Literary speed dating with Original Dating. A new chapter of my love life or a short story I couldn’t wait to finish?
Oh I do love a speed date, new possibility with the stroke of every fourth minute and the chance to talk to guys face to face rather than swipe to swipe.
I was nervous as I clunked down the iron steps to the basement of Nordic Bar on Newman Street. A favourite paperback in my bag and a new leather skirt around my hips, that was perhaps just slightly too tight. A little unsure I made my way to the bar. A routine I have fallen into whenever uncertainty strikes at a dating event, although not always a habit which ends well.
Luckily just as I received my double G&T, begrudgingly handing over £10 knowing not to expect change, our host made an announcement for speed daters to congregate. I cringed slightly as I noticed the non-speed dating onlookers undoubtedly judging whilst also sipping on their own overpriced drinks. However I was grateful to know where to go and so joined the back of the forming queue obediently.
Queuing for speed dating is sadly inevitable and obviously awkward. There are few events that manage to pull off the seamless transition of arrival to date without slightly fumbily conversation whilst wading in no mans land.
Our host John signed me in and explained about the Mixeo app on which we match with our dates. He gave me my own Mixeo number but then told me I could go and take a seat wherever I liked despite giving me the number 5. I slightly resented the freedom of choice, quite intimidated by the large number of men and women already sitting around the room. A bit like picking teams in PE I subtly chose a seat not far from one of the best looking men in the room. (Like you wouldn’t do the same.)
The crowd were friendly; maybe the types of people who read books are also the kinds of people who help old ladies cross roads and hand wallets into lost property. This felt like the friendliest speed dating event I’d ever walked into and so I relaxed immediately and pulled out my copy of The Fountainhead.
Well if you’re going to get wet you may as well go swimming.
But oh crap. I seemed to be the only geek who brought a book to the book club dating session. And, a weighty pretentious beast of a book at that!
But as the speed daters begun dating I realised I had nothing to worry about, least of all my geek status. Not only did each new date by pass the rubbishness of generic conversation; questions you often hear echoing around the room, at the very moment you’re also being asked; ‘have you speed dated before?’ But instead I found real insight into each new guy as they landed at my table.
Reading is such a personal past time. To engage with a story or a piece of writing means you’re going to see past words to create pictures in your head unique to those which anyone else will see. The magic of books really does come from the reader. So listening to someone explain why a favourite book is their favourite book can be riveting. Making you feel as though you’re climbing into their head to peek down at their soul. In four minutes. Yes really.
Although it also might make you realise very fast and very definitely that they’re a dick. These were few and far between but one guy told me in no uncertain terms that my chosen book by Ayn Rand was awful and I was an idiot to think of Howard Roark as a hero. I mostly nodded with clenched teeth and tried not to think about how I could possibly use a plastic straw to stab him. Instead I thought about how Roark would handle him. Roark would shrug and continue living his life and being awesome. Paying no more attention to the angry little man who told me he mostly thought, dreamt and visualised books in words and never pictures. (Another point on which I was apparently incredibly naive)
I shrugged and continued being awesome.
One guy bought Katy Price’s book as a joke, tried and failed, to do magic tricks with me. Luckily his day job was to be a lawyer. Another guy talked to me vividly about sci fi books, and whilst I concluded he possibly didn’t see much of the world beyond his bedroom and perhaps daylight was in fact an alien concept for him I did find myself itching to read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and something other than the brilliant ‘Girl With All The Gifts’ by M R Carey.
Then came the next level. A writer, an actual published writer sat down in front of me. Meeting a writer is always impressive, as I pretend so hard to be a writer as opposed to a civilian who writes, but add to that smouldering good looks and a devilish smile and I was biting my lip like any poorly written literary fem fatal. (Okay, ‘smouldering’ and ‘devilish’, I never claimed to pretend to be a good writer.)
He was the quickest of all my four minutes and the only guy I made doubly certain to get both the spelling of his name correct and Mixeo number down on paper.
Good chat, good gin, good books and a cute little venue. One draw back however was the close proximity of dates. Everyone in London struggles with the issue of space from time to time. There are just so blinking many of us, and hey, at a singles events that’s no bad thing. But the added feature of at least half the room talking at once all the time can often make for a tricky first four minutes with your date. The Nordic is a sweet little underground venue. It’s small and trendy and you feel kind of cool marching down Newman Street knowing where to find it. But little is the key word. I was at a table with two other rotating couples and unfortunately found myself pulling some of my best listening faces during the night. You know the kind. Like when you’re faced with an extra thick accent or very broken English. We know it’s patronising but still our heads tilt, eyes squint and mouth gapes slightly a jar. Oh I anticipate lots of matches thank you very much.
John our host was great. Airing slightly on the edge of cheese but none the less providing a few giggles and nudged the evening along with witty one liners and generally being our social lubricant throughout the night. (I regret the word lubricant…) He certainly put me at ease and like a man after my own heart stuck around at the bar at the end of night encouraging us bookworm singles to do the same.
Never one to need much persuading when it comes to gin on a weeknight I decided to be a good sport and mingle. There was however the tiny problem of my last date. I’ve never quite been able to master the ‘excuse me a moment’ sneak off and cut loose portion of any date. Much less those lingering four minutes which come before breaks and the end of the evening.
But stood leaning on the bar; ever so cool, ever so cocky was The Writer. A mixture of curiosity and ‘maybe I fancy him’ was egging me on to ditch my current date.
Unfortunately I’m just too polite for my own good, and I found myself nodding along to something I wasn’t really listening to, whilst chewing my lip over how to catch The Writer’s eye.
However, it turned out I hadn’t at all under estimated his cocky streak. He balled over to myself and The Last Date with the stench of arrogance and the kind of smile that actually makes my tummy feel a bit upside down. Then completely dominated the conversation. There was nothing I could do really as The Last Date excused himself leaving me with The Writer.
We exchanged email addresses of course because we are grown ups of the literary world (or at least I can pretend) and he kissed me on the cheek before leaving to catch his tube.
I walked back to Tottenham Court Road feeling kind of elated. I’ve had fun speed dating before but there was a lot to be said for the crowd drawn to last night’s event. The literary world is vast and in many ways it’s wrong to bundle all bookworms into the same bag. No two people read the same book in the same way. No one text will mean the same thing to every reader. But people who read, who look to escape into a world partly of their own making, are connected by a common thread.
Whether it’s classics, crime, non fiction or a little red room of pain, the people who commit to books are making a conscious effort past that of zapping through TV channels, hoping through YouTube or using dating apps as though they were flick books.
I’ve said it before, effort is sexy, and that’s why I’m looking to date a guy who reads.
Since last night I’ve logged into Mixeo, a surprisingly easy app to navigate, even for the technologically impaired like myself. I’ve selected all my matches, ‘Friends’ and Nos! But am still waiting to see if I’ve made any pals or if I might have a future date. Mixeo alerts you to your matches 24 hours after your event, however it does also rely on speed daters being diligent. I’m not too restless however as I do have The Writer’s email address.
Thankfully there will be more literary Speed Dating from Original Dating soon. Maybe I’ll choose something a little lighter than The Fountainhead next time…