28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Fourteen, The Other Date Blogger

In which Willard the blogger becomes Willard the blogged.

So, 14 Dates in. Halfway through the marathon.

My smug married friends often wonder out loud at me how I put up with it - along with pondering what's so wrong with me to still be single at 33, of course. My sister phoned me up the other day to tell me my problem. The real problem, she suspected, was that as well as being a journalist being off-putting, all the girls I date sound too thin, and my sister thought I should date more fat girls. "You're fat. Only a fat girl will want to go on more than one date with you," she said, only sort-of joking. The evil body fascist that she is.

It's actually an article of faith in my family that people below a size 14 are basically not to be trusted. Once, after I was hospitalised with bad lungs, my mother took a then-girlfriend out to dinner, to say thankyou for being generally brilliant about the whole situation. As soon as my mother picked me up from hospital, I could tell the (thin) girlfriend had made some dreadful faux-pas. I finally got it out of mum. "I took her to the nicest restaurant in town, told her to order whatever she liked. And do you know what she ordered? A SALAD. It was like she was calling me fat to my face."

Body shape aside, I must say having gone on 13 dates and not yet found "the one", I was starting to look at myself in the mirror and think "What is wrong with me?" Most of my friends who have really good experiences with online dating tell me things like "Oooh, I went on 8 or 9 dates with freakish monsters or nice but boring folk but then date 10 was my beloved wife/husband".

I was coming close to the point where I was beginning to wonder if I was the boring weirdo freak in other people's stories. It would be a wonderfully Lovecraftian twist ending to the blog, if nothing else. You already know the drill: mind-melting shock, a sudden congealing of all the apparent facts into a terrible revelation, and possibly most important, the shocking one-liner of truth revealed in italics.

Thus, when a twitter follower suggested I should go on a date with another date blogger, I quite fancied the idea of going on a date and maybe getting some feedback. So, I asked the lady out, to see what would happen I didn't really know what to expect - she's a journalist for Britain's most popular tabloid, and I read several posts on her blog, and she was absolutely brutal -in the way only a hardened tabloid hack can be - to some of the men she dated. To be fair, they did sound absolutely dreadful. At the end of the day, honesty was what I wanted. Was I a fat boring monster? I guessed I would hold up a text-based mirror to myself and find out. It seemed worth it even if that led to an article entitled WILLARD FOXTON: MY BORING FAT DATE SHAME.

We agreed to meet in a lovely wine bar near London bridge. It's the sort of poncy and pretentious place I really love, where they rotate their wine cellar to let you try out a different couple of bottles of wine each week. Each bottle comes with a "wine passport", telling you where it came from, what it's about and enabling you to order the same wine again, at a vastly inflated price. In the name of epicureanism, I usually try whatever the wine of the week is. It was at about the point I was reading that the wine I was drinking was "grown from a kind of grape enjoyed by the Romans, long thought extinct, but recently rediscovered growing under a florentine villa" that something struck me.

Bella, the other date blogger, had recently written a post despairing about the kind of pretentious guys she met on Guardian Soulmates. Men who said they liked astronomy & 17th century harpsichord music. Men who described their interests in terms like "I love traveling, but I'm no tourist. I've been known to land in New York for a week and never leave Harlem." I started to wonder "...Am I that guy?" as I sipped my Roman tribune approved wine. I realised that being on the other side of a date blog - of knowing you will be discussed and dissected in detail - is a weird experience. Was the fact I was blogging making it harder to meet "the one"?

Anyway, Bella arrived, and, no doubt to my sister's dismay, is very pretty, but no more than average sized. We got to talking. Within about five minutes of her arriving, we were laughing away, drinking more and more Roman wine and I totally forgot that I, or indeed, she was supposed to be writing it up. We compared notes on how dreadful the whole process of online dating was - I think she was slightly surprised that as a bloke, I got almost as many weird and sleazy messages as she did. Maybe we are more sensitive to this than most, but we lamented the fact that grammar and spelling had gone from a basic skill required in a person to something that had become a desirable trait.

She told me about a dreadful date she'd been on where she thought the bloke was being seriously weird and rude. I realised he was in fact trying to use the tips and tricks from nightmare misogynist dating guide "The Rules of the Game". I'd learned via my perma-tanned former housemate Higga, the particular kind of nasty cod psychology behind this book.

Essentially, it equips you with a limited toolkit of Derren Brown-esque mindtricks, which aim to pretty much fool women into sleeping with you. The promise the book makes is it will turn you into a kind of rapey Jedi, for only £9.99. It's fair to say I'm not a fan. It certainly hadn't worked on Bella, anyway. Maybe Murdoch's employees (minions?) are immune to Jedi mind tricks.

We both felt freed up by the fact we both had a ton of experience of online dating. The was no pretence, no "game" - we talked and talked, and got on to the thorny and dreadfully honest subject of why two clearly entertaining, fun, successful people were still single in our early thirties. We decided that two wrongs made a right, and shared our experiences of the exes that had left us in the wasteland of online dating. Unlike the last occasion I ended up talking about my baggage, I was able to tell the stories with a glint in my eye and a smile on my lips.

4 hours flipped by in what felt like five minutes, and we parted with a smile and a hug. Then, about a week later, her review of the date went up online. She'd had a good time; it seemed, I was a decent date after all (phew), but, sadly for Ms.Battle, I was sadly, not "the one".

So, at least that's one worry out of the way, but I'm still looking for Ms.Right. But with 14 down, and 14 to go, it's really starting to feel as if I can get through this - and I'm starting to realise, even if I don't find "the one" in 28 Dates, there are plenty of lovely women out there, going through the same sort of thing I am. I just have to find the right one.

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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.