The BBC continues its mission to ramp up the dangers posed by the Internet, as opposed to the dangers of cosy old Aunty Beeb….
As it happens (and you might have guessed) Ms Raccoon had early, very early experience of ‘computer dating’. From the profitable side of the business. As you also might have guessed…why be a victim when you can make money instead?
His name was John Patterson. He must have been early 20s at the time, around 1968 or so; a curious little fellow, with semi-circular eyebrows and a semi-circular nose to match – like a bemused owl. I didn’t much take to him – but he was offering the chance to earn a shekel or two legitimately.
We were to sell subscriptions to his new ‘computer dating service’ which offered to match you up with the man or woman of your dreams – no more settling for that friend of your elder brother!
We had been chosen for our ‘desirable appearance’; men and women – yeah, even Ms Raccoon, blessed with roaring acne. It could be concealed more effectively at night, which was when we were supposed to work – and it was a good six foot off the ground, only visible to the rare man who matched my height. Thick pan-stick, knee high boots, and hot pants served to distract – and the obligatory full length cardigan that hung unattractively at our rear in those days, showing the imprint of every time we had sat down – but useful for buttoning up and appearing to be wearing a ‘maxi-dress’ should one find oneself in an area that hadn’t quite grasped the trend busting ‘Carnaby Street’ ways.
Every night we set off from John’s minuscule apartment in Earl’s Court in a battered van, destined for the vast council estates of Acton and points East. There we would pick a ‘block’ each, and work up and down the levels – not side to side along the corridors. There was good reason for this. Should we knock at a door that contained, as many did, a genuine ‘Derby and Joan’ in their 80s, you didn’t want them still staring in amazement at you when you excused yourself and moved further along the corridor. By working up and down the flights of stairs, we gave the unwanted responses time to shake their heads in bewilderment and return to their valve radios…
What we were looking for was the young, lonely and unloved…and amazingly, we did find them – in droves. Then we would extoll the virtues of the fantastic social life they could enjoy for a mere £2, with a partner specially selected for them by ‘computer’; the brave new world of white hot technology…
I don’t recall anyone ever asking me – given that this service promised nights at exotic clubs, passion without limit, and entry to the wonderful world of half dressed women in hot pants – quite why I was standing on their balcony talking to a nerdy apprentice tool-maker in sunny Acton if it was so exotic and fulfilling; I’d have had to own up to ’10 bob of their subscription’ being more of a draw. I also don’t recall ever seeing anything as exotic as a computer in John’s studio flat. A lot of bits of cards – maybe he kept it somewhere else.
Those nerdy tool-makers I’d signed up were enough to put me off the idea of computer dating for life. I knew exactly what you were likely to meet…
Fast forward half a dozen years, 1974 or so, and for reasons I can’t be bothered to explain, I was running a garage in South London on behalf of four brothers. I ended up married to No 3 – the original absentee husband; far more interested in travelling with his brothers and leaving me running his business.
No. 2 brother returned from his travels early. A long thin streak of bad temper, secretive and paranoid, with what appeared to be a mouthful of mobile teeth that ensured the few times he did speak it was utterly unintelligible. We didn’t get on. He probably didn’t speak highly of me either.
One afternoon, as I was just walking out of the office to refill the kettle – the phone rang; a girls’ voice asked to speak to ‘No.2’. This was quite a noteworthy event; No 2 appeared to have no friends, and definitely no girlfriends – but I was more interested in the prospect of tea and shouting out to him to take the phone, continued on my way. When I tried to get back into the office, I found No 2 still on the phone – the door firmly wedged with his foot. Interesting.
That night, as we locked up, he was off like greased lightening – and into a bath; and this only Thursday! Unheard of.
I went up to the empty flat, and prepared supper for two, not the usual three. ‘Three’? Well, yes. Every night my friend Nancy, a croupier now hugely pregnant, and with her husband advising Her Majesty on the manufacture of mail bags (a long term occupation in his case) would arrive, we would eat together and settle down for a serious game of Backgammon – something we were both addicted to. She didn’t like the absent No 2 either.
The phone rang, disturbing our game. Another woman’s voice asking for No 2; I asked her to ring back later. ‘Second one today’ I commented to Nancy. It rang again. Another woman. And again. This time Nancy grabbed the phone. ‘No 2s secretary’ she said in her best ‘I’m not really an East End girl’ voice. ‘May I take a message’. What followed astounded us. It seemed the young lady was responding to an advertisement in ‘Time Out’ magazine (and I was out the door and over to the station newsagent for a copy before the phone conversation was finished….
‘Own house’ (a quarter of it you lying toe rag)
‘Own car’ (only if you take a customer’s car home with you)
‘Good sense of humour’ (Sheesh!)
‘Personable young businessman’ (ignore the mobile teeth)
‘Seeks young lady to share his life with’…and our phone number.
We howled laughing – for about two minutes for the phone rang yet again. Nancy lumbered in its direction and proceeded to interrogate the unfortunate girl. She spun a tale of this good looking entrepreneur who required a woman at his side as his business expanded exponentially. In fact, she said, he was hosting a reception the very next day, and this young lady sounded perfect. She gave her the address. We hugged ourselves at the thought of vetting this unfortunate candidate.
And the next, and the next. The tale spun grew ever more exotic and enticing as the calls continued all evening – somewhere in the region of 70/80. I do believe we opened a bottle of wine at one point…still no sign of No 2 though.
Friday morning, and No 2s bed hadn’t been slept in. I repaired to the local greasy spoon and proceeded to entertain the local waifs and strays, mechanics and scrap metal dealers with our brilliant and breathtakingly funny evening’s work. It seemed so to us anyway.
‘How many d’you invite?’
‘All of them – tonight!’
Never did so many grease monkeys fly home on a Friday night for a bath. Calloused hands were plunged into buckets of bleach in an effort to remove evidence of a life spent actually working – on the off chance that there might be a spare young lady or two….
That night, after laying out the required three bowls of crisps and a bottle of Mateus Rosé, the assembled depressingly un-partnered males of South London plus Nancy and I, lay in wait for our quarry – the young lady who would arrive.
And she did. And did. And did…we couldn’t believe our eyes. By seven o’clock there were a dozen of them, by eight, another dozen. It was all very good humoured; every last South London scallywag was claiming to be ‘No 2’ and interviewing whoever was nearest – whilst claiming that everyone else was a fake…it was the ‘I Spartacus’ party. Nancy and I were the toast of South London’s frustrated manhood, and feeling very pleased with ourselves.
Two things happened around nine o’clock. The front door burst open and in came an apparition. She looked like a Playboy bunny, and had an Afghan hound on a leash on each arm. A true Joan Collins entrance. A collective ‘Phwoar‘ ran up and down the stairs (the stairs by now being the only seating left, each tread seemed to have a ‘hopeful’ young lady and an earnest young man, some happier than others, for in truth, some of the woman showed immense courage in venturing out in the daylight….) this entrance was so dramatic that only one or two people noticed another event…
Outside the house, a low slung sports car had drawn to a halt, and a seriously attractive red head, dressed in a genuine – genuine! – leopard skin coat stepped out. From the other side of the car – emerged No 2!!! Finally home after 24 hours!
He could barely get into the house; Mrs Leopard Skin Coat clung to him like a limpet. Across the crowded room, I could just make out some low life grass explaining to him what was going on. ‘SFF!’, or it might have been ‘SFS!’ or even ‘FFS!’ – you never could tell with those revolving teeth. He wasn’t amused. Within half an hour they had left, as they arrived, together; the party drifted to a close.
You know what? No 2 and Mrs Leopard Skin Coat never spent another night apart – married, very devotedly and happily for the next 33 years. She was the very first person to answer his advert. The most unlikely pair.
Smashing girl, very bright and great fun. Unfortunately I could count on one hand the number of times she spoke to me, her sister-in-law, over the next 15 years. She simply loathed me and remained convinced I had set the whole thing up just to embarrass her. I never did get out of the dog house with her.
Internet dating is no more nor less dangerous than any other method of meeting your true intended and soul mate. Life is a lottery, and you could meet a sociopath who was a ‘properly introduced’ friend of the family or a glamorous ‘Time Out’ reader in a Leopard Skin Coat who just happened to be the right person for you.