Supper with Hugo and Jemima. I must say, they’ve been my saviours in the village. There’s always much levity and combat with Hugo, a ruddy-faced, unreconstructed Hooray Henry, wine merchant and bon viveur, and Jemima, his blonde pony-tailed English rose wife, whom he plucked virtually straight from her graduation ceremony.
We’ve just demolished half a lamb, two bottles of delicious rosé and one of claret, and we’re now reclining on the sofa. At least, Jemima is reclining on Hugo, who is sitting back in a well satisfied, lord-of-his-castley way, and I am sitting on the floor fondling the ears of Dusty and Cinder.
‘Now, she’s a borderline boiler.’ Hugo is scanning the Telegraph.
‘Condoleezza Rice. You know, when your eyes say no and your nuts say go!’
‘No, I don’t know,’ I say. Jemima and I exchange looks.
‘They’re ones who you don’t find attractive and yet they’re still sexy in some way. Women must have the same thing.’
Jemima and I shake our heads. ‘We either fancy them or we don’t,’ I say.
‘So what is your type, Eliza?’ asks Hugo. ‘How come you’re on your own? You’re still an attractive woman, not a boiler by any stretch. I can’t understand why you’re not fighting men off.’
‘Because they’re all like you!’ The wine is fortifying my defence. ‘As soon as they get to 40, they stop noticing women of their own age and go for girls in their twenties. And the annoying thing is, girls in their twenties smile prettily and go for them! Like you, Jemima!’ I am now throwing my hands around theatrically. ‘So perfectly viable women of my age are completely prised out of the equation.’
Jemima smiles sweetly and sweeps some greying wisps of hair from her husband’s eyes. Hugo continues undeterred. ‘How old are you?’
‘Darling!’ admonishes Jemima.
‘46? 47? Same as me, aren’t you? Well, you’ve got to stop looking at men in their forties and fifties and go for ones in their sixties.’
Honestly! The last man I was with (ie Gitface) was still in his 30s! Why, ten years later (well, 13), would I want to be with some leathery old grandfather figure? ‘If I were 26 or 7, it would be perfectly natural to go out with a man of 26 or 7. So why, now I’m 46 or 7, can’t I go out with someone the same age?’
‘You’ve already answered that question.’ Hugo tips his head back to drain his glass. ‘They’re not interested in you any more. Men, whether they’re 26 or 46, go out with women that they’re sexually attracted to, which is always going to be someone as physically perfect and young as they can get away with.’
‘Hugo!’ Jemima gives him a little smack on the arm.
‘Sorry, my love, but it’s true.’ Hugo leans over her to top up our glasses. ‘Whereas a man in his sixties – unless he’s super-rich or Woody Allen – would realise he was pushing his luck with a 20 year old, but he’d view someone like you, Eliza, as a youthful catch.’
I curl my lip at him. ‘What about personality? Chemistry. Clicking with someone? A meeting of minds?’
‘It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances, Ms Gray,’ he says wryly.
‘But when I look around me at all the married couples, I think, how? Why? They’re mostly hideous.’
‘It’s all to do with what you can get away with,’ says Hugo. ‘Some men don’t realise they can do better.’
‘What about the women?’ I squeal with indignation. ‘Why aren’t they allowed to do better?’
‘Some of them do,’ says Jemima. ‘Sam Taylor Wood. Demi Moore. Francesca Annis.’
‘Except when she got to 60, he buggered off with a younger model,’ I point out.
‘That’s why it’s wise to grab an older man while you have the chance,’ says Hugo. ‘Then you’ll always be the younger model.’ As Jemima reaches forward to get the iPad on the coffee table, Hugo pats her on the bottom. ‘Won’t you, my love?’
Jemima gives him a Princess Di-y demure look, sits back and opens up her Facebook page. ‘Come on, Eliza,’ she says, moving up to make a space on the sofa, ‘let’s see if there’s anyone here we’ve got for you.’ She starts scrolling through her 756 Friends.
‘Gosh, he’s gorgeous!’ I stop her at an Orlando Bloomy type.
‘Married,’ she says. ‘But only recently, when he hit 40.’
‘To a 28-year-old,’ adds Hugo.
She scrolls on down, stopping to offer me a newly divorced paratrooper aged 43.
‘Not bad,’ I say. ‘But Action Man… I can’t see it, somehow.’
‘Don’t dismiss him out of hand,’ says Jemima. ‘He’s got two young children, so he might want someone a bit more mature and motherly.’
‘OK.’ Honestly. Mature and motherly. How did life come to this? ‘I’m always available for introductions. Moving on…’
No sooner has Jemima flicked the screen than Hugo halts the flow of faces. His stubby fingers expand a Liz Hurleyish siren. ‘Now look at Carina. Same age as us. Attractive. No problem pulling men.’
‘So how does she do it?’
‘Likes it up Trap 2.’
‘Hugo!’ Jemima gives him one of her little smacks and returns to the scrolling. This time we pounce simultaneously. ‘What about him?’ squeaks Jemima, just as I’m saying, ‘He’s gorgeous!’
‘Who’s that?’ Hugo looks over Jemima’s shoulder. ‘Oh, Tyler.’ He lets out a snort of laughter.
‘Why are you laughing?’ I ask suspiciously.
‘He’d be quite a catch,’ says Jemima.
‘That’s what every woman from the age of 20 onwards thinks,’ says Hugo. ‘He’s Eliza’s absolute case in point. But why not? Maybe he’s bored of women throwing themselves at him and he’d like someone with a bit more …’
‘Class. Experience. Discernment. Someone who can see beyond the trappings…’
‘Well he’s one of the richest vignerons in California and Provence – in fact, the rosé we had tonight…’ Hugo goes off to the kitchen to fetch the bottle, while Jemima shows me more photos. He is drop-dead divine. Like the young Robert Redford, or Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise.
Hugo, trying to mitigate a burp, thrusts a bottle under my nose. ‘There. That’s his gold medal-winner. Château Tyler d’Or. Beautiful place in the hills north-west of St Tropez. But his main estate is in Napa Valley.’
I am practically drooling.
‘You’re going to push it, aren’t you Eliza?’ laughs Hugo. ‘You’re just as bad as us men. If you can get away with it, you will. And why not? I’ll introduce you – he’s coming over soon for a tasting. I’ll get him down here for a night. Come for dinner.’
Yes! Will no longer need to online date. Will soon have real-life non-virtual beau.