ben and James and Alexis
Impeccable Table Manners

Ben and James

Age is “just a number” until it isn’t, have you noticed? People are keen to tell you life begins at 40, that you’re only as young as you feel, and that you’re never too old to… well, do something that you are probably too old to do. And then they remind you. Despite these well-intentioned aphorisms, age isn’t just a number – just ask the coronavirus guidelines – but it is in fact a weapon used in both directions in the absence of anything else. Old people are boring, young people are lazy blah blah blah. It’s amazing anyone can find the time – given we are so short of it.

Anyway, age crops up in today’s Guardian Blind Date, which I feel compelled to review because my second novel The Magnificent Sons, is out on ebook on Thursday, and has, among other things, a generational divide at its heart. Two brothers, 12 years apart in age, who both think the other one is having a much better time than they are. It was years of witnessing people tear each other apart for no other reason than the data on their birth certificate that inspired it, so perhaps it would be nice of you to preorder – if you prefer a physical copy to chuck at a younger/older person’s head, the hardback is delayed until August because of coronavirus. But you can still preorder. Writing is the only way I make money and I am lucky to be able to say that but my luck will run out quite fast if people don’t pay for my writing. Thank you!

Anyway, today we have Ben, 24, and a PR executive – so working from home and still sending out emails that end ‘Best!’ – and 31-year-old fitness studio manage James who may well be giving some classes from home if he is indeed an instructor. I don’t know. Drop the social handles, boys, and we can drum up some custom.

Speaking of age, as today is the birthday of someone totally AGELESS, Dame Joan Collins, today’s review is a Joanie/Alexis special. Because of course it is. before slinking back here for some choice highlights.

Ben and James

Ben on JamesJames on Ben
What were you hoping for?
At best, the plot of a new Netflix original romcom. At worst, a money-can’t-buy “What did you do during lockdown?” story.


What were you hoping for?
Someone in their 30s.

Joan Collins as Alexis looking into a mirror

James is 31 and Ben is 24. It is true that in some cases, this seven-year difference can feel light years apart. Many gay men in their 30s, when finding themselves single for the first time, might convince themselves they’re “young at heart” and still basically in an extended version of their 20s, and thus set themselves up with men approaching a decade younger – see Guyliner date blogs passim. As age is an arbitrary classifier which removes almost all context, I can tell you it can go in any number of directions. Said person in their twenties might be a local councillor who appears to have teleported from the 1950s, or he could be a burbling silly-heart who twirls his hair round his fingers – or at least does the miming action, given he has a skin-fade – and makes slurping noises as he hoovers up his persimmon daiquiri through a too-thin straw.

There are lots of reasons people want to date “in-age”. You want to be on the same page with cultural references, maybe, or have had similar upbringings – “What are Opal Fruits?”  – or perhaps you want someone who has made it to their thirties relatively intact and, more importantly, can pay for dinner every now and again. (Like, hello, rich 23-year-olds exist, just start hanging around any luxury flat complex converted from a previously useful building.)

The thing is, age is no guarantee of anything, especially if you’re LGBTQ+, because many of us spend so long pretending to be someone else or trying to fit in with the dreary confines of heterosexual domination that we end up being reborn anyway, with our Year Zero being the day we are true to ourselves. So, Ben might be 24 but he may have been out for a whole decade. A guy in his 30s however, might have been in the closet until a week last Tuesday. The idea that someone in their 30s might be more ‘sane and sorted’ or dependable or interesting or settled or well-rounded or… indeed, anything, is complete nonsense.

First impressions?
Pixelated. I couldn’t make out basic features for a good 45 minutes.

Be honest with yourselves, readers: if you had to spend the first 45 minutes of a date with your face pixelated, would it make the other person more or less likely to be interested in you sexually? And when the pixelation was removed, would they be disappointed? I have never thought about this before but now I will think of it every single day. It’s like being more attractive when you have sunglasses on – which I am – they have to come off eventually, don’t they?

First impressions?
He isn’t at all my type, but you have a virtual blind date coordinated through the Guardian during lockdown only once (hopefully), so let’s get involved.

Alexis rolling her eyes

Types. Quite restrictive, aren’t they? What is a ‘type’, anyway? A collection of physical attributes, with a few other things picked off a virtual checklist. Must have own car. Likes sport. Would never embarrass you in a restaurant by saying ‘strudel’ in a bad Austrian accent. Calm. Apolitical (if only in 2020!!!). Can quote all scenes of your favourite ‘Netflix original rom com’ back at you within seconds. It’s all just criteria. Dating is hard enough. Don’t have checkboxes – try free-form and see what happens.

What did you talk about?
Music, fitness, travelling, family and friends.
Work, and our shared admiration for musicals – nice to meet someone who also appreciates Disney’s The Prince Of Egypt.

Music/musicals – ✅


Joan Collins exercising in a wonderful leotard

I guess fitness is James’s job so understandable it should come up. Any excuse to post this amazing photo of Joan, tbh.

Any awkward moments?
When he told me his ex was pushing 40 and he still didn’t know I was 24.

Joan Collins eats pickled onion

An ex who was pushing 40?!? Have the AGE POLICE been informed? How did this even come up? Is “how old were all your exes” now a conversation staple on dates? I’ve been out of the game a long time? Does nobody talk about Lady Gaga’s wax cylinders, or Doctor Who, or which of their friends died of typhoid anymore?!

Watching this multi-directional hang-up about age is quite tiring – well, I am getting on a bit, I suppose.

Any awkward moments?
The moment Ben asked me how long I’d been single.

Why, what was it? Five minutes? “He’s actually in the other room, packing up his walking frame, SAGA holiday brochures and copies of Yours.”

Joan Collins on the cover of YOURS

Or perhaps James has been single for a very long time and is embarrassed by it? It happens. “Oh I’ve been single yonks, my ex left the country on the last zeppelin.”

Good table manners?
He ordered some sort of pumpkin bowl of which he had a very well-mannered two bites. I finished a prosciutto and mascarpone pizza.
Ben is such a gentleman, he held off eating until my food arrived.

Nice to be gentlemanly – I’m sure Alexis would approve – but actually quite easy to wait for the other person’s food if your food is something that tastes just as great cold. Well, nearly as great, but don’t tell me you haven’t shovelled in a cold slice of pizza at 8am as your hangover level remains steady at ‘nuclear reactor meltdown’. James’s ‘pumpkin bowl’ meal sounds a bit like someone trying to be very ‘health person’, or perhaps it was daintier to eat than a hulking great pizza. Imagine two hours on Zoom, transfixed by a sliver of prosciutto jammed to someone’s uvula.

Best thing about James?
He was up for a laugh, asked lots of questions and took the slightly odd situation we’d both found ourselves in for what it was.

Up for a laugh is good, asking lots of questions is good. This is good. Well done, James.

Best thing about Ben?
The value he put on his relationships with his family and friends. On a superficial level, it’s his height.

Valuing relationships is good. Height…

Joan Collins as Alexis wondering if she should drag someone.

Well, height is a random, genetic thing. But as James says, he is being superficial. Makes me wonder, though, what about his height? Is Ben tall or… not tall? Does James like a statuesque man who can get his tins of spaghetti hoops down from the cupboard, or is James one of those guys on Grindr whose bio is “I ❤️ a  pocket-rocket”.

Anyway, Ben is nice to his mother and the perfect size for James to fit into his organiser handbag/graze James’s high ceilings, so it’s all going quite well so far, despite the age thing.

Did you introduce him to your housemates?
No, but there was a near miss with my sister who surreptitiously delivered the pizza to my door as if she’d come from downstairs at Downton Abbey.

Finding a photo of Joan Collins in a maid’s outfit is harder than it looks – the only things I can find her serving are FACE and CHAMPAGNE. So here’s the latter.

Joan Collins pouring champagne

Anyway, INTERESTING that Ben’s first reference on being brought pizza by someone was not ‘pizza delivery guy’ but ‘someone from Downton Abbey’. Add in that his sister brought him the pizza and, I assume, left it outside his bedroom door, and I’m guessing that Ben is back isolating at the family home – the ‘parental’ or the ‘mothership’ or ‘base’ or whatever – and the house has a separate room just for eating breakfast in. (I will never forget being the age of 14 and being introduced to a friend’s breakfast room for the first time. A BREAKFAST room. I had breakfast in my bedroom in front of TV-am.)

Did you introduce him to your housemates?
My flatmate would probably create a video and make me TikTok famous with a hashtag #QuarantineToyBoys. I know better.

Joan Collins as Alexis, first looking, then smiling, then frowning

I… well.

Maybe I should…

Can I just say… well, look, I…

James, do you actually know what TikTok is and how it works? It says on your bio up top that you’re 31 but are you sure? Create a video of you doing what? Sitting in front of your (Dell) laptop, peering into FaceTime? I’m not sure how much of a viral smash that would be, even with that INCREDIBLY ONLINE hashtag you’ve got there.

Meggie Foster, watch out, eh?

Describe James in three words
Interested, curious and kind.

Interested, like Alexis was in Blake’s oil tankers ten seconds before she sank them.
Curious, like someone trying to find out your age without actually asking you. “What was the first single you ever bought?” “What was your favourite show to watch as a child?” “What was it like when the smallpox vaccine finally became available?”
Kind, like I guess we’re all going to have to try to be if we’re going to get through this pandemic. I’ll start right after I finish this post.

Describe Ben in three words
Bright, engaging, effervescent.

Bright, like a child who has patiently endured your rudimentary attempts at homeschooling but would quite like to “just read for a bit now, Daddy, your voice is annoying”
Engaging, like a slideshow delivered in an all-company Zoom meeting from a director sitting in a kitchen that looks like it would swallow your flat whole – about twenty seconds before he tells you’re furloughed and that he has to end the call because he’s got to paint his yoga studio in the basement.
Effervescent, like a dash of Joan Collins’ champagne right in your kisser.

Alexis saying 'damn you' and throwing a drink in Dex's face

What do you think he made of you?
Probably something along the lines of: a fresh-out-the-womb, 24-year-old, rosé-drinking, a cappella-singing lush.

FRESH OUT THE WOMB. I think I just felt my femur crumbling into Ryvita dust.

What do you think he made of you?
I’d like to think he viewed me as kind.

✅ He actually said exactly that! Yay!

Any connection issues?
Yes. Ben spent the first 1.5 hours seeing a big blond blur. It was only when we moved to another video platform he saw what I looked like.

Alexis and Krystle, who is blurred out

In Alexis’s world, ALL blonds should be blurred.

And… did you swap numbers?
Mutual follows on Insta.
We followed each other on Instagram.

Alexis on phone, Krystle pixelated

This is not the fucking same. Swapping numbers is a promise, it is hope, it means something. A mutual follow on Insta is DATA COLLECTION and about as meaningful as a self-checkout telling you to have a nice day, or a prerecorded announcement in a train station (remember those) apologising for your delay. It doesn’t even know who you are, or what is delayed, it is a robot voice, recorded years ago. Ugh. I guess it could lead to a brief exchange of thirst traps or targeted Insta stories but yuck yuck yuck. Maybe follow each other on TikTok and lip synch to the sound of all our readers yawning.

How did the call end?
His housemate kicked him out of the kitchen because she was rightly sick and tired of this nonsense.

Alexis saying 'take this junk and your blond tramp and get out of my home'

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
The “Latvia giving 12 points to Sweden”-esque quality of the call.

Haha. I wish I could say “Thank you so much Ben and James, this has been such an amazing evening and you have put on a wonderful show for us here tonight” like any self-respecting Eurovision score reporter, but, alas, I cannot. Nul points.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’d have been on a date with someone in their 30s.

Joan Collins applying lipstick with her middle finger

Marks out of 10?
The experience 10, one to tell the grandkids. As a date? 6.
For the right match, Ben is a solid 8. For my needs, it’s a 6.

Pity poor Ben’s grandkids, bored rigid on their long journey to Mars to escape the imploding Earth, by Grandad’s fascinating tales of an awkward two-hour pixelated Zoom with a flaxen-haired gerontophile.

As for James’s “for my needs” – was he looking for someone to romance, or an aged man to drop dead at just the right moment, i.e. seconds after the bank transfer for the kitchen extension went through?

Would you meet again in person?
Probably not, but we’ll review every three weeks as per government advice.
I can’t see a time our worlds would ever collide, no.

Joan Collins taking her wig off and throwing it in the bin

I’m done.

Happy 87th birthday, Dame Joan. These two could NEVER.

Preorder The Magnificent Sons now from anywhere! Including Amazon, HiveWaterstonesBert’s BooksBook Depository, and Foyle’s.

The Magnificent Sons release date

If you liked this post, please maybe  to support food banks, and/or support my work on Ko-Fi

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, replies, and generally on social media. They seem like nice guys. 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. UNLESS it’s ageists remarks – I am 44 and have heard them all!

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  1. I’m curious as to how height came up on a Zoom call, unless he specifically asked him? Unless there was some kind of height chart behind him, like the poster for The Usual Suspects or something. Weird.

    And ugh, people with very specific age ranges, height ranges or set ‘types’ are one of the worst things about dating sites/apps.

    Loving all the Joan gifs and photos! The only Alexis food-serving moment I can remember is when Blake had amnesia and thought he was still married to Alexis, and she randomly started making mashed potato for him because she remembered he liked it (and, more incredibly, remembered how to make it!) What a show Dynasty was!

    1. I don’t think it’s that bad to want to date around your age or older when you’re in your thirties. People do so much maturing between 20 and 25(ish). I went to uni at 25 (mature student) and I honestly struggled dating 22 and 23 year olds because they were just that muchmore immature. My current partner is two years younger, but we meet when I was 29 and he was 27 and it was much, much better.

      32 and 24 is a BIG age gap in terms of maturity, 32 and 28, or even 32 and 40 makes a lot more sense. I honestly can’t blame him. I’m 32 now and I would never consider dating someone that young.

  2. As I am exactly 10 years older than you, I feel it is compulsory to order your new age conscious book, I shall look forward to Thursday
    Monkseal, the dashing blogger of Strictly, who is around another 10 years younger, recently referred to me, a loyal fan, as a slightly woke middle aged housewife. He is very lucky to be behind a screen, very lucky.

  3. All I thought was “you both seem cute, so what’s the problem…?”. While I myself do not wish to have kids, I’d say that kids is an area where age matters. Probably not for gay guys in their 30s – if you want a kid as a gay man you can wait till 45 easily (after that, it may be weird, depending on how much of your child’s life you wish to pay with your pension…) I date both men and women and for me older men are more of an issue, because they often wish to look down on me and some seem to look for younger women exclusively from either a physical fetishistic view or kind of trying to find someone to impress and look down upon. Older women have never treated me that way.

  4. “Up for a laugh” surprised me, given the pumpkin bowl.

    I have the book on pre-order – I am looking forward to it!

    24-31 is a bigger gap than 34-41, I think, but last time I spent a lot of time with a group of people in the 22-25 age group (when I was pushing 40 and the oldest at that workplace by a decade) I found them frighteningly together and driven and delightful.

  5. When I see a new Impeccable burn, I literally have to wait to read it, until I’m a place where I can sit in my dressing gown, waving a fag around as though it was a torch of freedom and drinking something fizzy or cool and certainly alcoholic. No idea how flattering that is. I mean it as very, but I’m open that it might be the opposite. 🙂

  6. I’ve literally just pre-ordered your book. I’ve recently got rid of ALL my books. I mean hundreds. A thousand probably wouldn’t be too hyperbolic. I now realise I can’t cope without them – they’re basically my historical and mental map, but couldn’t cope anyway, so who’s counting? 😀

    Anyway, bloody good for you for putting a second actual thing out there. Whatever the idiot in your brain says, that’s a genuinely impressive achievement. Bloody nice one my dude!

  7. If I were the age I am now and saw that April 1997 magazine cover on a newsstand, I’d want slit my wrists. AND it got Joan’s age wrong by several years.

  8. I am by no means a native English speaker but before reading the review I thought that the height thing was meant as Ben’s highest point, Ben at his very best. The sentence sounded confusing and not like a great compliment so maybe – probably – your interpretation of it is the correct, but then again how do you gauge someone’s height on a video call?

  9. Women get a tonne more judgement about dating younger men than other men, as I found out when my then-flatmate and I were both dating guys seven years younger *clutches pearls*.

    As for height, it’s one of the few attributes I definitely have a preference on – I like a man to be taller than me, which honestly is not that rare, I’m only 5’3. A recent (pre-lockdown) Tinder date was charming and attractive and lovely, but sadly was just too diminutive. To which my nearly 18 year old fake nephew asked: “How small are we talking? Is he taking the ring to Mordor?” 😀 Reader, he was.

  10. cant believe you skipped over “for the right match an 8”. What incredible shade. Even for the *right match* James doesn’t think Ben could be a 10/10. I think that is genuinely one of the meanest things I have ever heard

    1. Haha, yeah really mean. Especially since I’ve read probably every blind date and Ben is the first guy I’d rate an 11 ?

    1. Try as I might, I can’t get past the fact that both of them think The Prince of Egypt was a Disney film.

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