THERE are certain words which, when thrown together, make me squirm.
Fancy and dress, for one. Office and party, another duo. But the pairing which really makes my skin crawl is speed and dating. I can almost smell the desperation seeping from my fingertips as I tap those words out on my keyboard.
So when airline Jet2.com offered me a place on their first ever Love Plane - whisking 100 singletons from Yorkshire off to Paris for a day of match-making fun - I didn’t exactly jump at the chance.
But since dying alone looks increasingly likely, and since I have been asked out once in the six months I have lived in Sheffield, and since almost every phone call back home to Barrow is met with ‘haven’t you got yourself a fella yet, our Molly?’ - I decided to put my pride and prejudice aside and hop on board a flight to France.
My quest for love begins on a cold November morning at Leeds Bradford Airport. Outside is pitch black. There is not even a hint of the morning sun and yet my eyes are fixed, razor-sharp on every man within a half-mile radius.
V-neck t-shirt? No thanks. Bright red chinos? Jog on. Ironic bobble hat? ‘Taxi for bobble boy!’
Despite my initial concerns, I chat to some lovely people. Some applied for their seat through Jet2, some through radio station Capital FM and others have been roped into joining friends.
Kerry Jennings, 25, from Gleadless, Sheffield was nominated by colleagues at Catcliffe-based Dormer Tools.
“They call us the Dormer Dollies,” she says. “I am the youngest there so they thought they’d put me forward for it.”
And just in case we need any dating tips, Mario and Lucy from ITV2’s The Only Way is Essex have been drafted in to accompany us on the trip. A quick power nap later and we arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport. There is chance for a couple of snaps beneath the Eiffel Tower - half lost in an autumn mist - before boarding our boat for a cruise along the River Seine.
Already the majority of Yorkshiremen and women are showing a typical ‘Brits abroad’ approach to the free drink on the table. There is a fine Bordeaux to accompany the red meat main, then a crisp Chardonnay to go with dessert. But as I look around me, glasses are being filled to the brim with the nearest bottle to hand regardless of its colour. Don’t these folk watch Come Dine With Me?
After a beautiful two-course meal it’s on with the dating. We’re told we have to score our dates out of 10 for attractiveness, sexiness and personality.
First up is Daniel Cooper, 27, from York. On the surface, he isn’t my type, but he is polite and sweet.
I ask his profession - a bricklayer. Nice, at least he’ll have a sturdy set of shoulders. We chat about York, places to go out. It’s all going surprisingly well.
“What football team do you support?” I ask.
“Leeds United,” replies Daniel.
Next up is Carl Watson, a 28-year-old personal trainer from Selby. He’s clearly a lovely lad, but is slightly tipsy and begins to tell me about the girl who broke his heart.
Now I am no dating expert, but I’m pretty sure talking about the ex within the first 30 seconds of a five-minute date is considered a bit of a faux-pas.
I want to shake him, to tell him to man up, to say ‘save the sob story for your X Factor audition’ - but instead I nod sympathetically while wondering how Barrow AFC are getting on.
Date number three is Daniel James, 22, from York. He seems nervous, but the journalist in me helps prevent any awkward silences with my dates. This is an interrogation, a barrage of whos, whats, whens, wheres and whys Paxman would be proud of. When I finally stop to look across the table I see I have reduced him to a quivering wreck. He’s contemplating jumping overboard rather than spending the remaining two minutes opposite this demon in a dress.
So far, not so good. Around me would-be couples laugh and chat and ply each other with booze. I resolve to try and be more laid-back with my next date.
He walks over and pulls my handshake into a kiss on his wine-stained lips. Not the best start. I point out the splendour of the Eiffel Tower as we sail past, he mentions something about Blackpool. Seriously, mate? The penultimate date is a far more pleasant experience. His name is Tom and he is a 28-year-old firefighter from Leeds. There is no spark but I enjoy our chat.
Last up is Adam Bradshaw, 26, a lawyer from Sheffield. I clocked his coat in the airport. Well-dressed, tall, dark hair. Could be on to a winner here.
But Adam and I don’t seem to have much in common, other than the fact we live in Sheffield and are obsessive about cleanliness. Reader, I didn’t marry him.
By the end of the session, red wine has turned a lot of teeth a deep shade of scarlet. It has gone from looking like an episode of Take Me Out to a scene from Dawn of the Dead in one swift boat ride. As Jet2 collect in the cards I take a sneak peek at what one of my dates scored me and immediately wish I hadn’t.
Despite being in the most romantic city in the world, the jaunt did not result in a love-match, though I’d have happily eloped with the dashing Parisian working in the duty-free shop. Or the chap with the chiselled cheekbones in Passport Control.
But at least I learned a few things about myself along the way. Firstly, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, that I score a solid 4/10 in the attractiveness stakes (thanks Carl) and I would quite like to marry a Frenchman. So perhaps just a one-way ticket will do next time...