Impeccable Table Manners

Bex and Henry

I can’t sit staring at a blank screen any more than you can, so let’s cut straight to the chase and wheel on today’s contestants.

This is Bex, who is a 30-year-old fashion PR and reminds me of Drew Barrymore during that period when she was getting divorced a lot, and Henry, 28, a civil servant. Can love blossom between the two secondary characters of a BBC2 sitcom who are hardly ever in scenes together? Click on the pic below to find out, and afterward, I’ll discuss their contract renewal for the second series, which we’ve decided should be relocated to an abattoir.

What is an average date? How do yours normally go? Two to three hours shouting over Big Audio Dynamite in a pub you thought was the White Horse farther down the road but is in fact the White Hart and awful? Or ordering food you’ve never heard of in staccato whisper in a sober, silent, boring restaurant with vaulted ceilings that amplify you to Wembley Stadium-levels every time you cough? Or is it three double Tia Maria and Appletisers downed in 30 minutes, groping on the 176 and unabated rutting on a mattress on the floor of a sublet studio in Penge?

There is no such thing as an average date – just a distinctly average person to go on a date with.

How different may Peter Andre’s life, and career, have been I wonder, if he too had been seeking not just a Mysterious Girl, but a mysterious riot grrrl, like Henry here claims to be after himself? Are riot grrrls (this autocorrects to “grill” on my MacBook and is taking up quite a lot of my morning already) usually that mysterious? Don’t they tend to be in-your-face, unapologetic, rabble-rousers? Or maybe Henry means he was looking for a nice girl who wouldn’t grab him by the throat every time he called her “babe”, but had pink hair or maybe rips in the knees of her jeans, for a bit of “edge”.

Oh no. Late. Oh.

Don’t be late, because it’s all they’ll remember. As you say hello (late), and you take your seat (late), as you order (late), while you tell your first of many butt-clenchingly dull anecdotes (late), while you chew (late, mouth open), as you pour the wine (late, pouring unequally), as you signal to the waiter for the bill (late, kind of lordly), and as you get into a taxi home, by yourself (late late late).

The only exception, I have found, is if you are exceedingly good-looking. However, these are not trains or buses I can afford to miss. I have to run while I look at my watch, not walk. Remember, you’re either nowhere near as ugly as you think you are, or far, far more repulsive. Don’t risk finding out for sure – arrive on time.

Spoiler: this is a Suede reference. Although she is “in” fashion. But unless she was wearing a badge saying so (she may well have been, you know what fashion people are like), then Henry couldn’t have known that.

It was easier in the ’90s when most people who worked in fashion dressed like they’d been tipped out of half an hour of blood-curdling screams on the waltzers and into the dressing-up box of a Steiner school, but nowadays you can hardly tell, because almost everyone looks like a sentient jumble sale.

Bret Easton Ellis isn’t exactly a thundering example of the zeitgeist either tbh, Henry. American Psycho and Glamorama were a very long time ago and he hasn’t even said anything that controversial for about five years. Did you Google famous Bretts/Brets while Bex was at the toilet? Did you decide against Brett Stark from ’90s Neighbours? Not fancy risking a Britt Ekland reference here instead? Maybe pretend you misheard altogether? No?


I watched the (very clever) Simon Amstell mockumentary Carnage the other night. It’s possibly not for the faint-hearted, but straight after I vowed to change my meat-eating habits and found myself retching in the dairy aisle of Tesco the next day. And then I had steak two days running, so I guess  I still have some work to do. But I do have almond milk in the fridge. Baby steps.

Being called polite is nice, I like to have good manners, and I do actually think politeness can be sexy. Men who are nice to waiters, men who say thank you, men who give you just the right amount of compliment (so long as you deserve it, save me the fake platitudes that hope to loosen my pyjama buttons, thank you) and are, in general, not awful, bombastic sociopaths. But something about the way “which my mum would approve of” is added in here means that perhaps Bex herself didn’t find Henry’s shtick quite as impressive.

A second bottle. WHOA. Any closer to the edge and these two would be Thelma and Louise-ing it right down to the very bottom of that ravine. If you’re on a first date and someone else is paying, the first bottle of wine should have been drained before you even reached the double T of “bavette” when you were ordering your food.

It’s a shame the best thing Bex could think of about Henry involved criticising herself but, as has been pointed out to me before by a reader, sometimes a woman being self-deprecating isn’t always about giving way to a man or worrying about what he thinks. Often, and perhaps this is the case here, it’s about saying “look, this is how I am, and I’m fairly self-aware and whatever but it’s unlikely I’m going to change overnight so if you can get through it on this first date then HATS OFF, let’s be civil,  and maybe I’ll see you again and we can discuss what we’d like to change about each other then, by the way I don’t like your tie and your jokes are lame but you’re fit, so… y’know”.

I’m just going to ignore the Suede joke because we’ve all got homes to go to but what I would like to say is I WISH indifference would be cool again. Bring back the mindless shrug of apathy rather than the always-on, rolling-news, talking-head culture of 2017 where you absolutely HAVE to feel one way or another about something, and always in the most extreme fashion possible.

Sometimes I miss the power of indifference, ambivalence, apathy, a vague lack of enthusiasm, mild disinterest, partial disengagement. It was quite freeing. Now it’s “you’re either with us or against us” or “if you think this you’re en elite cappuccino drinker who wants to have sex with terrorists and if you think that you are a real ale lunatic who wants to go back to the 1950s”.

But of course in a way this decisiveness is good, because it exposes those who might otherwise have hidden some very bad opinions in among their more palatable ones. Nailing your colours to the mast tends to do that – but there’ll still be some stealthy horrors in there somewhere. But nowadays the only true shades of grey are in that execrable book and film, where sexuality and kink conjure up all the excitement of flicking to the underwear section of a Freemans catalogue in 1982 and drooling at the Sloggi-clad midriffs of men too ugly to be photographed in full.

CREATIVE like a whole set of Microwave Cooking Know How, collected in 280 weekly instalments.
INTERESTING like a payday loan.
POLITE like a notice in the kitchen of an office asking you to please NOT brush your teeth in the sink.

Was this a prank, maybe? Or does Henry have an extreme sugar addiction? Not sure.

Pranks. You either love them or you don’t. It tends to be those who don’t who fall victim to them more often, doesn’t it? Sarcasm is often denigrated as the lowest form of wit but surely pranking ranks as one of the very worst. Pranking is sarcasm for overbearing  wilful thickos, who feel intimated by words, or emotions, and instead go for a much less subtle humiliation. Thanks to shows like Punk’d and Beadle’s About (vintage reference) there’s always been an appetite for them. The person being pranked is under enormous pressure to find it funny, whereas sarcastic meanies rarely care whether their joke has landed or not. Pranking is for the wider audience, about making the person doing the pranking look impressive. For the one being pranked, it can be hugely stressful, being wound up to 99 before, once it’s revealed to be a prank and who the perpetrator was, having to come down from the ceiling and laugh along, so you look like a “good sport”. I could go on about this for days – it may not surprise you that as a skinny, awkward child who just wanted to be left alone, I was number 1 priority for pranksters in need of a confidence or popularity boost – but in short: pranks are not funny, and please fuck off.

It really, really is just a number. I realise this the more my own numbers advance. It’s about your emotional intelligence and experience, not how many candles you’re blowing out. I mean, if you’re into silver foxes or gawky teens then I guess, yes, age matters – and please have a word with your fetishes because both of these can be pretty demoralising for the objects of your affection – but otherwise, it’s just a front.

Age is one of those security keypads you see beside locked doors. You are immediately daunted by it and assume you won’t be able to open it, that it is meant to keep you out. You don’t realise, just like the parental controls on your TiVo, that the code is 0000 or 1234 and you can walk in and out any time you like – it’s just there to test you, to see if you can look beyond it, to make sure you’re not shallow or lack bravery.

Be brave. Tear up the birth certificates (once you’re over 16 and have checked they are too), do away with the candles. Live in your mind, not the calendar.

I wonder if he means he wishes he’d interrupted the conversation a bit more. I worry sometimes that the brash, annoying, forceful, boorish men are ruining it for the rest of us. We’re so frightened of looking like them, with their “well actually” and “I think you’ll find” and “look, love, here’s the thing” that we shrink into ourselves. But this is how the patriarchy works, isn’t it? The loud arseholes don’t care and get louder, and the more considered guys get quieter and quieter. It favours the dickish. Eventually, the quiet guys either get sick of being subservient and join the loud ones in being utter arseholes – but this time with an added “hey I am NOT like the others, actually” thrown in, so great – or they GET A BLOG.

What the hell is STRONG about a 7? A 7 is a pre-spinach Popeye, it’s every character called “Eugene”in an American high-school movie, it’s a glass of cordial poured for you by someone very unfamiliar with your personal preferences.

A strong 7 is not a thing.

I don’t trust a man who takes half a sugar in his tea, let alone adds a half-mark to a 7 – which is just an entitled 1 who queues half an hour for a free coffee in Waitrose – so Henry is, I’m afraid, officially cancelled.

I’m not sure what he means by unavailable. Already with someone? Did she join the date over FaceTime? Was she looking at some kind of mythical spot three inches to the right of his head the entire time?

What? A lowly 7 and you want to see him again? Why? Does he have a window cleaning round or something? If you want to see him again we want eights. NINES.

But, you know, a yes is a yes. Henry?

Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Disclaimer: The comments I make are meant to be playful and humorous and are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy – Lord knows they need it sometimes. Anyone participating in the date would usually be made aware of this editing process before taking part. If you are the couple in this date, please don’t take this personally.  It’s about what you say, not who you are. If you want to give your side of the story,  or send in your original answers, just get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have.


  1. I think these two really LIKE each other but neither has the courage to show it because they are so worried about the other’s opinion. They should have another date.

  2. As a committed gerontophile, and half-teaspoonful-taker, I am devastated and shocked and outraged and stuff. Fancying old men (in my case) is not a fetish. It is a lovely affliction.

    Consider yourself written to in green crayon! And thanks for another Saturday morning, brightened.

    1. Haha. What I will say, as an ageing gay man, that younger men fetishising me for my grey hair, being a “daddy” or telling me patronisingly that “hey older guys are hot too” makes me want to throw myself down a well – but if you can find willing participants who are only happy to indulge your affliction, then all power to you, and them.

  3. Henry is extremely cute. Missed opportunity, Bex. But seriously, he is many, many young women’s dream boy, so I doubt he is short on other opportunities.

    (And likely the reason he’s turned on by “riot grrrls” is that they’re the one sub-species *less* likely to fancy his vibe. A bevy of attention has made mutual attraction boring to him.)

    1. YES I was going to say – he is defo a catch. Polite, funny, considerate, hot… WHAT ARE YOU DOING, BEX?! (But since you’re on the fence, give him my number. Ta love.)

  4. Excellent and funny as usual. Btw, glad you mentioned the unusual circumstance of the Guardian opening comments that one time- I’m very grateful to the person who linked to your site here. I pretty much lost an afternoon catching up on your tremendously fun posts. Great stuff, you’re a superb writer.

  5. This was a terrific breakdown. Your description of “creative” is very much in the vein of Victoria Wood; brilliant.

    Also, “30”? *side eye* I would have guessed (before reading) that she was a good 10 years older. Maybe it’s her style.

  6. This ” He probably thought I was a chatterbox, mad, weird etc” might not be because women feel bad for not playing the role of demure, quiet maiden.

    I’m also convinced both men and women often say this because they are trying to say ” I have loadsa personality – me and my friends are right mad, zany, fun. I’m not boring. Please like me “.

    Just discovered your blog. It’s addictive and very funny.

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