Here's the deal. I've been single since time immemorial. So, in an attempt to remedy my eternal singledom, and to get over my nauseatingly pathological fear of dates, I've decided to challenge myself. The challenge? To go on one first date a week for a year! So in 52 weeks time, I will have either found my Mr Right, or I'll stay forever Miss Write. This is what happens...

The Rules

Here are the rules to the 52 First Dates challenge...

1. A first date must be had once a week, EVERY week, for a year, that's 52 dates in 52 weeks.

2. Taking someone home after a drunken night on the cider does NOT count.

3. Second and third dates are allowed, I must continue first dates unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances. For example, God forbid, the start of a relationship.

4. Each date must be blogged.

27 July 2011

Mr #7 - Baffling Barnet

The preamble:
Mr #7 came about from the usual online dating route, as opposed to the postmodern Twitter method of #6. And thank fuck too! There was some moderate chit chat involving common ground including favourite caffeinated beverages and the tickling of funny bones, and within a few relatively formal messages, the date was sorted. I shouldn't be so grateful that some dates just happen without vile twisted drama, but given I'm still fresh from the whole Catfish debarcle, I won't lie, if someone turns up to a date and looks acceptably like their profile photo, I feel the need to perform a small victory jig in public.

The man:
Age: 31
Profession:Working for an online supermarket
Random factoid: Nothing. Literally nothing.

The date:
Mr #7 chose the venue, and once again brownie points, because it was a rather adorably trendy yet unpretentious haunt on Essex Road

I arrived to a rather large glass of wine, and an unignorable shock of the most indescribable blonde hair I have ever seen. He seemed a little more nervous than the usual internet date, so I cracked a godawful funny about the reason for my tardiness. It almost worked, so we sat and commenced said date. The nervousness spilled out into the first port of conversation, because I was aware that even after the initial ten minutes, we were still talking about his favourite and least favourite forms of public transport. Fortunately conversation soon moved swiftly and safely on. I say swiftly and safely, which are both clearly fictitious adjectives since conversation had oddly veered towards the so-called "ladyboys" of Bangkok. As you do. I've never been to Thailand, so I hold him entirely responsible. Within the next hour and rather rapid large pinots we'd covered retro sweets, the woes of commuting, a lot of awkward mishearing and the politics of urinals. 

I had also, in my vaguely tipsy vulnerability, had managed to let slip about my stage fright in toilet scenarios. I don't regret it, it's sadly very true.  However, the biggest shock of the night came with my date breaking the shocking news to me that men are more than aware that girls fart whilst they're asleep. At this precise moment, I swore that I would never share a bed with a man again. Never.  Ever. It may thwart this challenge somewhat, but it's a risk worth taking. 

I say thwart, but I probably mean disregard...

Memorable Quotes:
Again, none of note, not unless you count 'I can't pee if I know someone is listening', in which case it's one of mine...I don't think that count, do you?

Events of note:
A large spittle missile striking my arm to a theatrical apology? Okay, maybe a little unfair. Maybe the impromptu arrival of some polenta wedges for carbohydrate type sustenance. Who orders polenta chips? What's wrong with potatoes? Seriously, I love potatoes, I'm not going to judge you. Well, I will judge you, if you order fucking polenta instead of potatoes! And judge you, I did.

The verdict:
Don't get me wrong, Mr #7 was a perfectly lovely man. But conversation was a little too forced at times, and I felt slightly sorry for a man who, when he sensed something funny, felt the need to put his hand over his mouth. This happened all night, and as a result made me feel really rather sad for whichever insecurity he was certainly wasn't his teeth, I had a sneaky peak earlier on and they were perfectly lovely.  But it all just felt a little forced, and the rapidity with which he sprinted to the bus led me to believe that perhaps he was a little to pleased to part my company. It's a shame, as we had an entertaining evening, but not so entertaining that I think we may make contact again. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

25 July 2011

Mr #6 - Textbook Dating Don'ts

The preamble:
Mr #6 was not the usual internet dating kinda guy. Mr #6 came about through Twitter, and unlike any of my other dates, he was well aware of the fact I was blogging my dating exploits. Even after fore-warning him I would be documenting the event warts and all, he still rather fancied himself as writing material and offered himself up for a date. 

The man:
Age: I didn't know this when we agreed to meet...but I soon found out the awkward way...

Me: So how old are you by the way? Just so I know to include it in my blog...
Mr #6: Guess
Me: Er...31?
Mr #6. No. I'm 21.
Me: Oh *pregnant pause* Sorry about that. Er, you don't look that great for 21 I have to say...
Mr #6: Yeah...I get that a lot...
Profession: Failed writer, full time student and connoisseur of all things alcohol it seems...
Random factoid: He once wrote a musical about Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time

The date:
As I was at the tail end of a rather boozesome hen weekend, but still in need of a #6 to tick the right box for this week, I agreed to a quiet Sunday night beverage at one of my locals establishments. What I didn't expect was to be confronted by a man dressed as an unkempt barman wielding a rather strong rum and coke on my arrival. Hmm. All I wanted was a shandy. And so it began, probably one of the more unusual and postmodern of my dating experience thus far; a meta-date, as it were. 

Since Mr#6 had read my blog and confessed that my write ups thus far hadn't been 'too bad', I have decided to make this one even more brutally honest, knowing full well he'll be reading.  After all, Mr #6, you did keep insisting you were providing me with good blog fodder. Yes, yes you did. Just perhaps not in the way you had intended. 

So I suppose instead of a date post mortem, see this write up as more of a 'what not to do on a date guide' in case anyone else out there in cyberspace fancies adding themselves to my tally...

On a first date, DO NOT...
...turn up drunk, and sit there squinting through the shaky beer sweats. It's not a terribly attractive quality. Did I say terribly? I meant remotely... your date a 'smart phone wanker' - just because you're stuck in the Nokia-nineties, doesn't mean you should belittle those who like phones that actually do stuff!
...tell your date about the strip club you ended up in last night. And no, it doesn't make it any better if you say the girls you were with wanted to been there...they were probably working there too.
...use phrases such as 'my debt is actually currently under control...well, as long as my drinking is...' I would argue the latter is most definitely not... your date a fucking middle class stereotype.
...accuse your date of being sad and lonely, and having no social life whatsoever on the basis that she occasionally likes to Tweet during prime time television shows. You're just showing that you spend far too much time reading about other people's lives than having your own...
...preface many anecdotes with 'when I was out in LA...', especially when it is a non sequitur.
...say such things as 'when I'm your age, I'll be very successful'. You might want to have a word with your liver to make sure getting 'that' old is even on the cards...
...keep saying 'and that's why I've always been an executive producer' after every suggestion you feel is clever and remotely constructive. You're 21, and the only thing you have executively produced is something you wrote yourself. I could say I am the executive producer of my blog. But that'd just make me sound like a wanker...
...tell your date you can hear her body clock ticking after finding out how old she is. Just don't...

Memorable Quotes:
'Do you carry a rape alarm around with you in your handbag?' Yes, yes I do. And pepper spray. And a big old fat old machete. And a good thing too...

Events of note:
Finding out that there's a gay fetish club just down the road. 

The verdict:
Well, as grateful as I am to have had a first date for this week, that is about as far as it goes. Mr #6, as part of his ongoing critique of how to make my blog better, suggested that I marked each date out of 10. Well, Mr #6, you sadly don't even get yourself on the scale.  You've bagged yourself a big fat zero. Let's hope your writing is better than your dating technique...

14 July 2011

Catfish Catch Up

For those of you who haven't been up to speed with my recent dalliances in online dating involving being 'groomed' for a month by someone who had stolen an innocent man's photographs, before reading on, have a little read of what happened here:

For those of you who do know the story so far, you may be interested to hear about recent revelations. After spattering my blog all over social networking sites in an attempt to get some answers, I was utterly astonished at some outstanding detective work amongst my Facebook friends. 

One of them recognised the background of the silent disco photo as being in Milton Keynes shopping centre. After posting this observation on my wall, within hours both her and another friend had managed to locate the man in the photos and had sent me links to his profile. This I am will absolutely in awe of, and Kathryn and Louise, you seriously are wasted if you're not currently working for CID. This innocent man will be known for current purposes as CT.

On Sunday morning I wrote perhaps one of the strangest emails that CT will have ever received. 'Hello, you don't know me, but I feel like I know you. Don't freak out now, but have a little read of my blog...' 

Would he reply? I know I would...but this is just too fucking weird right? Right!

Sunday night, as if by magic, CT got back in touch, and I can safely say he was as totally shocked by what was going on as I was. It turns out that many of the details I had been told, personal details, about his life, likes, loves had been lifted straight from his life. Other details had come from elsewhere. But in any case that, and the fact that I had been sent around 80 photos documenting his life over the last few years, was enough to freak him the fuck out. I've been duped by some sort of pathological liar, he's had his life stolen. Both really rather shit. So where now? 

I then went about sending CT every photo I had been sent from 'Sebastian' in an attempt to piece together how he could have acquired all these pictures. I sent him as much of a dossier as I could, including the last few digits of his phone numbers in case CT could identify it as maybe one of his so-called friends who would have had access to all these pictures. But what we then found out made us both feel physically sick.

CT emailed me back with Sebastian's exact telephone number, and said it belonged to a 'woman' called Amanda, whom he had been messaging back in 2008 through another website. He had never spoken to her over the phone, but like Seb, she'd cancelled meetings on a number of occasions. It turns out we had both been speaking to the same person. But was it a man? Was it a woman? Was it a couple? CT only has one photo that Amanda had sent him, but it's enough of a start to move this witch hunt on a notch...

So now we are desperately trying to track down anyone who may have also been duped / messaged / conned / lured by either of these two 'characters'. So, here is as much as we know:

'SEBASTIAN PRITCHARD-JONES' (not his real name, of course)
Age 35
Most recently used the dating username SOUJOURN
Apparently lives in Marylebone and works in a primary school in Westminster
Speaks with a Welsh accent
'AMANDA' (also we presume not her real name)

We are pretty sure this picture has also been stolen for purpose, so if you recognise her as someone you know, please also let me know.

The phone number both of them have definitely used is 07*** 228 114. They may have also used a phone with the number 07*** 068 375, the number used to send me threatening messages.

If you have either been chatting to either of these people, or someone with a phone number that looks like it may be the same, then please please PLEASE get in touch...CT and I know we can't have been the first and we certainly won't be the last, and we want to stop this person before anyone else gets hurt, conned, emotionally involved or have their time wasted. For all we know, this person could even be dangerous. So please, we ask you kindly, spread this around your social media, copy in @C_T_S if you're on Twitter. It helped me track down the innocent man whose photos have been stolen, I know we can find out more about what this person(s) has/have been doing, and to whom. Your help has been invaluable thus far, so let's kick this virtual witch hunt up a gear.

12 July 2011

Mr #5 - Snowglobes and Sweetness

You may be asking why, after my recent Catfish debacle, that I'm so willing to take the plunge back into the metaphorical dating pool? Well, I figure why not? I've already sussed out one of the weirdos, I'm pretty sure I can sniff out the rest of them. So now, I am prepared. Oh yes, I've got armbands on. Famous last words? Probably...

The preamble:
Mr #5 was actually one of the very first boys I started messaging during the #52firstdates project, but our delay in meeting is all to do with a 2 week holiday in Dubai (his, not mine), and an all-consuming dating-related nightmare (mine, not his).  

From the off, I liked the sound of this lad. We had the same taste in comedy, and he had a charmingly colloquial way of messaging. And not even one sniff of a LOL. And he looked cute to boot. Nice. 

Before he went away, he'd promised me a drink on his return if I was still interested, and I said only if he brought me back a snowglobe of the Burj Al Arab.  He trotted off to the Middle East, I trotted around London town for a wee while, and needless to say, he got back to the UK, got back in touch, communication recommenced, and finally we sorted ourselves out a little date.

The man:
Profession: Still strangely short, I still have no bloody idea! Not for want of asking...I suspect it's something a little underwhelming, but as long as it's not a primary school teacher, I couldn't care less!
Random factoid: Is living with a terrorist. Well, for 'is' read 'suspects he might be'. So maybe less of a random factoid and more controversial conjecture...

The date:
Once again the venue was my choice, somewhere near work, but given that I was running late from work and he was more than happy to pop along Waterloo-wards, it all worked out rather well. I met him outside the bar, and to my overwhelming relief, he looked exactly like he was supposed to. And he was very cute, neatly packed into a polo shirt and crowned with a rather sweet flat cap. Already my faith in the male race was more than just restoration-in-progress. 

Once inside, not wanting to dally, he ordered us a cheeky bottle of vino. Nice - clearly not too frightened of me at first sight to commit to more than one drink. Conversation was not a problem at all, I rather boldly/foolishly bulldozed in there immediately with the ridiculous story of my ongoing date-fright with Mr/Mrs #2, and he was very entertained and incredibly forgiving that I'd buggered him around in finally getting round to a date. 

We covered a lot of mutual ground, arachnophobia, Paranormal Activity, lesbian double lives (friends', not our own...), why cats rule the world and the various accents of the British Isles. The bottle disappeared, and we decided on another glass for the road, and before we knew it, the bar staff were telling us to foxtrot oscar. 

We took the tube back as far as our common journey took us, he walked me to the platform, gave me a hug and said he'd hoped my date had been better than the previous experience. Once on the train, I got a rather sweet text to say thank you for the evening, and we both bidded each other nuhnight.

Memorable Quotes:
'Goldsmiths students scare me. Why do they need such big ginger beards?'

Events of note:
The surprise arrival of a Burj AL Arab snowglobe. Literally amazing. Funny AND thoughtful.

The verdict:
I have to say I had a really lovely evening with a guy who seemed fun, funny, sweet and understatedly charming. I don't know if he'd like to see me again, if he asked me I definitely would. But I'm not sure if I could get away with asking for a second date without looking over-keen. I'll just have to keep a sly eye on the BlackBerry just in case he decides to get in touch again...

08 July 2011

Dating Update

***12/07/13 - since this update was originally written, we have since identified those who had their photos used without permission, and I have removed the majority of them out of courtesy to those pictured***

Dear blog readers. Hello. I am sorry I have not fulfilled my promises this week with documenting date #5 and I owe you an explanation. One of the rules of Fifty Two First Dates is that if we meet someone worth seeing, we put the other dates on hold. Well, let me re-introduce you to Mr #2. Remember him? The one that stood me up because he ended up in hospital? You can catch his write up here.

Well, he has been taking over the last few weeks of my life in epic style. I would like you to meet Sebastian P-J, known as Seb, or affectionately known as the boy with the disabled eyes and the Sticklebrick hair:

Seb is 35 years old, has an older brother and sister, lives alone in his own 4 bedroomed house in Marylebone, and works as a primary school teacher in Westminster. His ex girlfriend Laura used to work in A&E and tragically died of breast cancer a few years ago. Since then, he has been on his own with the exception of an alleged affair with a daytime television presenter. 

He likes to paint, makes excellent roast potatoes, adores his 3 year old niece Tilly, used to play the drums in a band and last year did a photographic challenge during which he had to photograph himself doing something new every day. 

Seb is sweet, sensitive, the life and soul of the party, and on paper he is quite possibly the perfect boyfriend. 

And reading all of this back now, the same warning bells I had at the time are ringing again.

One thing that did concern me about Seb was from an early stage, his flirting technique needed a bit of work. He could be seedy. So each time he crossed one of these tasteless lines, I would tell him to stop being a sex pest, and to be-fucking-have. And, like any sensitive man would, he'd get back behind the line he had crossed. 

In typical 52 First Dates style, I agreed to meet him for a date, these reservations aside, because I had to meet my quota, and you can only judge a person properly when you're sat across a table for them. So, a few weeks ago, we arranged to meet on a Monday in a pub in Soho. And this is where is all began...

Monday afternoon rolled around, and an hour before we were due to meet, he texted to cancel on the grounds that he had had a disclosure at school. One of his pupils had told him that she was being abused by her father, and he had spent the afternoon involved with the police and social services. I think you'd have to be dead inside to not agree that sounds like a pretty rubbish day at work, so we decided to reschedule for Thursday that week. If you've read my previous blog entry, you'll know that I actually went on the date, but he hadn't turned up. And later it emerged that he had snapped a cruciate ligament during football training and had ended up in hospital. Wow, this boy really is unlucky!

The following week we started speaking on the phone. He would text me throughout the day and ring me every night. He would send me photos of himself, some doing kooky things, some of him on holiday, a couple of him lying in bed. He obviously wanted me to fancy him, and as you can tell from the photos, he's rather lovely on the eye. I was going to turn a blind eye to the borderline narcissism until I'd at least met the bugger. 

We'd chat for hours at a time, getting to know each other, finding common ground, taking the piss, developing our own in jokes and getting all the more closer. I won't lie, I was startingto fall for him. He had a story for everything, which with the benefit of my retrospectrometer bears all the hallmarks of a pathological fantasist. But for every sweet comment, funny photo, sensitive anecdote there was always a little question mark and yet another subtle little attempt to get me to give him a little sleazy titillation.

Over the space of about 2 weeks, I must've spent over 20 hours talking to this man. He told me about the death of his ex girlfriend, his best friend who was brain-damaged, an alleged affair he had with a poopular daytime television presenter, the practical jokes played between him and his brother, I felt I knew everything about this man. And in return he knew about my job, my hobbies, my previous relationships, skeletons in my closet. 

Looking back over our conversations now, for every hours on the phone, there was always one little seedy undertone. I can remember him casually slipping things like bra size, anal sex, and even menstrual cycles into conversation. But because they were all anecdotal, or heavily embedded in the in jokes or the sensitive side of things, the alarm bells tinkled a little, but it was nothing I felt I couldn't handle. These are topics that come up with friends, and after all this time, were were becoming friends, friends under a sort of pressure cooker intensity. But every time he tried to eek out something personal from me, my views on contraception, my personal cycle, I would bat them away out of the park and he'd be left with nothing. Reading this back now, I feel sick to my stomach. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that all this investment in me was for those tiny little seedy snippets.

You might think I'm mad in saying this but by now I still wanted to meet the man behind the smooth Welsh tones. I needed to check that Seb in real life was who I thought he was, and any such salaciousness could be spotted in person, and nipped in the bud. 

By this time my curiosity had already got the better of me, and I'd tried to find him online. But to pour fuel to my already-increasing suspicions, I could find no trace of him. Not even using journalistic tools used to verify identities. And I am, if I do say my self, pretty fucking good at finding people online. Everyone's on there somewhere, whether it'd for an old school photo, a Just Giving donation, or a vox pop in the local press. 

Nevertheless, we arranged to meet on the following Friday night and I was determined to get the the bottom of this. However, come Friday afternoon, he cancelled again, this time with the best reason yet: his brother, a policeman, had been having an affair with a colleague's wife. The colleague then found out, a fight broke out, the colleague winds up in hospital and the brother ends up in custody. Oh, and her baby might well have been his brother's. So Seb goes home to look after his devastated family, and once again I'm left high and dry and wondering what sort of a dramatic life this guy has. 

Anyway back to the story. I am now hearing daily warning bells like tinnitus, but to honour my blog, and because I'm ashamed to admit I was still gradually being more and more charmed by this man, I was determined to meet him to find out once and for all what was going on. 

Then, out of the blue on Tuesday, came some rather sinister messages one night from a strange number. The conversation went as follows:

07507 *** ***: New number peeps (20.32)
Me: Who is this? x (20.42)
07507 *** ***: You were great xx (21.01)
Me: Who is this??? x (21.12)
07507 *** ***: You know (21.24)
CTS: No I don't...this is your new number (21.43)
07507 *** ***:  I hear you are seeing somebody (21.51)
Me: Who is this? (21.52)
07507 *** ***:You fukin no who. Lets start where we left off xx (22.47)
Me: No I have no idea who you are. You either tell me who this is or stop messaging (23.04)
07507 *** ***:Don't mess with me Claire. Played hard to get b4 (23.08)
Me: Who is this? (23.08)
07507 *** ***:You know who so let us stop fucking around with the other geezer (23.10)
Me: No I do not know who this is. I don't have your number and I have no idea what you are talking about. Leave me alone. (23.10)
07507 *** ***:I will find out who he is. If I can't have youre nor can he (23.12)
Me: Who the fuck are you? (23.13)
07507 *** ***:Small the world but it pays to be street wise (23.14)
Me: Tell me who the fuck you are and how you have my number or I'm going to the police (23.17)

At no point had I ever told anyone I was 'seeing' someone, and my first instinct was that Seb had bought another phone to try and frighten me. This was all very wrong. During these messages, Seb called me and caught me in some distress that these messages, and the first thing I did was to check that it wasn't him. I just knew he had something to do with it. I just knew. He was mortified at the accusation, denied it fervently, and then offered to help by sending the number to his brother-in-law, another policeman on duty. 

He also queried whether this could be one of my skeletons come back to get me, something I knew was an impossible option. But then he offered to send a cab to collect me and I could stay in his spare room if I was frightened. Ding-a-ling-a-fucking-ling. Not on your life sunshine. 

I tried calling the strange number back and it rang and rang but no answer and no voicemail. The next day I tried the same and the phone was off. This bore all the markings of a PAYG phone, and one I suspected had been bought for purpose. And the more I thought about it, I suspected he had used something I told him in trust to scare me, and then he could sweep in and look after me.

The next few days were pretty horrific, he was still calling and messaging, one minute offering to look after me and the other expressing such horror that I was still questioning who he was. I knew I had to find out the answer to draw a line under everything. Everything I knew about him was just so intangible, nothing I could use to verify his identity. 

I was driving myself mad. 

Here was this handsome man who had been increasingly adoring of me, and yet the alarms were still clanging all over the shop. So today I finally asked where he worked. If he had nothing to hide, he would have told me. But because of these messages that had apparently spooked him too, he refused. 

"I'm not telling you that, its personal".

More personal than sharing pictures of you with your loved ones?
More personal than that time you did her "up the bum" and you both ended up in A&E?
More personal than telling me your ex's dying wish was to have a child with you?

This cemented my thoughts that he was to blame for the strange messages and that he wasn't who he said he was. 

I confronted him, and I said he either had to give me some proof of who he was or to leave me alone. I mentioned all of the failed date attempts, all at his behest, and said he had no intention of ever meeting me. The photo I then received told me everything I needed to know.

Why on earth would you buy someone some expensive perfume when you have never met them? Why? 

But even more bizarrely, look at the reflection in the bottle. 

Just look. 

That, my friends, is not the tall, dark, handsome Welsh stranger that had been messaging and calling me constantly for a month. Oh no. That is a total stranger. I have been joking all along about the film Catfish, and it turns out I have just been living it myself. 

I confronted Seb straight away only to be told I was being paranoid, and then I got a number of messages telling me what a fuck up I was, how I was wrong in the head and how he wished he'd never messaged me. His change of tone confirmed everything I needed to know. I now have more than enough reason to believe I had been being groomed all along. I won't lie, when I thought I was potentially fucking up something with someone I loved the sound of, I felt terrible. But now, I feel relieved. I am trying not to dwell over the hours of chats we have had over the last few weeks because I do feel incredibly violated, despite my constant vigilence of holding things back. 

I hate that I have given so much of myself to someone who, if we're being honest, I did have some reservations about from the very start before he started to win me over. Even as I type now, he has just messaged me, 6 hours on, telling me how he was falling in love with me, trying to get me back into open conversation. 

I will be having him blocked.

So now I have reason to believe that nothing he has told me over the weeks has been true. And I would like to make explicitly clear that every photo on this blog of an attractive thirty-something man with glasses I genuinely believe were used and abused without the subject's permission. 

Not only do I feel that my trust has been violated, but I feel desperately sad that there is someone out there whose photos are being used to lure and groom unsuspecting women. I should know, I've had over 80 of them. So if you recognise the man in the photos, please let him know that I in no way hold him responsible for this callous and calculating behaviour, but if you recognise the person reflected in the perfume bottle, please be very, very careful. 

As for me, well I guess I need to get back in the dating game and not let this affect me too much. I always heard horror stories that shit like this happened online, but I never expected it to happen to me. And now it has, and I am oddly grateful to have been able to resolve it and move on. So #5 here I come...and this time, I'm ready for pretty much anything. Don't underestimate Miss Mini-Marple...