Alex has curly hair and glasses and is wearing a shirt and tie with a waistcoat, rust-coloured trousers and socks – no shoes – that look like they have the sane pattern as tube moquette. Shitong is in a leather jacket, blue top, and jeans, and is wearing the kind of boot you wear when you break your leg. She's got a cane too.
Tom Pilston and David Levene/The Guardian/The Guyliner
Impeccable Table Manners

Alec and Shitong

You could be forgiven for thinking we’ve accidentally stumbled upon the queue for autographs at a Doctor Who fan event, but NO, we are actually in the middle of a Guardian Blind Date featuring Alec, a 23-year-old PhD law student at Cambridge and Shitong, a 25-year-old PhD chemistry student at Oxford. Oh GOOD, I’m so glad to finally see Oxford and Cambridge getting some long overdue representation in the national press. But I am an equal opportunities filleter so am happy to critique whoever comes my way.

Alex has curly hair and glasses and is wearing a shirt and tie with a waistcoat, rust-coloured trousers and socks – no shoes – that look like they have the sane pattern as tube moquette. Shitong is in a leather jacket, blue top, and jeans, and is wearing the kind of boot you wear when you break your leg. She's got a cane too.
Photograph: Tom Pilston/David Levene/The Guardian

As we can see, this is something of a treat for the kind of person who leaves ‘feet pics?!??’ comments under young TikTokers’ videos – not only does Alec appear to have given up on shoes altogether, but Shitong has one of those ski boot things on because she’s obviously broken something. Unless it’s fashion, and I am finally free of the zeitgeist. Hard to see here whether Alec’s socks are in a Tube train moquette pattern, but I would say the chances are high. Read what they got up to on the date and then return here for the ‘highlights’ with annotations.

Alec | Shitong

First impressions?
Friendly, a little nervous. The situation felt surreal, like one of those films where two strangers are suddenly transported into a bizarre game.

Do they still make films like that? Jumanji, maybe? What kind of game do you think you’re in, Alec? Tetris? Super Mario? Scrabble? A quick game of rummy with an elderly relative. (I read this morning that during the height of the pandemic, Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall used to spend their evenings playing rummy – now *that* is two strangers suddenly transported into a bizarre game.

First impressions?
He seems like a very cool guy.

Of course what we really need to know is… was he wearing any shoes on the date and how awful must they have been for him to want to take them off for the photo? Jelly bean sandals? A pair of navy blue Clarks with Peppa Pig velcro straps? Aguilera-era Skechers?

What did you talk about?
Her research into cancer-killing metals. Why it’s hard to be a PhD student. Standup comedy. The bad luck of breaking a leg before a holiday.
One of his horrible landlords. Daydreaming. General life goals.

Why it’s hard to be a PhD student – Y’know, it’s the gritty, relatable realism that keeps me glued to the Blind Date after all these years.

One of his horrible landlords – Landlord chat, there’s so much of it at the moment. Do you think we’re nearing an uprising? Are we all going to set fire to our short-term tenancy agreements for our ‘dwellings’ and start drying our washing on our balconies in an act of rebellion? I’ve started to think a lot recently about my ‘failure’ to secure what people with generational wealth like to call ‘property’. I’m 47 now, I won’t get a mortgage anyway, even if I had the deposit, and in the unlikely event those particular stars did align, I’d have to move somewhere I don’t want to live – and, as a gay man, perhaps somewhere I don’t feel safe. The thing is, growing up in rented accommodation, I never expected to be able to buy a house one day, it always felt like something out of my reach. Indeed, there are many, many people who haven’t been able to afford to buy a house, and have lived in precarious arrangements, for decades, yet the crisis is only taking up so much column-space these days because now even middle-class people can’t afford to buy somewhere. I wrote about this back when I was 40, and slightly less f•cked than I am now.

The bad luck of breaking a leg before a holiday – I find the solution to this is to never take holidays, or break your leg, in the first place.

Most awkward moment?
All the waiters knew it was a blind date and kept winking or smiling knowingly. It felt like The Truman Show.

I know everyone deserves to have fun at work but it’s a real shame when waiters do this. That First Dates show – which I loathe, sorry – has a lot to answer for.

Most awkward moment?
When I realised that he was a vegan and there were very limited options on the menu.

A sloth sits and eats carrot sticks

Ah come on, restaurants. There’s no excuse now, is there, really? Every other person you meet is vegan or vegetarian or flexitarian or pescatarian or whatever – we need to think a bit smarter than a plate of risotto or a salad with all the fun bits taken out. (Unusual to have fun and salad in the same sentence, I know, apologies to anyone who sustained whiplash from reading that line again.)

Good table manners?
The best! Everything flowed.
Absolutely. Beetroot lovers generally have impressive table manners.

Two planks in Bridgerton nearly touching

Best thing about them?
Impossible to say. She’s an incredible person – maybe her curiosity and love of adventure.
His life seems to be full of surprising and fascinating encounters with strangers.

I mean, I’ll be honest, going by these two answers, I’m erring toward the conspiracy theory that these two have been manufactured in a focus group funded by Disney, Hallmark, and Lola’s Cupcakes. But also: these are nice things to say and they do seem like very sweet people.

Describe Shitong in three words.
Inspiring, funny, kind.

INSPIRING, like the woman the other week who was competing in a marathon but went by car some of the way. By CAR. Iconic behaviour.
FUNNY, like the idea of taking your shoes off to pose for a photo. I mean, I’m obsessed. Had he stood in dog shit, or something? Horrible shoes? Wet from the rain?
KIND, like someone who works in Boots and tells you, in a quiet corner, that no, they don’t sell anything over-the-counter for gonorrhoea.

Describe Alec in three words.
Funny, genuine, imaginative.

FUNNY (again), like turning up for a date with a broken leg, I guess. Quite a good start for a rom-com – authors’ fingers are POISED over the keyboard to start penning ‘LUCKY BREAK’ the story of two hapless romantics with broken legs in adjoining A&E cubicles who start to fight over the last ski boot in the underfunded casualty department before deciding maybe they could… share? Or something else equally improbable.
GENUINE, like the fiver I’d give you to shout ‘DIANA CURSES YOU’ out loud during the Coronation procession.
IMAGINATIVE, like I used to be before yet another bout of covid turned my brain to soup.

Did you go on somewhere?
We didn’t have enough time as I had to catch a train, but we had a nice walk in the rain to the station.

Andie MacDowell saying is it raining I hadn't noticed in Four Weddings

I have never, ever, ever had a ‘nice walk in the rain’ in my life. I hate rain. Loathe it with ever fibre of my being. I refuse to engage with it or entertain any idea that rain is romantic and that being piss-wet through is somehow sexy. I do not look good wet. Some people do, and I’m happy for them, actually I’m not. Not at all. ‘Rain is good for the garden’, some might say – bitch, I’m not a tulip.

And … did you kiss?
Nope, it was more of a platonic evening.
No.

As I have mentioned many times before, platonic connections are much harder to forge than romantic ones – lust, like turps, can be a cheap and obfuscating accelerant – so when the couples get on at all, I consider it a victory. Yes, I would love to go to another Blind Date wedding but the reason fairytales are so magical and fantastical is because they hardly ever happen. The rest of us just have to settle with choosing the least annoying of the three blokes who text ‘Hey’ and ‘you up???’ repeatedly throughout the night until you cave and answer.

If you could change one thing about the evening what would it be?
I wish I hadn’t been soaking wet from the rain when we hugged goodbye.

See? Rain may come from above but it is, frankly, Satan’s water.

Marks out of 10?
10.
8. I had some very eye-opening conversations with him.
timothee chalamet taking a drag of a cigarette in Call Me By Your Name
Memento Films International

Now this is a very interesting point for further comments. As we all know, 8 is the standard score for a good time with zero sexual chemistry, but this last-minute qualifier from Shitong? Is she saying ‘I had some very eye-opening conversations with him, which turned this 7 into an 8’? OR is she saying ‘I had some very eye-opening conversations with him, which sent my 9 back down to an 8′? We’ll never know.

Alec’s 10 is very sweet, or perhaps an in-joke that he’s dressed as the 10th doctor (while Shitong is, obviously, the 9th).

Would you meet again?
Certainly, if she wants to, though I forgot to exchange numbers.
Probably, as friends.

Ah, bless you both. Farewell my sweet, shoeless boffins. May you both eventually get the P, the h, and the D that you deserve.

katharine hepburn on a train, blowing a kiss

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Something to remember about the review and the daters that I put at the end of every review

The comments I make are based on answers given by participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits answers to make the column work better on the page. Most things I say are riffing on the answers given and not judgements about the daters themselves, so please be kind to them in comments, replies, and generally on social media. Daters are under no obligation to get along for our benefit, or explain why they do, or don’t, want to see each other again, so please try not to speculate or fill our feeds with hate. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story. So many questions: The broken leg – how? The lack of shoes – why? The socks – Tube moquette, right?

Alec and Shitong ate at Wilding, Oxford. Fancy a blind date? Email blind.date@theguardian.com

3 Comments

  1. “(…) the reason fairytales are so magical and fantastical is because they hardly ever happen. The rest of us just have to settle with choosing the least annoying of the three blokes who text ‘Hey’ and ‘you up???’ repeatedly throughout the night until you cave and answer” — very true, plus if you start with magical and fantastical, there’s a risk of a decline in sparks and passion, whereas if you start with normal, there’s space for the magic to slowly build. At least that’s how I see it. On another note, who does PhD at the age of 23?!

  2. If they’d get a bloody move on with the East-West rail link, love across the divide like this forbidden Oxford/Cambridge union might stand more of a chance.

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