So, for Date 8, I'm back in the mainstream. And what could be more mainstream than a TV advertised website, complete with a picture of every woman's fantasy: a burly fireman carrying her away?
Note: by "every woman's fantasy" I'm obviously ignoring the many ardent feminist friends who probably don't imagine being lifted bodily by a doubtless Sun-reading fireFIGHTER (they aren't all men, as you'll soon see). Sure they'd prefer being lifted bodily by some Slavoj Žižek-quoting trade unionist, but who knows.
So, how does it work? Quite a few people have asked me how I can justify going on Uniform Dating, as I don't wear a uniform to work. I'm not a Policeman or a Fireman or a Doctor. No one imagines a rugged stubbly TV Producer passionately kissing them and then saying "Can we do that again? The Camera Operator says the light wasn't right." And therein lies the genius of the site.
You can register as either a "uniformed professional", or as a civilian. So, although I have a flak jacket in my wardrobe (thanks, BBC), I registered as a civilian, and started looking for a hot lady fireman to pick me up, while I giggled and held on my impractical Ascot hat with one free hand.
So, I scanned through the list of available professions - it's quite interesting what is or isn't considered "uniformed". For example, prison officers, uniformed security guards and civilian air crew are on there. I mean, maybe I could understand an air stewardess fetish, but prison guards? Really? I mean, I've seen Prisoner Cell Block H and OZ - and didn't want to recreate either. Still, each to their own, eh?
As you can see from the image above, I was keen to find a lady firefighter, mostly for the amusement of the stereotype. I was quite leery of meeting a female copper, not just because of the old journo saying "ACAB" ("All Coppers Are Bastards"), but also because the Met Police are banned from using the site - and other forces discourage officers from using it.
The likelihood is, if you go on Uniform Dating in London, and meet a copper, that person is what the army call a "Walt". What's a Walt, you ask? Well, that's army slang for a "Walter Mitty" - a faker, who claims to be in the army when the closest he's ever been to serving in the forces is buying one of those Rambo knives with a compass in the handle when he was 14.
Anecdotally, Uniform Dating is crawling with this sort of "Yeah, I was in Iraqistan, love, and the Falklands. Twice. With the SAS. That was before David Cameron phoned me and told me to be in the Fire brigade" type. (If you're interested in the topic of "Walting", there's a good breakdown of the phenomenon here and a report on two fake firemen being exposed here).
Sadly dear readers, although I messaged several suspicious looking policewomen, none responded.
Of course, that could be because policewomen are reluctant to date journalists; or, are too sensible to want to date me. Indeed, the police rumour is that journalists have been using the site to meet and try to manipulate officers; one cop friend told me she'd been told if she went on an online date, and the other person turned out to be a journalist of any stripe, she should just get up and walk away. Which seems a bit harsh on say, the editor of something like Crocheting Monthly or International Cat Fancier (incorporating Kitten Week), but there you go.
So, I couldn't find a fake cop, or a real lady firefighter - but I must say, I wasn't short of attention. Uniform Dating was the first dating site I'd been on where it feels like there are far more women than men - and my goodness, the women on there are keen. I started to get messages and flirts and likes piling into my inbox at a rate of knots. For the first time, I started to get messages of the type my female friends described to me - ones in ALL CAPS, riddled with misspellings & bad grammar. I'm sorry to say I didn't respond to any of them; don't judge me, but I'm not sure I could love someone who couldn't spell.
It's a very different demographic to most dating sites; as opposed to the normal metropolitan trendies who work in marketing, if you looked on the civilian side of the site, it was much more working class than I'd experienced before. Lots of ladies who work in supermarkets or factories - but I imagine if you think of the demographic who are looking for a hunky fireman, I guess that stacks up. That said, the message I did reply to was pretty, um, forward.
It read: "Bang bang bang cheeky boy, Boats are pretty fun, I like fine chess and handcuffs. Come at me."
I laughed, but I must confess, I was a little scared. I had a look at her profile, where she said she was in the Navy and not much else. No picture.
I sent her a reply back, explaining that I was a journalist and had a dating blog and so on, to which she replied: "I'm too drunk to type - call me now" ...and then her mobile number.
So, thinking of you dear readers, I picked up the phone and dialled her number. What followed was one of the more bizarre phone conversations of my life, where I was frequently having to turn down, ummmm....enticing offers, and say, "No, really, I want to go on a date, and then write about it". Needless to say, she found this hilarious, and, in the Nelsonian tradition, boldly took me up on my offer. So, that was how I ended up going for dinner in Portsmouth a few days later.
The lady in question met me in civilian clothes, and we went to a nice place of her choice. We had seafood - what else? Anyway, over lobster, we got to know one another. I'd initially been worried by her civilian dress that she was a Walt, but her encyclopedic knowledge of missile systems convinced me she was the real deal.
She was charming, lots of fun - we talked about military history, had a lovely conversation about who our favourite admiral was. I surprised her by knowing a great deal about Naval history, "more than most of the people she serves with", in fact. We had a good laugh talking about pranks navy friends had pulled - orange distress flares and laxative chocolate are both staples, it seems - and we shared an experience in having attended Glastonbury staying in an inflatable atlantic survival raft, instead of a tent. She doesn't mind me saying she has dreadful taste in music, as long as I keep her anonymous - she has a tragic, tragic weakness for both folk & boy band pop, both dreadful genres in my opinion :)
She told me about the difficulty of dating in the services, of meeting men who weren't put off dating a female officer. We jokingly discussed what would have happened if I'd taken up her offer of meeting in a London hotel room - put it this way, her attitude is very much a full-on, grasping life with both hands attitude. If she wants something, she takes it.
By the time we were about halfway through dinner, we'd realised that we probably weren't compatible as lovers - she was as sure she couldn't love a man who didn't love sport as I was sure I couldn't love a lady who couldn't spell - but we had a great laugh, and a good old bitch about the government and defence cuts.
Since we've been on the date, we've been out in London - she has a great knack of finding good shellfish places, and we're becoming good friends. She's also offered me a ticket to the Army vs. Navy Rugby game in April - in her words "you'll never get a decent woman if you can't at least pretend to know the rules of Rugby".
So, a fun date, from an interesting site - and a person I suspect I'll be friends with for years - but still not "the one!"
This post originally appeared at 28 Dates Later. Next time: Jewish dating on J-Date.