The evening does not start off well. After gaining entry to Vinopolis, described somewhat ambitiously in the online brochure as ‘The most exciting and atmospheric visitor attraction in the world,’ everybody is handed a unique set of 15 cards with their name beautifully embossed on one side. Except me, of course. Mine are blank for some unspecified reason, so I’m forced to grab a black felt-tip pen and scrawl ‘Fraser’ on each one in psychopath style lettering. The purpose of these isn’t immediately clear, but a little further investigation leads to the discovery of a photographer taking polaroids of all the attendees, images which are then added to a rogues gallery of hopefuls in the main hall. If you spot a face you like, you pin your card to their photo, and at the evening’s end you unfasten the stack of cards attached to your image and can make contact with those people though the organiser’s website.
First up is speed-dating. It’s a bit like having 7 job interviews in 25 minutes, except that you’ve no idea what the job entails. To aid the process you’re given a piece of paper with space for seven names, two colums marked ‘HeadStart’ and ‘HeadAche’ (yes or no, basically), and room to make comments, more than anything else to remind yourself who it is that you’ve just spoken to.
The first girl is cool. She’s pretty, she laughs at my jokes, and I don’t stare at her chest once. Next up is an Amazonian South African, six foot two with hair like Rapunzel. She’s obviously not interested, and doesn’t attempt to hide it, looking everywhere else in the room apart from at me. When she tiredly asks me what I do for a living, I finally crack.
“I’m a biscuit designer.”
That gets her attention.
“Really? What ones have you done?”
“You know animal allsorts?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, I did the giraffe.”
At this point our three minutes expire and I move on, leaving her looking her baffled and possibly a little scared. 1-0 to me. The rest pass in a blur. At the end I’ve ticked three boxes out of seven, rather foolishly expressing interest in two girls who I know to be best friends. I can imagine how that conversation will end. Really? You too? Hmmm… I bet he ticked everyone. Creep.
I wander round aimlessly for most of the rest of the evening. The organisation is a shambles – the forty quid may have kept out the dirty mac brigade, but there’s not enough staff at the bar (twenty minutes to get served when I could be romancing), and they don’t have enough change when I finally get a drink. The rogues gallery is so surrounded by onlookers that it’s almost impossible to see the photographs, and when I attempt to find the venue for ‘Blind Date Battleships’ (no, I can’t imagine either) I discover that it’s not marked on the nonsensical map of the venue they’ve provided, nor can the member of staff I ask assist me. “Err… it’s somewhere. Not sure where, though.” Well, gee, thanks.
Half an hour before the end I decide to cut my losses and head for the door. Except that I can’t, of course. The queue for the cloakroom is 40 metres long, so there’s yet another interminable wait before I can finally escape.
Still, at least I didn’t run into anyone I know. I’d hate it if people knew I was doing this. Oh, and by the way, nobody attached their card to my picture.