Date Twenty-One – The Stallion

Sorry, couldn’t resist using this nickname, as Date 21 was with an Italian man! The Stallion was recommended to me by Ms Paparazzi – a friend I met in Sucre, Bolivia, when I was backpacking five years ago. We did a mountain bike tour together, which finished at a bar where the candidates for Miss Bolvia were being interviewed, The bar was surrounded by paps waiting for the pageant contestants, and so as we left Ms Paparazzi and I asked if they would pretend to be taking photos of us! After another date suggestion fell through, Ms Pap pounced on The Stallion, who had just arrived in the country that week, and started at her work, and asked if he would be up for a blind date!

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After a bit of confusion about where we were meant to be meeting, we met at Counter Cafe in Hackney Wick – a cafe with a view of the Olympic stadium which The Best Man had recommended to me, A friend of mine, who is currently serving in the Army, is home this weekend, and last night was a very messy night, celebrating his return with his parents and at least eight bottles of champagne in Henley. As a result I had a very hungover three hour commute in to London to meet The Stallion, and was not overly with it when I realised The Stallion had misunderstood that we were meeting at the station, and had walked directly to the cafe instead!

I still wasn’t completely with it at the till, and ended up in a rather awkward situation with The Stallion because I was in front of him in the queue and had ordered our brunch. The assistant charged me for all the food, and The Stallion didnt realise she had asked me to pay (or was doing a good job pretending not to hear!) so I ended up paying for us both, and then didnt have the heart to ask him for his half. Just as the assistant was putting the money in the till, the Stallion realised what was going on, and tried to pay on his card, but it was all very awkward, and so I just ended up paying for brunch. Probably giving the guy a completely twisted idea of how an English date works – so your colleagues set you up on a blind date before they’ve even really met you, and then your date organises the entire date herself and then pays for your half! He’s probably calling home now to tell them how modern British dating is!

We ate Eggs Benedict with salmon, and drank freshly squeezed orange juice, staring out over Olympic Park. The cafe had a relaxed feel, with a mezzanine area filled with couches, and large tables. We perched a little oddly on a table for at least 10 people, which made us sit a little too far away, but other than that, brunch was nice.

The Stallion’s English was really good- he had lived in America and Australia before – however it wasn’t the best date I could have chosen to go on with a hangover! His accent was quite broad, and where he was broadening his vocabulary, he would ask me about different words and expressions, so I had to listen carefully and be really on the ball! I’m not gonna lie, until I’d had at least three bottles of Diet Coke I was really struggling!

I had been a bit worried that he would be shorter than me- for some reason I don’t think of Italian men as being particularly tall. However he was taller than me and didn’t disappoint when it came to the sterotype of Italian guys being attractive!

He was really interesting, and despite my hangover, we had an interesting chat over brunch, before heading into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

I had heard about National Paralympic Day on the dating website DoingSomething, and thought it would be a cool venue for a date. The Paralympics has always been an event close to my heart – not because of any personal connection to the sports, other than the fact that I used to ski race as a child, and could never get over how Paralympic skiers did what I did faster, harder and without their sight, or on one ski. I found their achievements incredible, and followed the Vancouver 2008 Paralympics closely when I was living in Whistler, writing articles for the New York Times and various sports websites about the events.

Last year, I was lucky enough to watch both the Wheelchair Basketball and one night of Paralympic athletics, and got completely hooked on the Last Leg in the process – a show which I’ve been desperately trying to get tickets for one of my dates for. So when I saw free tickets available for Boccia, Table Tennis, Sitting Volleyball and Wheelchair Basketball as part of NPD, I decided the Sitting Volleyball would make a fun afternoon date.

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As we queued to enter the Copper Box arena, I had my third ‘celeb spot” of the challenge (after sitting in the front row of Limbo with Madonna on my date with The Fake Pimpernel, and attending Love & Lust with Binky and Cheska from Made in Chelsea this week … Update on that to come!). Boris walked past us and into the Copper Box (complete with his signature bike and helmet, being pushed along by event staff). He was attending the event to be awarded the Paralympic Order, the highest honour from the International Paralympic Committee, for all his work in the 2012 Games. (Continuing the Paparazzi theme of this date, what you can’t see in my picture of Boris is the ten men ahead of him taking his photo!)

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We found seats close to the action, and laughed away, as the host brought back Olympic crowd favourites – The Bongos, where an audience member’s face appears on the big screen, above cartoon bongo drums which they must drum on; The Bagpipes – where the randomly chosen audience member must blow a cartoon set of bagpipes, and KissCam, where they pick on random pairs in the audience, and make them kiss on camera. Luckily The Stallion and I were sitting at the wrong angle to be picked up on KissCam!

Great Britain were playing The Netherlands. The teams were introduced, and then we watched them warm up, scooting across the shiny plastic matting on their bums and practicing flinging themselves around at all angles. The teams were made up of a mix of players with disabilities, and able-bodied players. Some players chose to play in the prosthetics, while others removed them before the warm-up. Like standing volleyball, six members of the team were on the court at any one time, with substitutions, and the introduction of specialist ‘Libero’ players at particular times during the game.

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The match was fast paced and interesting. The Netherlands team were the clear favourites, but at times the sets were very evenly matched, with the British team coming close to winning the second set on two different occasions. The announcers kept the crowd motivated, and, as with all the Paralympic disciplines last year, once you got into the spirit of the competition, you soon forgot the players’ disabilities, and simply saw the event for what it was – an international-level sporting event.

I really enjoyed National Paralympic Day – for a free event, the organisation was slick and streamlined. The Copper Box allowed for great views of the sport from all angles, and there was always something going on. There was a great atmosphere in the crowd with the music, the games and free clapper devices- an ambience which The Stallion said you never get at similar Italian events. It was a great reminder of London 2012, and its sporting legacy, and a great way to introduce a foreigner to London- The Stallion had never seen live Paralympic sport, and found it really interesting.

Whilst the date itself wasn’t the best to be on with a hangover, the need to explain stuff to the Stallion, and concentrate on what he was saying, for example when he pronounced a word slightly differently, did mean I had to up my game, and I was probably on better form than I would have been with a native English speaker in that circumstance.

It was a very random day, in an area of London which I don’t know well, however I think it was a perfect example of the diverse and different things going on in London all the time, and the interesting events which often run for free in the nation’s capital. Whilst National Paralympic Day is an annual event, other anniversary events for the games have been running this month, and Queen Elizabeth Park will continue to host events to promote international sports of all kinds,

We met – at Counter Cafe, Hackney Wick

I wore – a black dress with white polka dots and a turquoise blazer, and flip flops (massive fail- it rained and I was freezing all day)

He wore- a white cable-knit sweater, jeans, and a North Face jacket which I spent most of the date borrowing!

We drank – orange juice, Coke and Diet Coke

We talked about – languages, Latin, the origins of words, travel, London 2012, Oscar Pistorius, Lance Armstrong, The Last Leg, memorable Paralympic athletes and moments, football, how much footballers get paid, different areas of London, Banksy, London’s East End

The date lasted – 4 and a half hours

The date ended – on the Tube back to West London, after the end of the volleyball

Marks out of ten? A solid eight – it was a really unique fun date (and probably about time I actually paid my way for a change, hey?! I didn’t start this challenge for 30 free meals!)

Next date- The following day (Sunday)

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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