COLUMNS

'Welcome to Con Air.'

Click HERE for my Evening Standard column on working in the very wonderful John Sandoe Books last week (am mostly chuffed with the picture they used to illustrate it) and Sun Tel col below. Also click HERE to buy a copy of my Dad’s book. Bit of cross-marketing, why not?

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A text message arrives from my friend Alice. ‘Would you be up for a blind date?’ My heart, I have to admit, doesn’t immediately beat faster. It’s ten months on from my break-up but I reckon I’d be eligible to join a religious order in Bhutan by now because I haven’t been on a date since. ‘Women grieve, men replace,’ goes the saying, and I haven’t remotely wanted to think about relationships again so have been getting into bed at 9pm every night and reading my book. Books only make you cry in a good way. Books don’t fart under the duvet.

Still, unless I do want to book a one-way ticket to the East and dress in orange for the rest of my life when it’s really not my colour, I feel I should make an effort. I text Alice back. ‘Oh go on then,’ and, madam-like, she makes the necessary introductions, leaving her husband’s friend and me to arrange a date at the pub.

A week later, I reach this pub sweating since I’ve walked too quickly, so that’s alluring. He’s there already and my nerves steady. He’s funny, friendly and we find a table with our drinks. I can feel beads break out on my upper lip and try to wipe them away subtly. Did Greta Garbo have this problem? I suspect not. But once I stop leaking like Whaley Bridge, it’s nice, exploring someone else and laughing at one another’s jokes. I remember this! And then…disaster. I look outside and spot one of my ex’s best friends having dinner in the same pub, directly in my eye-line. We sit for another hour or so, another drink, and I know I’m saying words but, really, I’m obsessing about this awkward social situation and what to do if she walks past our table on her way to the loo. I start sweating again.

Oh the agonies of dating. How do people do it? Find yourself single again these days and most people will first download a dating app. Another friend made me do this recently and I tentatively started using it – no, no, maybe, no, no, yes, no, no – until a message popped up. ‘Hey, are you the Sophia who did a reading recently at Emily and Fraser’s wedding?’ That was too much real-life for me. Back I went to my book.

Then there are the singles parties. I did a lot of these in my 20s – girls on one side of the room, boys on the other, like a teenage disco, until people start mingling. But at the grand old age of 34, this feels too meat-market. Like a game of musical chairs, the writer Holly Bourne put it, where you simply have to sit down on whoever’s nearest.

Which leaves the blind dates, the set-ups by friends, or the option of simply bumping into Mr Right randomly, on the tube or while I’m shuffling around my local Co-Op buying loo roll as often happens in films. It seems a tall order to me. My blind date that night was sweet but I’m hoping that my next relationship, whenever that may be, is the big one. So unless it’s magic from the off, I’m not sure I can face going on a series of dates where the main result is I return home dangerously dehydrated. But is that naïve, wise Telegraph readers? Alternatively, I’ve checked out the weather in Bhutan and it remains clear and really quite balmy even in January. So there is that.

***

I climbed into bed one evening this week and squealed as a spider scuttled across the sheets and down the side of my mattress. ‘Whoa pal,’ I felt like telling him, ‘you are the very last sort of bedroom activity I want.’ Apparently, due to our August wash-out, spiders are cantering indoors early this year and we need to be on the alert. Pretty soon, the windowsills of my mother’s house will be lined with conkers (they emit a smell which supposedly puts the eight-legged beasts off), and her anti-spider spray from Lakeland will be out, although it’s wrapped with brown packing tape since the bottle arrived in the post with a picture of a spider on it and Mum hates them so much she had to cover it up. I still tend to drop a book on top of any that make it into my flat, but in these gentler, more animal-friendly times, does this make me out as a beast myself?

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Here is a jolly wheeze (sort of) if you’re off to a dinner party any time soon. Actor John Malkovich has started making his own wine from grapes he grows at his French vineyard. It’s a mix of cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir grapes, if that does it for you. Owning a vineyard has long been a fashionable plaything for celebrities. Brad and Angelina still jointly own the Provençal estate which makes Miraval rosé. Francis Ford Coppola has the snappily-named Francis Ford Coppola Winery in California. The Trump winery in Virginia is owned by the teetotal American president. Malkovich’s new red is going to be sold by Jeroboams for £15 a bottle which isn’t so terrible, although unfortunately it’s going to be called Dangerous Liaison, which I think is very silly indeed.

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