Go on, Polly,' I urged. 'What happened next?'

'Well, then there was Underpants Man,' said Polly, taking another swig. Polly was the darkhorse teacher, sober and responsible at school but not averse at sundown to leaving her three children with a sitter and going off to bars to meet men. Polly had joined a dating agency during a period of drought and had set about making full use of her membership with single-minded aplomb.

'Like all the others, I met him outside the station and we went to the Bacchus Wine Bar,' said Polly. 'We sat down with our drinks and he came out with his opening gambit: 'Something you need to know about me is that I forget to change my underpants.' '

'What?' I yelped.

Polly continued: 'He described himself standing near a radiator and suddenly getting a terrible whiff of stale pee and saying to himself: 'Oh dear] I've done it again]' I was quite shocked but decided to ignore his bad behaviour as you would with a naughty child.'

'Had he changed them before the date?'

'I don't know. At least there weren't any radiators around and I didn't stay around long either. Just long enough to hear how his wife had mistreated him and run off with all their money. I guess he was testing my shockability; trying to assess my staying power, which turned out to be nil,' said Polly.

'Not long after, I met Dark Alley Man. This chap was a Marks & Spencer manager, a revolting man.

'He was all over me in the wine bar, at least as all over as you can get in a public place. Then, as we came out and were heading for the station, he suddenly said, 'I'd like to go down a dark alleyway with you. Oh look, here's one]' And lo and behold, there was an alley just handy and he pushed me into it and forced a vile wet kiss on me.'

'Weren't you frightened?' I asked.

'No, not frightened, just revolted,' said Polly. 'Then we had another date: we went to see a film together.'

'I thought you found him revolting?' I said, puzzled.

'Well, yes, but I decided to give him a second chance: see if he'd improved since the alley. Of course, he hadn't'

'What next?'

''Ooh, I don't believe I've told you about my very first date,' said Polly. 'That was with Essex Mensa-man. He was a British Gas senior executive whose wife had gone off and left him with an 11-year-old daughter. He was Essex man because he came from Epping and Mensa man because the very first thing he told me about himself was that he was a member and so was his daughter] That poor girl got dragged into the conversation at every opportunity. They did everything together - walking weekends, theatre trips, visits to museums. But, most extraordinary of all, he spent ages cataloguing the wretched child's diet for me. No Weetabix or baked beans on toast for this kid: she had chicken kiev for breakfast. Can you imagine? Garlic-filled, swimming-in-butter chicken for brekky] He'd get it out of the freezer and pop it in the oven for her, to build her up for school I suppose. Heaven knows what the teachers thought of her garlic-laden breath.'

'He must have been well off, what with all that gas,' I observed. 'Weren't you tempted?'

'Not a bit,' replied Polly, 'even though he told me that he'd 'look after' me financially. He was probably quite a nice man but all his talk implied, 'Don't mess with us: we're superior beings.' I couldn't imagine my three girls, normal and noisy as they are, getting on with that rarefied family. So that was that, chicken kiev and all.'

'Weren't there any successes among your Dateloin men?' I asked.

'Kent Crook wasn't bad at all,' Polly mused. 'He was a warm, generous bloke who passed himself off as a wealthy businessman; but I did think it odd that he kept doing 'business' in the middle of the night. He lived in a big house in Filchester, which is where lots of crims hang out. There was scarcely a book in the place apart from something called Famous Kentish Criminals. He saw I'd noticed it and said, 'You don't think I'm a crook, do you? Do I look like a crook?' Well of course I denied it, but the truth is he did look like a crook, all good-looking, swarthy and brighteyed. And, guess what . . .' She paused and giggled.


'He was the only one I went to bed with. We booked into a hotel and I naively brought my nightie and put it under the pillow. He was a fantastic lover and I never got my nightie on, nor in fact did I ever see it again. I saw him a few times more though. He warned me it would end in tears if I got too fond of him, so I didn't. I knew he was unreliable - he'd admitted to affairs with young girls who bored him and were clingy but he wanted their bodies anyhow. He liked bodies. He actually said to me once, when I was tucking into something with gusto, 'If you go over nine and a half stone, I'll drop you like a stone.' Cheeky sod] I don't think he seriously wanted a woman: he just wanted to get back at his ex-wife.'

'Who paid on these trips out?' I asked.

'Them, of course,' said Polly. 'I made them pay. After all, I'd had to pay for the babysitter.'

'Did you never feel embarrassed, meeting all those strange men? Did you never worry you'd meet someone from school while you were lurking at the station, looking out for a stranger?'

'Not a bit,' said Polly, who is not easily abashed. 'When Graham left me for that woman at his office, I was determined not to hang around at home, manless. Oh, before we go, do you want to hear about Scottish Buddhiston-a-Bicycle?'