This Valentine’s Day I went on a FlashDate. What’s a FlashDate?

What: Beat the VDay blues with a Flashmob for single people.When: 2.22pm, Saturday 14th February, 2009 

Where: In front of the National Gallery, London

How: Wear red or pink (if you can), bring a Valentine card for a stranger. Chocolates and flowers also welcome.

Why: Why not?

Sounds fun, right? I’d bumped into the organiser earlier in the week and she’d invited me along, and I figured it’d make for a fun few minutes at least. Happily it lasted much longer than that.

FlashDate #1

I arrived in central London a little later than intended and rushed to find appropriate gifts. Marks and Spencers obviously weren’t selling Valentine’s cards on Valentine’s day – that’d be silly – but a smaller nearby shop had many, so I joined various slightly-guilty-looking people and found something appropriately cute but not-too-slushy.

I got back to Trafalgar Square at about ten past two and hung around for a bit, trying to spot any likely flashdatees. Over by the column a preacher of some denomination (I didn’t pay much attention) was eulogising on the grace of his particular sky-fairy, and probably wouldn’t have approved of flashdating (yay!). In front of the National Gallery was a street magician (overheard: “he was hot until he started doing magic”) who’d attracted a large crowd, making it difficult to differentiate potential flashdaters. But before too long a group distinguished themselves by glancing at watches while nervously clutching roses, and at 2:21 I headed in their direction.

A few seconds after 2:22 someone kindly shouted from the National Gallery steps that the flashdate should BEGIN, and everyone scurried to deliver their payloads. I did so, and received a lovely handmade card in return. A couple of minutes later I was given another – “you look like you could do with a card” – and I felt terribly guilty that I had nothing to give back, especially when it was followed by a packet of rolos. This must have been a slight problem generally, as there were definitely more women than men – hopefully there weren’t too many people left cardless.

The group was actually pretty large. I wasn’t bothered whether there were 10 or 100 of us, but the event had been plugged on London radio, in the Metro, possibly on The One Show, and by the awesome Ben Goldacre, so I figured it would be well attended. I’d say there were ~50 people, which isn’t bad going. There were lots of smiles and happy chatting, which was lovely, and everyone seemed to have heard about it a different way – some had been dragged along, some had found it on twitter, some had just caught it on the radio…it was fascinating to see how these things spread. I wasn’t sure whether people would mind being photographed at a ‘dating’ event, but there were a couple of cameras evident, so I joined in and grabbed a few shots from the National Gallery steps.

A few minutes later, led by the inimitable @RadioKate, we headed into the Gallery itself. They’d promised a free tour for flashdaters, and while I wasn’t there for the conversation at the desk, I hear it went something like this:

Us: Hello, we’re here for the flashdate tour.
Them: The what?
Us: The flashdate tour. It’s on your website, and was arranged by [such and such]…
Them: [phones someone]
–two minutes later–
Us: Did you find out?
Them: I called security to move you along. And if anyone does want to go in, they mustn’t have balloons.

Which was pretty miserable of them. So we headed to a pub instead.

I took a fair few photos, and generally tried to mingle. I quickly realised a fair few people were Joinees, which was fantastic. I haven’t been active in Join Me for a few years (as much as I ever was) but I matched a couple of people to names I remembered from the forums, and it was great to hear about Karmageddon etc. from those who’d actually been there. I let slip the Friday RAoKs at some point, but I think I’ll pick it up again…

It was also entertaining to watch the general flirting unfold. I saw various phone numbers exchanged – some people getting multiple – so the event was clearly romantically productive (phrases like this are possibly why said phone numbers were nowhere near me – my second card did say ‘call me’, but that was all it said).

At the end of the evening there were nine of us left, so we headed out for a meal. We chose to view ourselves as the stalwarts who’d lasted: it wasn’t that everyone else had paired off and left on proper dates. It was a touch tricky finding restaurants with space on Valentine’s evening, but we eventually squeezed into a Chinatown restaurant. Great conversation and pretty good food followed.

If T-Rex had been there, he’d have reviewed it thus: FUN TIMES. No dates, but a fine way to spend Valentine’s Day: the whole thing was lovely, and I’m very glad I went.