Life on Marsden: She thought I was interesting. I had to let her know she was wrong

'Strangers don’t offer unprovoked smiles unless they want something'

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The Independent Online

I was standing 4ft from the bar, having fallen victim to that perennial misfortune of not getting served at the bar because people are drinking at the bar and forming an impenetrable barrier of skin, muscle, hair and casual clothing. I sensed a presence to my right, and as I glanced in that direction I knew something wasn’t right because she was smiling at me. Strangers don’t offer unprovoked smiles unless they want something – usually my signature on a direct debit instruction below some information about the plight of puppies in the Sudan.

But she didn’t want money. No, as she continued smiling it became evident that she wanted my company. She had looked me up and down and, with a heavy heart, had come to the grim conclusion that, on balance, talking to me might be marginally more interesting than sitting alone and sucking vodka through a straw. She was wrong, but she wasn’t to know that yet. I had to order my drinks, and then I had to let her know.

The ensuing conversation was a classic of the chat-up genre. These kind of exchanges happen thousands of times each day in Shropshire alone, but they tend to go undocumented in screenplays, novels or light operetta. We ascribe far too much ingenuity and flair to the chat-up. If the subject ever crops up in conversation, people tend to recount the shocking chat-up lines, the audacious ones, the “I’m a scud missile, baby, and you’re Tel Aviv” ones, the “can I have a go on your breasts?” ones. But they’re mostly like the below.

“Do you live in London?” she asked. We were standing up in London, so this was a reasonable supposition, but sadly it required a yes-no answer. “Yes,” I replied. “Whereabouts?” she asked. I paused. I had to be vague, but didn’t want to come across as rude. “East,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, “I’m not from London, so I don’t know where that is.”

I raised an eyebrow. She kept smiling. “Have you lived here all your life?” I said no, and was about to give her a précis of my dwelling history when the drinks arrived. That was that. A brief encounter. I took the drinks over to my girlfriend. “Someone just tried to chat me up,” I said, proudly. “Jesus,” she replied, sipping her rum.