Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Speed Dating, Part I :: The Seduction Line

I still haven’t figured out whether speed dating is a wonderful, ingenious idea with the power to transform lives and create wonderful relationships, or actually even more inhumane than juggling kittens. I guess it depends on the person sitting opposite you. But even if you luck out and meet someone you can actually get along with, it’s still basically costly torture, with an outside chance of something life-altering developing amidst the pain and humiliation. Or do I exaggerate?

I'm still not sure.

The speed dating event I attended was on the other side of London and wasn’t strictly speaking ‘speed dating’. I believe with old school speed dating, you get around two or three minutes to make your mark; we had ten to fifteen minutes – ten if it was going badly; fifteen is it was going well.

As we stood at the bar waiting for the first round of dates to begin, I must admit I was very glad that Keith was there with me. If I’d have been on my own, I’d have been bilious with nerves. As it was, I was just slightly gassy. So as I stood there, trying to surreptitiously swallow another mouth fart, the woman running the evening – who looked like a permatanned Lynndie England - explained how it would work.

There were ten women and ten men, which meant ten dates each in two and a half hours, with the women assigned their own table and the men moving from date to date like giant, knicker-sniffing wasps. It was quite an ordeal, and basically a production line, the males slowly paraded in front of the females like incomplete consumer durables, holding up their shoddy personalities to the light of quality control, trotting out their stories and their questions and their jokes like tramps emptying their pockets looking for pound coins they know they’ve already spent. It was a seduction line.

I popped a mint in my mouth, fixed my name tag to my lapel and promptly fainted.

I didn’t really faint. Sorry. I’ve never fainted. Instead I did what I was told, followed Lynndie England’s pointing finger and sat myself down opposite date number one.

(As always, names have been changed to protect the vulnerable and the insane. And me.)


Physical :: Gloria didn’t look like a Gloria. Gloria looked more like a Mildred. But appearances can be deceptive. I know, I know.

Gloria had, and presumably still has, small features: narrow eyes and a tiny pinched mouth which, in my presence at least, refused to smile. She had short brown hair and a thin, skeletal face. She looked like she hated me, frankly. Maybe she did.

Mental :: Although I had rehearsed most of what I ended up saying to Gloria – or at least imagined myself saying it - I was still rather surprised frankly, to hear it coming out of my mouth. ‘So, Gloria, tell me, have you ever seen thousands of tiny turtles scampering across a mighty beach on a moonlit night?’

Her expression didn’t falter. The cat’s rectum of her mouth opened slightly however, to release the words, ‘I’m sorry?’

‘You know, like when thousands of turtles all lay their eggs in the sand. In South America maybe. Then one night, when the moon is bright and high, all of the eggs, millions of them, all hatch at once and all these baby turtles start scampering towards the sea. You must have seen in on The Living Earth or something. Have you never seen that?’

‘What are you talking about?’ Gloria was shaking her head as she spoke. ‘Why are you asking me about that?’


So this was speed dating. I cringed. My cheeks turned cold. I felt sad. ‘I dunno, I...’ I shrugged. ‘I guess I like turtles. No reason other than that. Are you not a fan?’

She shrugged right back at me and curled up a single nostril. ‘Not really, no.’


‘So what do you do?’ she asked, out of nought but contemptuous obligation.

‘I’m a pole vaulter,’ I said. I couldn’t help myself. I was actually quite upset that my turtle opener had fallen on such wilfully deaf ears.

Gloria stared at me with an expression which said, ‘So, not only are you ugly, but you’re also an absolute fucking idiot.’

‘And you?’ I said.

‘I work in investment banking,’ she said. ‘I’m a trust fund manager.’

I laughed. ‘Wicked,’ I said. ‘That’s really brilliant. So tell me, Gloria, do you like bats?’

Her face contracted, reminding me, ironically enough, of a startled turtle disappearing into its shell. ‘What are you saying? Are you trying to be funny?’

‘No!’ I cried. I wasn’t. ‘We’re here to meet people, to get to know them. I’m trying to get to know you, Gloria. Trying to find out what you like. Trying to find out, specifically, if you like bats. It’s not that odd, surely.’

‘Yes,’ she cried, exasperated. ‘It is. What have bats got to do with anything?’

‘OK, OK, I’m sorry.’ I held out my hands, palms open and facing out, somewhere between us. ‘We’ve not got off to the best of starts, I think that’s safe to say. Probably that’s down to the sexual tension between us….’

I smiled, amusing myself enormously. Gloria’s mouth fell open like a broken trap. ‘I can assure you there is no such thing between us.’

I swear, this woman had absolutely no sense of humour.

‘Denial,’ I said. ‘The second of the first five stages of attraction. It goes like this…’ I counted them out on my fingers. ‘Fascination, denial, arousal, intercourse, repulsion.’

And that was that. We were only about five minutes into our date and Gloria had had enough. She pushed back her chair noisily, stood up and marched out of the room. I assumed at first she’d just gone to the loo or some such and would be back in time for her next date, but I realised later – when she didn’t return - that she’d gone for good.

I was flabbergasted. I wondered if I’d set some kind of record.

I wondered if Gloria had been speed dating before. I imagined not. I wondered if she’d ever go again. I imagined not. Definitely not. I imagined her telling her friends about the freakish mentalist whose idea of seduction was to ramble on about bats and turtles till she had no option but to leave in an almighty strop. I imagined her writing me up on her blog. ‘Physical :: Fat. Ugly. Face like a bag of elbows. Mental :: Definitely mental. Incapable of holding a normal conversation.’

I wondered if one of the other men in the room was her ideal partner whom she would now never meet. I kind of hoped so. Which was wrong of me.

I thought about this as I sat there, at an empty table, with every other woman in the room trying not to think about the fact that very soon they too would have to spend at least ten minutes with the big ugly freak who - within minutes – has women running screaming from the building. (She wasn’t actually screaming.) (And for what it's worth, I think there was probably something else going on beyond her seeming irritation with my conversational skills. She'd probably had some bad news or something. Or she was insane in some way. Surely?)

At which point I briefly considered getting up and leaving myself, but then, with something of a shock, I realised that I had no intention of leaving because, against all expectations, I was actually enjoying myself, and very much looking forward to my next date.



Physical :: Cindy was actually Lucinda, a posh girl with high, erubescent cheeks and bright blue eyes which were sweetly beady. Cindy was so far out of my league that she was actually playing a different sport. Happily, that didn’t matter, because for the time being we were both playing on the same field. Sadly – if I may extend the metaphor till it splinters like a butterscotch hymen in a flux capacitor - I had a set of darts and a catcher’s mitt; Cindy had a speed boat and a light sabre.

She also had a spicy blonde bob and tiny white teeth which she covered with her right hand whenever she laughed.

Mental :: ‘Hi,’ said Lucinda, pumping my hand like a lumberjack. ‘How are you?’

‘Well if you want to know the truth,’ I said, ‘I’m a tad hacked off. I don’t know if you noticed, but my first date turned a little sour.’

Lucinda didn’t know whether to admit that she’d noticed or pretend that she hadn’t, so instead, she opened her eyes wide and drew her bottom lip into her mouth. It was quite an effect, and I took it as a sign for me to continue. So I continued. ‘I don’t know what it was,’ I said. ‘But I think it was because she was a little intimidated by my looks.’

At this stage I should probably mention that before we left the house, Keith and I shared a bottle and a half of excellent red wine. Kind of pathetic I know, inasmuch as it was rather cowardly of us, but it really, really helped.

‘You’re not bad-looking yourself,’ I continued. ‘You must have got the same thing once in a while. People get jealous, and they lash out. I guess they don’t like to be made to seem inferior.’ Cindy was still sucking on her bottom lip, seemingly unsure as to whether to laugh or to run screaming from the room herself. Which I realised would be rather amusing. I told her so. ‘It would be very funny if you left too now,’ I said. ‘Just got up and walked out like the first one. Go on, I dare you. It would be hilarious.’

‘No, I’m alright,’ she said. ‘I think I can handle your beauty.’ I gave her a look which was meant to suggest that many a woman has made that mistake, but it was probably just more of a leer. ‘So what do you do?’ she said.

‘I’m a pole vaulter,’ I said.

She had a lovely laugh, Lucinda, like cow bells in a wind tunnel, and when she let it out then, it was a great relief.

‘You cover your mouth when you laugh,’ I said, rather unnecessarily. Then I realised… was that a neg? Was I gaming this woman? Good Lord, I’m smooth. ‘I’m a copy writer really,’ I said, ‘although not in an interesting way. I’ve written the copy for websites for both trade unions and chartered accountants. My life is that exciting. What about you?’

‘I’m a tree surgeon,’ said Cindy.

Then it was my turn to laugh. I also covered my mouth, just to make her feel at home. ‘But you had to give it up ‘cause you couldn’t stand the sight of sap, right? Is that what happened?’

The hand came up again, like clockwork. ‘No, honest, I really am. I work for the Tree Council.’

‘Get out of it,’ I said. ‘What Tree Council?’ I thought she was making it up, but she wasn’t.

‘That’s pretty cool,’ I guessed. ‘What do you think about bats then? You must like bats?’

‘I love bats!’ she said. ‘I even went on a bat walk a couple of months ago.’

‘You never did!’

‘I did!’

And so Cindy and I talked about bats for a while. And then we talked about speed dating. She asked me if I’d done it before. Then she asked me why I was doing it. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘believe it or not, I don’t meet people well.’ That was a line from Adaptation which I’d always wanted to use.

‘What do you mean?’ she asked.

‘Oh. I guess I mean that I’m a big ugly bugger with a fairly unpleasant physical presence and women are generally discouraged by this.’

‘Oh, come on,’ said Cindy.

‘Oh, come on yourself,’ I said. ‘You know it’s true. Anyway, the reason I’m here is not necessarily to find a girlfriend, although that would be ideal, but more just to force myself into these situations. You know? Because I refuse to hide away anymore.’

‘Well, good for you,’ she said. ‘I think that’s really admirable.’

‘Me too,’ I said. ‘Here’s to me.’ And we drank to me. Then – a sign that I was actually quite tipsy – I told her about the blog.

‘Oooh, will I be in it?’ she wanted to know.

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘If you play your cards right.’

Then she asked me what it was called and I said that if I told her, I would then have to torture and kill her, which I think kind of frightened her a tiny bit. So I gave her a winning smile. And suddenly it was time to move on.

So, that was the first two of my ten dates. Five of the next eight were – and I say this with no disrespect intended whatsoever – fairly unremarkable, so I’m going to rush through them now.

Meena was a slightly stuck-up Indian girl who worked in PR and told me that if she didn’t find a bloke tonight, she was going to become a lesbian; Kath had ratlike features and was a colleague of Meena’s with prominent gums and an unhealthy obsession with someone called Kaká - how I chortled; Clare liked George Clooney (yawn) and vodka and Red Bull. She also worked with Kath and Meena and seemed a little upset when I suggested that she might end up spending the night in a lesbian threesome; Meg looked like Emily Lloyd and insisted that I should be on television but couldn’t quite put her finger on why, or in what capacity; Jane liked short men with ‘really shit hot bodies’ and wanted to know all about my eczema. She had a face like a tapir. (By the way, I reckon I’m allowed to allude to other people’s physical shortcomings - 'ratlike features', 'face like a tapir' - because I am a card-carrying member of the Ugly Club and with that comes a certain very small number of perks. One of which is the right to call a spud a spud, in much the same was as black people are allowed to call one another ‘nigger’... ‘Alright, Tapir-face.’ ‘Alright, Elbows.’)

The other three dates however, were – for very different reasons, worthy of a little more attention. There names were Tilly, Atiya and Melanie, and I shall tell you about them on Thursday.

Until then, pip pip, and keep hope alive.

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Anonymous said...


Bats? My long curly hair would work its rapenzal magic on them.

That would be my reply.

I like your quirkiness ;-)

Ann Anon x

caroline said...

Wow, I rhink you're brave to go speed dating, though I'm sure the wine helped.I can't wait to read the next chapter.

Caroline x

Luka said...

What fun!

The turtles opener is a good one. Keep that.

As for bats, I could go on for hours and show you slides. So that gambit is riskier - you may encounter a licensed bat handler with a passion for their work and find yourself wondering how to change the subject back to something with more sexual potential.

Looking forward to part 2...

Anonymous said...

I would have need the entire bottle and a half just for me to get my arse to a speed dating session! Bravo for being a lot braver than most!
Can't wait for episode 2 :o)

Anonymous said...

Bit naughty Belle. Good work.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to the next one!

Selena said...

I didn't say there wasn't speed dating in all of California, I said not where I lived. I meant that there's no speed dating in San Diego, California...
OK, ok, - at least there's no speed dating that any of my
friends have ever heard rumor of in our general location.

However, because you doubted me- I looked it up, and to my great chagrin and delight you were right-apparently we do have speed dating.

However, The places listed definitely do not cater to the type of people I could discuss baby turtles and their frantic flight to the star speckled ocean with. Not, unless I wanted to get a look that made me feel like I was something gross stuck to the bottom a shoe.

By the way, I believe that was a great opening line, even if it does sound like something I would hear on The Pick Up Artist. A show which I will adamantly deny ever having watched (ok, I watched it- just once- don't judge me!)

Bête, just promise that you won't start wearing giant furry hats and a black mesh shirt with platform shoes. Promise, Promise!....Then again, whose to say you don't already?

I'm going to see if I can drag one of my friends to one of these things with me anyway, if nothing else it's an experience and I can't wait to hear the rest of yours.

Selena said...

something gross stuck to the bottom 'of' a shoe

Amy said...


You can't leave me hanging like this!

Lauren said...

OOh!! OOh!!! I want to go speed dating! Bring it on *searches the internet for speed dating in my area*

I hope I meet someone as interesting as you!!

Anonymous said...

You have me whooping and chortling and snorting out loud at my desk at work! (I think it was the cat anus mouth that pushed me over the edge.) If you asked me about baby turtles, I think I would have fallen for you on the spot. I've never tried speed dating, but it sounds great. Maybe I should check and see if they have any here in Oregon.


Anonymous said...

Bonjour la Bête,

I wonder as well wether speed dating is a great idea or a humiliating session.
But for sure, it's some brilliant material for a talented writer.
Meg was right, you should be on television ...for a comedy show!
I loved it, even if I had to check the dictionnary a couple of times.

Uncle Did

janetyjanet said...

cracking post there Bete - heartily looking forward to part 2.

think Gloria actually did you a favour revealing her 'different' sense of humour as soon as she did - at least that way you could know immediately she wasn't for you!

but, hmmmm, not entirely convinced on your reasons why you're allowed to comment negatively on others physical appearance - surely you're just perpetuating the judgemental nature of society's standards with regards to our outer shell??

or something...

Ani Smith said...


I don't believe you.

I'm sorry but Mildred - I mean, Gloria - did not just walk out. No one is that humourless. Admit it, you are exaggerating for comedic effect. ;)

[Also, you seem besieged by platitudes. You should see someone about that.]

[Err. Not in your writing, which sparks with wit, I hasten to add. Just you know, the way others react to you, seemingly.]

[I'll shut up now.]

[And try to dislodge foot from mouth.]


[Um. Bye.]

dan said...

How could the turtle line not work? That's lady talk genius!

The ten dates - ten minutes method seems nice and smooth, I tried a thirty dates - three minutes night once. All I can recall is mimicking a horses whatsits (charades style) and not getting any dates. Have you got any hits?!

PS I'm having that turtle line x

Je ne regrette rien said...

so these things ARE as strangely entertaining as I'd imagined they would be. I'm SO going to take a page from your book should I ever decide to participate.

caroline said...

Oops, I forgot to say - the turtle line is genius.I hate to rush you, but I so want to know what happened next.How did Keith get on, and did you share a bag of oven chips and a joint when you got home?

La Bête said...

Ann Anon, thanks. I like your quirky spelling.

Caroline, wine always helps.

Luka, if a licensed and passionate bat handler doesn’t have sexual potential, then I’m a bucket of clams. (I’m not.)

Pen, I think doing it by yourself probably takes a lot more guts. When I was about to do it last time, I was really much more nervous and really pleased when a reason to cancel arose. Having someone with you makes it relatively easy, honest.

Anonymous, you are funny. I don’t care what they say.

Hello, Mango!

Selena, I watched the Pick-Up Artist when it was available online in the UK and I loved it. Watched all the first series in one night. I don’t know why they haven’t done it over here. I’d be a contestant. (I wouldn’t really.) (Or would I?) (I might, you know.) I also went through the whole to peacock or not to peacock thing a while ago. I decided not to. No more than I already do anyway. (I never leave the house without my codpiece.)

Amy! Aaargh!

Lauren, you’re lovely. I have a bit of a crush on you, do you know that?

Hello, Maria. I wish you’d been there instead of Gloria. Then, at the end of the date you could have said, ‘You had me at baby turtles’, and that would have been a great moment.

Bonsoir, Uncle Did. Merci. Checking the dictionary is good. I’m pleased.

Janetyjanet, I’m not convinced either if I’m honest. I’m sure I am perpetuating society’s judgemental nature. But the fact is, despite the fact that I’ve been hurt by other people’s judgements in the past, I’m still quite judgemental myself. I guess it’s just human nature. I’m not necessarily proud of it, mind. In fact, I’m sorry. Sorry, Janetyjanet.

Ani, I hear what you’re saying. It is unbelievable. In fact, when it happened, that is the word that kept going round and round my head. But you know, things happen. Next-door neighbours do bump into each other on the other side of the world. Toads do fall from the sky. And people do get up and walk away from all kinds of things. I kept thinking maybe someone had just died or something. I dunno. But yeah, I agree. If I read it, I probably wouldn’t believe it either. (I do exaggerate some things though, I confess.) (You almost certainly won’t believe the second part either then, I’m afraid. I don’t believe Atiya myself. And I was there.)

Dan, you’re welcome. I hope it brings you luck.

Sparra, yeah, I guess they are. You should do one in France. That would be a tres amusing.

There you go, Caroline. Keith got on slightly better than me, yes. Annoyingly. And we’re out of smokey stuff too. Annoyingly. And I haven’t had an oven chip since 1996. (That was a pointless lie. Excuse me. I am very tired.) (And aroused.)

Peach said...

well you'd a had me at your turtle line but I can't work out whether that's cause I'm easy or easily humoured - and I'd have loved the bat line too - did you know they exit left from their caves?

x peach x

Peach said...

AND you've won Post of the Week again - congratulations !

Vulgar Wizard said...

You have eczema? I have psoriasis. Nice to meet you.

Seriously, I have psoriasis.

Anonymous said...

The speed dating story is brilliant - reminded me of why I have to keep tuning in to find out what you're writing about.

Well, I'm also hooked on the Friday update to see if you've lost any weight - for unknown reasons it seems to perk up my morning if you've lost a bit -- so recently Monday's have been a bit of a downer. Don't give up now - and please get the runs run up a bit - at least for my sake.

hey said...

I know they usually lay their eggs when it is not a full moon, I wonder if it is the same for hatching. I have seen these little fellas, actually, but the ones who didn't make it to the sea, and were being given a helping hand the following night.

Great post.

Cameron Sharpe said...

Your story was extremely touching. Your expressiveness demonstrates what an incredible connection you had with this other person and I can sympathize and relate to every word.

Dating said...

something gross stuck to the bottom 'of' a shoe