We are all devastatingly unreliable narrators. We only ever care for our own version of events. It can be surprising, sometimes, to hear an alternative take on something you were almost certain happened a different way. And even when you do, you probably don’t accept it. You were there. You know.
“Oh really?” you might say. “Don’t remember that bit.” And then you sail away to talk to someone else who isn’t going to contradict you.
There aren’t many narrators more unreliable than people taking part in the Guardian’s Blind Date column. The “What did you talk about?” answers hardly ever match up and there’s so much obliviousness, especially among the ruder daters, that you wonder how these people manage to get through the day without a hit being taken out on them.
Alexandra kicks us off:
I’ve often seen, down by the docks, lots of burly sailors flicking through the Guardian looking for Marina Hyde’s latest Lost in Showbiz column, haven’t you?
Oh, hang on, Alexandra isn’t after an actual sailor, she wants a “creative, burly sailor type” – so basically a web designer with a gym membership and a big beard with prison-style tattoos that cost a month’s rent for each one.
Why come all the way into the pages of a magazine for that rarest of specimens? Wouldn’t it have been easier for her to chuck a pebble in any bar in east London and take her pick from the three identical men nearest to where it landed?
Imagine never having expectations. Never. Not even one. Will the train come on time to get me to work? Not even thinking about it, bruv. Will my performance review with my boss go well? Totally zen. I’m guessing here Raffaele does have expectations but they are almost never met, and hey, he’s 42 and that watch just keeps on ticking so he may as well drop the pretence.
The outgoing message on Raffaele’s voicemail says only one word: “Yes!”
You can almost hear Alexandra grind the enamel off her back teeth when she’s answering that one, can’t you? That “confident” is not meant as a compliment.
I got this:
Raffaele: Are you OK? You seem quiet.
Alexandra (disheartened to the point where there’s a tear forming in her eye): Oh I’m just nervous.
Raffaele didn’t get that impression probably because he wasn’t that interested in whether she was nervous or not.
See? Two different dates. The only thing they have to connect them is Italy and food. And by food, I mean sausages.
Raffaele sells sausages for a living – that has to be worth looking into. “What we’d do in an apocalypse” – go on another Guardian Blind Date to try to blag a free meal, I assume.
I don’t know whether Alexandra is suggesting Raffaele likes things a little more disco or not here. I don’t find it odd, however, or gay.
Have you ever been on a date with an insecure person? They can’t believe that they’re on a date with you, however gross you may think you look, and so they start peering at others around you and wonder whether they’re up to scratch.
Raffaele is 14 years older than Alexandra and despite all his confident banker bluster might be feeling every minute of it. I’m guessing the waiter was *not* 42, or anywhere near it. Rafael was, I assume, just making sure Alexandra wouldn’t prefer the waiter over him. Seriously, I have sat opposite plenty of guys who were convinced that the guy behind the bar was looking at me/would be better for me/fancied me. It’s pretty tiring and used to be very sad for them. Especially when I got the barman’s number.
But we live and learn. Well, they do.
No awkward moments for Raffaele apparently so we’re zooming on to table manners.
Very clever of Alexandra to both praise Raffaele’s table manners and then get in a disclaimer that her own would make Dennis the Menace’s pet pig Rasher blush in KFC.
She clearly anticipates Raffaele getting a dig in but he’s too busy talking about Italy and sausages and trying to decide how long it will take the waiters arse to sag to notice:
See? “Yes.” Printers up and down the country sigh with relief that they won’t be running out of ink any time soon.
Second week in a row we’ve had an accent heralded as the best thing about someone. I would be so furious if this was the best anybody could say about me. The way I speak? That’s it?! Not my personality or my jokes or my taste in clothes or my manners or my hair or my face or even my SHOES – just my accent?
Seriously, nobody is going to think you want to marry them just because you say they’re good-looking. If you can’t think of anything to say, just say that. They’re going to read this. “The best thing about you is your accent.” Don’t mind me; I’m just off to buy 800 paracetamol, a vat of whisky and a minivan to take me to Beachy Head.
“I enjoyed talking at her. She laughed at my jokes.” From bitter experience, I can say that sometimes this is all some men will need.
She’s super-subtle – in fact, I’m sure the minor abrasions to my head from her sledgehammer tact will heal in mere weeks – but I think we all know what Alexandra is trying to say here.
Oh my God, this made me laugh so much, especially the “which is true”. He probably said you were a deep thinker because you didn’t say anything.
I’d probably call myself a deep thinker too, but the fact is if I were a puddle, I wouldn’t even reach up to the top of your sandals.
Maaaaaate, that’s not quite how it went. But she did think you were funny.
While I would never suggested Alexandra’s early night was totally and utterly made up – she’s a teaching assistant, after all – I reckon even if she’d had three days off ahead of her, which included a mini-break at a luxury spa, at which she had a suite all to herself and a spare ticket for anyone who might want to go with her, she would still have said she needed to get up early.
Pretty much the only thing that can get you out of a date easily is a deadline or death and I suppose Alexandra is too young to consider flinging herself under the sharp blades of the skaters at Somerset House to end it all.
Well, unless your tongue was hanging out like Carrie Fisher’s bulldog and somehow found its way into Raffaele’s mouth – easy enough as he never stops talking – then, no, it doesn’t count.
How to end dates where you know you’ll never see them again? Funnily enough, the easiest way to make sure you’ll never lay eyes on your date ever again is to take them home and have sex with them – or so my diary would have you believe – but a light hug, preceded by a limp handshake, perhaps, will usually do the trick.
There’s an amazing feeling in the air just after you do ‘the hug’, because usually you would say something like “We must do this again” or “See you soon!” but you definitely don’t want to do that on this occasion just in case, by some miracle, they do actually fancy you and want to see you again. These are the type of scenarios where you end up married to a Barry or a Lynda and living in a Barratt house in Penge.
If you can’t think of anything to say, take the advice of Patricia Routledge’s Kitty and think “What would the Queen Mum do?” Obviously now, in 2015, she’d say very little, but back then, she may well have said “We shall have fog by teatime”. That should do it.
I’ve never ice-skated. Ever. A man once dragged me as far as Somerset House on a date and I actually got the boots on, but then we bumped into his ex-boyfriend, who twirled like Tara Lapinski, and my enthusiasm dwindled. So I watched them skate on while I sat mainlining gin and tonics in the bar.
Recently, a client invited me on their Christmas party which started off skating at Somerset House and again I declined to skate. As I watched my colleagues glide like swans on the ice, I started to regret it, until I spotted a fellow freelancer desperately clinging on to the side, her boots clomping on the ice, terror in her eyes. So I leant back on the sofa and sipped my wine and thought I was better off where I was. So no regrets there, Alexandra.
A kind zero from Alexandra there. I know we all tend to have a better time reading these when the two daters savage each other like a scene from a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but sometimes it’s nice when the dates walk away from each other with heads still attached and haven’t spent the entire time trying to look clever at the other’s expense.
Raffaele’s score is high, isn’t it? He’s 42, though – he knows that knocks on the door don’t come as often as they used to.
So, as we skate toward the finish line, will we be seeing our star-crossed sausage enthusiasts back together again?
Raf? What say you?
Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. I can barely see the join, so well done everyone. The participants in the date are aware this may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena. I am sure, in real life, they are cool people. I am critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal.
Photographs: Graeme Robertson; James Drew Turner, both for the Guardian