My winter of love: I had three exciting dates that Christmas – one ended with a charge of armed burglary

No one, my friends decided, should be alone at Christmas. Especially no one as desperately, soul-searchingly, what’s-wrong-with-me single as me. In the late 00s, when internet dating was for nerds, meeting people wasn’t easy – unless you got talking to someone at a party or something, which I never did, because I was too busy banging on to my mates about why I was so achingly single.

Thus, a plan was hatched. Three friends would each set me up on a blind date. I’m good-looking (with a squint), charming (after a few drinks) and a good catch, they assured me. What could go wrong?

My first date on a cold mid-December Friday evening was organised by my friend Caroline. I would be meeting Thom (Thomasina) for drinks. Things went uncharacteristically well (she was amused and not repelled by me spraying on emergency deodorant as I walked through the pub door) and I ended up being sneaked into her house – just for a snog – to avoid waking her flatmates. The snag was that I had to be up for work at 9am the next morning. As a freelance journalist, I didn’t know which scared me more: being sneaked into a house in the middle of the night by an attractive young woman, or having to get up so early on a Saturday.

Rich Pelley in 2007.
Rich Pelley in 2007. Photograph: Courtesy of Rich Pelley

It was all before everyone had smartphones, and there was no clock in the bedroom, so I relied on half-sleeping and half-squinting at the bright LCD I could see through the bedroom doorway. Nine o’clock arrived sooner than I imagined, so I grabbed my trousers and blundered into the Christmas tree in the hallway, waking all the flatmates. Who was this strange bloke picking up baubles in his underpants?

“Odd,” I thought as I set my bearings to the nearest tube. “Why is it still dark at 9am?”

“Also,” I thought, shortly afterwards, “why is the tube shut at 9am?”

The clock I’d been looking at was the oven timer. It was 4am, and I’d only slept for 45 minutes. Thus my date and her flatmates were delighted to hear me ring the doorbell, get back into bed and repeat my exit strategy at 9am, again crashing full pelt into the Christmas tree.

My second date, two days before Christmas Eve, was lovely – until I tried to get back home. I drunkenly overslept my stop in south London and woke up in Staines, in Surrey. Too late for a train back, it was obviously time for a kebab outside a branch of Halfords. “Is this a taxi office?” I remember wondering. Then: “What are those flashing lights?” And, most worrying of all: “Why am I being handcuffed, bundled into the back of a police car and accused of attempted armed burglary?”

It turns out that, according to CCTV cameras high above Staines’ high street, a drunken man eating a kebab outside Halfords looks exactly the same as a master criminal about to burgle a shop full of car tyres armed with a handgun. The police were legally permitted to lock me up for the 24 hours it took to retrieve the CCTV footage of me eating a kebab with curry sauce and salad, in pitta bread, and not concealing a weapon. My mind wandered during my time in the clink. Mainly to: “I bet this wouldn’t have happened if I had a girlfriend.”

You can bet that the third lucky woman, to whom I was introduced on New Year’s Eve, was delighted when I accidentally broke her key off while chivalrously trying to open her front door, forcing her to cancel her plans for New Year’s Day while I queued to buy a new lock at Homebase. A new lock that – it turned out – you needed a professional, and not someone who would fail GCSE DIY, to fit.

These are my dating ghosts of Christmases past. And, to Thom, Louise and Katie: I am truly sorry.


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