Date Twenty-Two – The Queen’s Guard

The dating app Tinder lets you flick through photographs of single men like playing cards, either saving them for later, or casting them aside. And even offers you the chance to ‘Keep Playing’ when you stumble across a match. And the further along I’ve got with this challenge, the more I’ve found myself treating it like one big game too!

Take Sunday for example, when I was stood up five minutes before a date in central London by the No Show. Back in July, if that had happened to me, I would probably have disappeared off shopping or even just headed all the way home with my tail between my legs! But no, twenty-one dates into this challenge, I’m at a stage where I can properly embrace the carnival spirit of it all, and instead, turned what some would see as a disaster, into a very nearly successful experiment, attempting to find a last minute replacement over social media.

And then of course there was the twist in the Henley Boy situation last week, when after over two months of silence, the very boy whose actions prompted this entire challenge, decided to call me and chat for over an hour. Two months ago I would have read into every word he said, wondering when he might contact me again, and if he still might be the one. And yet before, after, and even during the call, I found myself focussing on how best to incorporate the turn of events in the challenge, and how I ought to write about it in the blog.

Challenge first, feelings second.

Maybe that sounds clinical. But as a girl who has spent the vast majority of her adult life wearing her heart on her sleeve, and getting burned as a result, it’s a rather refreshing change to just see it all as a bit of a game for once!

I’m not the only one who sees the ’30 Dates before 30 Challenge’ as a form of game. A lot of my friends have begun to see the men I date a bit like a collection of trading cards!

‘Have you had a Navy date yet?’ ‘What about a ‘lady date’?!’  ‘A date with someone who’s disabled could be interesting?’  ‘Let me find you a date with a Christian!’

I think it was the Best Man who likened my blog names to super heroes. He believed that even before reading the post, he could tell just from the date’s name, whether he was going to turn out to be a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’!! Putting them into two different armies, like X-Men!

It’s interesting, because whilst at the time I thought of it ‘The Enigma‘ just sounded like a cool nickname, but actually ‘Enigma‘ could easily be a villain in a Batman movie! So maybe my subconscious knew he wasn’t a keeper after all?!

I think one of the reasons for my little tradition when it comes to saving the dates’ phone numbers on my phone under their date names (which I described in the ‘ The Second Date, The Enigma & The Eclipse‘) is that I see that as a ritual part of the 30 Date Game. I also keep a note on my iPhone with a full list of their real names, and blog names (mainly because more than once I’ve been asked by a date if I can remember all the others’ real names!)

Going back to the idea of ‘collecting’ different dates, like Top Trump cards, interestingly, I’ve made it two-thirds of the way through my challenge without dating anyone from the Armed Forces. In fact my X-Men artillery of ‘super hero’ daters, has been noticeably void of anyone from the RAF, Army or Navy. But all that changed dramatically … so much so that I’ve begun to call this week ‘Army Week’!

A close friend who is serving out in Germany with the Medical Corp returned to Henley this weekend, so I spent Friday night catching up with ‘The Medical Officer’, his parents, and a conservatory full of champagne (much to the detriment of my date with The Stallion the next day!)

I then met up with another Army Officer friend on Saturday night, to investigate a pop-up dinner event run by ‘Disappearing Dining Club’. The company’s monthly dinner dance was taking place at a venue called the Old Shoe Factory in Hackney, a stone’s throw from Date Twenty-One at The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with The Stallion, and so I bought a pair of tickets after spotting the event on Doing Something’s 100 Must Do Dates List.

I toyed with the idea of finding a date for the event, however with booking fees, the tickets for the five course meal and dance worked out as around £60 per person, and dinner seemed set to last at least four hours. Apprehensive that I could find a random date willing to spend that much on a first date, particularly if I was going to have to be liberal with the truth in order to actually secure the date, I decided to invite a friend who I hadn’t seen for some time, and who had just been stationed down South.

 

photo-2The Disappearing Dining event was really fun. The Old Shoe Factory was essentially a white shell of a room, which the hosts decorated beautifully and simply with coloured lights, bunting, and kitschy pictures and household objects. According to the menu, the venue’s kitchen was actually portable and constructed on the day, though you would never have guessed from the quality of the food.

The crockery was vintage and mismatched, the glasses chunky and seventies looking. Four long banquet tables were decorated simply with silver candlesticks, and the company’s logo beamed above us in beautiful purple while we dined.

The food was brilliant. We began with the company’s trademark Grey Goose Fizz cocktail- a mix of elderflower, lime and vodka, and moreish canapés, including a divine artichoke and truffle soup, which was served in mismatched shot glasses. Next came our starter – Ceviche a served in quirky jam jars. And then the main – generous cuts of sirloin steak, served with cheese potato skins (in keeping with the New York theme for the evening) and salted broad beans. Dessert was a beautiful cheesecake, split into three parts on the plates and followed by an expansive cheese board.

As dinner drew to a close, the dancing began, however The Army Officer and I ducked out early to catch up with some of his friends in Kennington, and I had the rather unique experience of being the only girl out with a bunch of randy, single Army and RAF officers. Accepting me as one of the lads, the boys were hilarious – as we chatted about dating and my Challenge, they allowed me to vet their Tinder profiles, and improve their photograph selections! My main piece of advice – consistency. If you have one photo that’s a lot less attractive than the others, girls will think that’s actually what you look like, and that the others are flukey good shots! One of the boys even let me flick through his ridiculous long list of Tinder matches, and ‘cull” them from a girl’s point of view (which was highly entertaining! As well as slightly worrying to hear the motives he had for keeping girls on chat mode!)

On Sunday, to round up my weekend of Army boys, I had the Skype Date with a guy I met on Tinder, who actually serves in the Artillery with The Army Officer, and knows him, and some of the boys I’d been out with on Saturday, well.

So it all seemed rather fitting that my next official Challenge date be with another member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces!

I met the Queen’s Guard on Tinder – my favourite online date hunting ground so far!

All three of the previous Tinder guys I had initially picked purely from their name, age and photos had turned out to be perfectly nice, eligible, normal guys (The Fresh Prince, The Surprise Package & The Skype Date) and so with this in mind, I’ve continued using the app.

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One of the photos which first attracted me to the Queen’s Guard on the app was of what I assumed was him dressed as a ‘Beefeater’. Playing the Pokemon-style trade card dating game, and trying to collect as many and varied dates as possible, I had originally thought it might be quite cool to write a blog post about a date called ‘The Beefeater’, and got in contact with him! (And they say guys are superficial, right??!)

However, as I learned tonight, a Beefeater is a special kind of retired serviceman (and the name is probably one of the worst things you can call a member of the guard!). Beefeaters wear a round, flatter-style hat – the huge fluffy black hat, which towers two or three feet above the guardsmen’s heads outside the Royal Palaces, (and which the Queen’s Guard was wearing in his Tinder pic) is actually called a Bearskin, and believe it or not, its upkeep includes shampooing!

The Queen’s Guard is an Officer in the Coldstream Guards, and as such, his responsibilities include watches at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and St James’ Palace. An Old Etonian, it was clear tradition meant a lot to him. His father and both of his grandfathers had all served in the same Regiment before him.

From his pictures on Tinder, he looked really young. I could see his age, 25 (so just in the bracket, though I think I broke that rule already anyway, as The Original Pimpernel was 24 and 51 weeks old on our date to London Zoo!) however in his pictures he looked really quite young, and I couldn’t tell what rank he was.

It’s interesting how misleading photos can be, and how you genuinely can form a completely skewed view of someone even when you are chatting over texts and dating site emails.

For some reason I not only assumed he would come across really young, but also that he was in quite a low rank, and might not earn very much. As a result, I changed my original date suggestion, thinking it might be too pricey for him, and decided to ask The Queen’s Guard to dinner at Disappearing Dining’s restaurant in Brick Lane.

Back in Five Minutes‘ is a part-time restaurant (open Wednesdays through to Saturdays), located in the back room of a women’s clothing store. To get to it, you literally walk through the clothes shop, down some stairs, and through a curtain, into the cosy restaurant.

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On Wednesdays, the restaurant runs a special ‘Dinner Club’ – a communal dining experience spread across three large tables. Impressed by the Dinner Dance on Saturday night, I thought the Dinner Club would be a good venue for dinner with The Queen’s Guard, and it turns out I chose well (even though he actually turned out to be a very interesting, mature army officer, who could have afforded dinner at one of the more pricey venues I originally had in mind!)

Ironically, whilst we were attending on Dinner Club Wednesday, The Queen’s Guard and I were the only people at the Club!

So the intimate venue ended up being all ours for the night – which was really rather cool and special!

Again we were greeted with glasses of the tasty Grey Goose Fizz, and then our first course was a gorgeous gazpacho with warm bread and butter, all served up on trademark breadboards, and in mismatched kitsch port glasses.

Round Two was potted duck on toast, orange and pickles on bread, followed by a main of Herb Crusted Salmon, served with an amazing Olive Crushed Potato mash and salted broad beans.

And then for dessert we enjoyed a rather cheeky-looking Saffron Poached Pear, Oat Crumble and Swedish Custard.

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The food was flawless, and the ambience of the restaurant unique and comfortable. It was also really cool to have our own private dining experience – even though that obviously wouldn’t normally be the case.

I did think it a shame that there was no one else at the Dinner Club – simply because the food was so good, it seems a shame that people aren’t queueing up for the 30 spaces.

Brick Lane is a part of London famous for its curries, and as we left the restaurant in search of a bar, we couldn’t walk for people trying to coax us into their curry houses. However Back in 5 Minutes was a real hidden gem, tucked away in one of the most cool and up-and-coming areas of London, and somewhere I would definitely recommend to others.

I love the idea of pop-up dining, and will be talking about more pop-up options next week when I attend Dine Mile High’s Mozambique night on Date Twenty-Seven.

However so far, my pop-up experiences, care of Disappearing Dining have been great, and the hidden restaurant was a lovely, chilled out location for a first date.

In addition, the Queen’s Guard was a really interesting date.

One of the things I’ve found about Army boys is that they normally have a great deal of life experience, and a lot of stories to tell. All the men I know in the Army have done a great deal of travelling thanks to their roles, and have enjoyed some amazing, unique adventures, and seen a lot more of ‘life’ than their peers. However due to The Queen’s Guard’s role at the Royal Palaces and Castles, his stories were really unique and different, and he had some really cool stories to tell about how Guards go about pulling girls in their ceremonial uniforms! He told me tales of dropping down into the jungles of Brunei down a rope hanging out of a helicopter, and revealed some of the secret oddities of the rooms in the Palaces that not everyone gets to see.

He also suggested a very privileged date venue at St James’ Palace, which he said he would try to sort for me – so watch this space for news on that one, because it sounds blooming amazing!

All in all, I had a really fun night, and it just goes to show how much I underestimated The Queen’s Guard from his Tinder profile, and a few short conversations. He was a really interesting, engaging date, and was definitely wise beyond his years.

As I enter the final straight, rather than simply ticking off the numbers, and treating the dates as a formality, I genuinely have that feeling you get when you enter the final few days of a holiday. I know there’s still fun to come, but part of me can’t help getting nostalgic, and (despite the constant fatigue and lack of exercise and normal life!) wishing I could start the entire challenge all over again. Because I’ve had some really fun dates, and met some really lovely, interesting guys.

I know, if I weren’t doing this challenge, I would never have thought to chat to The Queen’s Guard on a dating site, mainly because of his age, and because I could see he was in the Army (something I will discuss more next week when I have my second date with an officer from the Army). And whilst the only reason I decided to chat to him in the first place was because of his photos in the bearskin, and my new Top Trumps approach to dating, I’m really glad I did stop and chat to him, and then arrange to meet up. Because I’ve had a really interesting evening, and a really lovely dinner, at a venue which two months ago I would never have even considered visiting.

So a little toast, while I’m feeling nostalgic ….

To this challenge! For opening my life up to new experiences, and new friends …

And here’s to the eight more dates I have to go! I can’t wait!

I wore – a far too summery short turquoise dress (which I shrank in the wash yesterday, and only realised when I got in the car on my way to work!!), ballet pumps, black cardigan

He wore – jeans, a blue and white checked shirt, jumper and gillet

We met – across the road from the Ante Clothing store in Brick Lane, which fronts Back in Five Minutes

We drank – amazing Grey Goose Fiz, elderflower and soda water, rose and lemonade, white wine

We chatted about – farms, farmyard animals as pets, Brunei, Borneo, Whistler, travelling, university, his job, the challenge, Tinder, good date venues, dating ideas

The date lasted – 3 hours

The date ended – in a nearby bar, because he realised he was about to miss his last train home!

Marks out of ten? Really fun, unique date – 8.5/10

My next date – Tomorrow! In a Kitchen 🙂

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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