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.

29 July 2012

Mr #52 - The Great Dane

The preamble:
I don't actually need to tell you an awful lot about the preamble leading up to Mr 52 - The Great Dane, because you guys chose him yourself by public vote. A friend of his had originally suggested he got in touch and put himself forward to be Mr 52, and fast forward a month or so and the prospect of me actually hopping on a plane and popping over to Denmark became very real indeed. But as promised, we chose a date, I booked my tickets, and waited for the day to roll around. 

In the interim we'd bonded over our mutual love of Eddie Izzard, cheese, Tim Minchin, cake, turning Disney films into grammar lessons, the possibility of time travel, meteoromancy, Douglas Adams,a gallbladder called Merv and bacon, so I was pretty convinced we'd be able to find something to talk about on the date. Brace yourself for an epic write up of an epic date...

The man:
Age: 27
Profession: Computer games designer
Random factoid: He is a full time resident of Copenhagen and the final date in my year-long challenge of 52 First Dates. I know that's not so much of a random factoid, but it's certainly a title worthy of some sort of a badge, at least. 

The date:
The date for me started at a rather antisocial 5am yesterday, made even more so thanks to the fact that the entire nation had been up partying the night away because of the Olympic ceremony, and after all the fireworks had stopped I managed to only grab 4 hours sleep. But as is always the way on a big day, I was literally cast out of bed by an imaginary poltergeist and thrown into the shower before I had a chance to contemplate whether I was hungover or not. 

Two Tube rides and a train journey later, I was at Gatwick, on my own, passport in hand, thinking 'what the fuck am I doing?'. But I knew what I was doing. I was about to get on a plane to fly to a country I'd never been to before, where I didn't know a word of the native language, to go on a date with a boy I'd never even spoken to. It was either the coolest thing I'd ever done, or the craziest. Perhaps a mixture of both. I won't lie, I was bricking it. The pressure was on. Not only was there the geographical pressure, but the fact this was the final date in my epic quest was also in the forefront of my mind. I also really wanted it to go well, to end the blog on a high, although I suspected whatever that outcome was, Mr 52 and I would get on. One slightly nervous phone call to my mum later, and it was time to get on the plane. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Cue some photos to illustrate aeroplane travel:

Fast forward 2 hours and I'm setting foot in Denmark. On checking my phone, I saw that The Great Dane had sent me an email and it seemed he was equally in denial about what was about to happen too - certainly I don't think either of us thought when he sent me that very first email 6 or so weeks earlier that I'd actually end up on his nation's doorstep knocking to see if he wanted to come out and play. 

We were both excited and terrified in equal measure, but certainly for me it was absolutely the right thing to do, both for myself and for the blog. The last date deserved to be something a little bit special. And you readers decided international travel was what it needed. My fear of flying and I thank you greatly. 

I'll tell you now, as I walked through those arrival gates my heart was in my mouth. That morbid fear of the unknown date that first prompted me to set about 52 First Dates had made a surprising cameo appearance, and I was terrified. But as soon as I clapped eyes on The Great Dane and he was exactly as I had imagined, it evaporated into the hot Danish air. He was very tall, handsome and smiley, and I wouldn't mind betting partially in shock that I'd actually turned up. Greetings were swift, and we headed off to the Metro to find our way into town for the date.

As a Londoner, I expect public transport everywhere else in the world to be equally as nightmarish - a thousand different lines, sweltering heat, and being trapped in the armpits of a sweaty stranger. In Copenhagen, they have only two lines. Just two. Even I couldn't get lost here! Actually I probably could, given that it turns out Danish words sound nothing remotely like the way they're written to a native English speaker, but more on that later. And luckily there were no sweaty armpits to get stuck into, although it was really rather warm, and I was trying my best to chat to The Great Dane without looking like my make up was sliding off my face withing the first 10 minutes of our meeting. 

When he'd first written to me, he'd mentioned that he was very shy, and when faced with a strange little English girl, that shyness decided to take a trip on the Metro with us. It's obviously very easy for me to be vocal about my pre-date nerves, since I've been on more dates than lots of people have had hot dinners, but I always forget how it must feel for the other person, particularly when their date has flown nearly 1000km to go and see them. But we chatted on nonetheless, mostly me honking on about the Olympics opening ceremony from the night before, and how random it was that I'd actually turned up.

Our first port of call was an area of Copenhagen called Christiantown (and I apologise in advance to any Danish readers who might spot glaring mistakes in my spelling etc - I'm not sure how I'll get some of your linguistic symbols in here yet so it may be a bit of a challenge). Christiantown is a sort of independent hippy commune slash nature reserve in the centre of town where there's a green light area for marijuana, lots of shrubbery, lots of water, and an awesome collection of houses hand-built by their owners. Imagine Occupy London, but with less attitude, greater commitment and much better architectural skills.

We wandered around for a good hour or so in the baking heat, watching the locals potter around on their bicycles, seeing dragonflies go about their business, errant golf carts and the teeny tiniest frog I've ever seen in my life scamper off into the undergrowth. The Great Dane was in full tour guide mode, which I think must've taken a lot of the 'date' pressure off, and he did an exceptionally good job too of showing me all the key landmarks, telling me about the local history, before we drifted off into the territory of dubbing foreign films, Disney, property prices, and how best to avoid untimely death. 

The highlights of this part of the day for me were the little frog, watching The Great Dane leap around  the pathway to avoid squishing the many snails that had come out to join us en route, and spotting a really cool table and chairs, complete with tea set that had been set up in the middle of the water for the ducks to sit on.

Pretty soon our nature reserve yomp had given us quite a thirst, so we sat in the sun outside a refreshments shack in Christiantown sipping on an icy cold cola and watching the locals go about their business. As a little gift, I'd brought along a copy of Douglas Adams' The Deeper Meaning of Liff which I knew he'd never read, plus a tiny knitted Apple Mac computer I'd made, and we sat chuckling over the definition of Twomileborris (noun): A popular East European outdoor game in which the first person to reach the front of the meat queue wins, and the losers have to forfeit their bath plugs. 

Once the drinks had been quaffed, we set sail again to have a wander into the main part of town. It turns out, Copenhagen has a shed load of churches and a shed load of theatres. The Great Dane's knowledge of his hometown was exceptional, but my favourite parts of the tour were the things that probably weren't on the usual tours: where he works, a street affectionately known as 'the Piss Street', and the statues of famous Danes outside the university that he had no idea who they were, but guessed their profession by their haircut.

He was noticeably more relaxed, and I finally felt like I wasn't terrifying him any longer by being a foreign visitor. And what made me feel even more at home was someone had kindly gone and grafittied my initials about the place which made me feel even more welcome. How very kind.

We gradually headed further into town where The Great Dane had decided we'd have lunch. His chosen venue? The Royal Cafe. This place is awesome. A traditional Danish dish is smørrebrød, which is a sort of open sandwich, but at the Royal Cafe, they give it 'a contemporary sushi twist', and call is 'smushi'. They're in delightfully small portions, so you choose a few different dishes as you would in a sushi restaurant. It's impossible not to love smushi based on the name alone. But you'd love it even more when it comes out to the table. Cue photo of food porn (my crap BlackBerry camera clearly didn't do these justice)... 

From left to right, I chose a potato and smoked cream cheese smushi on a round little rye bread with radishes, asparagus and little fresh beansprouty type things, a wafer thin marinated beef smushi on a slice of tomato and rye break with wasabi cream, onion slivers and a caperberry, and a puff pastry triangle with a creamy chicken salad smushi with peas, carrot ribbons and more beansprouty business. And it was all beautifully served on a tile made by the pottery company next door. It was exceptional. I've never eaten anything so beautiful (and tasty, of course!) in my life. 

We sat outside in this cobbled courtyard, neither of us wanting to destroy these little edible works of art, mulling over whether it would be practical to live in a hexagonal tower (part of this awesome building next door, testing out regional accents (he does a very convincing Australian) and staring in awe at the beard that must've taken the waiter about 3 years to cultivate. Soon enough, the smushis had mysterious vanished and coincidentally our bellies had burgeoned, and it was onwards with the tour.

Lots of churches, theatres, funny little back streets and local trivia later, we'd started to walk off our smushi-tums. The Great Dane took great pleasure in trying to get my to try and pronounce all these long place names which I was ashamedly utterly crap at, but it was funny having a go anyway. I don't think I've ever encountered a language where I've literally not had any clue where to start, as normally I'm pretty good at picking up the odd foreign word or phrase. The best I could do was try the Danish word 'hygglig', which is a fundamental aspect of Danish culture, and the Danish word for Gummibears, 'Bubbi Bjørnene'. You can listen to the theme tune sung in Danish here. 

Time was ticking on, and The Great Dane was determined to take me for cake before I had to get my flight, since we'd spent an awful lot of our preamble talking about sweet treats. So we arrived at La Glace, and then bamboozled ourselves with the menu. I've never seen cakes like it, and their macaroons were absolutely beautiful. I'm kicking myself for not taking more photos, but their website shows them much better than I ever could. Sadly for us, we'd arrived 5 minutes before closing, so we had to buy to take away, but bought we did! I went for the Othellokage and The Great Dane went for the Æblekage

Cake in hand (but without cutlery which in hindsight was an error), we grabbed some iced coffee slash slushy drinks and went to find somewhere outside to eat. And, as if on cue, it started to rain. Brilliant. We wandered through the streets of Copenhagen half on the hunt for somewhere to sit and half on the hunt for free plastic cutlery. The Great Dane struck gold by half-inching some of the tiniest plastic spoons I've ever seen from a nearby ice cream vendor, and eventually we made it back to the canal lock where it had stopped raining, but the wind had taken up the helm instead. Try eating custardy cake in the wind with long hair and it's neither easy nor sexy.  But needless to say it was pretty awesome eating Copenhagen's finest baked offerings watching tour boats waft on by. 

The Great Dane had long-dispensed with the sensible tour information by this point, and instead was telling me how actually we were sat by the River Styx, and when the tourists pay the ferryman, he takes them to the end of the canal whereby the entire boat plunges into Hell, and to be frank I much prefer his version of events.

Sadly time was not on our side, and the prospect of a return flight to London was ever more pressing, so we hopped back on the Metro and headed back plane-wards. The Great Dane spent the entire journey back trying to explain to me the ticket system for the Metro, which I was apparently totally incapable of comprehending, either because a. I was borderline delirious from lack of sleep or b. because I was an utter moron. 

Once back at the airport, and I'd successfully misread every single Danish sign en route and finally managed how to work the self check in system, it was time to say goodbye. We had a hug at the bottom of the escalator, and I wandered off to security. The minute I'd gone through the gates that you can't get back through I was immediately stung with regret that I'd not suggested we went for a beer at the airport to round off what had been a really wonderful day. 

Suddenly I was on my own again at the terminal, exhausted after a day's travel and touring, and I started to feel rather tired and emotional. This was it, the end of 52 First Dates. I'm embarrassed to admit I shed a few tears whilst sat cuddling a 1kg bad of Daim Bars I'd irrationally bought to try and use up some Danish Krone, and I can't really tell you why I did. I checked my phone again and the response I'd already been getting through texts and tweets and Facebook told me there were lots of people around the world who'd been waiting for news on the date, and rather cruelly didn't tell them very much other than the fact I was back at the airport again.

One eventful flight featuring some free white wine and a woman with a broken arm later and I was back in Blighty. And finally, after four tube ride, two flights, two Metro journeys and a bus ride, 17 hours after I'd left home, I was back there again. Shattered, emotional, but happy.

Memorable Quotes:
There were loads throughout the whole date, but I can't remember them off the top of my head. But this was the first date ever where I'd not taken a single note at the time.

Events of note:
Too many to mention - smushis, frogs, cake, canals, flights, I mean, you've read this far...

The verdict:
So here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for. The verdict on Mr #52, The Great Dane, the final date of my epic 52 First Dates quest. Yes, we will hopefully see each other again, we've already mentioned the possibility of him popping over to London so I can try and play tour guide in return, so we'll just have to wait and see. 

As for romance? Who knows. I think maybe I spoilt that a little bit by the very nature of the date - me flying in from another country for the day and relying on some poor guy to impress me with his hometown as well as himself. 

In some ways, the tour element will have been a welcome distraction to the 'date' factor, but in other ways it may have been a bit of a hindrance. I really don't know. This distance thing is a real bugger to be honest, it's not like he lives just down the road, and we can pop out for a few more nights and see how it goes, it has to be a lot more contrived than that, and that's the unknown quantity. 

What I do know is Copenhagen is a really awesome city, and The Great Dane lived up to his name, a really awesome guy. This, for me, is a very happy ending to a very long year. Watch this space.

As a further note, I have to say I can't believe 52 First Dates is finally over. Fuck! Over the last 13 months or so, I've been on 52 dates with 52 completely different men. I won't lie, it's not been easy. Sometimes it's been scary, sometimes it's been weird, sometimes it's been fun. But now it's over I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. Do I celebrate? Do I comiserate? I honestly don't know. But what I do know, and I'm teary as I type, is I need to thank you all for sticking with me along this journey. It's genuinely been a life-changing experience for me and I don't regret a single minute of it. But I wouldn't have been able to do it without the kind words of encouragement that my wonderful virtual friends...have sent me every step of the way. It's been a wonderful assurance knowing that so many of you have been living these experiences with me, and hopefully enjoying them. Honestly, that means the world. So from the bottom of my heart I thank you. for reading, and I thank you for chosing such a wonderful 52nd date for me. I already have plans with what will happen to 52 First Dates away from here, but in terms of this blog I hope to carry on writing in some form or other, so you won't have heard the last of me yet. Sorry about that.

Thank you