I get on at London Paddington and walk through the train to my designated seat. I don’t like it and the carriage isn’t full so I sit down somewhere else.
A smart-looking man gets on and sits across from me but one row forward. He opens a briefcase and removes a bagel wrapped in foil. He separates the two halves, examines the contents, rearranges the smoked salmon and begins eating. I open my laptop and start to work.
The train sets off. After about 20 minutes, the man gets up, looks around, comes over to me and says: “Could you please watch my things for a moment? I’m going to get a coffee.”
“Sure" I say, "and when you come back, I might ask you to return the favour so I can get something.”
“Would you like me to bring you back a coffee?” he asks. I hesitate. I had more in mind a fruit juice but I don’t want to start making demands so I say: “That would be lovely. Thank you.”
When he returns, he makes a bit of a production of putting my coffee down on the tray, arranging a sachet of white sugar and one of brown with a wooden stirrer alongside. I thank him profusely and get out my purse. He waves his hand at it dismissively but continues to hover. I do not want to get involved in conversation. I have two hours of dead time ahead and I want to work.
He returns to his seat. We both sip our coffee then look at each other because the drink is just bitter hot water. Truly disgusting!
“I’m sorry about this!” he says. “I really can do better.” I shrug, smile, mutter something placatory and carry on writing.
At the next station a group of noisy schoolchildren get on. Their teacher instructs them loudly where to sit then barks at them to eat their sandwiches and clear up all their rubbish. The man and I catch each other’s others eye and acknowledge the disturbance.
As we near Bristol, he gets up and prepares to leave the train. As he passes my seat, he leans over and proffers me his business card. “Seriously," he says, "I’d be delighted to buy you a decent cup of coffee some time?"
I’m slightly taken aback but I smile and say: “Maybe...”
I look at the card. His office address is close to where I live but it occurs to me that if he was the sort of man I’d like to know I’d have preferred him to be travelling to his business meeting in the back of a chauffeur-driven Bentley or at least in the first-class carriage.
An hour passes. I’m now distracted and slightly bored plus my laptop’s running out of juice and I can’t find anywhere to plug it in. So I pick up the card again and I text him.
“I’m not much of a coffee drinker but you do owe me a decent cup!”
We text on and off over the next couple of days. I’m staying with a friend in Devon but on the Sunday night, when the man obviously estimates I will be home, I receive:
“May I have the pleasure of inviting you for cocktails at the Dorchester on Thursday evening?”
That’s more like it! I think. “How very charming!” I reply. “But I can’t do Thursday. Weds any good?”
He doesn’t reply for about 3 hours, re-arranging his life, presumably. Eventually, I get: “Weds perfect. Building up my charming points. 6.30? X”
Then an alarm bell goes off in my head...
To be continued