Getting ‘hygge’ with it in Denmark

Blame Princess Mary, but Australian is fast becoming the new lingua-wanker of Denmark.

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Explore the hygge
Airport hygge leaves a bit to be desired

We need to talk about Hygge: the Danish word that last year took the world by calm.

Its definition translates roughly into English as “the feeling of a throw rug with cushions and tealights”, or at least that’s what you might believe from all the airport books and Instagram posts revealing the secret of (to paraphrase Will Smith) “getting hygge with it”.

But what’s it like in reality?

It was a rainy Monday evening in August when I had my first-hand experience of the phenomenon. But first, the introduction:

The weekend had been the average debauched boy’s weekend in Copenhagen. We were hanging on the morning-coat tails of an Dansk/Australian wedding (we weren’t invited, but kept running into everyone who was, which was half of Denmark).

Having done all the cultural sites on previous visits, it was a luxury to experience all the other things to do in Copenhagen, which it turns out, are exactly the same things a jaded ex-pat does in any large European city: visit bars in places that make you remember you’re not quite in New York.

Meatpacking Copenhagen
See you inside the Meatpacking of Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s Meatpacking district has replicated the trendy bar vibe of its NYC namesake. That was the easy part, it turns out, for the service was a different kettle of fisk (more on this in a minute).

In one bar, NOHO, staff hovered over us like surveillance drones, collecting glasses the second the empty drink hit the wooden table, awaiting to fill the next order.

Cocktails were cheaper by the pitcher, which sounded great in theory, until we realised the only ones applicable had names such as Raspberry Smash, Lemon Heaven, and Sweet Jesus Don’t Tell Anyone We Ordered This. The least-sweet option was the Raspberry Smash. We sucked up our pride, and the sugary concoction soon after.

Seeking more or a rock vibe, we moved on to Jolene, a lesbian bar run by Icelandics. Well, it was certainly run by dicks.

“I’ll have six fisk,” I said, referring to the local speciality which is essentially a shot of vodka with eucalyptus, menthol and liquorice, that tastes like Fisherman’s Friend.

He poured six drinks into plastic shot glasses on the bar.“Skal!” I said.

“This is whisky. I don’t drink whisky,” said one of the Australian girls we had met up with.

“Excuse me,” I said to the bartender, “I ordered six fisk, and you gave me six whisky.”

“No, you ordered six whisky.”

“I think I know what I ordered, and it wasn’t a shot of whisky.” Making friends is hard in this city, whether Fishermen, barmen or otherwise.

Dive bar toilets have seen it all
The toilets are freshly painted every day

Time to move on, the next destination was Mesteren & Lærlingen. The toilets here definitely fit the description of dive bar, though not one frequented by professional divers judging by the splash around the edges.

It was on the terrace here that an old friend from Paris recognised me. Despite being 15° cold, his shirt was unbuttoned to his navel, and he was wearing a foulard. I’m surprised I hadn’t recognised him first.

“How do you not feel cold with your shirt half open?” my Australian friend asked him.

He thought about it a split second, and simply replied: “French.”

Just like his buttons, the night went downhill from there.

Sunday was our hungover cultural day, which meant an excellent set of exhibitions at the Charlottenborg museum. It was a series of entirely watchable art films, which is virtually unheard of.

(Later than night we continued our cultural tour by watching Mission Impossible Fallout. An entirely watchable Tom Cruise film, which these days is also virtually unheard of.)

Charlottenborg Museum
There’s not quite something for everyone at the Charlottenborg

Blame Princess Mary
The waitress in the Charlottenborg café gave us menus and we ordered three beers. “I don’t speak Danish,” she said, unapologetically, in a blunt Australian accent. Blame Princess Mary, but Australian is fast becoming the new lingua-wanker of Denmark.

Monday brought more rain. We traipsed into town to buy stereotypical Danish design products from Hay, drank expensively cheap Sancerre, and said farewell to my travelling companion.

Cold and a little drunk, I was feeling spent. My credit card was too, so when two Danish friends invited me for a cosy hygge dinner, I willingly obliged.

I've got designs on your apartment
I’ve got designs on your apartment

Proving that an apartment’s furnishings can be a good reflection of its occupant, their apartment was beautifully turned out, droll and welcoming.

They’d lit candles on their teak dressers, and soon the lasagna was served in a large glass tray, which we scooped up in large slices and washed down with Norwegian beers.

Sitting back in our classic leather and wood design chairs, I covered myself with a warm blanket. My friends cuddled on the couch. It was the Instagram image of hygge.

But it would be remiss to focus solely on the visual aspects of hygge. A picture tells a thousands words, but also ignores a thousand sounds and smells.

What was going on under the blanket three-days’ worth of stodgy food and excessive beers worked their way through the system, creating a Danish oven experience.

Meanwhile my friends were cracking sarcastic jokes and each others’ toes with equal fervour.

With the new memory fond and fresh in my mind Tuesday as I walked through the bookshop in Copenhagen airport, I skipped over the photo essays of hygge, and skipped straight to their hygge audio books instead.

A road-trip through Norway with my influential Fjord escort

Unfiltered waters of Lovatnet
Fjords are excellent for unfiltered waters, and heavily filtered photos.

When the question is “Where should we go for a cheap holiday?”, the answer is rarely “Norway.”

We were two unemployed Australian journalists… or as the current job market might have it, “content copywriters looking for new opportunities”. And, an opportunity had just arisen, in the form of a free week between other holidays, to discover the riches of Norway.

Of course, a trip to the fjords isn’t without its own specific challenges.

The first problem with the fjords in Norway we discovered, is getting there. Quickly disabused we had the money to travel by cruise ship, we opted for more extravagant means…

Before looking into car rental, I’d just assumed the only car that would get you to West Norway was a Fjord Escort (boom boom!). As we sat in the rental agency in East Oslo, we contemplated the upcoming 1000km journey in the car I’d reserved: a Toyota Yaris…

“Lift up your spirit with a Yaris,” claims Toyota’s promotional material. Anywhere else but Norway are there better and cheaper pick-me-ups available on virtually any street.

Lucky then, the car rental agency came through with its first piece of luck: the Yaris was unavailable (a visiting Saudi royal perhaps?), and we would have to be upgraded to a BMW.

Set to go, with our bags in the boot, and a full cup of coffee forgotten on the roof, we encountered our second problem with Norway’s fjords – there’s a hell of a lot of them.

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How do you know the best one to visit? I’d seen promotional material from Air France for Stavanger, but the risk of meeting someone French was too great for this to be a reliable holiday option.

What else then? Geiranger? This one stuck in my head…but again, that was mainly from cruise ship publicity, and my own love of reading articles that rubbish cruise ships (of which David Foster Wallace’s ‘A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again’, and Jon Ronson’s are two stand-out examples from a strong field).

On the ground, we heard that Geiranger was population 500 locals, 3000 tourists. Not to mention cruise ships so big that the ground deck is level with the shore, and the top pool deck and tennis court on par with the cliff top.
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Kate though was an Instagram junkie, and through extensive research had come across a smaller, lesser-known fjord encircling lake Lovatnet.

While the sunlit instafilters painted a delightful picture of the place on social media for Kate, mine was a more macabre interest.

A few years earlier I had watched a Norwegian disaster film, The Wave, about a town on the fjords that was wiped out when a chunk of the mountain had collapsed into the water, created an enormous tidal wave. As it happened, two villages nearby, Bødal and Kjenndal suffered such a fate in 1905 and again in 1936. Building your village too close to the shore once could be considered unlucky. But for it to happen twice, that’s just tragic. (Here’s a succinct account of the story.)

Upon arriving however, it was clear the allure of building by the water. The Lovatnet and other lakes are filled with meltwater from the nearby glaciers, lending them a tropical emerald hue. Forgive me as I reach for my thesaurus to describe water of colours I’ve never before seen, but judging by the comments on Instagram I later received, I would now describe them as “envious green”.

The water was also delicious. To taste perfection, dip your bottle into the lake for some perfectly, icy pure water, the likes of which I’ve seen sell for 50 euros a bottle in Bon Marché.

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Kate, a dab hand at social media, was quick to see the opportunity. She downloaded a series of photo filters specially designed for the Lovatnet area, which made the colours pop even more strikingly. And striking is the right word, as that also describes the approach we took to posing.

Barely a landscape could be appreciated without it being captured on screen from several angles (most of which were identical), given an even more dramatic filter, and uploaded for the envy and vicarious living of our stuck-at-home friends.

If Kate had a library of filters, she had global database of poses. All of these were variations on her walking, skipping or turning seductively in front of a 100,000 year-old geological wonder.

My favourite was the one I call “airing the armpits”. You walk 5 metres in front of the camera, and lift your arms up as if you need to aerate them surreptitiously (not far from the truth TBH – we were camping after all).

Another, self-explanatory post, is the “look-back turn”. It starts with a forward walk, then just as the camera is about to click (for the hundredth time), you suddenly turn as if someone had called your name (but who? Remember, the premise for social media is that you are all alone and at one with nature.)
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Kate made it all seem easy enough, so I decided to give it a shot. But my forward walk looked like a cowboy learning to walk in high heels, and the airing my pits made me look like a hypnotist had turned me into a chicken.

So instead I tried variations on a yoga pose. Having only done yoga a few times my references were meagre, so there ended up being a lot of downward dog on the rocks.

I combined these with some gym routines from my weekly circuit class. Some squats, a few pushups, and some planks with a leg in the air. The results on camera were instantly better than anything I’d achieved at the gym for the past 6 months.

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The last difficulty we had with our road trip was accommodation. Prices in Norway, as most people not from Norway are aware, are enough to make your eyes water. So much so, that if I hadn’t read lake Lovatnet was filled with meltwater, then backpackers’ tears would be my second guess.

The solution was to camp. I had brought with me a two-person tent. Being 193cm tall, and Kate not far off that, we were going to be stretching its technical specifications.

The tent was lightweight, and so too it turned out, were we. I woke up alone in the tent on the Wednesday morning, Kate having bolted in the night for the relative comfort of the BMW where she wedged herself in like a banana (at last! Something resembling fruit in Norway!). We subsequently dubbed it the Bedroo-M-W, and Kate spent the remaining two nights there, while I slummed it in the tent.

Still, the photos reveal none of those stories. Sometimes, social media is best enjoyed like some of that cool glacier water. Unfiltered.

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Getting heDonistic in Dudevalla

If Don had feared his salad days were over, then it was only to be his potato salad days. Meanwhile, his red pepper and meatball days were well and truly nigh.

milf island
We were offshore from Uddevalla when the cucumbers began to take hold.

Cold, watery, and contained in cheap plastic to protect them from the elements, they were nearly the perfect allegory for our current predicament.

Us, stuck into our plastic kayaks with a tasteful skirt that was hard to get into; the cucumbers, stuck onto crisp breads by a bacon-cheese squirt that was also hard to get into.

The crisp breads themselves were hard to crack. And that’s were the analogy with our party ends, for we by comparison sat around whingeing about the shitty weather and headwind, which had seen us advance 1 kilometre in 75 minutes.

If that was a slow advance; it was in direct contrast to the one Don had made towards his 40th year. In 12 months he had left Paris, worked in San Francisco, quit San Francisco, returned to Australia, travelled through Queensland, visited South-east Asia, come back to Europe, and settled in London, while also working here and there around Belgium and making plenty of necessary visits to Paris. It was a year of so much change that Don was in need of a new coin purse just to hold it all.

We were 8 friends in 8 kayaks, who found themselves brought together after answering the same 8 thousand emails for the most he-donistic of weekends. And we had nothing to lose, except ourselves, our dignity, and Attilio, which we did with free abandon, despite 2 nautical maps and one of us working for TomTom.

For 3 days and 2 nights, of which 7 hours were actually spent in a boat, we poodled piddled paddled the inlets, channeling our energies, and breaking the waters.

At the end of each day’s hard ka-yakka, we would find a beautiful island and get camper than 8 tents.

And then the feasts would commence. If Don had feared his salad days were over, then it was only to be his potato salad days. Meanwhile, his red pepper and meatball days were well and truly nigh, as that was essentially all we found upon opening the 8 bags of dicks bags of Willy’s supermarket produce.

There was also wine, beers, wining about beers, and some Teacher’s whisky, which as its name suggests, came on strong once it was dark around the site and the responsible ones had retired to bed.

And when the alcohol ran dry, the promise of wetness came not from capsizing, but the equally impossible task of finding the local “café-bar-restaurant” in the archipelago. This was marked with a green dot on the map, which had it been to scale, would have been the size of a small sea-side industrial zone, of which there were plenty.

Alas, in the event, the only bar we found was of the Allah-Akbar variety; boat-crashing a summer camp where young ISIS recruits were having a truckload of fun, jumping from the pier to perfect their bombs. They smiled and waved; there was no doubt they were having a real Nice time.

Of course, unlike one of Richard’s anecdotes, the nice times couldn’t go on forever; and so it was on Monday, a little earlier than expected, a little closer than planned, we clambered into a troop carrier and returned to the relative comforts of flushing toilets, and female humans.

Don was reassured: he had passed his milestone without incident (passing 2 milestones would have been much to ask given the headwind).

And neither had we buried his youth: instead, it lay safely stored, behind a rock on an isolated island, and covered it with some twigs, waiting to be discovered anew.

Don’t drink and surf – a cautionary tale from San Sebastian (but it’s not why you think)

Don’t drink and surf they say, but it’s not for the reason you may think.

San Sebastian, mid-August, the biggest weekend of summer. It’s Festival of the Virgin: ostensibly a Catholic celebration, but no-one’s told the hoards of young stoners and surfers who are swamping around, perhaps erroneously then, in the bars of this mini-Barcelona looking for a love story (or, if you’re over 25, then you’ll probably just have to settle for a story).

Everyone’s got one, a tale of debauchery from San Sebastian. An editor friend arrived planning to sleep on the beach. It sounded romantic: and then someone stole all his clothes when he was skinny-dipping. But he did meet a French girl there who he later married.

Visiting the dreamy surf town is a young Australian’s rite of passage, like growing up in the bush, working two years in a London pub, or wasting 8 years of your life in Paris waiting for life to happen.

It’s where Australian surfer boys go to play – or Australian boys go to play up the fact they saw a surfboard once, whatever.

“I’m a surfboard shaper,” said one glassy-eyed lad with shoulder length blonde hair from the Northern beaches. He was going to have no trouble pulling, and in fact was having a harder time shaking off the girl he’d met the night prior.

His mate, however, who looked like a lankier knock-off of his better-looking friend, was having a harder time with his “I’m just bumming around, but I’m interested in odd jobs” angle.

The namesake Saint Sebastian, you’ll recall, survived being shot by arrows, only later to be clubbed to death. In actually fact, the nightclubbing life is healthy.

The Sirimiri bar, opposite the cathedral, attracts young international types like a piper to the cave outside Hamlin. We went in on Friday and only emerged, bleary-eyed in the wee hours of Monday.

This bar served brilliant old fashioneds, so good they were drunk in half the time we were. Barmen spent so much time preparing them, that after 11pm, with lines two deep around the bar, it was considerably un-fashioned to order them.

And it was while waiting in this line that I realised why not to drink and surf (finally the point of the story awaits).

For we had spent the best part of the afternoon in the heady swells off Zurriola surf beach. Stef, confident on his rented surfboard, and me on a body board – don’t call it a ‘boogie board’ okay, thanks – at the end of which I’d been dumped numerous times and washed up on shore, water pouring out of every orifice.

And by later that night, the water was still pouring out, though sporadically and with no warning.

Well, I’m not sure who’s margarita it was on the bar waiting to be collected, but they probably regret not having removed it earlier given what now happened.

For as I stood there, arms on bar waiting for the barman’s attention, a healthy serving of saline fluid emergency-exited from my nose and straight into the drink.

It would have been impossible to detect on the palate, what with salt being an essential element of the drink. The only witnesses to my crime were two bystanders who rubbed their eyes, unsure they’d seen what their eyes told them so clearly they had.

I had no option but to pretend it hadn’t happened, though now stood two steps to the right to avoid it happening again.

When people swarm in such close proximity to food and drinks as they do in San Sebastian, perhaps the odd “unsanitary incident” is only to be expected.

For while the tapas – Pintxos – bars are delicious, they would also be a health inspector’s nightmare.

A healthy variety of savoury bites, from octopus to chorizo, blood pudding and baked cheesecake, and an unhealthy range of teaming, steaming, sweating tourists leaning over the food, pointing, gasping and spluttering about what they’ll have next.

As for me, I’ll have la cuenta, por favor…

Partying with Pete Doherty on the Rockstar to Bender-town

The period that started within three months of Wingman and I becoming single, is one we refer to as “Bendertown”.

Over many a weekend those months, both of us threw caution to the wind – read: pissed money against the wall – in pursuit of the hedonistic (read: destructive) pleasure of enjoying ourselves slightly too much.

It was also a period we both made the trip with fairly regular occurrence on the Eurostar – or as my friend’s baby niece thought it was called, “The Rockstar”, to London Town.

But where would this libertine lifestyle logically end?

Funnily enough, with the Libertines front-man himself.

It was a Monday night at St Pancras. Wingman had been in London for work (on the Monday at least) and me solely for fun, and were taking advantage of the cheaper tickets available for travelling outside of weekends (one of the meagre perks the freelance lifestyle permits).

The extended weekend had involved the usual antics. We’d raged from The Eagle through East London and into the depths of Fulham Broadway, leaving a trail of mischief, mayhem and broken hearts (Wingman) and watermelon stands (me) behind. Margaret Thatcher had also died, but I don’t think we were implicated.

Now Monday night and discombobulated the both of us, we had made it through the Eurostar customs and were walking the ramp up to our respective carriages (Wingman travelled Business, me not).

For whatever reason I looked to my right and saw a lanky figure hauling a guitar case, and wearing a familiar looking black leather hat.

Could this be Pete Doherty, I wondered? Poet extraordinaire, ex of Kate Moss, recovered addict and rumoured housemate of Macaulay Culkin in Paris (tip: you’re rarely Home Alone when you house-share).

For Pete’s Sake, I think it was!

There’s no doubting Pete Doherty, front man of the Libertines/Babyshambles, has had a lot of hits. And he’s even written some decent songs *boom boom*. Here his eyes were spinning counter-clockwise to each other, and he seemed to be sweating profusely, but when our eyes locked, he held my gaze steadily and smiled.

“You ‘right, mate?” I asked with genuine concern. If he was going to cark it on the platform, I probably wasn’t the first person you’d want to assist.

“Yeah, good, cheers,” he said with a grin. We walked side-by-side briefly, me sensing a kind of camaraderie, before I arrived all too early at my carriage.

“Well, see you, then,” he offered, trotting off towards the pointy end of the train.

As we often did, Wingman and I had arranged to meet in the bar carriage after an hour or so. This would give him time to take reasonable advantage of the free service in Business Class before sharing some beers charitably with me.

It was here we hatched out plan. There’s only one time in life you get the chance of partying with Pete Doherty, we figured. I mean, literally, so many people have died at his parties, (three deaths in a decade is nothing to be sniffed at…or snorted at), that the tabloid press talks of ‘The Curse of Pete Doherty’.

The idea was simple: we deduced that he was travelling in First. We, by contrast, were 18 carriages, a couple of hundred metres, behind. When the train rolled into Paris, we would run like the be-Jesus to the front of the train, and, drawing on my chummy banter with our new friend Pete, ask him if he wanted to come for a beer.

Then we could expect to be invited back to his party mansion, and spend the night regaling each other with stories of Kate Moss (him), stories about knowing Kate Moss’ former assistant (Wingman), and stories of, well…watching Home Alone?

As the train rolled into Gare du Nord we readied ourselves by the door. Backpacks on, and rolling luggage at hand.

When the doors opened, it was on. The quai at Gare du Nord is flat, but we were admittedly pushing shit uphill. Had it been an open route we may have fared a chance; but already we had 17 carriages of other people to navigate through, and not all of them seemed similarly intent on catching up with Pete Doherty.

Well, we finally arrived in the station proper, ourselves now also sweating profusely. Alas, by now he was nowhere to be seen. We hung around another 5 minutes in case he was having trouble disembarking, but finally gave up.

All things considered it probably wasn’t a bad ending. I was a few days shy of no longer being 30, and perhaps it was time to slow time*. And, after all, we had made it to Paris with the Rockstar, and unlike some, hadn’t died in the process**.

(For a more even-handed, and illuminating insight into Pete Doherty, with less cheap shots, read this excellent profile by Angelique Chrisafis in the Guardian.)

Editor’s notes:
*I didn’t end up slowing down as much as expected.

** I did see Pete Doherty again, but he was on stage at a public gig in Republique, still recognisable in his silly hat. 

Early morning sex louder than a careless whisper

It was the end of my second week at a vast, mysterious international company (not even THEY knew what they did) and a majority of the younger staff were celebrating the Friday with margeritas at La Perla, a Mexican bar specialising in tequila and, ehhr, sport fishing paraphernalia, in the 4th.

It was a chance to get to know my new colleagues; an international bunch, the majority of whom were young interns.

By midnight the night had followed the most obvious trajectory, with Wingman being wing-manhandled off-premises after launching a glass at a mouse on the bar.

“Trip Advisor will here about this!” He’d said, not in a threatening way, but rather in a suggestive tone: he was angling for a free drink, but being a sport-fishing bar, they presumably could spot an angle a mile-off.

The barman’s response was to come around the bar and take a swipe at Wingman, who replied, “You can’t be serious.” In Wingman’s deep-voiced growl, there was a more than sufficient pause after “You can’t….”, causing the barman to hear something else entirely…

Anyway, we were out, and Wingman notched his first black-listing from a Paris bar…(which was still enforced 6 months later, and might still be to this day).

By now it was late, and I was more interested in gaining notches of a different type.

With Wingman sent home to reflect on what he’d done, a hardened party of three had made it into the pumping gay bar Tango, located in the upper Marais: myself, a South American girl and another girl of mixed Northern European lineage.

We were fairly sozzled on a couch, my shirt a sticky mess of lemonade and low-grade tequila, rimmed with my own salty sweat.

I decided to add something else to the mix: a dubious proposition. Essentially, unable to decide which of the girls to try it on with, I decided to not make a decision, and instead propositioned them both.

Not everyone was as into the idea as I was, but two of us did end up at my shoebox flat above the champagne bar and overlooking Top Sexy on Rue Saint Denis.

Since getting booted out of my expansive flat around the corner on Rue du Temple (I’d never moved by shopping trolley before), I was existing in 25m2 up six flights of stairs.

Other tenants included a friendly prostitute on the first floor, a couple of interior decorators immediately below, and my sexy neighbor young neighbor M., who had the lips of Brigit Bardot, and regular noisy sex on a bed that creaked above my ceiling.

It was 4am, and with a threesome off the cards, I figured I could swing the mood back to sensual romantic. It was at this point I remembered my saxophone, which had laid in its case, unplayed for several months at the foot of my bed.

I assembled it and, sitting in my underpants, started on the first bars of George Michael super-hit Careless Whisper.


Perhaps I should have mastered the Sound Of Silence instead, because before the first chorus was up, there was a furious banging on my door.

I opened and should have been less surprised to see my neighbour M. Up till then I’d only heard her banging above my bed.

I profusely apologised, and stowed the saxophone away under my bed.

When it comes to apartment living in Paris, it’s perfectly fine to have loud early morning sex; but better than not to keep your loud morning sax under covers.

Calling in an urgent wingman favour

“I’m calling in a wingman favour.”

I was desperate: it’s not often I invoke the code of wingman, but I had gotten myself into a predicament from which I saw no escape.

At least, not without covering fire.

Wingman already had an evening planned – though nothing he couldn’t easily escape from (a first date or funeral or something).

His willingness to assist was not surprising: He had long ago proven his worthiness to be a wingman – either that, or after my “kamikaze wingman from the Melbourne days”, I had such low expectations for wingmen that their duties were easy to meet.

In any case, his reactivity was appreciated.

“What’s up?”

The whole predicament was impossible to detail within the constraints of text message. “No time to explain: just tell me you can be at Chez Prune tonight at 8pm.”

In short, 2 weeks earlier I ‘d met a young French girl at drinks in a dingy place in the 10th called Xeme. She worked at an international company I was freelancing with, and bore more than a little resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence.

The night had been nothing if not efficient: short discussion in bar in front of colleagues; evacuated quickly to a hip neighbouring cocktail bar, Syndicat, and whisked back to mine.

In fact, efficient was perhaps all it was, as by 6am she awoke startled, told me she was late for brunch and fled (though not before I forced her to leave her number on a post-it note).

We were both busy the next week, or at least she seemed to be, though by Thursday it was hard to ignore the grinding feeling of being ignored. A week later my work birthday drinks came and went, but alas she couldn’t make it.

By the third-week mark, ever the optimist I still held out hope. And one Tuesday morning, it was duly rewarded.

She’d sent me an email, responding privately to the group email invite to the birthday from days earlier. “Sorry I couldn’t make it, I was in Germany: but we should try to catch up.”

“Excellent!! Tonight or tomorrow?” I immediately wrote back, not wishing to betray my excitement.

“Wednesday is good.” And so the date was set.

With Wednesday afternoon upon me, I wrote “Jennifer” an SMS to confirm.

“Okay for 8pm tonight by the canal.”

Given this was basically just a formality text, I was a little surprised by the response.

“What? Was this for me?”

“No.” I fired back sarcastically, and then, with slow-dawning horror, realised the email had not come from the French Jennifer Lawrence look-alike at all.

Instead, I suddenly realised, I now had a date with a German woman from the company’s legal team.

And, being now 6pm, it was too late to cancel or postpone with any politesse.

And thus I called Wingman for backup.

The plan was to make like the apparent date was anything but: in fact, I would let on, the plan all along would be to join numerous friends (okay, friend) for a “casual apero” by the canal. It was the best cover story I could think up.

We met at the “canalside institution” Chez Prune at 8pm. On the dot (me knowing a thing or two about German punctuality). I loathe this bar, and for this reason it’s always unfortunately foremost in my mind when I need to suggest meeting places by the canal.)

By 8:25, two things were apparent. Firstly, I had had no reason to be worried: she was good company and drank beer by the pint.

And secondly, at any moment my wingman was going to turn up and awkwardly crash my date…