My fingers were achingly sore and my head was spinning. I still had a sticky label stuck to me that read Lady Audley, and the phrase ‘goal-mate’ was echoing in my ears. There was a stick on moustache stuck to my handbag, and I had spent all night avoiding penalties and red cards. I had been speed dating.
‘A Game of 2 Halves' is a weekly speed dating night held in Shoreditch, and last Sunday Bar Kick hosted a drop-in Valentine’s Day special. Unlike average speed dating events, a game of 2 halves involves couples being paired up to play table football. If this is not enough of a twist, everyone must choose a fantasy pseudonym which will be used all night. My Lady Audley was chosen from my favourite Victorian novel, but nobody else had heard of it. There were stick-on moustaches freely available for those who felt they needed gentrifying. It was Edwardian-themed football dating.
Between matches, couples sit together for 3 minutes of conversation, before a bell sounds and the men move on. Much like original speed dating, you sit facing a member of the opposite sex, try to decide if they are a possible ‘goal-mate’, and then circle ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on your sheet. The only catch is 3 crucial, unbreakable rules. During football-speed dating you cannot:
1) Ask what the other person does for a living.
2) Ask them how old they are.
3) Ask them how much they earn.
Small talk was officially banned, and I was out of my comfort zone. Subtly, I tried to get around these rules to get back to safer conversational grounds. I asked my partners where they were from and what hobbies they had. The expressions on their faces made me feel like I was cheating.
Lady Evelyn Ware, the Love Doctor who ran the night, confirmed I was cheating, and stuck a yellow sticker on my chest as a penalty. She advised I stick to the topics she was suggesting on her microphone before she would be forced to give me a red sticker. A charming man named Sir Cookie Crumble was subsequently forced to listen to my detailed account of how I eat my cream eggs. (Scoop out the middle and abandon the chocolate. He likes to eat them in one go.)
Other conversation starters ranged from 'which celebrity would you most like to be your butler for the day?' (David Cameron won by popular consensus) and 'what talent do you feel you have lost from your childhood?' (Cartwheels). Majority of the men were happy to play along. However, one Sir Cycle-a-Lot told me, 'I'm not into celebrity culture. I don't know any celebrities.' He didn't get a yes from me.
When it came to playing table football, the atmosphere eased up. Couples were laughing enthusiastically as they sipped their Belgium beers and leant against the red-and-white checked tables. The vintage vibe of the bar was off-set only by the occasional male grunts of competitiveness as they lost to female partners. For most of the daters, this was their first time at speed dating. The casual 'drop in' atmosphere combined with the idea of Edwardian parlour games had convinced them to give it a try. Although one girl, Jessica Rabbit, had been the week before and looked panicked. 'Oh my god. I was here last week and the same guy's here! He has definitely recognised me- this is so awkward.' The man in question, a middle-aged Chinese man named whose label read “John” winked across the room at her. She escaped to the bar.
While there were some older participants, most speed daters were all in their late twenties to their early thirties. Except for Freddie. He had chosen not to play along with the pseudonyms, and looked at me disdainfully when I asked why. He was on his gap year, and in between matches, pulled out a copy of Plato's The Republic to read as he waited. 'I want to apply for Oxford this year,' he explained.
I moved on to Captain Constantinos. As he repeatedly beat me at table football, he admitted football was not his passion. He was into Ultimate Frisbee, which he played weekly in Hyde Park. Ignoring the rules of ticking sheets and penalty stickers, he openly asked me if I wanted to join him. It was refreshing to be asked out without having to first disclose what celebrities I would ideally dine with.
At the end of the night I escaped to the girls' toilets. I heard how most of the girls had said yes to men they weren't interested in, purely because they felt sorry for them. “John” and Freddie were up there as the oddest of the bunch, and quite a few had requested a second date with Sir Cookie Crumble. They joked with tight lips as they realised they were now competing for him.
Lady Ware estimates it will be a week before I find out how many people said yes to me. Even though I don’t think my goal mate was amongst these moustached Sirs and Captains, I’m curious to see how many of them requested a date with Lady Audley. At the very least, I have honed my table football skills, and now I have an opportunity to practice my Ultimate Frisbee ones too. Maybe it will all kick off with Captain Constantinos.