First dates can be pretty stressful.
In fact one of the main reasons I first agreed to do 30 Dates was to remove the unnecessary nerves and build-up which you can so easily place on a first date.
The more dates you go on, the more you relax about the idea of meeting a complete stranger in a random situation. And the more relaxed you are, the more you actually behave like yourself.
And so nine months in, and probably seventy-odd first dates down, I don’t tend to panic or stress too much in the run up to a date. (With the exception of the televised Channel 4 First Dates one, which I may tell you about relatively soon … once I’ve worked out what the red tape of the contract I was made to sign actually allows me to say!)
And then I decided to do a first date at Secret Cinema!
The event was recommended to me some time ago, but it’s only really since beginning this Challenge that I’ve properly begun to explore ‘hidden’ London and all the pop-up fun the Capital has to offer. You might remember during 30 Dates that I tried out Disappearing Dining, and Dine Mile High. Since then I’ve also been to a couple of rather off the wall theatrical events with friends. And so I’m no stranger to the mystery of a secret event. To booking tickets for something I have no idea about, or to having to wait a few weeks before I even know where the event will take place.
What I hadn’t been prepared for was just how much preparation was expected of me, as a guest at Secret Cinema!
Despite being relatively organised, I’m also quite a last minute person. I’ll put something in my diary weeks in advance, but then not really work out too many logistics until the day before, or often that afternoon!
And so it was a bit of a surprise, when I opened up several emails from Secret Cinema barely half an hour before I needed to board a train to London, and realised how many expectations had been placed on guests. Far more than the normal requirement to print off tickets.
As a guest of the Grand Budapest Hotel, I was asked to print off an ID card, travel documents (including a photograph), and learn how to waltz. The dress code was strict 1930s glamour, and included my ‘favourite hat’, and I was asked to bring one of four items – a bunch of pink flowers, a homemade work of art, an alpine postcard or an old suitcase containing unwanted clothes.
Stressful enough requirements when I couldn’t catch a later train, the only hat I own is the thick beanie I bought en route to my first date with Mr SC and my printer had run out of almost every colour of ink! And then add in the fact I was meeting a ‘blind’ Tinder date, who I knew was currently on a cross-country train to London. Talk about a complicated first date.
I managed to print off most of the paperwork, in slightly odd colours, grab a fascinator, and pick up some pink gerberas at Paddington. The first date I’ve ever gone on where I’ve brought flowers!
I was still stressing slightly about the fact our identification papers didn’t contain photos (though the idea of printing off a photograph of my date from Tinder seemed like something of an overstep!). However, when I arrived ten minutes late to meet my date, there were more normal first date stresses on my mind. Was I too late? How do we get to the venue? Would I recognise him in the crowd?
I have to admit, he’s the first Tinder date I didn’t recognise immediately.
There was no such thing as being overdressed for the Secret Cinema event. Farringdon Tube station swarmed with people in 1930s attire. Furs, floor-length dresses, head dresses, set perms, tweed, bow ties, and hats were everywhere we looked. The Online Sleuth recognised me first and approached through the crowd. I couldn’t help but smile when I realised he was wearing a bowtie and waistcoat. At least we’d followed some of the demanding pre-event instructions! I was reminded of the optical illusion of Tinder, when I realised we were almost the same height. For some reason, from his photos I’d expected him to be extremely tall and lanky. Thank god for my flat shoes first date rule!
Looking around, I suddenly felt underdressed in my black lace dress and leather boots. We followed the authentic hand-drawn map I’d been sent over email a few days beforehand, and joined the queue of decadently dressed revellers. I slipped a pair of earrings out of my handbag, and donned the fascinator, before handing The Online Sleuth the paperwork I’d printed off for him.
As he tried to fill in his ID card, a Matrix-esque clad SAS officer dragged him from the line, interrogated him, and then ripped the paperwork to shreds! He suggested he ask for Monsiuer Gustave when we entered the hotel, and then left the Online Sleuth to rejoin the queue.
Handing over our tickets, we were each given a poker chip – our cinema ticket for later in the night – and led down a tight alleyway and through Clerkenwell to the Grand Budapest Hotel. Where the first thing they did as we ‘checked in’ was take our phones. Something that should arguably happen on ALL first dates!
The odd thing about The Grand Budapest Hotel, is that the film has only just come out. Normally (apparently), Secret Cinema
1) Don’t tell you what film you’ll be watching, and
2) Choose a classic which everyone knows.
As The Grand Budapest Hotel only came out last night, and we wouldn’t be watching it until the end of the evening, it meant a lot of the subtle nuances, and the clever twists of the first couple of hours of entertainment were lost on us. We stepped into a beautifully decorated hotel – an incredible staging feat in the centre of London. And it genuinely felt as if we’d been transported to Eastern Europe in the 1930s. There was so much going on, with different rooms to explore – from hotel rooms with video peepholes, to fully staged events, including the reading of a will. As we wandered around the hotel, sampling different champagne-based cocktails, and stepping unwittingly from one scene of the film, to the next, it was a bit like climbing through the looking glass. I didn’t know where to go, or what to look at. And to be honest it was all a bit confusing and unsettling.
The easiest thing seemed to almost be to sit still, and watch things unfold around us. It was only then that the actors seemed to guide us in the right direction.
After two hours exploring the hotel, my date and I eventually settled ourselves outside, having located some food carts selling traditional Bockwurst, Bratwurst and schnitzel. Armed with hot dogs, we took a seat, and The Online Sleuth made his revelation.
He knew about my blog.
It’s interesting, because it had been my first date in a very long time when I hadn’t mentioned the blog. Even when I filmed the date for First Dates, one of the first things I had done was to mention the blog to my date (luckily, as midway through my date, a girl from the green room and her date came over to ask if I could give them the weblink!).
However, after my dates last week with Bear Grylls and Wendy, and knowing that a lot of my recent situation with Mr SC is still rather prominent on the blog, I’d decided I liked the idea of a completely normal date. One where I didn’t end up relaying dating blog stories, and having to reassure my date he’d get a good name.
Rather awkwardly, Bear Grylls had actually read the write-up of our date last week before I’d had proper chance to let him know I didn’t see any spark between us! And then as Wendy waited to find out what I’d called him on the blog, it placed yet another contrived layer on dating, which fun as it can be, and a definite topic of conversation, I was eager to escape for a bit. I didn’t necessarily want to go on a date where the guy could later find out I was still trying to get over Mr SC. I wanted a clean slate.
It appears I picked the wrong Tinder date for a clean slate!
The Online Sleuth works in a niche area of investment banking and is apparently at least a tad paranoid! So when I’d mentioned I did some journalism work, he did a rather extensive Google search about me! And apparently if you know my full name, it’s quite easy to find this blog!
I have no problems with pre-date googling. Back in the day, when I first started internet dating, it was something I did as a safety net. Worried about catfish, I’d at least check Facebook and LinkedIn to make sure my dates really existed. In the Tinder era, it’s often easier to get a quick reference via any mutual friends the app kicks up.
I also have no problems with honesty on first dates. It’s one of the reasons I normally bring up the blog in the first hour of conversation. I would hate anyone to think I was writing about him behind his back.
However I did find it rather ironic that the one time I’d tried to step away from the blog, it had followed me. Or rather my date had gone out of his way to dig it up!
Cue a fifteen minute conversation about Chelsea Davy (who he just happens to know), and her experiences trying to stay in a relationship with Prince Harry while he was at Sandhurst. I couldn’t help but laugh. A friend had sent me links to the newspaper articles about Chelsea and Harry when I first started seeing Mr SC!
It seemed Mr SC will continue to haunt my dates for the forseable future … but at least in a more positive way, when I think of the conversation I had with Bear Grylls about Sandhurst, and the same realities The Online Sleuth had experienced secondhand via his famous friend!
Two hours in, we were led to a make-shift cinema to view the movie. And what a movie it was. I’ve never really appreciated Wes Anderson movies before, and yet I thought the Grand Budapest Hotel was incredible. Really funny, and the kind of story you didn’t even want to leave for a few minutes.
It was a real shame we didn’t watch the film earlier in the night, as I know I would have appreciated a lot more of the sketches, characters and touches from the earlier part of the night. I think I would also have understood more about where I should go and what I should be looking out for in the various sections of the hotel.
I have to admit to being surprised by the price of the tickets. At over £50 per person, I’d at least expected basic food and a welcome drink to be included in the price, however guests were expected to pay for everything, including popcorn and macaroons during the show. Whilst it certainly was a unique experience, it did seem overpriced, though as my date was quick to point out, the performances going on around us in the hotel included a huge number of actors, all of whom would need to be paid.
It was definitely a different night, and I wouldn’t rule out going to Secret Cinema again, though ironically all the things which had caused me the most stress in the run up to the date were basically irrelevant! The pink flowers may have helped me identify fellow guests on the Tube, but actually I could have gotten away without bringing them, or the paper IDs, or the hat. It really was simply a question of how into the spirit of things you wanted to get.
In so far as a blind date location, I would say it probably was a bit ambitious. My date was very much up for the experience, and had been before, which definitely helped, but otherwise I think it would be a bit much for a first date encounter! In fact I would probably recommend going as a large group to an event like this, as I think it would enhance your experience, help you get a bit more into character, and allow you to make more of an event of it.
As for The Online Sleuth? Well he’s definitely made me think twice about giving my dates my full name in future …!!! 😉
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx