Photograph: Sarah Lee; Alicia Canter/The Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Alex and Charlotte

You know when you wake up and it’s one of those blank days? One you know you won’t remember? A day without weather. Your shower not too hot, not too cold, but somehow not quite right either – you’re denied the usual Goldilocksing with the temperature dial that at least fills five minutes if your morning. Your cup of tea tastes ‘fine’, but not delicious. Your commute unremarkable but not amazing either. Your lunch is just the usual – you can’t even remember what you had by 3pm but answer robotically ‘soup and salad from Pret’ when your partner asks later because that’s probably what you ate. Everything just kind of happens, under a sky without colour. A Tuesday, maybe, in the teens of the month. Created only to be forgotten.

Yeah, well, today’s date is that Tuesday.

Oh, we cannot blame Alex, a 29-year-old accountant and Charlotte, 27, a teacher. They can’t help not being compatible, and having all the chemistry of a set of spam emails offering you free cryptocurrency. But while we’re here we might as well wring what we can out of our last nerve. Here they are  in full:

 

Photograph: Sarah Lee; Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Read the date in full on the Guardian website (please make sure you do this to ensure the continued survival of both the column and this ‘companion’) and then let’s meet back here to stare into space as a wall painted with apple-blossom white dries in front of us.

Alex on CharlotteCharlotte on Alex

What were you hoping for?
Someone to go dancing in the moonlight with.

A Toploader reference in the GBD in the year of our Lord (by which mean Her Holiness Beyoncé Knowles) 2020. Who’d have thought it? Truly we are witnessing two Ford Mondeos blink headlights at one another as they pass on a busy B-road. It’s raining.

What were you hoping for?
A Clark Kent type. Someone who doesn’t make me feel freakish for being 5ft 11in.

“I am looking for a nervy, socially awkward man in joke shop specs and an ill-fitting suit who dunks his head in Brylcreem every morning and wears tight spandex under his clothes.”

One of my closest friends is a tall woman and it is truly wild how people react to her sometimes. Women can be tall, get over it.

First impressions?
Wow, you’re here before me despite me being 15 minutes early.

As regular readers will know, I am a stickler for punctuality – three minutes ‘early’ is my optimum arrival time – but there is something unnerving about arriving so early that you are even earlier than the other person who is, themselves, insanely early. But at least nobody was waiting around, so they could get right on with the date without delay.

First impressions?
He’s not opened with a joke like “What’s the weather like up there?” so we’re off to a pretty good start.

Non-tall people say this to tall people. I have witnessed it. Even more frequently, it’s the more inelegant and nowhere near as creative, “Ooh aren’t you tall?” like a toddler pointing in wonder at a plane in the sky and saying “look, birdy!”.

What did you talk about?
The dares she was doing instead of a new year’s resolution, her film review blog, trips to New Orleans.
How he’s just started tap dancing, my work outside of teaching, his promotion of Norwich as a tourist destination, films v books.

Resolutions/dares/tap dancing – these must be related so I’m classing it as a ✅. The only dance I am interested in learning is the Charleston. Do other dances even exist? No idea. I do not pick up the phone to rhumbas or American smooths. (I do like the quickstep actually, but I’d only chat to it on main, never my alt.)

Films v books/film review blog – must be a ✅. I had a film review blog briefly in the early 10s, alongside this one, when I was trying to decide which one I liked best. I don’t go to the cinema a lot anymore – the popcorn’s not what it was and people don’t take kindly to my deep-sighing after each uninspiring trailer these days – but I do enjoy reading film reviews. I would be keen to read Charlotte’s film review blog but only if it were one of those really pompous ones that says the word ‘auteur’ a lot and spends three paragraphs kvetching about how the inadequate lighting on one inconsequential scene completely negates the film’s message. The film being Weekend At Bernie’s.

As for films ‘v’ books – does everything have to be a DEBATE, two things in permanent opposition whether they like it or not? Chairs v tables! Lamps v candles! My blog v your blog (I win)!

New Orleans/Norwich as a tourist destination – oh that is definitely a match ✅

Any awkward moments?
Talking about the fact that we had to write a review of our date.

Bad move. The best thing to do when you’re in a strange, manufactured situation is refer to it as little as possible. You *think* it’s a useful icebreaker but really you’re distracting from actually getting to know each other, from moving things forward. It’s like in soap operas when a character starts filling in another character on what’s been happening and as they recount the show’s recent plots in as natural manner as their three years at RADA can muster, you realise how absolutely ridiculous it all sounds when spoken out loud – “someone got shot, we spent six months arguing over who got a half-share in a perplexingly popular bistro, someone’s identity got stolen, oh, yeah, another shooting, so-and-so has amnesia and we’re all glossing over that I once went to prison for murder” – that you start to question what you are doing with your life. It’s like having the coverlines of a Take A Break Christmas special read to you over and over.

Any awkward moments?
Trying to work out if it was OK to leave when we’d finished the meal. We ended up awkwardly asking the waiters before shuffling out.

Sounds like a riot. I have, before, leaned over to a date and said, “I’m not feeling this; shall we just call it a night” and sprinted off to freedom, so I get this. Important to be honest rather than leave someone dangling.

Good table manners?
Nothing to complain about.
Impeccable.

It’s at this point you would kind of wish for a chopsticks malfunction or one of them vomiting into their soup, wouldn’t you? Like digging a fingernail into the back of your hand during a conference call just to FEEL something.

Best thing about Charlotte?
She was willing to call time straight after dessert, rather than continuing when we didn’t have a connection. She also seemed to genuinely care about the children she works with.

A ‘connection’. Maybe you should have called a telephone engineer.

The best thing about her was “she wanted to leave as soon as possible”? We have to stan this unbridled efficiency. Alex and Charlotte have never licked a butterknife clean after spreading Lurpak on their toast, have they?

Best thing about Alex?
He’s very nice and can hold a conversation well.

“Very nice” – good news everyone, your dear old granny isn’t dead! She’s possessed Charlotte for the evening. Can anyone else smell boiled sweets and feel a sudden urge to push a cotton handkerchief up the sleeve of a a cardigan you’re not actually wearing?

Would you introduce her to your friends?
I’m not sure she’d enjoy the experience. They’re very intrusive.

Then why the hell are you friends with them?

Would you introduce him to your friends?
I guess so, though they’d have to forgive him for hating coffee and not really liking Star Wars.

Ooh here’s a head-to-head I would like to see: coffee evangelists v Star Wars throbbers.

Coffee. I mean, it’s fine. But to some people it is… everything. And I don’t just mean those people who claim they “can’t start the day without my caffeine injection” or the ones who wear “Busy mom running on love, caffeine, and Prosecco” T shirts and post long threads on [BLANK] about how childless people should be conscripted into being nursery nurses. But those who try to force their coffee worship onto others, whose noses crease in displeasure at the mention of Starbucks or Costa, who will queue for hours in the cold for a thimble full of something that tastes like the bottom of an ashtray after a hen night, who will tell you that “decaf is a waste of time” and will bang on and on and on about coffee until it turns from something you never really cared that much about into your greatest nemesis – you want to see coffee banned at all costs, cringe at the mention of “Colombian roast”, and purposefully mispronounce “espresso” just because you know it will make three streets’ worth of people in West Hampstead spontaneously combust. You become, somehow, so extreme in your views that every other beverage you drink feels like a political act.

Or perhaps, like me, rather than allow yourself to be radicalised and turned into a keyboard warrior intent on the dismantling of the coffee industry, you just turn to Ben, or Matt, or Ollie, or whoever, and say: “Oh shut the fuck up; I’ll drink what I like” and lose their phone number for ever.

Describe Charlotte in three words
Prompt, assertive, mild-mannered.

Can you be assertive and mild-mannered?! Is, after all that, Charlotte herself Clark Kent?!

Describe Alex in three words
Easygoing, friendly, affable.

You could’ve just said “fine” and saved your other two adjectives for a game of Scrabble on your phone on the way home, Charl.

Did you go on somewhere?
No. Even additional drinks at the restaurant were turned down.
And… did you kiss?
No.
No.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Maybe if we’d gone down different conversational routes we would have gelled more. There was potentially a better date in there somewhere, but we just couldn’t bring it out.

How deep “in there somewhere” do you reckon the better date was? Are we talking middle of a laundry pile deep, or Earth’s core?

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
More compatibility: we’re different personalities and it didn’t really click romantically.

I would say “personalities” is a stretch here.

(JUST KIDDING.)

Marks out of 10?
5.
6.

Eleven.

I got out of bed so sit at my desk. My hands are freezing. I have to write 5,000 words later today. And you give me this, a joint eleven. A five and a six. Two digestive biscuits. A jotter with paper too rough for a fountain pen. A corrupted .jpg. A free sample of aftershave in your magazine – it’s not the one you like, it’s the other one. Waiting at a roundabout for the traffic to clear. Chewing gum, two months past its sell-by.

Thanks.

Would you meet again?
If we ran into each other on the street, I’d stop to say hi.

Well, I’d maybe shout it over your shoulder as you pass – let’s not waste any more of each other’s time.

Would you meet again?
Possibly as friends.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall. And then squashed.

Alex and Charlotte ate at Pasta Nostra, London EC1. Fancy a blind date? Email blind.date@theguardian.com. If you’re looking to meet someone likeminded, visit soulmates.theguardian.com.


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About the review and the daters: The comments I make are based on the answers given by the participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits answers to make the column work better on the page. Most of the things I say are merely riffing on the answers given and not judgements about the daters themselves, so please be kind to them in comments or replies. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll happily publish whatever you say. Thank you taking part at least; I couldn’t do it without you.

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for trying, Justin; a valiant effort. I particularly enjoyed the ‘smell of boiled sweets…’. Very evocative. I think we may have both had Northern grandmothers of a similar vintage, though mine was a sand dancer, the lovely local term for a native of South Shields, not a Yorkshire lass.

    On the date itself: Again with the hopelessly mismatched straight couple.

    Straight men: your column needs you! Spare the womenfolk (and we the readers) these awkward or soporific dates. Relieve the tedium of the long wait for spring: chance an arm on the Guardian’s dime. The 21st century newspaper is a fragile thing; who knows if there’ll be a Blind Date column come 2021, next week, tomorrow? There’s even a chance you’ll meet the love of your life and forever have the best ‘how we met’ story of all your (crazy, intrusive) friends. Pluck up your courage and sign up. The rainbow coalition have been doing all the heavy lifting and it’s time you pulled your weight.

  2. “There was potentially a better date in there somewhere, but we just couldn’t bring it out.” Maybe he should start a film review blog as well – this sounds like something I might say about a film with a good premise but poor execution.

    1. As a straight man myself I do wonder whether we (heterosexuals in general but men especially) are a bit rubbish at dating in general, not just Guardian Blind Date. Without wishing to give the impression of addressing a seminar, I do sometimes feel as if we’re in the process of discarding a lot of dead wood around dating and relations between men and women more broadly but haven’t yet begun the repair job, not helped by the fact that some people are so insistent that the whole rotting edifice is still perfectly serviceable.

  3. In a column full of great lines, this: ‘Truly we are witnessing two Ford Mondeos blink headlights at one another as they pass on a busy B-road. It’s raining.’

    Thank you. They may have been uninspiring. You aren’t.

  4. Why did they have to ask the waiters if they could leave? That was bizarre.
    I thought one of them was gong to turn out to be ‘the baddie’, perhaps hinted at by the description ‘assertive’, but no, you got the blandness right.

  5. This: “A Tuesday, maybe, in the teens of the month. Created only to be forgotten.

    Yeah, well, today’s date is that Tuesday.”

    The stuff of legends.

    Something being “that Tuesday’ has now become a thing in my family.

    Thank you as always for brightening up Saturdays but especially this date.

    There were tears of laughter when I recited your column and you have two more fans now here in Potsdam, Germany.

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