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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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.