Straw Bale Speed dating
PUBLISHED: 19:04 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:44 20 February 2013
As Cupid draws back his bow with his arrows all a-quiver and every florist in the country is looking forward to the greatest financial harvest of their commercial year.....
As Cupid draws back his bow with his arrows all a-quiver and every florist in the country is looking forward to the greatest financial harvest of their commercial year, the world of the single person might be at its lowest ebb as the tidal wave of Valentine emotion overwhelms. The wistful yearnings for the company of that special friend are made all the more poignant as every magazine, newspaper, television and radio station is awash with mawkish reference to the joys of love and romance.
But hope is at hand - a couple of decades ago joining the church choir and learning to play bridge were the staple options for the single person searching for a soulmate. Now opportunities abound with internet dating sites and computer matching,
It was in the summer of last year that my fading eyes were opened to this modern approach when I received my press pack for The Game Fair. Gun dogs, falconry, fishing rods and ferrets - all the usual fun of the fair - but it was Straw Bale Speed-Dating that caught my eye.
I had never taken part in a speed date, unless you count the shortest relationship in the history of western man when a school friend set me up with his cousin during the summer holidays at the tennis club. She was unquestionably the most heart-stoppingly beautiful creature I had ever clapped my adolescent eyes upon. She took one look at me, a gangly, spotty, 16-year-old, laughed, tossed her hair and swung off to join the sports-car-owning twenty-somethings, although she was only 15 at the time.
But speed-dating? No idea.
To register for this straw bale lark I had to join Muddy Matches, an inspired internet dating /friendship site set up by sisters Lucy and Emma Reeves in March 2007 which already has over 10,000 members all of whom share a common interest in the countryside.
Filling in my profile was uncomfortable - describing oneself and one's aspirations for almost public consumption is not something an old-fashioned English chap does lightly. Then the ghastly process of finding a photograph that isn't so lifelike that it confirms all suspicions that you are a serial axe-murderer or isn't so staged that it suggests you spent hundreds of pounds with a professional photographer to produce a soft-focus, computer-enhanced image. Attempts to get the perfect shot to reveal a relaxed, suave, self-effacing, confident, successful gent were profoundly unsuccessful and my daughter suggested that to get even close, photographs should be taken in a candle-lit room, from the rear.
I realised that I was never going to appear to be a very convincing matinee idol, but 10 later my page was live. I was a Muddy Matcher, active for a month, and able to search the herbaceous borders of life for that fragrant bloom who could be just the girl for me.
The computer programme is most sophisticated; one can conduct a simple search by general categories such as age range and distance from home. If, however, you are so picky and deluded that you are searching for a green-eyed, blonde, graduate supermodel who lives seven miles from your front door, has a grouse moor in Northumberland, a flat in Belgravia, a chalet in Klosters and a yacht in Antigua you may have to be patient and perhaps re-assess your laughable aspirations.
After much to-ing and fro-ing, Jane from darkest Dorset and I happened upon each other. We corresponded through the secure, anonymous Muddy Matches website for a week or so and then braved the telephone. We struck up a harmonious relationship despite the fact that my blood ran cold when she disclosed her unfulfilled desire was to be a gangster's moll, (criminally insane?), had a discreet tattoo (discreet as in a life size eagle on her back?) and her pet dog was a re-homed Bull Terrier from the back streets of Bristol with a history of abuse and cruelty (her or the dog?).
We agreed to meet for lunch at a pub on a busy road with CCTV cameras and many well-lit exits. We also agreed that, after lunch, we would take our respective dogs for a walk down some leafy lane.....
I arrived early and affected a pretence of confidence. In reality, of course, this is when one questions one's sanity, thinks of an escape strategy and looks furtively at everyone in the pub. Then the awful fear that the tall, lissom girl in the photograph was actually a professional model, the educated voice on the phone was that of a resting actress and 'the great sense of humour' is dating code for hysterical.
The real Jane is, in fact, that gum-chewing, shell-suited bag of lard slumped in the corner, guzzling a pint of lager, shrieking into a mobile phone and almost certainly a bunny-boiler. Then there are the two primitives lurking in the half-light, festooned with cheap, gold jewellery, covered in ink and muscle who, doubtless, are her two henchmen thugs hired to rob me at knife point as we embark on that gentle stroll down that leafy lane. A very clever set-up.
Then, in she walked. Jane was indeed that lissom girl in the photograph and she did have that great sense of humour and that discreet tattoo was indeed discreet - on her foot - although as lunch unfolded she did reveal, sadly, in speech only, that a second tattoo lurked unseen upon her hip. What an extraordinary conversation I thought, but, of course, a fortnight of quick-fire emails is equivalent to many hours of the parry and thrust of that first, uncomfortable, cold date. The dog walk was not punctuated by a knife attack, I was not attacked by her dog and we found we had many friends in common. But she did chew gum.
However, Straw Bale Speed-Dating was the prime objective of this enterprise and I arrived at The Game Fair at Blenheim Palace on the blistering hot Friday, made my way to the Muddy Matches thatched cottage motor-home. I was made most welcome by sisters Lucy and Emma and received, most gratefully, a SloeMotion Gin Cocktail - a chap needs all the help he can get in these uncertain circumstances.
Buoyed by the confidence of my recent hot date with Dorset Jane and the sloe gin I entered the straw bale amphitheatre - one of six chaps to chat to the six girls each sitting on their own bale. Nervously, we shuffled from foot to foot, scratched our heads and laughed nervously as we received our score cards. Rubber-necking passers-by pointed and grinned. Then, in at the deep end. Within moments it was clear that this was going to be a very cheery exercise - a light-hearted atmosphere and the three minutes with each speed-dater flew by, and then there was Olga.
Olga was from the Ukraine and could best be described as striking. She must have put on her make-up in the dark, wearing boxing gloves and there was no doubt that she was a girl as her ample poi trine was displayed with wanton abandon. However, it was her conversation that floored me. Her opening line:
'Have you a gun? I like men with guns. Have you many guns? I have many guns at home. We are taught to handle guns at school in the Ukraine. I like men with guns.'
Thoughts of a shotgun wedding ran through my mind and then the bell rang and our three minutes were up. A happy, party atmosphere filled the air as we left our straw bales, great fun and no-one died. The protocol of speed dating is that each participant marks the score card with a wish to meet again for friendship, a date, or nothing at all.
We received our result by email two days later - woe, woe, thrice woe - despite owning a shotgun not even Olga wanted to see me again.
So, it's back to the gum-chewing Dorset Jane and her attack dog.
Oh, and by the way, when you speed date with Muddy Matches, you get a Muddy Matches pen, which, for those of us of a certain age, is a serious rival to the Crackerjack pencil.