Ding! There goes the bell. What have I won — is it a drink, a cruise? No it’s another man who seems to be slightly out of it and, did I imagine it, or is he talking directly to my breasts?
When I arrived at this speed-dating event, I admit I was extremely sceptical — but who wouldn’t be? After all, I’m only human. What’s natural about a date with 12 people? One is bad enough.
My friend and I sit with our drinks, scrutinising the Cilla Black hopefuls.
What I notice is that most of these women are beautiful — ranging in age from their early 20s to late 30s. It’s a sad fact of life that they really shouldn’t be here at all. They are a product of circumstance — five teachers, and some single mothers who have no time to go out. (“You can’t meet anyone as a teacher,” one of the women tells me afterwards. “All male primary school teachers are either weird, gay or married.”)
We are given scorecards. There are three boxes: ‘Yes’ for fancy; ‘No’ for the ones you might need to take a barring order out on; and ‘Friend’ for ‘I feel bad saying no.’
The organiser asks us to take our seats on the table corresponding to our badge number. I obediently sit down at table number four, despite my instincts telling me to flee while there is still a chance.
The first man sits down. He has glasses, strangely gelled hair and clothes that wouldn’t have looked out of place at a … well, a speed-dating event that only men with bad fashion attend. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge it by its old green anorak. It’s a tumbleweed moment, but I shouldn’t have worried. Not only is this man at a speed-dating event, but he also thinks he’s on Mastermind answering questions about himself.
When the bell rings, I’m relieved. I give him a smile and then slyly tick the ‘No’ box as he moves to the next table. Cut-throat.
I seem to keep putting my foot in it. “So, it’s not your career, it’s just a job you do?”
“No, it is my career. I am hoping to move up to manager of the supermarket eventually.”
“Sorry, you didn’t sound that keen … ” I say, feeling stupid. But if I thought I was bad at putting my foot in my mouth, the next guy could start his own foot-and- mouth pandemic. He sits down. “I’m a farmer,” he says, which explains the stripy shirt and weather-beaten face. He asks me what I do. “I’m a student, studying creative writing,” I say.
“Oh, I couldn’t do that!” he says, staring at me in such an intense and disparaging way that it makes me want to look over my shoulder to see if there’s a plane going down behind my head.
“OK … ” I slowly reply.
“I mean how do you learn to write stories, anyway?” he continues. “Seems like a pretty stupid degree.”
Uh-huh. “I have allergies!” I blurt out. “I’d be no good at being a farmer’s wife.” Next!
I seem to be ticking all ‘No’ and ‘Friend’ boxes. After six men, we get a break. My friend and I go out for a cigarette. The other women join us. We all agree that the men are boring beyond reproach. One woman even throws her scorecard in the bin in a rebellious gesture.
When we go back, I meet Simon, about 15 years older then me and a man who likes to add an innuendo to every sentence. “Is this your first time?” he asks in a creepy voice.
“Yes, this is my first time speed dating,” I reply, stifling the urge to roll my eyes.
The bell eventually rings, and then the final guy sits down. We just look at one another and laugh. He is funny, friendly and not at all desperate. Afterwards, he asks for my number, which I willingly give. Speed dating might not be all it’s cracked up to be, but one out of 12 ain’t bad.