Fiona Ramsey was a career girl. She had swotted hard for her A-levels, got a first from Oxford and quickly been head-hunted by a top City finance company. Now she was 41 years old, working a 60-hour week and, to her eternal dismay, also unremittingly single.
She’d had plenty of boyfriends over the years. There was Mike the literary genius she dated at Oxford, and James the banker, who dumped her after three years to marry a Sloane Ranger. In her 30s she’d had a couple of casual flings, but her work had taken priority and now she was the first to admit that, despite the fact she could scrub up well when needed, she was no longer a magnet for the opposite sex.
And so she decided to grab the bull by the horns and get herself a decent man, quickly. She had read that nearly 5m Britons now search for love on the web, and so it was a fair assumption that among that number was her Mr Right. Her best friend, Annie Beckford, had successfully tried internet dating. Admittedly, there’d been a few duds, including a financier obsessed with Eton Fives who insisted that she follow and play the sport too. After breaking yet another expensively manicured nail while “patting a ball against a wall”, Annie gave up both the Fives court and the “Eton Mess” himself. Still, she’d found her perfect partner eventually.
It did not take Fiona very long to discover a score of sites that appeared to suit her needs; it took rather more time, however, to write an alluring blurb about herself and, in particular, to find an equally flattering photograph. It wasn’t long before she discovered that every applicant had “a good sense of humour”, liked to curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine, loved travelling and considered their ideal destination to be Machu Picchu. Indeed, it occurred to her that the Incan site must be so overrun with singles that she might have better odds cutting out the dating agency altogether and booking a holiday there. But in the end, somewhat in desperation and just like every other online dater, she described herself as “slim and fun-loving”, although what she actually meant was “rather lonely”.
Her first examination of the identikit men on offer on her computer screen was not dissimilar to looking for clothes at an unfashionable shop during the sales – row upon row of moderate quality, discounted items. There was no sure way of differentiating between any of the profiles or knowing if the headshots were real. And so she picked one indiscriminately.
Her first random dalliance was with David31 (to use his online pseudonym), who had looked like Andy Roddick from his artily lit picture. In fact, he was nearer 56 than his promised 36 and had the wit and wherewithal of an earthworm. Her second attempt was with a “friendly and open-minded” broker called Charlie, whose aim in this “search for love”, she discovered within 30 minutes of meeting, was to try to bed her that evening.
Finally there was Andrew, a 40-year-old from Kensington, who said he was “comfortably off, generous and honest, up for a laugh and the occasional cuddle”. His snapshot had him looking remarkably like Johnny Depp. According to Andrew’s “few words about me”, he’d worked in a variety of roles, including exports, logistics and management, and was now in financial services. He was keen on travel, sport and films.
After a five-day exchange of friendly emails, they agreed to meet at All Bar One near Liverpool Street at 7pm. But at 7.30pm Fiona was still staring gloomily out of the wine-bar window. The room was empty except for a noisy crowd from her office drinking at the bar and a handful of tables containing mooning couples. Of her suitor there was no sign.
Finally Andrew arrived, flushed and out of breath. “I’m terribly sorry I’m late. There was a queue to get on court, and then we had to go to sudden death. It’s a great game – you should play it sometime. I’ve loved it ever since I was at Eton.”