Ben and Fiona
Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Ben and Fiona

Has anyone contacted the government directly and warned them about the consequences of a full lockdown? That we will once again be forced back onto Zoom dating? It certainly served its purpose and gave us that fix of romcom-possibilities but… as anyone asked ‘it’s Pepsi is that OK?’ by a bartender will tell you, there’s nothing like the real thing.

Hoping that the social distancing won’t keep them apart this week are Ben, 29, a freelance videographer, and 24-year-old Fiona, a PhD student.


Ben and Fiona
Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

– make sure you do as I won’t be reviewing all the questions – before returning here to add some bite to proceedings.

Ben on FionaFiona on Ben
What were you hoping for?
A fun night.


What were you hoping for?
Good craic! Either on the date itself, or at least subsequently, when I debriefed my housemates.

Craic! Been a while! So we can assume Fiona is either from Ireland, or one of those people who drank a Guinness back in 2015 and decided they were a long lost member of the Corrs.

(Another answer later on suggests she is from Northern Ireland, just to be clear, before anyone writes in.)

First impressions?
Very hot. Loved the flares, and she had some good chat with the photographer. She was joking around and laughing about it all.

I too ‘love the flares’ and the jacket. Fiona – and Ben for that matter, I guess – are at that magic age where they can wear clothes that are slightly unusual and/or ill-fitting and still look cool, like they’ve dressed that way on purpose and are making a statement of self-expression. A few more years on the clock and those flares would either have relatives calling social services or rolling their eyes saying, ‘Oh you know what she’s like, she’s an individual.’ We are all one ‘I think I might mix things up a bit today’ away from earning the permanent nickname of ‘Trousers’.

First impressions?
Very large, was glad to have worn my tall boots. Slightly suspect haircut.

As regular readers may know – I don’t know, do you actually retain some of the things I say here? No judgement if not – but it does my head in when someone uses the ‘first impressions’ answer to remark on someone’s height. It isn’t a first impression. It’s just a fact. Also… ‘slightly suspect haircut’ – I don’t understand. It’s a short back and sides, staple of any barbershop from old-school formica-heavy places that reek of Barbicide to beardy hipster covens called Jack The Lad or Gentlemen Please. What’s suspect about it? Hang on… flares. Fiona is a time traveller from 1969 San Francisco where there’s hair in and on everything, and a short back and sides means you’re in the feds or something. I don’t know. It’s… I mean, yes, skin-fades are kind of out now, but it could be worse. It could be greasy curtains, for example.

What did you talk about?
Food, music and how we’re both just doing this for clout.
Diving, masonry, the population of Istanbul (not 30 million).

No matches at all. ❌ That’s a shame.

Clout. For the uninitiated, clout means online attention, like getting lots of retweets or likes or shares or whatever. I could think of easier ways of attracting the adulation of strangers on social media – try being funny and/or interesting, guys, might work – but I suppose the bonus of appearing in this column is that you’re letting people know you’re ‘available’ for dating. It’s less harrowing than Tinder, I guess.

Masonry. I think I can quite confidently say this has never come up before.

Any awkward moments?
See my next answer (but I ended up being quite impressed).

If I were any closer to the edge of my seat, I’d fall off.

Any awkward moments?
He took his contact lenses out at the table, presumably tired of viewing me in HD.

I have never worn contact lenses nor felt the need to, but I knew I wanted to wear glasses from an early age. I was obsessed with it, so my yearly eye tests were a source of constant disappointment as as child. No need for glasses, everything was very 20/20 in that area. My mum used to date a guy who ran a car dealership and one day he found some child’s glasses in the back of a car he’d bought and I decided it was fate and that they should be mine. These being ’80s NHS glasses, they were quite possibly the ugliest use of plastic ever seen, and absolutely huge – they made Deirdre Barlow’s satellite-dish specs look tasteful. The idea of prescriptions didn’t quite compute, so when I put them on, I could see precisely nothing, like the world had been smeared with Vaseline. When my mother had stopped laughing, she took them back off me and they were reunited with their rightful owner. I finally got my wish at the age of 23, when the tiniest degeneration of my eyesight led to me dragging out of the optician that, yes, if I really wanted crystal clear vision, I might consider wearing glasses. Anyway, I hate wearing glasses now, but I did used to find them handy as a freelancer if I wanted to intimidate someone in a meeting. I don’t have a resting bitch face, but I my default look is definitely ‘stern’.

Good table manners?
She didn’t use her cutlery. Which was odd, because she had the sea bass.

Yvonne from Hi de Hi looking perturbed


Good table manners?
Impeccable. Ordered an impressive array of condiments, which I rate.

Impeccable! A regular viewer, maybe? Anyway, condiments, yes. I’m not big on them. Not even ketchup, not really, unless what I’m eating is really dry. I’m just not really interested in them. Mayonnaise is disgusting – just a retirement home for eggs, really. Brown sauce has its time and place, I suppose. Every time I see ketchup I remember the time I heard someone calling it ‘Tommy K’, which results in a body cringe so hard I almost turn myself inside out. Tartare sauce, absolutely not. Salad cream, call the police. Soy sauce, yes, fine, big fan, also Nando’s sauce I can do. Don’t get me started on horseradish – even if I don’t see it anywhere on a menu I will say, when ordering a roast, that no horseradish must come anywhere near it; I have had too many meals ruined by that gunky, fiery jizz.

Best thing about Fiona?
She can eat a whole sea bass without cutlery. If that doesn’t impress you, then I don’t know what will.

Judi Dench as Barbara Covett in the bath in Notes on a Scandal, in the bath, smoking

How?! And, more importantly, why? Maybe this is a personal thing for me; I hate eating with my hands, even when it’s culturally preferred. I hate the feeling of anything gritty or sticky on them. I can just about manage to swipe a naan round a plate or eat a sandwich but I need at least two napkins on standby. I’d maybe say eating with your hands isn’t an amazing idea in the middle of a pandemic but I’m sure Fiona washed them earlier. It’s more the idea that Fiona sat there filleting her sea bass with her fingers, like a baboon tearing apart a gnu on a wildlife programme. On a date! With a man whose haircut she said was ‘suspect’. I’m not sure which is more suspect – an overzealous skin fade or ripping open your dinner like a caveman. I can’t decide whether this is the most glorious thing I’ve ever heard or a feral crime that should be punished with a lifetime of trying to pick up a solitary grain of couscous with chopsticks.

But it is certainly impressive, yes, and one way of telling a guy you’ve never met before that you will not be spending your life being dainty with pastry forks and parasols. Which I am definitely here for.

Describe Fiona in three words?
Intelligent, attractive, funny.

INTELLIGENT, like someone too clever for cutlery.

ATTRACTIVE, like elegantly gutting dead marine life with your fingers.

FUNNY, like an anecdote at a cutlery manufacturers’ convention, before they realise that soon knives and forks will be obsolete.

Describe Ben in three words?
Laddish but warm.

LADDISH, like a lad. What does ‘laddish’ mean these days? Aren’t we ‘post-lad’? I suppose there’s an idea that a lad is maybe more masculine than your average willowy thinker that Fiona might meet during her post-grad studies. Ben is less refined, maybe,  than a ‘guy’, or a ‘gentleman’.

BUT at least he uses cutlery.

WARM, like someone with a less aggressive skin fade might be.

What do you think she made of you?
She thought I was in the army because I had a dodgy haircut.

Phoebe makes a mess Monica's hair in Friends

Told you. Fiona is the reincarnation of the flower-child elder sister out of The Wonder Years.

What do you think he made of you?
Crumpled and flustered, but hopefully in a charming sort of way.

And yet despite all this, there is something there, isn’t there? You can always tell goodnatured ribbing from acrimonious backstabbing. There’s a sense of, ‘You’re not the kind of person I usually go for… but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go for you.’

Did you go on somewhere?
We went to another bar and then Ronnie Scott’s in Soho. I kept saying how much I love tequila, so when I went to the bathroom she ordered us a couple of shots. Game on. Everything’s a bit hazy after that.

christina applegate asking for one more drink

Tequila may cause just as many problems as it solves, but at least you have tequila to blot them out.

If it weren’t for social distancing, would you have kissed?
I’d have definitely tried.

Jake Gyllenhaal saying oooh


If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I wish I’d ordered the sea bass so I could learn how to eat like a glorious caveman.
I’d have ironed my shirt, and arrived on time.

While ‘he had a “bad” haircut; she had fingers like a Swiss Army knife’ may sound like a terrible lost verse of Avril Lavigne’s seminal work Sk8er Boi, it’s also a good anecdote to tell friends, then guests at your wedding – low-key town hall ceremony, reception in a Hackney gastropub, higher than usual percentage of attendees with facial hair – and eventually your grandchildren. I can see the movie poster now: EDWINA SCISSORHANDS.

Marks out of 10?

woman changing her mind between eight and nine out of ten

This would’ve been a double nine if they’d been able to kiss, right?

Would you meet again?
We’ve got a strip poker Zoom date scheduled for next Thursday.
If we ever crossed paths in a hostel in south-east Asia, I’d buy him a drink.

Batman bat signal replaced by an aubergine

This is not the last we’ve heard of this.


I’m doing Henley Literary Festival this Sunday 4th October at 1pm with Holly Bourne and Libby Page and you can join in online! You can watch later if you miss it live. Details here.

If you liked this, why not buy my new book?

Or support my work on Ko-fi, with a one-off tip. Don’t worry if you’re skint, though. Times are hard.

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, they seem very nice, so please be kind to them in comments, replies, and generally on social media. I will not approve nasty below-the-line comments. 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. 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. I need to know a) where Ben got his hair cut, b) where Fiona got the flares, and c) how this sea bass thing works. Video would be great, thanks.

• Ben and Fiona ate at The Gentlemen Baristas Pop Up, London WC2. They were photographed separately for this image. Fancy a blind date? Email


  1. Oh, I would love to have been eating at a nearby table to watch this date live! I wonder if Fiona will take Ben’s “glorious caveman” comment as the spectacular compliment that it was obviously meant to be! I hope these two are ones we get to read about in a few years, getting married! But whatever happens, sounds like they had an awesome evening (what they can remember if it!). Thank you again for your fabulous review, guyliner! And I have had glasses since I was 8, inheriting my father’s poor eyesight. Not wonderful, although the styles available have improved somewhat. My dad looked like Buddy Holly when he was a teenager. At least I was spared that!

  2. I would just love to know the rationale behind why you’d eat a seabass with your hands.
    I can’t stop wondering about it!

    Is it because fingertips are able to detect the finest of bones and so it’s to mitigate against choking and the potential need for an ambulance? If so, in these times that would be a sensible and community-minded approach that maybe we should all think about adopting.

    Or maybe it’s something she’d discovered through her phd studies – she’s studying the effects of various seafood and their nutritional effects on humans when absorbed through the fingers. Or she studies occultism and was in fact creating and devouring a love spell at the table…which clearly worked.

    It’s such a mystery.

  3. When I saw the photo, first thought was “what’s with his hair.”


  4. I love her clothing style! It sounds like they hit it off… although I was thrown by her response. I need some support: was told by a man who is 10 months younger than me that I am too old for him, “I am looking for someone in their early 20s.” (That 10 years younger.)

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