Anna is wearing a leopard print dress and black tights and has red hair. Sam is wearing a red corduroy shirt, black trousers, and has no hair
Photograph: Antonio Olmos/the Guardian/The Guyliner
Impeccable Table Manners

Anna and Sam

They say it’s all about chemistry, don’t they? Sparks, too. Why do we talk about dating and attraction in terms of causing an explosion? Are we setting our sights too high to expect immediate fireworks? What about a slow burn, a smouldering passion that takes you by surprise? Or failing that, the cornerstone of 56% of romantic comedies: enemies to lovers? Mind you, better any of those than the alternative: two glasses of water waiting patiently for someone to spill them so it can be all over.

Hoping to make some kind of incendiary impression on the world today are Anna, who is 28 and an actor and writer and Sam, who according to the magazine is 29, but on the website he is 27 – this is happening a lot and I get furious emails form readers about it, please do not write in, I do not work for the Guardian. Anyway, whatever corner of the time-space-ageing vortex Sam is currently occupying, he is also a writer, and a NHS 111 health manager – according to the magazine – but is a NHS 111 health ADVISER on the website. Seriously, what is going on? Is Sam a replicant? Are we witnessing two alternate realities? Anyway, as I say, please do not write in. Here they are below looking surprisingly autumnal:


Anna is wearing a leopard print dress and black tights and has red hair. Sam is wearing a red corduroy shirt, black trousers, and has no hair
Photograph: Antonio Olmos/the Guardian

(I will remove some questions here) and then return so I can do my thing!

Anna on Sam | Sam on Anna

What were you hoping for?
Light to moderate flirting.

Is Anna talking about flirting or the optimum heat for frying sausages? [Yes I know it is a shipping forecast gag.]

What were you hoping for?
To meet someone different.

Translation: I have boned everyone I know.

First impressions?
Very friendly and lovely. But he looks like my dad did at 27! Oh no …

Instant no, then. Do you think he really looks like Anna’s dad or was she just trying to think of an excuse why she didn’t fancy him? Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt because we’re only two questions in. I once went on a date with a guy who looked like ME – he seemed different in his photos – and I could barely make it past the third drink.

First impressions?
Very good: she was kind, welcoming and easy to chat to.

Okay, so if Sam says she was kind, I’m assuming she didn’t scream ‘You look like my dad! Not as he looks now, I mean, how he was at 27. Which is bad. No offence, Dad. And no offence to you either, man I have literally just met’ – even though she was thinking it.

What did you talk about?
Was I tall enough to reach the heater button? Were the vegetarian options going to suffice? What’s the definitive best potato dish? All the big, tantalising, exciting stuff.
Stalkers. How the photographer told me to be nice to her. How we’ve both trained at the National Youth theatre.

A mixed bag of absolute mindless trivia here.

Was I tall enough? – Anna is obviously quite small. You can see in the full length photo they’ve tried to even her up a little in size to match Sam but it doesn’t quite look right.

Vegetarian options – I had a quick look at the menu. Wall-to-wall chicken, big messy sides like Mac and cheese and loads of potato options laced with truffle, and some dreary salad, to which you can add plant-based chicken alternative. Chxkn. Foulet. No-Coq. Whatever. I can literally smell this place as I type.

What’s the definitive best potato dish? – Why does there have to be one? I can’t stand all those hypothetical ‘you must only choose one’ memes that pollute the timelines every few weeks or so, or the blurry graphics dividing crisp flavours into ‘god tier’ or ‘chaotic neutral’ or whatever – almost as much as the regular ‘what do they call a bread roll in Scarborough’ piss-weak attempts to start a culture war. I know it’s only a bit of fun and used as a conversation starter but a) I hate fun and b) it always feels to me like someone who wished their school had a debating society and likes the sound of their own voice, or smiles smugly as they hit send on a tweet. Anyway, enjoy your oily, fungal mash.

How we’ve both trained at the National Youth Theatre – Christ.

Any awkward moments?
He mentioned that he went into dates knowing he didn’t want anything and seemed to have a very casual approach to anything love-life related. I was aghast, both for myself and on behalf of fellow devotees of this column.

You just told us he looked like your dad, and thus, I assume, were not remotely interested from the off. Why do you care? Weird isn’t it, how even if we don’t fancy someone at all, and would rather date a sack of maris pipers (best type of potato everrrrr etc), we still want them to want *us*. We’ve all done it. I suppose Sam is only 27 (or 29, who knows) so it’s not entirely unexpected he might be only interested in something casual. As a conversation topic, it has a dead behind the eyes feel to it, though, I’ll concede. A silly thing a man might say to look aloof. For some reason it reminds me of Harry in When Harry Met Sally always reading the last page of a book first in case he dies before he gets to the end. As Sally replies, ‘That doesn’t mean you’re deep or anything’

Interesting Anna mentions the ‘fellow devotees of this column’ because I’m not sure *everybody* who reads is desperate for the couple to get together. Although, having been writing these reviews of eight years, there’s definitely more of a shift in mood from the readers who want to watch two people murder each other to those who crave a happy ever after. A consequence of the world around us seeming more of a hopeless place, perhaps – like Rihanna, we can’t help but want to find love in it.

Any awkward moments?
Turning up at the bar next door and the waiter rudely informing me that I was at the wrong place.

Kathy Burke on Drag Race flicking the V at the camera

We all have different tolerance levels for rudeness, don’t we? I wonder how rude the waiter at the next-door bar actually was (I looked it up on a map to see which one it was; I haven’t been anywhere near that corner of Hoxton Square since I chucked out my insanely baggy Energie jeans.) Maybe the waiter was busy. Maybe this happens a lot, and he’s tired of driving people away to competitors. Or maybe he’s one of those naturally rude people who sat down with their careers officer at school one day and looked at options where their talents for scything through a person’s good mood could be best employed: customer service rep for a major communications company; doctor’s receptionist; Zara fitting room staff; civil servant; government minister; traffic warden; anyone you stop and ask for directions in zone 1 London; waiter in a bar that was maybe cool three years ago but does noticeably more marked-down cocktail pitchers than it used to. Bingo.

Good table manners?
Sam handled his kale like a pro and was diplomatic in potato sharing.
She was polite and knew what she wanted, with no fuss.

I had no idea that there were opportunities for handling kale professionally. Does this mean I can turn my penchant for buying cavalo nero and leaving it in the bottom of the fridge to dissolve into swamp water into some kind of paid opportunity? Marvellous!

‘She was polite and knew what she wanted’: my fucking potatoes.

Best thing about them?
His eyes lit up when we started talking about potatoes.
Probably her hair.

Okay, so we have as much sexual chemistry here as two betting-shop biros rubbing up against each other in a cardigan pocket.

Would you introduce Sam to your friends?
We move in different circles, but I imagine we already have a few mutuals.


woman rolls her eyes and raises her hand in the air like a queen

Do you ‘move’ in ‘circles’? I’m not sure I do. I suppose you need actual friends first. Might nobody be able to penetrate this circle? No chance of allowing someone else in? If you do indeed have ‘mutuals’ as you imagine – given you’re both National Youth Theatre alumni – it would be easy for those circles to overlap, no? You’ve seen Venn diagrams, right? Honestly: just say ‘no, absolutely not’.

Would you introduce Anna to your friends?
Yeah, of course.

Get your circle to talk to her circle and see what happens.

Describe Sam in three words.
Chatty, dapper, young.

CHATTY… like women usually say *they* are, so this is quite refreshing. Anyway, CHATTY, like the person you always get stuck behind in a queue who tries to make eye contact in an effort to find some camaraderie while you both wait for whatever must-have artisanal product you all saw in Sunday Times Style four weeks ago but have only just remembered about – along with everyone else in East Dulwich.

DAPPER, like… can I just say I hate this word. Very much. Nothing to do with that awful comedian in the shiny black roll neck who used to terrorise women, although that didn’t help. It’s an awful word, even though it means well. It’s a condescending parasitic twin to the even more egregious ‘You scrub up well’, the suggestion being that usually you look like your personal stylists are a team made up of Stig of the Dump, the BFG, and Evil Edna from Willo the Wisp. I hate it so much. ‘Ooh very dapper’ – I’ll let it go if you’re someone’s grandparent and you’re addressing a child who usually spends their days caked in snot and spaghetti. Otherwise, just say I look great and move on.

YOUNG, like… eh? Hmmm. Well, he is either one year older or one year younger than Anna, not exactly an age gap romance that would get Anna Nicole Smith and J Howard Marshall ejected from the record books, so I’m guessing Anna is telling us here that Sam is emotionally immature. Or maybe he really is just young and they’ve got Anna’s age wrong too and she’s an extremely youthful looking 76 or something.

Describe Anna in three words.
Small, passionate, kind.

SMALL, like a mouse, or a French fry, or a thimble, or the pile of fucks either of this pair seem to give about this date.

PASSIONATE, like anyone who queued for a go on the Elizabeth line on the first day. (No, I didn’t!)

KIND, like a vet who tells you there really is nothing more to be done for your pet, even though they could very easily squeeze one more operation out of you to put toward their all-inclusive in Turkey in August – so long as their passport comes through LOL, love a thriller, don’t you?

What do you think Sam made of you?
I honestly have no idea. He seemed keen for a more networky approach. And complimented my dress.

Oh. Oh no. I see. Right. Do you think once Sam found out Anna was also NYT alumni and was also a writer that he thought she might be able to get him some work? Is that what she means? I’ve been on the receiving end of that once when a young journo made the mistake of thinking I was in any way influential and stared pumping me for contacts (but very little else) on one of my last ever and most boring dates. However: as you said, Anna, your dad basically walked in at the beginning of this date and while I’m sure you are a terrific actor, I’m guessing it was pretty clear there was no chance of romance, given everything you’ve both said about the date suggests the rapport of a just-divorced couple trapped in a lift together with a bag of three cupcakes.

Did you go on somewhere?
To my bed, alone, to crack Gogglebox on.
Hazel in Footballers' Wives looking bemused and smoking a cigarette

Quick Gogglebox Top 5:

  1. Ellie and Izzi
  2. Mica and Marcus
  3. Jenny and Lee
  4. Amira and Amani
  5. Siddiquis

Please don’t ask me why the Blackpool brother and sister are not in my Top 5.

Anna seems pretty disappointed by the date. We gloss over that sometimes, don’t we? I’m sure she didn’t hate him or anything, but she was hoping for ‘light to moderate flirting’ but likely got more of a frisson of excitement from swiping a bottle of wine through the self-checkout machine in her nearest Sainsbury’s Local on the way home. I had forgotten about those dates, where you get home, the fragrance you excitedly spritzed on four hours earlier still hanging round you like a cloud, clothes still pristine, hair only slightly out of place, and think, ‘well, what a waste of everybody’s time.’

Including mine, actually. I have kettlebells to swing. These two are getting on my wick. Let’s bounce to the scores.

Marks out of 10?
A friendly 7.
Probably a 6.5.

These are two 1s.

Would you meet again?
We’ll probably bump into each other again and have a friendly natter.
If I saw one of her shows or something – not just the two of us. The theatre scene in London is quite small, so I’m sure our paths will cross again.

A natter! Dapper! Anna is three tiny grandmas standing on top of one another underneath a leopard print wrap dress.

‘The theatre scene in London is quite small’ – hahahahahaha. Stop it.

I wish you both well, but I have never been so glad to exit stage left.

Please buy my books
A graphic showing my book THE FAKE-UP on a Kindle withnthe caption 'A brilliantly funny reimagining of the rom-con' quote by Adam Kay

My latest novel THE FAKE-UP is 99p on ebook for a limited time only! Grab it on Kindle, or from AppleBooks, or from Google, or Kobo, or wherever you get your ebooks but do please buy it! It’s 99p, what do you care? You don’t even need to read it! if you do read it a quick rating or review on Amazon can make a huge difference to the book’s success. You don’t even have to buy it from there.  The Fake-Up audiobook is also on special offer at £4.99 on Apple Books and it is honestly brilliantly narrated (by someone else). 

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Come and see me talk rubbish

I’m doing a great eventful Pride Month in Clerkenwell, London, with some LGBTQ+ authors much cooler than me – so why not join us on June 30th for Pride In Writing, to hear us chat about our books and LGBTQ+ stories in general. Get tickets to see us in person or join us online.

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. Although, seriously, Anna, I think we need to see a photo of your dad.

Sam and Anna ate at Cocotte on Hoxton Square, London N1. Fancy a blind date? Email


  1. Sam sounds like someone who put his name forward for Blind Date as a laugh, forgot about it until he heard he’d been selected, tried to back out, and had his arm twisted to be a good sport and play along. I image he’s had dental appointments that he’s been more enthusiastic about. Poor Anna.

  2. “Please don’t ask me why the Blackpool brother and sister are not in my Top 5.”

    Come on, Justin – why are the Blackpool brother and sister not in your Top 5?
    I come from Blackpool, so it’s hard to comprehend…. I mean – they’re the best, right? (Not biased at all….)

  3. Yaaaay. Love when you have time to do a full review. I am one of those people who desperately want the daters to fancy each other but there hasn’t been one of those for ages!
    (Also what the hell IS going on with the editors at The Guardian? Felt I had to drop them a line pointing out the numerous typos over the past month…..they didn’t respond)

  4. Sam couldn’t even muster up a smile for either photo. He honestly looks like there’s someone just out of shot pointing a gun at him. Nobody forced you to do this, my guy!

    Totally agree about the Blackpool duo btw.

  5. I’m not particularly invested in whether any given couple gets together, but I find the idea of dating so absolutely horrifying so the idea of doing it without being particularly motivated towards finding romance is baffling to me.

  6. Perhaps daters should be asked to supply photographs of their parents to prevent matches like this. It needn’t even be a parent, either; a friend once introduced me to someone who looked just like a teacher I’d hated, and who even had the same accent, and I had to try and come up with a sensible reason why I didn’t want to see a blameless and probably perfectly nice woman again. Was I being irrational? Yes, probably, but I couldn’t help myself; every time the poor girl tried to make conversation, all I could think of was the unjust detentions of ten years before.

  7. Dapper. A woman I worked with once enthusiastically told me I looked “very jazzy!” which I think may be equivalent.

    Thanks for another lovely write-up, Justin.

  8. Honestly, I think Sam is super hot. I guess dismissive sarcastic vegetarian albinos are my kink. So Sam if you’re reading this, I want your socials ok

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