28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Five, #Twittercrush

In which Willard meets a fan.

After 4 online dates, I must confess, I was getting a little demoralised with the process. The one thing no-one tells you about online dating is how incredibly time-consuming it is. I mean, I realise I have made a rod for my own back by running err… (counts) 17 profiles at once, but I'm not sending more than a few messages from each every week.

My hit rate is about one date arranged for every 5-6 messages I send on the mainstream sites, and anything from zero to fifteen on the more niche ones. I've developed a decent routine of getting up on a Saturday morning, sauntering over to my local pub, and spending about three hours writing witty, charming and amusing messages to women I'm attracted to, while eating a fry up & drinking fresh coffee.

It's a bit like having a relatively unrewarding second job, where I'm paid in bacon and anecdotes.

My rather imposing (but lovely) local

I quite enjoy reading other people's profiles and then responding - no copied and pasted nonsense from me, only fine, hand-crafted, bespoke messages. As much as I enjoy writing them,there's a certain existential angst to writing these missives - the knowledge that most of them will never be replied to.

I hear it's no better for women. Most of the messages are sent by men on the bulk of the sites; so rather than writing a huge number of messages, they are responding to a constant stream of madness pouring into their inbox. And trust me, no woman on an online dating site is escaping without complete lunatics messaging them. For example, take a look at this site, where Asian girls post the deeply offensive messages creepy orientalist white guys send them – "I have studied many martial arts and know how to protect a woman", is a particular favourite, although I doubt I'll try it myself.

At the far end of the sort of messages your female friends get is this zoot-suited, mulleted racist who drives a – quote – "Rape Van" around San Francisco & shrieks insults at women who refuse to sleep with him. So, while he may represent the extreme of what women have to put up with online, I'm pretty sure he's not totally unrepresentative. (You may also be intrigued to know he makes a living offering expensive classes on how to pick up women, but that's another story for another day.)

So, what was my fifth date, and why am I wittering on about how hard online dating is? I'm back on to the regular dating sites this post - and while sending my weekly quota of messages (and not having much luck), I happened across this interesting article in the Independent, which suggested "If you're a regular Twitter user and you're single and you haven't swapped flirty direct messages (DMs) with someone and subsequently developed a bit of a crush on them, you're doing it wrong."

I am a regular twitter user. I've never sent flirty messages on Twitter. Could twitter be a dating site? I mean, I write the rules, after all.

And, whilst embarking on this project I'd got chatting to someone who I really liked on twitter. She's funny, witty, quirky, interesting. Exotic pets (crucially, not reptiles). Single. Now, obviously I haven't actually met her; in fact, I don't even know her real name, or even what she looks like. But having chatted to her, I felt like I knew her a little – not a lot, just enough to suspect we'd probably get on well. There was one problem. I didn't feel massively comfortable about approaching a woman romantically online.

I know, ridiculous, right? I've just told you I spend three hours every Saturday morning writing charming messages to complete strangers because a computer thinks we might be compatible, but actually ask out a girl who I like & know a little? Madness. Every time I opened the message window, to type my 140 character charming message, I got the image of all the times female friends have told me about them being approached by guys when they didn't want it. Was I basically the electronic version one of those perverts who shouts at women on train platforms? Was asking her out shitty harassment and should I just fuck off back to OK Cupid?

I worried. I asked the advice of my friends. One of my oldest friends gave me a good analogy, "It's more like chatting to a stranger on the platform while you wait for your train, realising you like them and then asking them out"; another, more recent (but equally wise) friend said "it's all in the method. If you're respectful towards her it's fine. If you bulldoze in there with an unbecoming sense of entitlement you'll come off a twat." Emboldened, and with my twattishness dialed down to zero, that evening, I decided I would message her.

I probably spent about an hour pouring over the best way to ask someone out in a 140 characters. After writing it, hovering my finger over the send button – it felt genuinely exciting, interesting, fun, nerve-wracking – exactly what dating should be like. So, I pressed send, and waited. And waited. And waited. Tick tock, tick tock.

My phone beeped – it was her! But… sadly, she explained that she wasn't on the market. Flattered, and cheered up by the message, but not on the market. So, I hear you ask, why is she on the list? Does she count as a date? Well, it was an interesting experience, and I guess, typical of what can go on online. Equally, the experience was fun – probably more fun than some of the dates I've been on, in fact. It felt worth writing up.

And who knows, maybe one day, she'll change her mind…

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

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.

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The wildfire victims of forestry neglect - and the trees that saved them

Events in Portugal show how present mismanagement of the natural world reaches far beyond climate change, while also leaving communities more vulnerable to its effects.

When guesthouse owner Liedewij Schieving first heard about the wildfire in nearby Pedrogado Grande, she wasn’t overly concerned. “We always have fires here,” she explains at her home deep in the central Portugese forest.

It was only later that night, eating outside with her 11 guests, that the fear set in: “The wind was starting to smell and the sunset looked weird and dark.” By early the next morning the vast wall of flames had breached their remote valley. “I’ve never been in a war,” Liedewij says, still shaken, “but it was how I imagine war to sound.”

Soaring to temperatures of over 800 centigrade - high enough to melt windscreens and sink tyres into tarmac - the inferno eventually burned over 30,000 hectares of forest. By the time it was quelled, 64 adults and children had lost their lives, some dying trapped in their cars as they tried to escape down an unsafe road. “The biggest tragedy of human life we have known in years,” is how the country’s Prime Minister responded to the news on 18 June.

Two months later, the Pedrogado fire has proved the precusor to another summer of extreme weather events. Across southern and central Europe recent weeks have seen high winds and low humidity whip up wildfires everywhere from Spain to Serbia. At time of writing, 2,000 people in Portugal are trapped in the town of Mação as flames and smoke block their exit. In France, fires recently forced over 20,000 people from their homes and campervans.

Climate change is an unmistakable culprit. A Carbon Brief analysis of 140 studies from around the world found that 63 per cent of extreme weather events are linked to human-caused warming - making them either more likely or more severe.

Yet as countries assess the damage, evidence of humanity’s wider mismanagement of nature is also becoming harder to ignore. In Portugal, the excessive planting of eucalytpus trees is taking some of the blame for recent events. The species is the timber of choice for the country’s powerful paper industry, covering both industry-owned plantations and hundreds of tiny private smallholdings who sell it on. But it also happens to be highly flammable: think Grenfell cladding but spread over nearly a million hectares of land.

Liedewij’s story is evidence of this. Where dense eucalyptus forest once hid her home in dappled shade, the hillside is now charred and bare. “It was terrible,” she says of the moment she opened the gates for the farm animals before fleeing the valley, “we thought we were leaving them behind to grill”. Except that, as in all good disaster films, Liedewij’s goats didn’t burn - and nor did her picturesque house. Instead, fire-retardant willow trees by a nearby stream held the flames naturally at bay. On returning the next morning, she even found the hens laying eggs.

Liedewij Schieving outside her B&B at Quinta da Fonte - the bare hills behind the house show just how close the fire came.

Seen from above, her remote farmstead is now a tiny island of green amid a sea of black. She still panics at the smell from the woodfired heating, but support has poured in from friends both in Portugal and her native Holland, and she soon plans to fully re-open Quinta da Fonte B&B. Many guesthouses in nearby villages have already got back up and running.

Others among her neighbours, however, are not so lucky. Over 10,000 separate fires have destroyed 141,000 hectares of land in Portugal this year alone, with the annual cost of wildfire losses estimated to reach around €200m. A situation that risks further perpetuating the cycle of poverty and neglect that also played their part in the tragedy.

According to Domingos Patacho from the environmental NGO Quercus, the forest has become more hazardous as many of central Portugal's thousands of smallscale landholders leave their land untended to seek better wages elsewhere. Meanwhile, those who remain are often financially dependent on the income from the eucalyptus. They could choose to plant less flammable and water-hungry species, such as native corks or oaks, Patacho explains, but these can take twice as long to mature and provide a return.

The result is rising tension between the Portugese paper industry and the central government. After the June fire, the parliament pledged to push ahead with plans to limit the monoculture plantations. But the country’s Association of the Paper industry has previously warned that any ban on new plantations could hurt exports and jobs.

The reality is that both sides of the eucalyptus spread - both industry-owned and private - need improved regulation. But in a country only recently released from EU imposed austerity measures, debates over how enforcement could be financed are particularly tense. Not least since many areas do not even have an up to date land register, Patacho expplains.

At ESAC, an agrarian research base in central Portugal, professor Antonio Ferreira believes the time is now ripe for discussion between politicians, citizens and researchers about the future of forest land-use as a whole. The country needs to encourage people “to re-introduce native species, which will diversify the landscape and economic activity in those areas,” he says.

And the impulse is far from limited to Portugal. “We need to look at all the social aspects to get the full picture as well as the scientific side of forest management,” says WWF’s Jabier Ruiz of Europe’s wider wildfire problems. One route out of the woods may be greater EU policy support for those living in marginalised, rural areas, he adds.

What is clear is that as the continent warms, the need to improve the balance between social, environmental and commercial interests becomes ever more crucial. And while politicians debate, work at Liedewij’s home is already underway. Over the next few weeks, a group of her eco-minded friends, builders and topographers will help her re-build and re-landscape her farm. From digging terraces to stop landslides, to preventing the eucalyptus from re-emerging too close to the roads, their aim is to regrow a forest that works for all: a slow-burn project perhaps, but a bright one.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.