A month or so I agreed (rather foolishly it seemed at the time) to go on a mammoth 25 dates as part of comedian Mark Watson's epic 25 hour fund-raising extravaganza for Red Nose Day. I just couldn't say no. Not only is Comic Relief an organisation so close to my heart, but the challenge of trying to rustle up 25 eligible bachelors and talk to them over the course of a whole day and then some appealed to my inner sadist. I'd been date-free since going on my 52nd first date in August last year, and it was about time I did something silly in the name of love. And with charity as my excuse, who could possibly say no?
I very soon learned that trying to rope in and organise 25 bachelors over such a bizarre time scale including the wee anti-social hours of Friday morning was not as easy as I thought. I think in total, I must've had around 35 contenders initially interested, but as the big day loomed, the boys started to fall by the wayside. On Thursday morning, I had 18 lined up, and the rest we'd fill with randoms harvested from amongst the hostage crowd on the night. And I won't lie, I was bricking it. It wasn't so much the pre-date nerves that got to me, it was the prospect of staying awake for such an obscene amount of time and trying to maintain an iota of dignity and sanity throughout that worried me. And rightly so...
At 10pm on Thursday 28th February, I turned up at The Pleasance Theatre in Islington with an arsenal of goodies to help my dates and I get through this behemoth megadate, including board games, bananas and some rather suspicious looking breakfast bars, and a belly full of butterflies. Already at the venue were many of the challengers all ready and raring to go, including some endurance huggers, Countdown challengers, artists, film crews, and the main man himself, Mark. The original plan was for me to pop in and update Mark after each date as it went along. Simple eh? You'd think...!
At 11pm, Tim Key heralded the start of Mark's marathon mirthfest, and we were off! My first date waited patiently in the bar for me to pop into the gig and explain my challenge, before I was able to get stuck in with the dates, so to speak. What both astonished and delighted me was when I was introduced as this mad singleton who'd written this silly blog, one of the ladies, a lass by the name of Jessica, sat in the front row said she'd actually read it! I was a little bit stunned! It was only then that I realised people do actual read this shit, and I was delighted! Suddenly the last 18 months of my blogging life felt vindicated and it was the perfect start to one of the biggest challenges of my life. But enough about me, let's meet the dates...
Photo by the lovely Isabelle Adam. More pics from the gig hereI will at this point add a small note slash apology to each of my dates regarding the content of these nano-write ups. Although I did my best to try and make notes as I went along to try and do these gentlemen justice, I can only apologise if some of what I remember is a little muddled or, well, totally made up. It's not intentional, I promise...
DATE # 1 - MATT (11pm)
Matt was roped into being one of my dates through one of his friends on Twitter, who it turned out was one of the actual gig audience members. He arrived bang on time, only for me to say a quick hi and had to dash off into the gig and leave him on his own for what turned out to be nearly half an hour, the poor bugger. When I finally returned, however, he'd not been bored, but had befriended some of the locals who'd been teaching how to do the crab...
Matt had actually been out at a friend's party before coming along, and bless him had stayed sober especially which earned him major brownie points, but I couldn't help thinking he might have been a bit disappointed by what he encountered once he got here. Still, it seemed he had fun before I arrived, and for the half hour we did spend together, however, we had a lovely time. He's sweet, chatty, lively, and has the weirdest fucked up thumb I've ever seen. I'm cross I didn't take a photo of it now, it was properly mutant. He showed me some magic tricks using a pack of cards, although the street edge was slightly taken off by the fact that the only cards I had to hand was a pack of baby animal Top Trumps. All in all, a charming chap, and the nicest possible start to the Megadate.
DATE # 2 - OSKAR (midnight)
My second date was Oskar, who had been corralled into being my date through Willard, date 7, whom he knows through the debating circuit. He's a student of Islamic studies, a regular participant of internet dating, and has high functioning Asperger's. He wore his pink hat especially for the date, and if I had a cap on now, I would doff it to him for effort, for it was a delightful hat. Oskar was incredibly bright, and we spoke a lot about language, particularly Hebrew and Russian. When I confessed to have been trying to learn Russian, he tried to talk to be in Russian, but sadly the best I could do was answer him with the words 'cat; and 'sandwich'. The date was rather unexpectedly punctuated by a diminutive dude with an astonishing handlebar moustache who kept shouting things like 'Satan's cock', as you do...! Oskar was a really interesting guy, but I don't think my brain was much of a match for his at sensible times, let alone at midnight.
DATE # 3 - SAM (1am)
Sam was my first unplanned date of the challenge. I did previously have a willing victim to come and endure an hour of my company at such an antisocial hour, but unfortunately he was struck down with tonsilitis and couldn't make it. So I popped into the gig to give Mark an update on the dates so far, and he asked the audience if anyone would be up for a date. The first (and only) hand up in the air was Sam's, so off we scampered back to the bar for date three. As soon as we sat down I realised the major flaw with this date, which was the 14 year age gap. Sam, a Tesco check out bod, was only 18 years old. I am 32, and I tentatively spent the entire date concerned that someone would come along and put me on some sort of register. Sam was very sweet, but terribly nervous, and sat at the other end of the sofa visibly shaking. Chat was very varied. He told me the highlight of his job was when the till would ring up numbers like £9.11, and that a dinner with his friend at Nandos earlier that week had resulted in a very farty episode. Talk turned to souvenirs and collecting things, and it was only when I'd admitted to collecting stamps up to the age of 11, it dawned on me that was a good 3 years before he was even born. His parting words on the subject of history were '...and then they found Richard the whatever's face in a car park' and then the date was over. Bless young Sam. And big big kudos for being the first volunteer to spend an hour in the company of a very strange older woman.
DATE # 4 - SAM (2am)
Sam I'd known on Twitter for a good 9 months or so, and he would have been in the running to be Mr #52 had he not buggered off to live in Toronto. But since I needed some dates in the wee hours of the morning and there was a convenient time difference, I asked Sam if he fancied being one of my dates, and he kindly agreed. In terms of effort, Sam definitely gets an A. He'd dressed for the occasion including wearing a shirt, and was even wearing polished shoes indoors, although the aftershave was his true master stroke. He'd also opened a bottle of wine, and had set the scene with candles everywhere, it was delightful.
Sam explained to me the joys of Canadian life, how shit they are at queuing, how he'd experienced a temperature of -27C which is utterly insane, and what it was life starting a completely new life from scratch. I even got to meet his sofa. I attempted to bond with Sam over the time I once went to Canada, but my already-knackered brain let me down when I admitted to having visited Viagara Falls. I was relieved that Sam wasn't there in person, as Skype failed to show up the fact that I had gone a bright shade of purple. As I type, I'm looking at the remnants of the notes I tried to make during the date, and I can see a sentence which looks like 'wafits of wang'. I have no idea what on earth this means, but hopefully Sam can fill me in at a later date. Sam was delightful company, albeit on the other side of the Atlantic, and I was beyond flattered that he thought I was the Dave Gorman of the dating world. This was certainly a dating first for me, over Skype, and a far more sensible idea than logging onto Chat Roulette.
DATE # 5 - MARCO (3am)
Marco was my second date plucked from the audience. After standing on stage critiquing my previous dates, and flagging up the fact that Sam might have been a leeeeeetle bit too young for me, Mark called out for more volunteers. Up jumps Marco, who it turned out was older than Sam...but by only one year. He was 19. Mark asked what he liked, to which he answered 'football', and when he asked what i liked, I replied 'kittens, baking and knitting'. Match made in heaven then. Anyway, off we scampered back down to the date zone (a sofa reserved underneath the stairs) and embarked on date #6. Marco was really chatty and confident, and like a true gentleman he treated me to a Coke and a gingerbread man.
My date with Marco was a lot of fun. We spoke at length about man crushed, and he confidently confessed to having the hots for James Franco and Ryan Gosling, and we embarked on an epic Guess Who match. I smashed the first game, Marco clawed it back in the second, and going into the third it was all to play for. We were both down to the last couple of options, and then in my infinite cockiness I exclaimed out of turn 'ah! I only have two left and one of them is me! I know which one you are!' which of course gave the entire game away and Marco won. Bollocks. Fair play to him though, although he was a good 13 years my junior, he was a very funny date.
I have no idea what is going on here...genuinely...
Photo by the awesome Isabelle Adam. More pics from the gig here
DATE # 6 - OLI (4am)
Kit Kats were consumed, Oli generously leant me his phone to check the IMDB rating of the film (3.6 in case you were wondering, which quite frankly is over generous by about 2.6 points) and the time analysing the finer nuances of the film just flew by. As a parting gift, Oli kindly let me have his spare copy of the Beverley Hills Chihuahua, and I pledged to follow Chloe's onward journey by watching the sequels. Since the date, BBC Comedy have been trying to engineer a second date involving a Kit Kat chunky and the next instalment of the BHC dynasty, but both Oli and I are tentative that it might just be too much too soon.
DATE # 7 - WILLARD (5am)
I first got in touch with Willard over Christmas when I noticed a spike in my blog hits, and saw that he'd mentioned it in something he'd written for the Telegraph online. I tweeted to say thanks, and then after that we stayed in touch. He had enjoyed reading 52 First Dates, so much so that he'd then decided to embark on his very own online dating project, 28 Dates Later. He'd previously asked me out over Twitter, but since I knew there was a mammoth dateathon in the offing, I politely declined until the time was right, and asked if he wanted to be involved. He said yes, and since he was going to write about it as one of his blog dates, he wanted one of the weirdest time slots available, so 5am it was. He promised to bring cupcakes and bags of icing, and would teach me how to ice, because ironically given the amount of baking I do, I've never once attempted to pipe icing. Willard turned up in a smart shirt and jacket with a box of naked cupcakes, a couple of bags of buttercream, and a selection of decorations and way too much enthusiasm for that time in the morning!
Willard is a very confident and charming man, a natural born raconteur you might say. We spoke at length about the dating blog business that he'd now immersed himself in, and he seemed mildly in awe to have finally met the person to have written the dating blog he'd followed for so long. I was incredibly flattered, but also a bit embarrassed, as I'm still surprised by the fact that so many people have read this silly thing I've been writing, and many of them actually liking it.
We also covered super-strength beers, and I was anecdotally introduced to the awesomely named Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Willard's former life as a barrister representing shoplifters, tractor thieves and prostitutes (isn't that a Cher song?), and the time he spent election night with the Grand Wizard of the KKK. The true weirdness of the 25 hour megadate started to come forth, as we were date-crashed by Huggers Anonymous, bebearded comedian Sanderson Jones and his co-hugger Mikey Lear, who decided to join in the date for fifteen minutes or so. It was clear to all involved at this point that this was definitely no normal date. Although the fact we were icing cupcakes and it was before 6am was a bit of a clue...
Before we knew it, #8 had turned up, and the date was over. I'll be honest, I was a bit more nervous about this date than others, as I was finally going to be on the receiving end of the date-blogging pen, but all things considered (charity, weirdness, delirium and buttercream), I think it went as well as could have been expected. I can certainly recommend cupcakes for breakfast as a result. Within a couple of hours of the date, Willard had already written up his own version of events, which you can read here. I might see if I can source a medal from somewhere because I think at 32 I might be the youngest 'veteran' ever. I must add a special thanks to Willard who went above and beyond the call of duty in helping me find dates and get sponsorship, so thank you.
DATE # 8 - MIKE (6am)
I can't quite remember how Mike ended up coming across the blog, but he'd emailed me gallantly nominating himself to be part of the blog, and even more gallantly offered to be the 6am date as he didn't live too far from the theatre. There were a few things of note about Mike. The first was his awesome choice of knitwear, which was a sort of festive Aran sweater affair with owls on. Secondly, was the fact he brought along a game called Tumbling Towers which was a delightfully shameless rip off of Jenga, and three, he'd brought me a present wrapped in the most beautiful paper. Shame about the tape though...
Inside said paper, was quite possibly one of the most thoughtful presents anyone has ever bought me, let alone from a virtual stranger. It was a TGS hoodie from one of my all-time favourite TV shows 30 Rock, and quite frankly it blew me away! So a great big public thank you Mike from a now-delirious 8-hours-in girl off her tits on tea and buttercream. I am wearing it as I type.
Gifts aside, the rest of the date was fun. He'd been following the dates thus far on Twitter and noted that #1 was a bit of a hottie (Matt, you're in there...he buys ace presents!) and told me that he'd signed up to run the Marathon dressed as a nurse. Jenga *ahem* Tumbling Towers was tricky, as the sugar shakes were beginning to set in and I was not the best-equipped for such a game, although I was very grateful he hadn't brought along Operation. As the last brick was removed, the tower fell spectacularly, and emerged the victor, although I wouldn't mind betting Mike threw the game as a defeat at that point in time might have tipped me over the edge for the remaining 17 dates. By this point my brain was slowly starting to shut down, but it was was the nicest 6am date I'd ever had, and I was genuinely overwhelmed by such a thoughtful pressie.
DATE #9 - DARREN (7am)
Darren was another date that had been referred to me through a friend, and I was also grateful that he'd turned up at one of the more antisocial hours. The one thing that struck me about Darren was his spectacular head of hair. If there was a top barnet prize out of all the 25 dates, he'd have had it in the bag. He's an actor currently doing temping work, and he'd come fully prepared for the date with a spectacular rust-coloured tiger print thermos of tea especially. It was particularly good tea I have to say, streets ahead of some of the stuff that had been foisted my way from the bar over the previous 8 hours, and it was just what the doctor ordered as the delirium was properly starting to set in. I'd been awake for 21 hours by this point, and still had another 16 dates / hours to go. He was super cheerful, super smiley, and took the weirdness of people wandering around willy nilly in animal onesies, and the human detritus of people sleeping on the chairs next to us entirely in his stride.
DATE #10 - DAN (8am)
*DOUBLE FIGURES KLAXON* WOOB WOOB!
Dan, a Canadian, was another date put forward by recruiter-in-chief Willard. He'd cycled all the way to the theatre from Brixton especially, which had taken him an hour or so, and the poor guy was a tad pooped. He explained to me at length how to prolong the life of my iPhone 5, which was extremely valuable information since I was on my second charge of the challenge. The real meat of the date, however, came with one of my favourite topics of all time: The Cat vs Dog debate. I am a self-proclaimed cat person, and reckon I can identify within 5 minutes of meeting someone their animal preference. My first thoughts about Dan were that he favoured the canine contingent, and I was right. My memory is a little hazy at this point, but I'm pretty sure we started to talk about YouTube videos of cats using the toilet and flushing the it afterwards, but I would need back up on that one. At the end of the date, Dan showed me his spare sweater that he'd bought to change into for the cycle back, and the can of Febreze he'd bought as olfactory back up. You've got to hand it to him, that's what I call preparation! I have to apologise to Dan for the scantness of this part of the write up, but the first wave of tiredness had swept over my by this point, and I was in dire need of some sort of pick up to get me back and closer to the land of the living. He had also brought along the brilliantly named Bananagrams along for us to play, but sadly we ran out of time. And given it was a word-based game along the lines of Scrabble, I'm a little bit relieved...
DATE #11 - MARTIN (9am)
Martin was the first date of the challenge that I actually knew in real life beforehand. He was the result of a team-wide recruitment drive at my former office at ITV by my good friend Kirsty, who I have no doubt had to either slip him a tenner or bribe him with baked goods to get him to babysit me for an hour. Whatever the circumstances, I was very grateful for a friendly face. And moreover, a friendly face bearing Pass The Pigs! Martin insisted on laying claim to the most original opening line of the dates thus far, with his 'have you ever been to XXXX', which funnily enough proved to be the perfect segway to an anecdote about me sat in Copenhagen airport sobbing into two kilos of miniature Daim Bars. This date was quite the gamefest. First of all we played Pass The Pigs, one of my all time favourite past times, and without blowing my own trumpet, I kicked porcine ass! We then moved on to Guess Who as Martin had never played before, but we soon came to blows when Martin cheated on an issue over facial hair. Dear readers, if someone has a goatee beard which includes a moustache, and I ask if you have a moustache, that's a yes isn't it? Yes it is. Tsk. Third in the gaming bonanza was Connect 4, which I do believe I also won, which as you'll later find out was pretty much my only Connect 4 victory of the challenge. Martin was a delightful date, and ever the gentleman, leant me his Pass the Pigs set for future reference. He also let me keep the scorecard. Yes!!!!
DATE #12 - ANDY (10am)
Andy was the second person I knew in real life to foolishly agree to be one of the glorious twenty five, chosen partly for his ability to bring a good strong beard to the table, partly for the guy candy factor but mainly because I knew he had nothing better to do at the time and seeming a charitable sort, that he'd most probably say yes. And he did say yes, obvs. And he turned up equipped with pain au chocolat for breakfast, fresh OJ for vitamin C, and emergency mini eggs for the darkest hours that I suspected might come between 5 and 7pm. Amazeballs. For the most part it was a sensible date, if we ignore the fact that I ended up sat in a pile of my own pastry flakes, but unfortunately the delirium was already getting a good grip. And as if my temporal weirdness wasn't enough shared between the two of us, I then unwittingly shared it with the nation when we were joined by Jane Garvey and interviewed for Woman's Hour on Radio 4 which you can listen to here if you're so inclined. I have to say I've never listened to Woman's Hour before, but our Andy it seemed was quite the fan as it brought back fond memories (and he's also quoted it on Facebook on the odd occasion) so I felt, in part, a little like Claire'll Fix It, in the most tasteful possible sense. The rest of the date was delightful, and largely revolved around bemoaning the pitiful excuse for tea the poor sleep-starved bar staff had rustled up, the Harlem Shake (a version of which was later done during the gig) and Connect 4, which it turns out, I really do suck at. I'd like to use my lack of sleep and senses as an excuse, but even on a good night's sleep and a gullet full of ginkgo biloba I still would have lost. Should've played Pass The Pigs. By the end of the date, my energy levels were on the rise again thanks to my awesome second breakfast, and I was ready to face the halfway mark. Who, as it turns out, was called Mark. You couldn't make this shit up...
DATE #13 - MARK (11am)
Poor halfway Mark. Our date was doomed from the start, and I blame it on the unfortunate positioning of being unlucky #13. First of all the poor guy got a bit lost and was late, so turned up a bit flustered. Secondly, mid-date we were interrupted by a photographer, who not only insisted on interfering and making us pose awkwardly (we drew the line at holding hands for the over-eager pap), but then she managed to total an entire mug of tea all over the date-zone, leaving poor Mark and I to mop up the splash radius. Once we finally got round to the actual date, chat homed in and around online dating, and modern day dating etiquette. Mark was interested to know if, after 52 first dates and no converted goal so to speak, whether I'd actually questioned my sexuality. Interesting question, and straight to the point. But at 32 years old and over 77 dates to my name, I can very safely confirm that the problem with my dates lied within my personal choice of gentleman, and not the fact that they lacked a vagina. Mark was keen to point out that in modern dating terms, women appear to be becoming more masculine, and in some respects I do agree. I for one like to pay my way because I think it's rude to assume that someone would like me enough to pay for an entire evening with me, although that said it's always nice for someone to offer. Time evaporated almost as quickly as the spilt tea, and Mark had to head back to work, but not without the parting words, 'you look so tired'. He was right, I looked knackered. But 13 down and 12 to go, it was all downhill from here. In more ways than one...
DATE #14 - PIERRE (midday)
Date #14 was somewhat of an emergency measure, as my previous #14 had emailed earlier to cancel. So much for charidee! So I decided to invite myself over for a date with my neighbour in the theatre bar, comedian and artist Pierre, whose challenge over the 25 hours was to draw the entire time. Poor guy. We were both flagging significantly at this point, but onwards we fought. Pierre had actually previously read my blog, and was curious to get the inside track on some of my more 'unusual' dates, so I recalled with deluded fondness the Bengali poet with the mutant third tooth who got so hammered on rum he started sniffing my hair, before passing out in a pool of his own beverage. We were briefly joined by one of the newly-released record-holding hugees, who took it upon himself to also have a sniff of my hair, before leaving us to move onto the topic of body parts. Pierre, it turns out, can add random trivia and the dispelling of anatomical myths to his CV, such as the fact that your hair and nails don't grow after you die, it's just your body that shrinks, and the fact that although most people believe (myself included) that when you're born, your eyeballs are the only thing that stays the same size, which apparently is utter bullshit. The date was short and sweet, and I left questioning everything I've ever known, but it was worth it to have seen Pierre's latest creation, the last in a long line of highly depressed characters that look like members of the royal family.
DATE #15 - CHAD (2pm)
It's now 2pm, I've been dating for around 15 hours, I've been awake for over 28 hours, which might explain a little about why this date went the way it did. Chad initially got in touch with me as he's a freelance camera-man, and had offered to film my dateathon. Initially flattered, I had to decline on account that there were so many cameras knocking about the place, one entirely devoted to capturing my undignified demise was a bridge too far. However I did suggest that if he was up for it, that he nominated himself to be one of my dates, which he did. What Chad brought to the party, apart from yet another strong beard, was Play Doh!
Now I've not seen Play Doh in well over 20 years, and I was disproportionately delighted to see the very cement of my childhood. I had fond recollections about sculpting awesome objects to proudly present to my parents, whilst revelling in the salty smell of this amazing substance. So we started sniffing it, and the memories started flooding back. Then, and this is most definitely a sign of the time, we started eating it. Just a little bit mind, to remind myself of quite how shit it tasted back in the eighties, and I can confirm it tastes just as as I remembered. I felt very very sick. Nausea aside, we forged on with the date, and because I was struggling with the powers of speech, Chad gallantly offered to sculpt my effigy out of Dynorod orange, blue hair, and purple shoes. To match my eyes. How very thoughtful. So without further ado, here's me. With boobs. I won't lie, it's a little bit awkward making small talk with a date whilst they're rolling your miniature mammaries around in front of you between their thumb and forefinger...
You'll just have to take my word for it, but this is scarily more of an accurate depiction of me at that point in time, and I am in no way offended. I especially like the way my right eye has got bored of being friends with the left and has started to do its own thing. The date ended in the revelation that Chad was tempted to come to the date dressed as Zippy from Rainbow, and taunted with what might have been, I was left a little disappointed. Oh, I forgot, at some point I did sing 'I wish I could fly', Orville stylee. This definitely will not have added to a good first date impression. This is why you need sleep, people...
'Who eats Play Doh on a first date? Silly bint!' Photo by the delightful Isabelle Adam. More pics from the gig here
My date with Luke was engineered by Mr Watson himself. For his Red Nose Day challenge, Luke was doing a sponsored separation from his girlfriend Nadia. In the hours leading up to the date, he'd been through the typical post-break up rituals, including spending a lot of time 'with himself', and eating a takeaway curry for two by himself. By 3pm, he was ready to begin dating again, so Mark got us both up onstage to introduce us. In yet another thoughtful gesture, Luke had brought me a present. I'd been doing very well all day today, but Luke took the word 'thoughtful' to a-whole-nother level. A bag of goodies. These goodies...
That's right! A golfing magazine, some Werther's Originals, some chocolate lozenges and a bottle of de-icer. Here's a guy that knows what women want. That Nadia was missing out! Conversation was varied but enjoyable. We covered the merits of Harry Potter, touched on Mills and Boon, childhood collections and Kirsten Stewart's ears. Unfortunately Luke blew things when he poured Coke all over himself, and I knew then that it just wasn't meant to be. Shame. The de-icer was a master stroke...
DATE #17 - NORRIE (4pm)
Norrie volunteered to be one of my dates having been roped into it by his flatmate's girlfriend, a friend of mine. There'd been a fair amount of banter prior to the date, and I knew early on that I'd need to have my brain fully in gear for our date. Herein lies the problem. 17 hours into the dates and my brain was sadly nowhere to be seen. After bragging about having had a lie in until 10am that morning, Norrie then decided to test my cranial capacity by bringing up Einstein's theory of relativity, quoting Churchill and Karl Jung, and talking about the demise of the Pope's ring. I managed to come back to the conversation long enough to talk about the Littlest Hobo, but then I was lost again when Norrie tried to tell me a joke involving the words 'tuna' and 'tuba', and I just could not get it. Trying to bring things a bit more down to my level, he started to talk about koalas, and I like koalas, I really do, but that was about as much as I could contribute to the situation. Things then moved onto she-pees, for non-festival goers they're devices designed to enable women to wee standing up, and I was gone again. I have a vague recollection of the words 'moist' and 'slit' entering the vernacular, and as I struggle to hide recoiling in horror at two of my least favourite words, he looked me straight in the eyes and said 'slit - does that make you feel uncomfortable?' Yes, yes it did. Actually, being awake and having to communicate with another human being, any human being, was a struggle, so sadly poor Norrie didn't stand much of a chance. By this point I was a wreck, and I concede, I was an effing horrible date. As if by magic, Norrie also produced a gift, which he'd hand-picked on account of how weird and shit it was. It was a solar-powered Fortune Cat. This one, in fact...
Initially I ribbed him mercilessly about his random choice of offering, but the next time I went into Mark's gig to update them on my progress, I told the audience about the cat, and then suddenly to see 200 sleep-deprived people all do the waving arm at me in exact synchronicity suddenly nailed it. This present was a-to-the-mazing. As I type now, I can see the funny little bastard knocking on an imaginary door in my peripheral vision, and I love him even more each day. He will forever serve as a reminder of some of the darkest hours of my 25 hour long delirium-fest. So Norrie, because I didn't say it enough at the time, thank you. I shall call him Paraprosdokian, after your favourite obscure figure of speech.
DATE #18 - LUKE (5pm)
Luke was the second date drafted from ITV, and although I'd vaguely known him whilst I was there, I never really spoke to him. I knew he was hot, and I was sure there was also some back-hand bribery to secure his attendance, but I didn't really care, I'd started to get desperate. Luke emailed me earlier on in the date to let me know he could only stay for half an hour, but he'd come along anyway. As soon as he arrived, he panned Pass The Pigs and went straight for the Connect 4. Whilst he became the second / third / fourth / I can't remember-th person to kick my arse at the game, we spoke about dating etiquette, and how he's a strong advocate of playing by the rules, including things such as the three day rule which I have to say I'd always believed was a myth. After a cursory couple of games, it was time for Luke to flee, but not before he revealed that in the carrier bag he was carrying were the makings of spaghetti and meatballs that he was going to prepare for a 'real' date. You mean I wasn't a real date? You break my heart Luke, you really do. Or not. You decide...
DATE #19 - CARL (6pm)
Carl was another one of the dates that I'd cajoled into coming along, and being the benevolent sort he obliged. I've known Carl for a good 12 years or so, having gone to university together, but since I only ever see the bugger once every 5 years and we'd never 'dated', it seemed like a good idea. Plus he knew me well enough to be able to understand the delirium more than most, which definitely counted in my favour. For a good 40 minutes or so we spoke about veganism, and I asked Carl to try and explain to me why forgoing all the good stuff in life, like meat and cheese, was a good idea. Apparently he converts up to 40 people a year to veganism, so I thought it;d be an interesting debate. I'm usually a reasonable person, and I'm sure under normal circumstances I'd have been more susceptible to his powers of persuasion. But my armour of insomnia served me well, and instead by the end of it I found myself hankering for Ikea horsemeatballs and Dairylea. Sorry Carl. Aside from the veganism, we touched on his PhD in political violence, his hobby as an anarchist, and his impending emigration to Canada. At some point, we were invaded by an entire primary school, round about the time I tried to recite and rewrite Rutger Hauer's speech from Bladerunner detailing my surreal 25 hours experience thus far (I've seen things you people wouldn't believe; fat chips and the shoulders of a giant Carebear..."), and then suddenly the clock struck 7pm. Bloody hell, 19 down, 6 to go...
DATE #20 - GAVIN (7pm)
Karl Pilkington lookey-likey Gavin ("only prettier", his words not mine) was roped into being a date through a mutual friend on Twitter, and being a competitive sort, not only agreed to be a date, but also roped his mate Jonathan in to be date #23. Gavin is quite possibly one of the smiliest people I've ever met. He persuaded me to start drinking alcohol (a fateful error since undoing all of the training that 15 years worth of drinking with an ill-advised dry January),virtually demolished an entire pack of Werther's given to me by #16, and likened my dating marathon to the work of a prostitute. Only slightly less cash and sex in my version, honest. We covered public transport and snow (according to my notes, but I really can't remember!), 30 Rock and why he's like Manny from Modern Family. The highlight of the date (apart from my new-found love of booze) was him teaching me how to say 'Hi, my name is CTS, pleased to meet you' in sign language, and explaining how sign language is only just becoming not-racist. You'll just have to take my word for it that I can still remember how to say these things, at least I think I can, although they may have morphed into something unintentionally offensive over the course of a few days. I have a vague recollection of Gavin saying I had a 'mouth like a cat's bum', and after my parting words of 'I think i'm going to die of tired', it was the end of the date. But my resounding memory of Gavin was what a beamy bloke he was, and I respect anyone who tried to sabotage their mate's date by getting her drunk beforehand. Cheers!
It was around now I had to do another update in the theatre, and I remembered I was missing the 25th and final date. When Mark and Emma Kennedy asked me who I'd like it to be, knowing full well they probably had the magical powers to conjure up pretty much any man I desired (with the exception of Zach Braff, who gig-goers will know would have been a minor miracle), I stood there in a semi-comatose state incapable of thinking of any possible man. With the benefit of my retrospectrometer, this was absolutely a wasted opportunity. But casting my mind back, I was so delirious I had a total blank. I just stood there like a fart in a trance completely incapable of unique thought which of course was of no help to anyone, and it was all rather embarrassing. Even now, having recouped all of my sleep, I still don't know who I would have chosen. Although everyone else I've spoken to since has a list at the ready...
"The Spanish Inquisition - largely unanswered" Photo by the sublime Isabelle Adam. More pics from the gig here
DATE #21 - WOODY (8pm)
Poor Woody. Poor poor beardy hairy Woody. As date #21, he was onto a losing streak already, for which I can only posthumously apologise. By this point I was not only beside myself with tiredness, but to add insult to injury was now on my way to getting hammered, having eaten nothing but a cupcake, a croissant, a couple of bananas and a handful of chocolates in over 24 hours. To add to my sugar-overdose, Woody kindly furnished me with a Kinder Egg, and watched with astonishment at the way that assembling a car made from 3 parts baffled my teeny tiny overtired brain. I can only recall snippets of conversation, which included drunken eBay, darts, taxidermied squirrels, the blue rabbit sponge my little sister put up her nose aged 4, beards, balloons, and his ridiculously over-sized hands. The highlight of the date, however, were Woody's card tricks. Even through my mind-fug, I could tell he was a shit hot close up magician, and he broke my brain with a number of different card tricks. And these were properly tricky sleight of hand jobs, and I was genuinely very impressed. Soon, the big hand went past the little hand, and it was time for the date to end. But Woody had been a genuinely awesome sport, and I could have happily watched a lot more of his card tricks had I had some matchsticks to prop my eyelids open.
DATE #22 - KEIR (9pm)
If you didn't feel sorry enough for Woody, then please spare a thought for poor Keir. Keir had travelled all the way from Bristol to spend an hour with someone who was scarcely held together by vodka and chocolate, and he turned up like a little whirling dervish of mirth. When he turned up, I was due an update in the theatre, so I dragged the poor bugger into the auditorium to introduce him to the audience. But there was a seriously competetive Countdown game afoot at the time, and without wanting to interrupt or spend the entire date on the sidelines, I dragged him back to the bar again. Although I'd not met him before, I felt like I'd known Keir for a while, as he was originally one of the short-listed candidates to be Mr #52, although he was pipped to the post by a Dane. Keir came fully equipped for the date, and brought with him a bumper bag of miscellaneous Lego to keep me amused. One of his fortes, I've seen over Twitter, is his ability to build forts when he's bored at work. Bearing in mind we were in a theatre bar, full-size fort architecture wasn't an option, so he'd opted for a small Lego version. As we sat drinking the tinned vodkas he'd brought along, we tried to combine forces and build something. However his mis-matching selection of plastic bricks led to a number of artistic differences, and we were forced to concede a number of redesigns en route. It was Keir's decision, for example, to put a death-trap propellor rich underneath the diving board, but his excuse was he liked to live on the edge.
In an effort to prove the structural integrity of said edifice, the following conversation occurred:
Keir: 'There you go, you can stand on that!'
Me: 'No you can't'
Keir: 'Yes you can...'
It then broke. And I was smug.
Aside from the Lego-architecture, we spoke about a myriad of weird things: why his father was responsible for making Bridgewater smell, bacon jam (oh yes, such a thing does exist folks...), Keir's uncanny impression of Vicky Pollard and why he thinks all children are bastards. The highlight for me, however, came when he offered me the first Fruit Pastille, a red one. Everyone loves the red ones don't they? And the black ones. It soon turned out, the entire pack was either red or black. He'd bought a number of packets, and sat on the train on the way over rigging this one pack to be only the best ones. I know there's a pun coming a mile off, but I can't think of anyway to say it: this was genuinely one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done. Through my drunken knackered haze I was still blown away. That was amazing. Soon enough, date #23 had turned up and it was time to say goodbye, and send Keir back to the West Country.
DATE #23 - JONATHAN (10pm)
Jonathan was another date who could only hang around for half an hour thanks to prior commitments, although this time it was having to work overnight rather than having a date to go and cook for. He'd been cajoled into it by Gavin, and in the spirit of competition, he'd turned up. Instantly, he thrust a much-needed Red Bull into my hand, and we did our level best to do a date. Sadly, I was rubbish. The best we could do was to crack out the Baby Animal Top Trumps, throughout which Jonathan did his level best to cheat throughout the entire game. He was very chirpy considering he was about to start the sort of night shift I'd struggled through earlier that day, and he had obviously been taking smiling lessons from Gavin. No sooner had he sat down, date #24 had already turned up, and I had to send him and his shameless cheating ass packing. By now everything had literally gone to pot. I was drunk and erratic, the end was finally in sight, and I'd consumed so much sugar I was in danger of doing myself a mischief. It's a shame Jonathan hadn't figured earlier in the running order. It was also a shame he tried to take advantage of my poor state by cheating at a child's card game. Naughty.
DATE #24 - ANDY (10.30pm)
Andy, the closest person I know to being a real life giant, drew the shortest straw of the lot, and that's not a reference to my height. I've known Andy for a few years now through a mutual friend, who when he found out I was struggling to meet the 25 date quota, put the thumbscrews on poor Andy and insisted he obliged. And oblige he did, turning up at half ten at night to ply me with more booze. He also packed a picnic. Bless...
By this time, the whole theatre was in almost meltdown with the allure of sleep proving almost too much to bear. The date pretty much consisted of me flapping around in fear of my 25th and final date, examining the knitted glow that Andy had brought along in the hope I might sew it up for him (fat chance), and me trying in some way to articulate a modicum of the events that had come to pass over the last 24 hours. Within 20 minutes, it was time to find out what the 25th and final date held in store, so I carted Andy up to the auditorium, plonked him on the back row and told him to behave himself.
DATE #25 - DAN AND NADIA (11pm, day 2)
My twenty-fifth and final date was quite the surprise. Yes folks, it was a threesome. Get in! The obliging folks in question were a fit hairy fellow called Dan, plucked from the audience, and a pretty Welsh-Iraqi comedienne, coincidentally the estranged girlfriend of Luke, date #16. We bundled off back to the bar, Dan chivalrously got a round of drinks in, and within ten minutes we'd decided to go on a jolly jaunt to EuroDisney together. This trippy triptych was obviously meant to be! Our short-lived romance ended the way all good first dates should end - by heading back into the theatre to watch Rufus Hound, dressed as a king, smash 28 eggs using a hammer gaffer taped to the end of his tallywhacker. You don't believe me? Oh, you should...
Within minutes, Jonathan Ross and Adam hills had turned up, someone bid £12k to pie poor Tiernan Douieb dressed in nowt but a blue onesie in the face, and then it was midnight! In the same way that Cinderella's carriage turned into a pumpkin, everyone in the theatre descended into joyous anarchy. It was over. We could all sleep. For ever...and ever...and ever...! Well, maybe not forever, no-one actually died. Hurrah and huzzah on all counts!
At the end of those extraordinary 25 hours, Mark and co had racked up well over a staggering £42,000 for Red Nose Day, which I'm sure will continue to rise before the big day is over. I am delighted that I managed to contribute over £1600 to that fund from my 25 dates in 25 hours challenge, thanks to the amazing support of family, friends, fans of 52 First Dates, and my dates themselves. I've been overwhelmed by everyone's support for this bonkers quest, so just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who humoured me. There is, of course, still time to donate to the challenge posthumously, now you've seen proof that I honoured my word, so if you do feel like giving me a congratulatory sponsorship slap on the back, you can do so here.
It;'s been four days to the hour since my last date, and I've only just recovered from the experience and got round to bashing out this rather crude write up. Aesthetically, I still look pretty poor to say the least, having tried to explain the events of the 28th February through to 1st March a few times, I can confirm that my powers of coherent speech have not entirely returned to normal, and I physically feel like I've had a run in with the wrong end of a steam-roller. This 25 hour challenge was quite possibly one of the most bizarre, testing, hilarious, faith-restoring and life-affirming things I've ever participated in my life, But you know what? If that mad man Watson ever asked me to get on board with another one of his mammoth ball-breaking mind-bending extravaganzas, I'd say yes in a heartbeat. The man is nothing short of a superhero. Mark Watson, I salute you.
I would, at this point, like to apologise to the gentlemen doing the Countdown challenge for standing them up. It was incredibly rude of me, and I promise next time we all agree to do something this foolish, I'll come and juggle some conundrums with you. And for those of you wondering if anything has come of any of the dates, there may well be a couple of second dates on the cards. That's all I'm saying for now...nosey...
And as if things couldn't get any better, my unbelievably awesome and gorgeous friend Claire Pothecary managed to get me this...it's only a message from the one man that makes me go wibbly...Tim Minchin! I'll forgive him the minor misunderstanding...so a big big thank you Claire and a big big thank you Tim.
DISCLAIMER: I do not advise attempting batshit mental endurance dating challenges unless you've a. sought prior permission from your GP and/or b. you're batshit mental yourself.