by John Davis
Writer, Comedian and Star of Come Date With Me
Wednesday, 25th April 2012
Lazy Sunday afternoons. A beautifully cooked roast. Good wine and beer and great company. One of the great traditions of this fine island and clearly becoming trendier as gastro pubs and gastronomists alike challenge each other to provide the most laid back Sabbath formality around.
Have you ever been (as a singleton) to a Come Dine With Me addicted friend's place to be confronted with a table full of smug couples. You of course are there alone. Plainly and painfully single. You maxed out your mobile minutes trying to convince your only single friend that 2 pound shooter nights at the local late bar was a brilliant idea for the two of you to ‘get out amongst, like, people ‘n’ stuff’ only to be told she’s actually just started seeing someone.
Hidden away on the internet there may be a solution. I was recently on Gumtree trying to find a room to rent somewhere within the M25 for less than money than a small private jet. Hidden away among the fake photos of Kensington Mansion style bedsits for a tenner a week and the latest misspelled missive from Sammy the Slumlord from hell was a curious advert.
“Sunday Lunch at our place. Seeking 10 single folk at our dinner table as we serve up the best Sunday roast this side of Roastville.” I looked up Roastville on Google maps. Apparently it’s in Alabama. Very apt. Now I know there has been a recent trend in paid home dining where homeowners show off their culinary expertise to a group of paying strangers. Apparently it’s been successful despite the obvious dangers. But I’ve never seen one advertised for singles. Could this be the answer to my frozen pizza and Match of the Day?
I called up, and was questioned for about ten minutes on my personal circumstances, food allergies and if I were a shoe, what shoe would I be and why. “We like to make sure people are compatible and the conversation will flow naturally” explained Mark, one half of the Mark and Simon duo putting on this show. Whether a brogue matches a stiletto, or a basketball boot matches a flip-flop I have no idea but apparently I passed screening and was given a date, next Sunday, and an address. “BYO” said Mark, “just don’t be late.”
With the twenty quid ‘donation’ (tax reasons apparently) in my pocket and 2 bottles of Sainsbury half price in hand I found myself standing in front of a fairly plush house in Fulham nervously trying to find the door bell. The door was opened by a beaming Simon, or at least that’s what his name tag said, and I was ushered through the door, my coat mysteriously disappearing form my shoulders, wine whipped from my hands. “Just drop your donation in the little box there luv” whispered Simon conspirationally. “It avoids awkwardness later.”
What sort of awkwardness I thought? The possibility that their food was so inedible people would refuse to pay for it? Too late now as Simon opened double doors into what was in fact a modestly sized, tastefully decorated dining room. The only thing amiss was the nine strangers sitting awkwardly at the table, one of whom caught my eye with what I can only describe as a half awkward, half apologetic smile as if to say “Sorry. If we hadn’t all signed up for this we wouldn’t have to be here.”
In walked Mark with a tray of amuse bouche as I was ushered to a seat next to ‘Camille’. I hadn’t met a Camille since the time a few mates and I got kicked out of a private school formal dance we had gate crashed as state school teens for singing Sham 69’s ‘Hersham Boys’ over the house band. I had visions of talk of ‘Daddy’s horses’ and snow chalet shenanigans with someone called Tarquin. I say I had these visions but they were rapidly eviscerated by the sight of Mark himself. Simon was camp, self assured, polite and efficient. Mark was… Let’s just say I thought I was at a party being hosted by Elton and David while the former was on some American strength uppers.
But this isn’t supposed to be some rendition of the afternoon’s characters. It’s supposed to be a review of sorts. So how did it go?
The food was actually quite extraordinary. Real home cooked stuff served posh-like with enough for seconds where required. Hearty, full of flavour, beautifully presented and damn fine. Simon and Mark did a superb job of serving up their fare while acting as ice-breakers and perfect hosts. I’m still not sure why the two of them wore name tags but the professionalism with which they controlled the conversation So Camille I hear you’re training to be a pilot style diversions from sensitive topics - was something to behold.
And the rest of the company? A Doctor, two lawyers, an event organizer, a couple of ‘I work in banking’ types, a PhD student and two IT folk made up our merry band. The conversation moved from stilted to free flowing as more wine was consumed. I was expecting something akin to my Come Date With Me experience minus cameras but flirtation was rife and very little one-upmanship occurred. It was polite, good-natured fun over good food. In short, the company was excellent, and the afternoon was a lot of fun. Did anyone hook up? Well I know PhD and lawyer number two left together and I had a couple of very pleasant conversations. I also saw numbers being swapped so I can only describe the event as a success.
I’m not sure I’d do it again soon. My head the next day was testament to the level of hospitality but I’d certainly recommend it to others.
Strangely Simon and Mark didn’t want it advertised here and this is perhaps why their ad was buried deep in the bowels of Gumtree. “We don’t do it for the money honey. And besides there are some strange people out there.” A compliment perhaps and judging by who I met, I’d have to agree with their approach.
Like a modern day Moses, John Davis (formerly Jay Sivad) was rescued from under a bushel by the Dating Trail team. Cleansed of his past as a serious journalist, John emerged, the proverbial butterfly, as the country's leading dating writer. He's got practical skills too and can attest to being nation's most experienced dating host having run over 250 speed dating events for Original Dating. A stand up comedian, radio host, philosopher (it's true! He has the paperwork) and budding media personality (Channel Four's Come Date With Me), Jay turns a wry eye on the travails of modern dating and its participants.
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