Date: 12th Aug 03
JANE Stevens checks out a new fast-track method of finding romance - speed dating. THE room is crowded. There is a hubbub of chat. Everyone is scrubbed up and neat as a pin. Furtively the boys look at the girls and the girls eye up the boys. Sneaky glances are exchanged in breaks of conversation.
No, its not the school dance. Its the function room of a pub in Beaconsfield and everyone has long since passed their schooldays. This is speed dating for the over 35s.
This is how it works. A drink before the formalities begin helps to mask the nerves and get the chat flowing and we are all labelled with a number. Our hostess - Dee Baines of Angels Speed Dating - calls for quiet and lays down the rules of engagement. We have three minutes to chat to each man across a table. A list of possible questions is on hand if conversation should falter.
There is a list of names and numbers and if you enjoyed meeting one or any of them, you make a note and hand it in at the end of the evening. Dee will do the rest of the matchmaking later by phone or email. Twenty men and an equal number of women have been invited but a few men are non-starters. So a few women have to wait their turn.
Dee’s assistant is in charge of the timer. A bell rings and the evening proper begins.
All human life is here. At least from Buckinghamshire and some from further afield - West Drayton, Wokingham and Reading. There were nerds, miseries, bores, men sadly widowed, nice ordinary ones, cocky ones with inappropriate boy haircuts and permatans and some with absolutely no social graces. One man's opening gambit at clocking my number - 38 - was to enquire in a disconcertingly leery way if that was my bust size!
We all started with a will but for some the novelty wore off very quickly. Man number six had had enough by the time his seventh victim, me, arrived at his table. Poor love, he just wanted to go home. He was unable to raise a smile or force himself to make any more conversation. One male participant accused all the women there of having no spark. He was looking for someone with a sense of humour, but confessed under my affronted interrogation to having none himself. Nil points.
Three car dealers from Middlesex were cheeky chappies out for a laugh, one or two others were earnestly seeking companionship. One had decided to sum himself succinctly up in an opening statement, repeated every three minutes, and ending rather alarmingly with the confession “O and I’m no good at sex”. But he was one of three or four genuinely likeable men there. As the rounds went on it became clear which of the men and women were approaching the evening as a task to be taken very seriously indeed. The lady in front of me was carrying out a thorough interrogation of her victims. They were left mopping their brows exhausted when I arrived at their tables.
I tried to make conversation off the guidelines. But it was hard work in many cases. I'm sure the women were making most of the effort.
Voices got louder and louder until after an hour-and-a-half we were all shouting to make ourselves heard. At the final bell we all fell back exhausted and made for the bar. I have to say I was glad it was over but I did, as promised by Dee, meet more potentially eligible men on one evening than I’ve met in years. My one criticism of this particular session was that the age range, which started at 35 and went up to 60-odd, was too wide.
Interestingly, in a quick straw poll taken of the women there, we all liked the same man, number 22. He wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous, just a nice ordinary guy who was pleasant to talk to and a natural gentleman. Checking later with Dee, ten couples dated as a result of that evening and five still are. I do hope someone met the man or woman of their dreams.
10:45am Thursday 24th July 2003