Pretty much all my childhood, my mother worked weekends, and on weekends I wasn’t seeing my father or his family, I’d spend my Saturday nights at my nana’s. She lived in a three-bedroom council house that had a small kitchen, a large lounge at the front, and what I guess people trying to sell their semi-detached in Kirkcudbright might call a “breakfast room”. My nana was Irish, growing up in a very small house on a farm, in the middle of nowhere, and thus liked to pretty much live in that back room. It had the TV in it, two armchairs which changed over the years depending on who was getting rid of what in our family/social circle, a formica-topped table from the ’60s, an old-school gas cooker with the grill at eye-level, and a sink with a draining board that was on “legs” so things could be stowed openly underneath. The TV was black and white and praying for death, and on that TV, every Saturday, my nana and I would watch Blind Date, nibbling slices of Mars bar that were very carefully rationed during the evening. I was usually to be found on my belly on the rug in front of the open fire, writing – I used old TV Times and Yellow Pages as notebooks – and Nana would be in one of the chairs. She loved Blind Date, I don’t really know why. It was just one of her “things”, like being fond of Gloria Hunniford – “she’s from the north”, and peeling an apple before eating it, using a knife with no handle.
One of Nana’s hugest Blind Date disappointments, however, was when the show featured older people, on one of their occasional pensioner specials. Nana would’ve been in her fifties then, so knocking on a bit herself – he says, at 42; please kill me – but she wasn’t ageist, it was that the whole tone of the show changed. Cilla became more patronising than usual, and the raucous, saucy laughter of the audience, was replaced by sympathetic “awwwwww”ing, like the contestants were baby birds that had just fallen out of their nest. The aged contestants themselves would play up to this, with twinkling eyes, and cutesy voices, mugging to the camera and tossing out end of the pier jokes like a washed up comedian in the first week of winter season. Nana would endure a couple of minutes, then get up, grabbing a piece of Mars bar and saying she was “off to put some things in to steep” in the small kitchen next door.
Nana would not be happy today, then, as we welcome 62-year-old headteacher Helen and Robert, 70, a landscape designer.
Being comfortable in your own skin is such an underrated quality and one that can he hard to get your head around. When you’re not, you know you’re not, and it can make you act strangely. You’re less nice to yourself, and sometimes to others.
As a deputy headteacher, Helen will know that when it comes to results, you have to manage expectations. But obviously an A* would be nice.
Whenever someone says “conversation flowed” I imagine a tower of champagne coupes with spendy fizz frothing and tumbling from the top to the very bottom. And usually, tbh, being underneath that tower with my mouth open is usually what it takes for my conversation to flow.
“Personable” is dying out. I rarely say it, but when I do it’s to avoid giving away a compliment that someone could repeat that I’d said. Nobody is going to tell anyone you called them “personable” – it’s almost a diss. “Warm” – Robert is made of mittens.
Quite a bit of “past” here – I especially love “past loves”. Helen makes this sound quite romantic and wistful, doesn’t she? The ones that got away, ships that passed in the night, and all that. What I’m really hoping, however, that rather than lament her lost lovers, Helen was actually three glasses deep into a bottle of red, wiping the tannin from her mouth and screeching, “And as for that BASTARD… I’d kill that sonofabitch if he walked in here right now”.
Nothing says “man going through a divorce” than egg stains on a tie. And he did not cook that egg himself; it was from a cafe, where the staff either took pity on him and gave him an extra egg, or were all young, bored frustrated actors who only smile if you give them a tip.
Imagine we’re in a smoky piano bar in 1977, and Helen is slinking toward the microphone like a Roxy Music album cover come to life. She’s seen some things, lit the match and tossed it behind her, walked away from lovers with only her sparkly clutch, a Mary Quant lipstick, and the high heels she was standing up in to her name. And now she’s going to sing about it all, for two hours, most of it barely audible apart from the last line of every song, which all end, “Baaaaaabyyyyyyy, BUH-byyyyyyyyyyyyyyyye.”
OK, this is a first impression to me, tbh, but I’m not about to quibble. I think when you are older, you can work people out easier. It stands to reason, I guess: you’ve met more of them. Most people fit into a very small number of categories when you think about it; uniqueness is a myth. It’s both one of the most exhilarating and frustrating things about being older – you almost always know what’s coming because life is just a series of recasts and reruns. The faces may age, people may drift out of your life, the slang might be different and the pop music harder to fathom, but it’s all just stuck on repeat. For ever.
I might start banning this as an answer – well, like, not covering it anymore – because I’m starting to smell copout here. Obviously there are people out there who are very hard to talk to, who make every conversation a physical challenge in the Crystal Maze, but on a first date, nobody is going to purposefully make themselves harder to talk to. How would they do it, anyway? Wear headphones? Answer every question you ask with a Tori Amos lyric?
Anyway, what “easy to talk to” actually means is: no, no thank you, no, not at all, nope, not interested, this isn’t for me, I’m out, I can’t, I just can’t, it’s just… not working, he… isn’t the one, I’m not having fun, there’s not enough vodka in this, or indeed in anything, that would make me into it.
Just a hunch.
All Robert’s friends are made of Lego.
SOME OF THEM. Which ones, Helen? The cool ones or the lame ones? Who would you hide him from? Also: “this is not a prerequisite for me” = “I am only interested in a physical relationship with someone who won’t get antsy when I kick them out so I can do yoga while watching my Dynasty DVDs, and that someone is probably not sitting opposite me right now”.
Kind, like a nurse on Casualty who’ll probably end up maimed underneath a helicopter or held hostage by a crazed patient by the end of the series. Caring, like a nurse who… oh, hang on. Um. Caring, like a cat who paws you in the morning to check if you’re awake – they’re actually checking to see whether you’ve died in the night because, if so, they’re about to decamp to one of the 20 neighbours who feeds them. Easygoing, oh, like nobody ever really is. A non-word.
Interesting, like the debt accrued on an overdraft. Easygoing, oh here it is again. DING DING DING we have a match. People who say they’re easygoing can usually be dragged out from behind that facade after an hour in my torturously dull company, let me tell you. Positive, like a pregnancy test that soap characters always seem to somehow find at the top of a bin, usually in a very public place.
The same as what? As what you said earlier? What did you say earlier? You can’t assume the reader will remember, Helen. *gets out red pen and writes in intelligible scrawl* ELUCIDATE! SEE ME!
Does it really never end? Even when you’re 70? Do us boys always claim we “hit that”, even in our dotage?
What I’m guessing happened here is they kissed on the cheek as they hugged, maybe, and because Helen is, like, very cosmopolitan and sophisticated, she does that kiss all the time – perchance one of those “past loves” was a hot, skinny Parisian with an open-top car and a tongue like Medusa’s ten favourite snakes – and so thought nothing of it. Robert, however, is an old romantic who seized upon that fleeting peck and calls a kiss exactly what it is: a kiss.
*Cilla gurns at audience*
Some people are just more willing to give it a shot, aren’t they? “Hey, we met, had dinner, didn’t kill each other, l call that a success?” Others, like Helen, are more cautious. Being older doesn’t equate to being desperate, and desperate she most certainly is not, despite hoping she’d “fallen in love”, because she brings us a 7 – merely a 1 brandishing chloroform to help you forget.
Robert’s 11 is left standing, out of place, knowing it’s at the wrong party, but styling it out by making sure their glass is always half-full, standing near the buffet and miming a “Cheers!” across the room to an imaginary friend.
However, all is not entirely lost.
Make it a good one.
Disclaimer: The comments I make about the couples are meant to be light, playful and merely a LOL to help us escape the joyless futility of 2018. My responses are based only on the answers given by the participants, which the Guardian chooses to publish and usually edits to make them less boring or fit onto the page. You both seem amazing. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story; I’m OK, really.Dedicated to Bella Emberg, who my nana loved and was a big favourite in our family.