28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Six, The Farmgirl

In which Willard gets his first proper kiss since the project began.

It's fair to say a great many of my friends have commented on my dating adventures.

Most of them have just laughed, but a select happy few have pointed me in the directions of dating sites that they themselves or friends have used successfully - or alternatively, ones that they think me going on would be hilarious:

My friend Janine (who is now becoming a regular feature of the blog) would like to make it clear she's not into polygamy personals, or threesomes, she just thinks it would be funny to see me blunder into them. 

Another ludicrous favourite that has been suggested is Sea Captain dating, which measures your distance to your dates in Nautical miles - but more on that later. (Yarrrr).

While some of them have been a bit optimistic - for example, my friend who met her husband through millionaire dating ("I was sick of being taken out in Birmingham, decided I wanted to be taken out to Barbados") - there was one message from an old university friend that caught my eye.
Hi Willard,
I hope you are well. I saw your blog post - I think you beat some of my crackers! That said I thought I'd share with you that Tom and I met on Muddy Matches, it's an agricultural / country dating website. 

There were some astounding men on there, and not in a good way. Having been assessed by some as to whether I'd breed well (estimated breed value ebv is a common term in ag) I was lucky to find Tom. If you're in need of entertainment then it's worth having a look!

Just thought if you were looking for a different type of women it does have a good mix on there!!
So, farmer dating. Yes, we're definitely back in the twilight zone. As my ex-Sun journo housemate said, taking a drag on his cigarette "I dunno mate, Muddy Matches sounds like a cover for shitlovers.com".
As a confirmed urbanite - I live in the middle of London and love it - I was a little nervous about logging on to a site which enables you to meet "muddy" country types. I couldn't help flashing back to one afternoon in a rural barrister's chambers in my mid twenties, when a man wearing tweed with bushy white sideburns & wellies walked in, laid his double barrelled shotgun on the clerk's desk and said, in a broad west country accent "Oi'll be needin' a lawyer, Oi've just shot moi woife".
Indeed, much of my mercifully brief legal career consisted of defending tractor thieves who hailed from a hamlet near Bath called Norton Radstock. I was slightly worried anyone I might meet on the site would be the sort of ruddy faced person who chews tobacco and readily uses a bit of rope as a belt, but at least the Radstock experience would stand me in good stead if the conversation turned to the value of agricultural machinery. 
I was slight reassured that the site's "rate your own muddiness" calculator proclaimed me to be "Muddy at heart, but you think civilisation also has a lot to offer", but equally worried that the top three options on "how did you hear about this site" were "Horse & Hound magazine", "The Field" or "at a cross-country point to point", none of which were things I was that into. So, I put myself out there. 

After a couple of days, I had a couple of messages, but one leaped out at me. There were plenty of "country girls at heart" who lived on the King's Road (it seems very good for finding those - if you're a bloke who loves horse riding with women called Persephone, you probably couldn't find a better site), but there was only one actual farmer.

She was a fruit farmer from Berkshire, and she was very flattered by my offer to come out to her village for a swift pint. So, one evening, I jumped on a train from Paddington, and ventured out into the wilds. We'd agreed to meet at the station, and so I waited there for five minutes in the freezing rain before she pulled up, in her battered Land Rover. I laughed, but what did I expect? She flung open the door, invited me to jump in, and we sped off to a local pub.
She was very pleasant - late thirties, had worked in the City for a few years before jacking it in to take over the family farm. She'd been with the same bloke for about 8 years, but had broken up with him last year when it turned out he was a bit of a shit. We had a lovely chat in front of the pub fire, decided to extend the evening into dinner. 

We talked about how we'd both dodged the bad marriage bullet, politics, how rubbish the EU is, our families - we'd both had parents in the military, so we were able to compare notes on growing up as army brats. She had a great dirty laugh, and was seriously flirtatious, in a kind of wax jacketed, upper class, graduate of Cheltenham ladies college way.

She told me of the difficulty of meeting a man when her main concern was often making supermarkets pay on time for tons of raspberries; her last date was with a Bulgarian farm worker called Dmitar, although it was "less dating, more just sex really. His English wasn't really up to conversation". The mind boggles. Farming was never like this on The Archers

After dinner, she drove me back to the station, and I got my first proper kiss of the dating project! Hurrah!
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.
"So, farmer dating. Yes, we're definitely back in the twilight zone." 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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

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