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 there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war