28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Seven, The Fan

In which Willard is the bad date.

So, Date 7.

25 per cent of the way through the adventure. I'd had a couple of scrapes, but I was starting to find my feet, starting to think I knew what I was doing. In classic zombie apocalypse style, after surviving the first few encounters in the new world, I was starting to get a little cocky. Unfortunately, I was about to make a big mistake. I'd say my first big mistake, but hey, if you've read the blog this far you'd know that's a lie.

I think one of the reasons I was getting cocky was because the blog has been so well received. I was starting to get friends asking me for advice about what online dating site to go on; how to write their profiles; all that sort of thing. Of course, why you'd want dating advice from a bloke who managed to almost get his finger gnawed off on his first online date is beyond me. What can I say, some of my friends are even bigger losers than I am.

As well as people asking for advice, I'd started to get my first few people asking me out via the blog. Now, when I put the invitation on the about page, I never thought anyone would actually click it, but there I was, six dates in, and I had a message out of the blue. It read:

You will probably be inundated with emails saying either I am the love of your life or I will show you the weirdest date in the world. So I'm chancing it because I haven't laughed as much in ages. Let's go on a date.

Me and the lady in question exchanged a couple of emails, and I was fairly convinced she wasn't an axe murderer or, alternatively, the enraged husband of a previous date. With an axe. And hey, even if he/she was an axe murderer, it would be a good blog, right? So, I arranged to meet her on a wet rainy Sunday evening at my local pub. It must be said, if anyone is doing well out of this odyssey, it's the landlords of that place.

Now, most online dates, you don't know much about the other person. The whole reason you're going on the date is to get to know them. But in this case, I knew absolutely nothing about her. Not her name. Not her age. Not what she looked like. None of her interests and hobbies. None of her convictions for manslaughter. Especially after my experience with the Lizard girl, I was worried about who I might be going on a date with.

So, I sat at a table in the pub, in that weird limbo of smiling politely at every single woman who walked in - even the toothless hags, of whom there are a surprising amount swarming around Belgravia of a Sunday evening. Of course, making eye contact with woman after woman, you start to feel a bit self-conscious after a while. Anyway, after about ten minutes of waiting, flipping through my copy of the Economist, an absolutely stunning, drop dead gorgeous blonde woman walked in. She looked around the bar, caught my eye, walked over and said "Hello, are you Willard? I'm your date".

I was absolutely, probably visibly, stunned. She was literally one of the most attractive women I've ever been in the same room with. So, we ordered some drinks, and started to chat. Depressingly enough, she was one of those people who simultaneously looks fabulous, but was also incredibly smart, witty, charming and amusing. It's fair to say I was pretty smitten from the off.

She was a journalist; we chatted about working in the media, writing for a living, the horrors of working in local news. She was a huge fan of Tolkein and Pink; both things I'll admit a strong liking for. Moving on into personal stuff, we both laughed sharing stories about friends going on catastrophic drug binges - mine involving a lighting technician taking a huge amount of 2CB during a shoot, running around shrieking "I AM THE GUY! I! AM! THE! GUY!" until he was restrained by security, hers about abandoning a friend in a creche for people in the midst of hallucinations on a Thai beach.

We were getting on along famously. So, what was this big mistake I made? Well, about three drinks in, she asked me, "So, why are you writing the blog? What made you want to do it?".

I replied, "Well, I can give you the glib, funny one line answer, and we can move on, or I can tell you the real dark, sad truth." She, assuming I was joking, opted for "dark sad truth". I was enjoying her company enough I felt I could be completely honest.

So, I told her about the two women who had broken my heart over the last five years. I told her dark, sad stories of heartbreak and betrayal and tragedy. I told her about what it feels like to slide an unused engagement ring out of the desk drawer it sits in, alone and gathering dust, looking at it, then slowly closing the drawer with tears in my eyes and thinking "I won't sell it today". I tell her about what it feels like to be at a friend's wedding in San Francisco where you're introduced to everyone as "This is Willard, he's sort of in the wedding party - he's the guy who the Bridesmaid stood up".

Once I started talking about the exes - the girls who had been "the one", once upon a time, it was like a hole in a dam. I couldn't stop talking about how emotionally broken I was. All the pain just poured out, in an unstoppable tide. They say you shouldn't talk about an ex on your first date. "They", in this case, are absolutely right. I walked her towards the tube home, and as soon as she gave me a very chaste peck on the cheek goodnight, I got the sense she wasn't feeling it.

I got a polite and pleasant email from the Fan the day after the date; I'd asked her out a second time, and she politely declined, but we agreed to stay in touch as friends. One advantage of this online dating lark is you learn to take yourself not being the other person's cup of tea much better. Now, I'm not saying it was all the exes chat that put her off - she was exceptionally tall (over 6ft I'd guess) so, with me at 5'10", I think there may also have been an element of the old fairground "you must be at least this tall to ride" as well - but it felt to me like it was a factor.

So, the big thing I learned was not to mention the exes; not to load too much on a person you've just met. I find it mildly amusing that in a blog about bad dates, for the first (and hopefully last!) time, I was the bad date. Like I said at the beginning, a big mistake, but one I came through in one piece, at least. Next week will be tough - Jewish Dating and Uniform Dating!

This post originally appeared at 28 Dates Later. Stay tuned as we catch you up with all Willard's dates so far.

Photograph: Getty Images

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

Photo: Bulent Kilic/Getty Images
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We need to talk about the origins of the refugee crisis

Climate change, as much as Isis, is driving Europe's migrant crisis, says Barry Gardiner. 

Leaders get things wrong. Of course they do. They have imperfect information. They face competing political pressures. Ultimately they are human. The mark of a bad leader is not to make the wrong decision. It is to make no decision at all.

David Cameron’s paralysis over the unfolding human tragedy of Syrian refugees should haunt him for the rest of his natural life. At a time when political and moral leadership was most called for he has maintained the most cowardly silence. 

All summer, as Italy, Greece, Hungary and Macedonia have been trying to cope with the largest migration of people this continent has seen in 70 years, Downing Street has kept putting out spokespeople to claim the government is working harder than any other country “to solve the causes of the crisis” and that this justifies the UK’s refusal to take more than the 216 refugees it has so far admitted directly from Syria. The truth is it hasn’t and it doesn’t.

Anyone who truly wants to solve the causes of the nightmare that is Syria today must look beyond the vicious and repressive regime of Assad or the opportunistic barbarism of ISIL. They need to understand why it was that hundreds of thousands of ruined farmers from Al-Hasakeh, Deir Ezzor and AL-Raqqa in the northeast of that country flocked to the cities in search of government assistance in the first place - only to find it did not exist.

Back in 2010 just after David Cameron became Prime Minister, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that, after the longest and most severe drought in Syria, since records began in 1900, 3 million Syrians were facing extreme poverty. In 2011 the International Institute for Strategic Studies published a report claiming that climate change “will increase the risks of resource shortages, mass migration and civil conflict”. These were some of the deep causes of the Syrian civil war just as they are the deep causes of the conflicts in Tunisia, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Egypt. So what about Cameron’s claim that his government has been working to solve them?

Two years after that Institute for Strategic Studies report pointed out that conflict as a result of  drought in countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia had already claimed 600,000 lives,  the parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls found the UK Government had issued more than 3,000 export licenses for military and intelligence equipment worth a total of £12.3bn to countries which were on its own official list for human rights abuses; including to Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and Syria. That was the same year that UK aid to Africa was cut by 7.4% to just £3.4billion. Working to solve the root causes? Or working to fuel the ongoing conflict?

A year later in 2014 home office minister, James Brokenshire told the House of Commons that the government would no longer provide support to the Mare Nostrum operation that was estimated to have saved the lives of more than 150,000 refugees in the Mediterranean, because it was providing what the government called a “pull factor”. He said: “The government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing, is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats.”

In fact the ending of the rescue operation did not reduce the number of refugees. It was not after all a “pull factor” but the push factor – what was happening in Syria - that proved most important. Earlier this summer, David Cameron indicated that he believed the UK should consider joining the United States in the bombing campaign against Isis in Syria, yet we know that for every refugee fleeing persecution under Assad, or the murderous thuggery of ISIS, there is another fleeing the bombing of their city by the United States in its attempt to degrade ISIS.  The bombing of one’s home is a powerful push factor.

The UK has not even fulfilled Brokenshire’s promise to fight the people smugglers. The Financial Action Task Force has reported that human trafficking generates proportionately fewer Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) annually than other comparable crimes because the level of awareness is lower. Prosecuting the heads of the trafficking networks has not been a focus of government activity. Scarcely a dozen minor operatives pushing boats on the shores of Turkey have actually been arrested. But it is not the minnows that the UK government should be concentrating on. It is their bosses with a bank account in London where a series of remittances are coming in from money transfer businesses in Turkey or North Africa. Ministers should be putting real pressure on UK banks who should be registering SARs so the authorities can investigate and begin to prosecute the ultimate beneficiaries who are driving and orchestrating this human misery. They are not.

That image, which few of us will ever completely erase from our mind, will no doubt prompt David Cameron to make a renewed gesture. An extra million for refugee camps in Jordan, or perhaps a voluntary commitment to take a couple of thousand more refugees under a new European Quota scheme. But if the UK had been serious about tackling the causes of this crisis it had the opportunity in Addis Ababa in July this year at the Funding for Sustainable Development Conference. In fact it failed to bring forward new money for the very climate adaptation that could stem the flow of refugees. In Paris this December the world will try to reach agreement on combating the dangerous climate change that Syria and North Africa are already experiencing. Without agreement there, we in the rich world will have to get used to our trains being disrupted, our borders controls being breached and many more bodies being washed up on our beaches.