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.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories