It’s the end of the world as we know it – how are you feeling? Oh I don’t mean our impending doom from the coronavirus, as frightening as it is. While my post-infection immunity to the disease is only a guess, I can already feel my nerve endings becoming dulled to politicians scrabbling for excuses like children grabbing at Smarties chucked into the air, or the numbers that seem to be going up faster than we have time to remember that each digit has a face behind it, and a family, and an empty space at dinner, a phone unanswered. My senses are already accustomed to the lonely trudge to the supermarket along near-empty (but not empty enough) streets, empty bag flapping against my knee in the breeze, queuing outside the shops like a grainy photo from a history textbook, trying to smile at people in the aisles without unnerving them or invading their two-metre bubble.
No, I mean this world. The Guardian Blind Date. Today is the end of an era. Existing as they do on a slight lag behind the rest of the world, this is the last physical Guardian Blind Date we will see for the moment. Because of social distancing guidelines and lockdowns and the fact that people will die if we don’t stay indoors as much as possible, frivolity is on hold. From next week, the dates will happen virtually, digitally, over an internet connection, with each romantic given a takeaway, and, hopefully, a holster for their phone or stand for their laptop so they can film themselves at a decent angle. Days of staring up Robert Peston’s nostrils as he Skypes into the daily government briefing have given me PTSD. What this will mean for the dates, or how it will change, I can’t say, and whether I will go on reviewing, I don’t know. But before we get to the unknowns, let’s deal with the here and now. And thank the LAWD it’s two guys. No harm to heterosexuals, but I think we needed this. No pressure, lads.
On the left, avec boucle d’oreille, we have Calum, a 25-year-old master’s student. In what? Who knows? (We do get a hint below.) On the right, with collar up and fully-furnished eyes, is Laurence, 27, a designer. Here they are in the mirrors of the changing rooms at Concept Man:
I like those socks. Read what happened on the date in FULL, in the Guardian, before I socially distance myself from every kind bone in my body and get going.
Calum on Laurence | Laurence on Calum
What were you hoping for?
Wine flows. Rivers flow. Beyoncé’s hair flows. Conversation flows. But so does urine, I have to say.
What were you hoping for?
Someone with a few good tales to share over a bottle of wine.
A few good tales. I think all we can now hope for in our new hellscape is that we can find something to think about for five seconds that is not the virus. It almost makes you miss Brexit, doesn’t it? (No, me neither.) Is this the future? Was Andy Warhol wrong about everyone being famous for 15 minutes and instead our destiny is to endure the same, omnipresent news story for months on end? A few good tales? So starved am I of non-corona discourse, I would listen to someone talk to me about the contents of their peg bag.
A charming smile, a firm-ish handshake, and an electric blue coat.
Charming is a good word, isn’t it? It can have a sting in its tail, of course, as it carries a suggestion that someone might be sufficiently charmed into doing something they regret. Give away their precious tiara or gamble away a country estate, for example – sorry I appear to have become trapped on page 187 of a Poirot novel. Anyway, can we just talk about the handshake?! Still shaking hands in these “unprecedented times”?!
There was a piece recently by a dreary columnist whose name I can’t remember – that’s showbiz, sorry – who said that one good thing to come out of coronavirus might be that the custom of shaking hands dies out for good. While I don’t agree with their posited replacements – curtsying and bowing? I DON’T think – I would indeed like to see handshakes fired into the sun. I didn’t need a pandemic to tell me how awful it was to be clawed at by a clammy hand that could’ve been anywhere. I certainly don’t miss the vice-like grip of men (always men) who think they have something to prove by crushing your fingers in greeting. We may as well headbutt one another. I shed no tears for the limp, grabbing at a distant dishcloth handshake beloved of people who don’t want to be touching you either. So why don’t we stop? Ever since I heard that Joan Collins prefers to fist-bump, I have been in favour of that. Or maybe just, like, text me a handshake emoji or something.
Oh bugger I have run out of room to talk about the coat. Oh well.
Note: If the Guardian’s labelling is correct, then Calum is not actually wearing glasses in his photo. Laurence is. So we will never get to see just how cool Calum’s glasses are. I guess we’ll have to take Larry’s word for it, but as I like his socks and trainers, I trust his judgement.
What did you talk about?
The main topic of conversation was planning mistakes of the late 20th century (possibly I’m at fault for that). Other topics included dysfunctional family units, attempting to be transcendental, and how Brighton was akin to a Christopher Isherwood novel.
His Uncle Jerry’s funeral in the Orkney Isles, town planning, London’s cocaine-addicted eels, and the bacterial structure of chlamydia.
Planning mistakes of the late 20th century/town planning ✅ OK, so I’m guessing Calum is a master’s student in town planning. I have a friend who does that for a living – Hi Mark! – and apparently you don’t just sit at your desk designing shopping precincts. He has tried to explain to me quite a few times but has given up because I am quite dim in some respects and this is one of them. Anyway, it sounds like hard work but quite enjoyable if you like solving problems.
The rest of it is just a load of words. I mean, I’m glad they found plenty to talk about but seeing the topics listed like that has already got me looking up from my screen in search of a barman’s eye that will never meet mine because I’m in my flat and we can’t go outside.
London’s Cocaine-Addicted Eels – I think I saw them support the Klaxons at the Blow Up Metro Club back in the day.
Anyway, well done everyone.
Any awkward moments?
It was a tapas restaurant, so some awkwardness was born of that. Apart from that, everything seemed to flow fairly smoothly.
Do you think coronavirus, once it’s destroyd handshakes, will come for tapas too? I don’t know how I feel about this. Obviously regular readers will know that my dislike for sharing food (with fingers in particular) is my main personality, but now that we all have to exist 2 metres apart from each other, I wonder if we will miss the social aspect of duelling forks hovering over the last king prawn. I see they went to Ceviche which used to be one of my favourites. Imagine now sharing anything other than a bad opinion. Can’t relate. Looks like Calum got the flow he was after, though.
Any awkward moments?
Wandering around in the pouring rain, trying to act as if I knew anywhere good to go on a Monday evening in March.
Do you remember pouring rain? And wandering? And early March? And outside? And good places to go? Do you?! Anyway, this is quite haunting and sweet in a way. That pressure you feel when you meet someone for the first time – it’s not that you want to impress them, necessarily, but you don’t want them to think you’re an idiot, or uncultured, or out of the loop. I still, now at 100 years old, find “So where shall we go?” an absolutely terrifying question, and I turn into mid-90s typecast Hugh Grant, bumbling my apologies for my crap brain and lack of worldliness that have led you, probably, to accompany me to the worst pub in London. Well, second-worst; I’d never take you to a… oh we’ll come to that.
Good table manners?
No complaints. Kudos for navigating shared dishes. And he let me have the last bit of beef, which he found at the bottom of the dish, no less.
The last bit of beef before lockdown, eh? Literally, rather than figuratively, I’m afraid. I have read ahead.
Best thing about Laurence?
Damn good at panic ordering – a skill I will never master.
Panic ordering. Cut to three weeks later and I bet Calum is a dab hand at hacking into Ocado’s website and having it deliver him three sacks of radiatori, six palettes of Cushelle, a grossweight of Baxter’s soup, and an air horn to keep any looters away.
Best thing about Calum?
Great stories, and friendly vibes.
Vibes. You don’t hear so much about “vibes” these days, now we have “energy”. Have you noticed now politicians have started to talk like a mix between the Fonz from Happy Days and that guy in the dregs of a party who is almost passing you a joint but keeps pausing to go off on a tangent about his crystals and why the royal family are actually lizards. “I’ll level with you”, they say, “I get it”. We are about a week away from Matt Hancock saying coronavirus has big dick energy, I can feel it.
Would you introduce him to your friends?
Sure. He’s a nice guy.
We didn’t swap numbers.
Oh. Spoilers. Um. I see. What do we do now? Laurence appears to have blown his load early and answered the last question now. This is a confusing timeline. Um. Shall we go on?
Describe Laurence in three words?
London, funny, easy-to-talk-to.
LONDON. Uh. What? A word to describe Laurence is… London? Like, in what way? Does he have a comprehensive mass transit system? Is he never more than a quarter of a mile away from a decent bakery? Or maybe his pants were on lockdown.
FUNNY. Like most April fool jokes stopped being around… well, probably about ten years ago tbh but let’s say three weeks.
EASY-TO-TALK-TO. Cheating a word count with hyphens. We’re better than this.
Describe Calum in three words?
Intellectual, calm, friendly.
INTELLECTUAL. I’m sorry but whenever I see this word I think of Adrian Mole writing to Malcolm Muggeridge. I would love an Adrian Mole lockdown diary. You can imagine him stockpiling lasagne sheets as it was the only kind of pasta left, and snitching on his neighbours for having a very loud barbecue and coughing in his face every time he peered over the fence to protest. And yet he would see nothing wrong in going out upward of six times a day. Anyway. I miss Sue Townsend.
CALM. Is this a typo, or did Laurence run out of words to describe Calum so just wrote the closest adjective to his name?
FRIENDLY. Like we all need to be for a while, I guess. It’s important not to lose our inner bitch, of course, but we can at least be nice to people out there working their way through this.
What do you think he made of you?
Maybe a little bit too engrossed in the British planning system.
What do you think he made of you?
Loud, hopefully friendly and a mildly OK conversationalist.
Oh, loud. That’s probably what Calum meant when he said Laurence was “London”. London is loud. Well, it used to be.
Did you go on somewhere?
After a prolonged wander, the nearest Wetherspoon was decided on.
With my limited knowledge of Soho, he suggested a ’Spoon.
Ha! ‘Spoon. Spare me this bollocks. Here is what I think of Wetherspoons.
And… did you kiss?
No. A fleeting hug on a wet street.
There is something very beautiful about the phrasing of “a fleeting hug on a wet street” that I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some teenage poetry in Calum’s history. While handshakes can do one for ever, I do miss a quick hug of hello from a friend. The other week, I was in isolation and had severe back pain so a close friend very kindly drove over to drop some pills off on the doorstep. She stood back, right out in the street, for a minute or two while I stood at the door in bobbly leisurewear and chatted to her. She was only a few steps from me but she had never felt so far away. How strange to come away from that brief encounter unhugged.
If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I wish I’d ordered more food and drunk slightly less.
A slightly less abrupt goodbye. I shouldn’t have said “ciao”.
Marks out of 10?
A solid 7.
What a way to end the physical Blind Dates, on a fourteen and no numbers exchanged.
BUT we cannot have romance every week, and nor should we wish for it. Life is not a series of happy endings, with things neatly sewn up, and then moving onto the next. We exists within waves, highs and lows, passion and apathy, drunkenness and sobriety. It is enough for me, to be honest, that people still want to go on these dates and appear on the pages of a magazine for our entertainment. Beyond that, they don’t owe us anything. There isn’t room for every date to be a love story – even the failures can be hopeful.
However they could’ve at least slipped a finger in, for the timeline.
Would you meet again?
If our paths should cross, I’d love to go for a coffee. As pals. I’m sure he’s on the same page.
If we bumped into each other, I’d ask about the sheep in Orkney.
Thank you, guys, let’s hope you get the chance to bump into each other, or turn that page, sooner rather than later. Until then: stay in.
My novel THE MAGNIFICENT SONS is out soon, in the middle of a pandemic. Hahahaha sure it’ll be fine. Anyway, I know we’re all a bit tense but perhaps my book will take your mind off it. Please preorder if you can. You can find it at: Hive, Amazon, Waterstones, Bert’s Books, Book Depository, WH Smith, and Foyle’s.
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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 and replies. Please do not tweet horrible things about them. 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. And send me a pic of the coat, and the cool glasses – they sound fire.
Calum and Laurence ate at Ceviche, London W1. This date took place before the UK government’s Covid-19 lockdown. NEXT WEEK: They’re flirting over FaceTime
Self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to stop looking for love, and Blind Date will continue with online video dates. If you’re single and would like to be set up (with a takeaway on us), email firstname.lastname@example.org.