Date Fourteen – The Upgrade

As regular readers will know, before it had even begun Date Fourteen didn’t go to plan!  Early in my challenge I had heard about the Summer Screen series at Somerset House, and keen to include one of the evenings in my 30 Dates by 30 Challenge, I posted on Facebook to ask if anyone had a friend who might like to go and watch an outdoor film with me.  Would-have-been 14 got in contact with me quickly, and we agreed to go and watch ‘The Throne of Blood’ – a black and white 1950s Samurai version of Macbeth! Not my normal film choice, but the setting sounded fun, and the event had received good reviews.

As I explained in my blog post Living Life One Day at a Time,  Would-have-been 14 cancelled on me last week.  He claimed to have met someone, who he was going to take to Somerset House in my place (we kept an eye out for him, amongst the 2000 other film goers, but didn’t spot him!).  Maybe he did meet someone?  Maybe he has been reading the blog since he agreed to the date and got cold feet?  What I do know is that I had scheduled my flights to Madrid this weekend around going to Somerset House, and whilst Would-have-been 14 refused to sell me the Somerset House tickets, there were still some available for the film, so on a whim I bought two and decided to ask around to see if any of my friends could find in a ‘stand-in’ at short notice.

That evening I was speed-dating with Miss32 in Clapham.  I told her about Would-have-been 14 cancelling, and that I still wanted to go see the film.  She took out her phone, and within five minutes had organised a date for me with a guy who I originally referred to as a ‘Stand-In’.

And so last night, I found myself standing outside Somerset House, waiting for Miss32’s recommendation.    For the first time on this Challenge, I wasn’t the late one!  And as I stood waiting at the back entrance to Somerset House, looking over the Thames, I can’t count how many single men walked towards me, and then past.  Finally I understood how the majority of my dates must have felt!  If they hadn’t seen a photo of me, they must have stood waiting for me, their eyes pricking up every time they saw a girl walking on her own, making tentative eye contact, and wondering if this was their blind date!  It was a really weird feeling.  Both Miss32 and Miss Nameless had described the Stand-In as attractive, and the girls had insisted on showing me a picture of the Stand-In before texting him, so I knew very roughly what he looked like, but it had literally been a Facebook photo flashed at me on a phone screen, before I objected that it should be a blind date and pushed the phone away.  So when guys walked past me with picnic baskets or bunches of flowers, even though they didn’t really look like the guy in the photo, or guys I thought Miss32 and Miss Nameless would describe as attractive, I still found myself freezing and waiting for them to approach!  Ironically I also got asked for directions by two random men on their own, and both times they approached (one was overweight, balding, and in his 40s), I internally sighed and prepared myself for a polite greeting!  Both men just wanted directions!  Evidently I no longer look like a tourist in London! (probably because I spend an average of three evenings a week in the City as part of this challenge!)

There was still no sight of the Stand-In, and a helpful member of staff let me know that I was standing at the wrong entrance to Somerset House for the movie.  I’d been told 18.30 for a 19:00 start, and by ten to seven I was panicking slightly that the Stand-In wasn’t there and we would miss the start of the film.  In the end my fears were completely unfounded, as the movie didn’t actually start until 9pm, and there were just DJs playing for the first two hours of the event.  As I walked around the perimeter of Somerset House, there were couples everywhere!  I’d purposely chosen a movie which wasn’t traditionally romantic, but I guess the whole nature of an outdoor film is that it’s quite a romantic setting, and so everywhere I looked there were PDAs, people taking self-taken photos in couples, and bulging picnic baskets and M&S carrier bags (you wondered what I was going to say then, didn’t you! 😉 )

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I’m not going to lie, of all the dates for me to be punctual to, this was probably the worst!  As I reached the Strand entrance of Somerset House, I was literally surrounded by patiently-waiting halves of couples!  And every time their other half arrived, there would be a dramatic public display of affection before they walked into Somerset House.  On the other hand, the people watching was brilliant.  Girls were standing in the middle of the street perfecting their make-up before their dates arrived, and some of the meetings (probably blind dates like mine!) were hilariously stilted and awkward to watch!

With regards to lateness on dates, I don’t really mind it.  But this comes from someone who spends her life being late!  Though I like to maintain I am always a pre-prepared late person!  So most of my dates will testify, that although I turn up later than originally planned, I’ve already scheduled a later meet-up time because I’d known in advance that I’m running late.  I really hate being late myself, and try to give people as much notice as possible about it, so could never really judge anyone else being late.  The Stand-In was really worried about being late, but he had given me half an hour’s notice, and so I busied myself tweeting @30Dates about Somerset House and the evening ahead while I waited for him.

When the Stand-In arrived, I couldn’t help grinning to myself.  Miss32 and Miss Nameless had been right, he was really attractive.  In fact, in the crowd of connecting couples around us, he was easily the most attractive guy I could see.  I recognised him from the photo that Miss32 had flashed briefly at me, but rather than draw his attention, I texted him to tell him what I was wearing and where I was standing.  My phone rang as soon as I sent the text, and I looked over to see the attractive guy saying ‘Hello’ split-seconds before the voice on the end of my phone.  I waved at him, and he walked over, with a bulging (got to get that pun in again!) M&S carrier bag (decorated in Percy Pigs – how British!).

I’d overheard another couple saying that the film wouldn’t begin until 9pm, despite what our tickets said.  As we walked into Somerset House, we realised the delay wasn’t a bad thing.  Rather than simply being a pretty cinema date, it would allow us to enjoy the picnic and sit and chat for two hours before the film began.  Somerset House had been decked out beautifully – there were red curtains hanging in the archways, and the lighting around the courtyard was beautiful, and only improved as the sky grew darker.

We found a prime spot in the centre of the courtyard, close to the large screen, and laid out blankets and the picnic.  At this point, I should point out that I decided the phrase ‘stand in’ was a bit unfortunate, and might suggest that my date was an Understudy for Would-Have-Been 14.  Having already Facebook-stalked Would-Have-Been 14 after he ditched me (and realised I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t have fancied him!), it was clear that the Stand-In was far more ‘my type of guy’… and so after a conversation about me getting stood up, I agreed that I would refer to him as ‘The Upgrade’, which sounds far more flattering!  I know I’m not meant to judge people on face value, but WHB14 not only was rather odd-looking in his Facebook photos, but also stood me up at less than a week’s notice, so I think calling The Upgrade (who was very nice and normal, and considerate) ‘The Upgrade’ is pretty fair!

The Upgrade had (luckily!) thought of everything.  He had blankets, and mats, and cutlery and plates, and because I had suggested I liked Greek food, had prepared a full picnic spread on that basis (even though he didn’t actually like half of the food!).  I was wearing summery clothes, which had been great on the overheated, crowded, Tube, but as night fell I quickly felt the chill of the night, and was glad for The Upgrade’s forethought.

We chatted and picked at humous, pitta, cheese breadsticks, falafel, olives, manchego cheese, crackers, brie, greek salad, strawberries and chocolates, and drank sparkling rose (he’d been reading the blog with careful attention to detail!) and fruit juice.  Like many of the guys I’ve met this summer, it was the first time The Upgrade had every been on a Blind Date, and he admitted to being quite nervous at first, but we chatted easily enough and started to get to know each other with the backdrop of the Somerset House DJ.

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As night fell, the lights around the courtyard went red, and spotlights fell on the central area.  The head of Summer Screen events took central stage to introduce the film, and tell us about other similar events being run by the British Film Institute this summer.  And then the film began.

I’m not going to lie … I was shattered!  I had thought the film was going to start two hours before it did, and it was my first week in a new role at work, so I’ve been doing extra hours and waking up almost two hours earlier than I normally do.  As the lights around us dimmed, and the black and white film (in Japanese with subtitles) began to play, I began to find it hard to keep my eyes open!  I settled beneath The Upgrade’s blanket, and tried to get comfortable on the flagstones.  (If you are going to a similar event this summer, I would definitely recommend wearing cosy clothes, and bringing pillows and lots of blankets!)  I propped my head on my handbag, and lay back on the flagstones, trying not to fall asleep, and realising how forced the intimacy of the situation was, I essentially ended up sharing a blanket under the stars with The Upgrade!

The film was hilarious.  As in hilariously bad!  I’m no film buff, and the fifties filming style was totally lost on me.  Certain sections of the film were really laboured and overdone, and for me the highlight of the film was the main character’s hilariously OTT facial expressions.  It was definitely entertaining, but I found myself laughing at the wrong bits!  There was a female witch who The Upgrade and I were both convinced was a man, and some of the most poignant scenes (including the ‘Macbeth’ character’s death) were so overdone that they just seemed like parodies.

Watching a film in subtitles when you’re really tired isn’t something I would recommend!  Especially when you’re somewhere where you can lie back and curl up under a blanket!  The cold breeze did keep me awake, but only just.  (And I then had a 2am drive to Heathrow, a 6am flight to Madrid, and an hour’s trip to the flat where I’m staying this weekend to contend with before I would eventually get to bed, so it was just the start of 16 hours fighting exhaustion!).

At least The Upgrade was as equally unimpressed by the film, and laughing at the same bits I was.  We spent a considerable amount of the film wondering about the asexual witch, and what the two odd marks above ‘Lady Macbeth’ ‘s eyebrows were … we came to the conclusion that they were fake eyebrows?!

When I grade this date, The Upgrade asked me to stress that obviously I was the one who chose the venue, and the diabolical film!  To be fair, I rather enjoyed the movie, purely for its inadvertent humour value!

We didn’t spot WHB14 (or the author of the male dating blog 28 Dates Later, who tweeted me to let me know he was also at Somerset House that night), but we did have a really entertaining night, and I hope (despite almost falling asleep) that I was an entertaining first blind date for The Upgrade.

I would definitely recommend Somerset House as a setting for a date.  It’s a beautiful part of London, and if I had been doing this challenge in the winter I would have loved to have gone on an ice-skating date there.  The Throne of Blood isn’t a film I would necessarily recommend … unless you have a particular penchant for Samurai Shakespeare movies!  But at least it provided a talking point, and I think if you book up early for the Summer Screens evenings you can benefit from over 2 weeks’ worth of film choices as they play a different movie every night.

A picnic is a really nice relaxed thing to do on a date, as there’s no formality (though if you’re clumsy like me, it can lead to a lot of kicked over drinks and dropped food!).  Obviously some pressure does then fall on the person selecting the picnic, but the Upgrade did a really good job, and as the hundreds of carrier bags we saw whilst heading into Somerset House would suggest, Marks and Spencer are a pretty safe bet for a decent picnic selection. The Upgrade had actually suggested trying to cook his own food for the picnic (something I would probably dissuade on a first date, unless you work in food!  An M&S picnic is more than enough for a blind date, and will probably remove a bit of the stress!).

The film wasn’t great, but I had a really lovely night, and would recommend some of the other outdoor movies the British Film Institute are screening this summer, especially if, like me, you grew up watching the film Grease with the iconic Drive-Thru movie date scene …  something it’s otherwise very hard to recreate, living in the UK in this day and age.

We met … outside Somerset House, amongst hundreds of other awkward couples!

I wore – a sheer black silk top and black vest top, cropped black trousers, flip flops (FAR too cold for outdoor movies)

He wore – burgundy chinos, a dress shirt, brown leather shoes

We drank – sparkling rose, mango and apple juice

We talked about – Titanic, work, the challenge, the blog, blind dates, Would-Have-Been 14, family, friends, travel, favourite films, university

The date lasted – 4 hours

The date ended – After the movie – we walked to Temple Tube station and both took different lines (and I began my marathon journey to Madrid for Date Fifteen!)

Marks out of ten – A comfortable 8/10.  The Upgrade was a really nice guy, who was very easy to get on with.  He made a real effort with the picnic, choosing foods he didn’t necessarily like because he thought I would like them, and reading the blog to see what drinks I drank.  Somerset House was a lovely setting, even if the film was a bit of an odd one (and I only have myself to blame for that!)

Next date …. Tomorrow in Madrid!  And I may have 2 in the same day!  Watch this space!

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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