns with the sparse cutlery. Sabrina wonders aloud whether the flat and perhaps even the friends are all rented for the night.
The girls later tell me that the point they knew I was not enjoying the evening was at the moment I queue up for the loo in the hallway of this man’s flat with my handbag over my shoulder like we’re in a nightclub, to avoid sitting at the table and having to make conversation with Alex.
'With nothing else to talk about, we sit and silently adorn him with all our bangles, necklaces and hairclips as if we were playing a game of human buckaroo'
The main course comes at midnight, and we’re all completely trashed – if it were an episode of Dinner Date, the producers would have already booked our Addison Lee taxis home for health and safety reasons. We know the chances of romance are off because, before I’ve finished my plate of chickpea stew, one of them is ferociously tucking into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s with a spoon. This hunch is cemented when, for some reason I will never be able to understand, we all gather round on the sofa and watch the opening ceremony of the Sochi winter games on an iPad, for an hour.
We divide into a disparate party of two: girls on one sofa and boys on the other. Later, Belle tells me she felt the atmosphere at this point was that of a university seminar when the tutor asks the class to divide into groups to discuss a topic. We interact across groups only once, when the man with the beard asks to try on all of our jewellery. With nothing else to talk about, we sit and silently adorn him with all our bangles, necklaces and hairclips as if we were playing a game of human buckaroo.
We leave at midnight. The cold air hits us and I’ve been drinking like Oliver Reed all night. I trip over my stiletto and stack it down the stairs. I stand up and dust myself off. “I think that went quite well,” I say. “Happy Valentine’s Day”.
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More about the author
'A wonderful writer, who will surely inspire a generation the way that Caitlin Moran did before her' Julie Burchill
'If Nora Ephron is the cool aunt you wish you'd had, Dolly Alderton is your favourite cousin. I loved it and I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't; it's a genuine delight' Kristen Roupenian, author of Cat Person
'I can say with absolute certainty that you have to add it to your 2018 book list' The Pool
When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown up, journalist and former Sunday Times dating columnist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod-Stewart themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped, realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you've ever been able to rely on, and finding that that your mates are always there at the end of every messy night out. It's a book about bad dates, good friends and - above all else - about recognising that you and you alone are enough.
Glittering with wit and insight, heart and humour, Dolly Alderton's powerful début weaves together personal stories, satirical observations, a series of lists, recipes, and other vignettes that will strike a chord of recognition with women of every age - while making you laugh until you fall over.
'With courageous honesty, Alderton documents her life up to now, the highs and the lows - the sex, the drugs, the nightmare landlords, the heartaches and the humiliations. Deeply funny, sometimes shocking, and admirably open-hearted and optimistic. A brilliant debut.' Daily Telegraph
'This is the book we will thrust into our friends' hands, the book that will help heal a broken heart. She feels like a best friend and your older sister all rolled into one and her pages wrap around you like a warm hug' Evening Standard
'It's so full of life and laughs - I gobbled up this book. Alderton has built something beautiful and true out of many fragments of daftness' Amy Liptrot
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