28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Five take two, Cupcakes with the Veteran

In which Willard ices cakes with a dater of great renown.

So here we are, date 10.

Or is it? Well,I'm sure regular readers will remember about 5 dates ago, when I asked out a girl who I thought was lovely via twitter, and she, perfectly reasonably  said no. "That doesn't count as a date! You're just trying to weasel out, the blog isn't called 27 dates and one rejected offer later!" some of you cried.

Well, as I knew when I wrote that piece, thereby hangs a tale.

It all starts a couple of years ago. A lady called CTS had started writing a dating blog called 52 First Dates.  At the time, back in 2011, I was happily in a long-term, seriously committed relationship - reading CTS's blog made me laugh, and it certainly made me glad I wasn't out there in the nightmare wasteland of the Internet.

I was with "the one", you see, so there was no chance I'd ever have to do Internet dating (the thought! Isn't it only weirdos who do that?), but I was certainly glad to be reading dispatches from the front line. The blog was very successful; it won lots of awards, contained tons of brilliant, witty writing. It wasn't all smiles and laughs; there was a genuinely chilling dark side to some of the men she met, but she wrote about it with a clarity and bravery the journalist in me admired.

At the time, I remember thinking what a great idea a long-running online dating blog was, and wondering if I'd ever be able to pull it off. And even if I could, would I? As I sit writing this at 4.30 am in a black cab on my way to meet the author of 52 first dates, to go on a date with her, I guess the question in my mind still is "maybe".

You see, the lady in question, who I asked out on twitter a couple of weeks back, was the lady who in a way, is the inspiration for this blog. Certainly, 28 Dates wouldn't exist if I hadn't read 52.

"But how did I end up going on a date with her? Didn't she turn you down?" I hear you ask. To be honest, after doing 52 online dates with all manner of weirdos, I could understand why she never wanted to touch a dating site, or meet a man "from the internet" (which I suppose I now am - how the mighty have fallen) ever again.

Well, after she had politely turned me down, a new post popped up on her blog - she was going to do a truly heroic endeavour - a 24 hour solid, round the clock, dating marathon for charity, dating 25 men in a day. She was asking for volunteers to be part of her platoon of suitors.

I'll be honest, I was in two minds as to whether to apply. The competitive part of me, and the part of me that wanted to meet her, said "Yes, go for it. Seize the day". The sensible, worries-too-much part of me said "What if she says no, again? What if it's like the Odyssey and at the end her husband and son murder you?". As you might expect, the foolish "but think of the story!" part of me won out, and I sent her an email, asking to be one of her dates.

She got back to me right away, and said she'd been intending to contact me & ask if I wanted to join in. Of course, I said yes. As you might expect, scheduling a dating marathon is quite an endeavor - she asked me what time slot I wanted, and I replied "Give me the weirdest, hardest to fill slot." She also asked that so the dates didn't become just talking all night, to bring something to do - she especially wanted to be taught any odd skills we had.

I wracked my brains for what to do. Most of my skills revolve around talking, making people laugh, surviving weirdness or writing, and I suspected she was better at all of those things than I was. Obviously, manly man's man that I am, I fell back on my culinary skills, and offered to teach her how to ice cupcakes. Yes, I know, ladies, form a queue.

Thus, at 4.30 am, I stepped out into the cold London night, got into a cab, and drove across London to meet a woman whose adventures I'd read about for two years. I had with me six un-iced cupcakes and about a pound of buttercream icing in a piping bag. I was off on a competitive date, with 24 other men competing for the hand of one lady, like some kind of post-modern Odysseus (At least, I hoped I was Odysseus. I'm probably more like Amphinomous). Even by my dating standards, this was odd.

I got to the venue, which was packed to the gills with comic Reliefers, doing their 24 hour challenge marathons. It was absolute bedlam. On the main stage in the theatre, comedian Mark Watson was sweating buckets onstage, 7 hours into a 24 hour gig; two delirious, luxuriantly bearded men were staggering around the theatre bar, 18 hours into an attempt at breaking the world record for the world's longest hug. People were singing. One chap was watching Beverly Hills Chihuahua on a 24 hour loop. By the time I got there, he was watching it for the 4th time, this time in Spanish "for variety". There were folk in various states of undress lying asleep on chairs and the floor.

I think the closest atmosphere I can immediately conjure up to describe it was something like Jabba's palace in Star Wars. You know, totally bizarre and otherworldly, but kind of exhausted & sweaty at the same time.

Anyway, in the middle of this, I met CTS, and she's just as charming in real life as she is as a writer. Also, as I had no idea what she looked like, I'm very pleased to report she's very pretty indeed. How she's single after 52+ dates, I have no idea.

We got chatting, and inevitably, we ended up sharing dating war stories - less about the dates themselves, and more about how weird the process of being known for going on bad dates is, about your dates reading about themselves and others online, and about how strange the world of being a date-blogger is. She told me she had originally started 52 first dates in league with a gay friend, who had met the man of his dreams after about ten dates, leaving her to forge on into the wilderness alone.

As well as sharing tales, we also iced cupcakes. I'd brought pink & yellow buttercream icing, as well as assorted sprinkles and things, and we happily piped out some deeply camp cakes. There was one lovely moment where we toasted each other with freshly iced cakes. Cupcake breakfast as the sun rose - we were living the dream. (I'm massively indebted to Ellie of Ellie's Bakehouse in Peckham, who helped me out with cake expertise at the last minute. You should all go there for baking lessons!)

As my time drew to a close, CTS asked me to write down a final thought on the experience, so I dashed something down on a piece of paper & handed it to her, as her next suitor arrived. I had a great time, and I hope she did too - I guess I'll find out when she writes it up in a week or so!

It's worth bearing in mind that at the end of today she'll have done 77 online dates; almost more today than I'll do in my whole dating experience. Just for comparison, at the time of writing, I've done about 16 dates in total. I recently interviewed some war veterans, who told me what it was like to join the Dambusters in 1945; sure, they were good pilots, but they were meeting these people who had done 4, 5 times as many missions as they had. Obviously, no-one is asking me to bomb a nazi rocket factory, but still, afterwards I had a vague idea of how they felt.

I'm at home now, writing the experience up - but she's still at the grindstone, and will be until eleven PM tonight. She's a lovely, bold, devil-may-care, heroic, swashbuckling (if slightly crazy) lady and she deserves to raise a fortune for charity.

You can follow the remaining dates online via Twitter @ C_T_S; donate to her here or text "date52 £5" to 70070 and show her (and me) some love. Back to normal service next week!

Last week's promised dates - Guardian Soulmates & Cougar Dating - are still pending approval from the ladies in question. One drawback of being ethical is of course, it makes a timetable hard to stick to!

A cupcake. 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 strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.