Time To Get Out There

The garden is the place for dating for the doubtful…

“You need to get back out there, Mum, you really do.”

Ryan gives me a look over the rim of his mug of tea.

“I really don’t!”

I reach for a ginger snap and dunk it down too long in my tea like I’m trying to drown it. I don’t want to talk about this.

“You say it like ‘out there’ is just popping the bins out front, but it’s not. It’s out there – dating! I’m too old.

“I wouldn’t know what to wear or what to talk about. I can’t do it.”

I thunk my mug down on the counter as if that’s the end of the matter.

“Now, Mum – you can do anything you set your mind to…”

He laughs.

When he was a boy and got stuck on something – tricky sums from school, his spellings, even trying to open a tin of beans for the first time, he’d get all grouchy and say he couldn’t do it.

I’d give his chubby little cheek a kiss, and say, “Yes, you can, love. You can do anything you set your mind to.”

“Funny.” I blow a raspberry at him. “Not the same thing at all. I’m not going on Tinder – all that swipe right, swipe left. I’m bound to mess it up.”

The first time I did an online shop, I thought I was so brilliant. Everything arrived – veg, cereal, pasta, sausages, toilet paper, etc – in my slot. But then, two hours later, the whole lot arrived again – because I’d somehow submitted the order twice.

If I went on a dating app, who knows what might go wrong?

I could arrange to meet two different men in the same pub at the same time!

“Actually, you really are too old for Tinder,” he tells me.

“Oh gee, thanks.”

“But there are loads of dating apps for the over-fifties. We can look later. I’ll help you – take a good pic of you and all that.”

“Oi! Over-fifties! I’m only just fifty.”

“Yeah – exactly. Fifty plus two and a half months – over fifty. I’d best get off to work, Mum. Bye. Love you.”

I’m standing in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, wondering, do I really look fifty?

I’m not much of a one for make-up, unless I’m going somewhere special, but I put on some mascara and a lick of lip gloss. If Ryan really is going to take my picture later for a dating website, I’d better make a bit of an effort.

I nip back to the bedroom to change out of my ancient T-shirt into a pretty blue top that my friend Sara says makes my eyes sparkle, then I run my fingers through my hair but it still looks the way it always does – brown and boring.

I’m so used to looking at my reflection that I don’t really see me any more. Am I still attractive?

It’s been so long since I went out with a man, had someone look at me like it was a pleasure.

While I’m thinking all this, the doorbell goes.

Ah, that’ll be the patio man. Ryan’s best friend’s dad, Mike, is a builder and he’s going to rip up the old cracked concrete out the back and lay a proper sitting-out area in brick.

Then I’ll plant up big pots of pretty flowers – petunias and fuchsias and roses and lavender. It gets the sun in the early evening so I can sit out there with a book and a glass of wine. Lovely.

For a moment, a picture comes into my head of the other patio chair with a man in it.

Not a specific man, you understand, just a random man. Mr Dating App.

I shake the thought away. One thing at a time.

I’ve only met Mike once before, when he came round to look at the concrete mess and measure up for the new patio.

“Hi, Mike. How are you?”

He looks a bit taken aback. Have I got mascara on my nose or something?

“You look… er… nice,” he says. “You off somewhere special?”

“Well, I was – um… no, nowhere.”

I don’t want to admit I’ve put on make-up and a smart top because Ryan’s going to take my picture for a dating app. Doesn’t it sound a bit desperate?

I show him the side gate so he can take the bricks and stuff through to the garden then take him out a tea.

We stand there side by side.

“This could be lovely,” he says.

“Yes, I hope so.” I shrug. “I’ve been meaning to put some work in on the garden but didn’t feel like it for ages, what with one thing and another…”

Johnny always did the garden. Well, he mowed the grass and hacked back the shrubs when he could be bothered.

Mostly, he just sat out here, smoking and drinking cans of lager.

To be fair, the horrible concrete wasn’t his fault – it was there when we moved in and we always said we’d change it.

We just never got round to it. Used up all our energy in arguing…

Mike points to the far corner of the garden.

“Have you thought of having a bench there as well? You should get the morning sun there, right? I could make you a pretty arch over it that you could grow roses up.”

“That’s a lovely idea – I always notice how sunny that spot is when I’m making our breakfast.”

“You could take your coffee out there first thing. Listen to the birds. Admire the wonderful patio…”

I look sideways at him and smile and he smiles back then looks away again.

“I have lots of bird feeders in my garden,” he tells me. “It’s nice – calming, you know. And the birds get used to you after a bit.”

“Do you – do you sit out with your…um… wife? Girlfriend?”

He looks down.

“Nah. She died.”

“Oh – I’m so sorry! I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“It’s OK. It’s over four years ago. My son’s on at me to – you know – get out there again.”

He laughs but it’s a quiet laugh, like he’s mocking himself.

“Ryan was telling me I’ve got to sign up to a dating app for the –”

I’m about to say over-fifties, then stop myself. I can probably pass for forty-five – if the lighting’s not too bright.

“For people who are a bit rusty…” I add, then realise that sounds as if I’m suffering from some strange disease. “At dating, I mean.”

Mike gives me another one of those sideways smiles.

“You don’t need to do all that, though…”

“Well, Ryan says it’s what everyone does now.”

“Not everyone.”

Is he flirting with me? I mean, I really can’t tell any more, I’m so out of practice.

I want to say, Excuse me, Mike, are you flirting with me? And if so, will you please carry on?

I must admit, when I met him before, my first thought was, Mmm, nice-looking chap. Not exactly handsome, but there’s something really attractive about him – when he smiles, his whole face just looks brimming with happiness as if he has more than enough to share.

But I don’t know how to flirt. Is there a Rusty Over-Fifties Guide to Flirting app? That’s what I need.

Should I smile more? Or will he think I’m mad?

I’m so nervous, I suddenly don’t know what to say, so blurt out, “Well, must get the washing on!”

As if it’s an emergency that really can’t wait.

I work part-time as a receptionist at a dentist’s surgery so I stick the washing into the machine, grab my keys, and tell Mike that I’m off to work.

Over the next few days, Mike and I have a chat every morning before I have to leave for work, and when I come back in the afternoon.

I find myself rushing out the door after work as if I have an urgent appointment so I’ll get home before he leaves.

I managed to deflect Ryan from the dating app by droning on about plans for a family get-together with my sister and her grown-up kids in Glasgow so he got bored and wandered off.

Then one afternoon, I’m standing in the garden, talking to Mike while he beds the bricks down, when Ryan suddenly appears.

He’s back early because he had a job locally and his boss said he could have the rest of the day off.

“Mike – back me up on this. I reckon Mum should sign up to an over-fifties dating app – good idea, right?”

I shoot Ryan a look. Thanks for telling him I’m over fifty!

“Em…” Mike looks at me then back down at his brickwork. “Well… you know, Ryan, that sort of thing – it’s not for everyone.”

“But it is – it’s not just for young people, Mum. And let’s face it, how else are you ever going to meet anyone?”

“How can you say that – she’s very attractive!” Mike says, sounding quite cross.

“And she barely looks forty, never mind fifty!”

I look at Mike and feel myself flush, like a girl again!

“I didn’t mean you’re not nice-looking, Mum – I just meant that it’s hard to meet people at your a– I mean, at your… em… stage of life, that’s all.

“When you go out with your friends, you go to Ciao Bella for lasagne and a glass of wine – you’re not going clubbing, are you?”

“Well, no…”

“And who are you going to meet at the dentist’s surgery? Just men with seriously bad teeth!”

I sneak a sideways glance at Mike again, and he beams at me. He has really nice teeth.

On Friday, it’s Mike’s last day. The patio is all laid and looks amazing. Tomorrow, I’ll go to the garden centre to choose some pots and plants.

I stand in the kitchen and thank Mike for all his hard work, then we get to chatting about which plants we like and I mention I’m going to buy some tomorrow.

“I could come with you if you like,” he says, darting a glance at me. “I mean – to give you a hand with lugging your compost and pots.”

I turn then and look at him properly, and he looks back.

It’s not what most people would think of as a date. It’s not a snazzy bar or a fancy restaurant – it’s just going to choose some things for the garden, but I couldn’t think of a date I’d rather go on.

I put the kettle on and offer him another cup of tea and he gives me that lovely smile that makes me feel like I’m twenty again.

He nods his head towards the garden.

“I guess it’s about time we both got back out there,” he says, nodding towards the garden and laughing. “Care to join me?”