It is 15 minutes until my date and I am in Boots, crouching before the Chanel counter. I am hoping that with the correct combination of cover up, blush and lip gloss samples I will be able to conceal the following facts from my ridiculously wealthy, impeccably groomed suitor:
· I am - as Londoners often sneer - ‘fresh off the boat’ from South Africa. At all times I am either cold, or lost, or both.
· I am poor. My savings for the big move from South Africa to London have run out. I currently subsist on a diet of popcorn and Special K. Apart from the idea of charming an exotic European boyfriend; I am undeniably excited at the simple prospect of being given a hot meal.
· My outfit has been sourced entirely from Primark and is fashioned out of fabric that is likely to self-combust any minute if exposed to friction / an open flame.
Given these realities, I am hardly the obvious choice of mate for a Dutch Private Banker who shares his time between Switzerland and London. We met at my current temp job, where I am employed by a dodgy hedge fund based on my ability to look pretty, greet investors warmly, brew coffee and not understand private equity. Yet after some flirting in a hybrid of Dutch and Afrikaans, this particular millionaire has insisted that he needs to take me to Amsterdam to explore my Dutch-settler heritage. Tonight’s date is for us to get to know each other better before he whisks me off to a fantasy weekend of cycling through tulips and cheese-eating.
By the time I complete my frantic makeover and take the tube to South Kensington station, I am 20 minutes late. The Dutch Banker is calmly waiting for me at the station’s entrance, tut-tutting my time-keeping. As he gravely shakes his head, his hair turns with him. This is because it has been aggressively slicked back and gelled to resemble a shiny black helmet.
He leans in to kiss me hello and I notice a trace of blood mixed with white powder in his nostril. Poor thing, he must have a sinus infection or something! He takes my arm and leads me to our first destination, a nearby pub for some pre-dinner drinks.
Mid-way through the first G&T, the Dutch Banker has already revealed himself to be nauseatingly awful. His horse-like mouth brays vile, offensive and blatantly racist world views. He laughs at his own inappropriate jokes with a loud wheezing. When he grabs my hand to make a point I can smell the stink of sweat beneath his expensive cologne.
In contrast, my G&T is glorious, life-affirming and invigorating. I have many, until the evening has become a more tolerable blur.
The restaurant we go to is one of those fashionably minimal Asian fusion places favoured by those who do not like to be seen actually eating. My stomach howls as I fantasise about an alternate reality where he takes me for a pie and mash. This is not to be, and instead a straw basket bearing larvae-like dim sum is brought to the table. I reject my steel chopsticks, grab one with my hand and hurry it into my mouth only for it to scorch a layer of skin off my palate. This is fast becoming one of the worst nights of my life.
No wait, now it is. The Dutch Banker’s phone starts flashing and playing a suitably offensive techno ringtone, “Hey baby, how you doing?...Oh, I’m OK, just missing you….Going to go to sleep now, love you, goodnight.”
He hangs up and grins smarmily, addressing me with his hands clasped in a business-like fashion: “OK love, let me put all the cards on the table. I have a fiancé who lives in Switzerland. We’ve been together for two years and after that amount of time things get…well...boring, you know? I’m looking for a lover for while I am here on my trips to London. I’ll get you into the best clubs where the Princes go and buy you clothes and jewellery from the top designers. But you have to accept this situation as it is…”
Basically, it seems, he wants to pay for my services. I’d be like an escort, a sex toy, Pretty Woman with a South African accent. I feel a little ill and overwhelmed. I need some space to decide what to do next, so I rush to the bathroom.
After drinking a never-ending fountain of G&T I am clearly a little drunk. My face is on fire and my cheeks are crimson. I look like I could be teething. As I sit on the toilet seat, I stare longingly at the cool, cool tiles below. What would it feel like to rest my cheek against them, just for one second? Maybe lie against the soothing floor and have a small nap?
I pull myself together and splash some water on my face and wash my clammy hands. I hear wheezing laughter nearby. Good God, I can listen to the Dutch Banker on his phone from the ladies’ bathrooms! I stand very still to eavesdrop on his conversation, maybe it will reveal another bombshell!
“Yeah, yeah, I’m with her now,” I hear him say. “Oh she’s OK looking, her face is nothing special but her arse makes up for it.”
I stare at my face forlornly. Yes it is quite freckly and my cheeks are already showing the potential to sag like a basset hound when I am older, but overall I think it is quite a nice face! People have often expressed the fact that my nose is proportionally quite excellent! I’ve had enough, I need to escape this hell promptly.
He grins as I return to the table, “Hey beautiful, I’ve been waiting for you to get back,” shifting over and sliding his hand onto my leg.
“Don’t act like you think I’m special, I heard what you said on the phone while I was away.”
He plays dumb. “Baby, if I didn’t think you were anything special, I wouldn’t have this.”
I look down in horror. Crowned by a Louis Vuitton belt, the Dutch Banker wields a fierce erection that is desperately trying to break free of the confines of his Savile-row-fitted trousers. I am torn between disgust at witnessing such a sight in the middle of a fancy South Kensington restaurant and curiosity. This is the first time I am seeing a real life person wearing something by Louis Vuitton!
French-couture aside, I am no call girl. I stand up and get ready to leave. “If you’re going to disrespect me like a prostitute you may as well pay me like one. Some money for a cab ride home please.” I hold out a hand defiantly. He mutely places £20 in my palm. “That’s not going to get me to my doorstep in Wimbledon, love.”
He gives me £40 more. I storm out with due outrage, march out the door, down the street, to the station and catch the next tube home using my pre-paid Oyster Card. The following day, I go to TopShop and use my ill-acquired cab fare to buy a brand new dress. Not only does the colour bring out the colour of my eyes but it makes my arse look fantastic.