Impeccable Table Manners

Charles and Ross


If there’s one phrase that used to puncture my fun balloon during my high-cheekboned, visible-jawlined twenties, it was “Ooh, I love gay guys!” Usually exclaimed excitedly during parties at 3am by wired Australian girls who really just wanted to know if you had any coke – ‘gay guys always have coke’, you see – this well-meaning declaration of acceptance used to feel like a prison.

Oh, you like gay guys, do you? I know what that means. You’re expecting a full hour of Kenneth Williams-style razor wit, perhaps some light ribbing about your weight or hair or boyfriend (nope, I don’t fancy him) and, I guess, if you chuck a stone in any gay bar, you’re bound to hit someone who can deliver this for you. Sadly, however, for any eager new pals salivating over our pink potential, there’s a truth you really have to acknowledge if you want to get anywhere: most gay men are as boring as hell. For every one shimmering, bronzed, acerbic Gore Vidal in training, there are 100 world-weary, lumpy, repressed old pongoes like me.

I would try my best to ‘get my gay on;’ when approached by one of these people – and don’t think I’m not grateful that these amazing women came to talk to me and told me how much they loved my ‘kind’, because it’s more than a lot of the straight men we used to fantasise about ever did – but once the booze and drug buzz wore off, the mask would slip, and I’d be back to my old self again. Asking whether they did a weekly shop or just got “a few bits in” every day. Talking about semicolons. Confessing my Tube map obsession. Cardigans, the election, peg bags. Christ.

Anyway, in short: gay men are dull and you will deal. With that in mind, well, lookee here, it’s the Guardian Blind Date column and the eagle-eyed among you will notice the two bearded specimens in the picture above are not here to fix your boiler, they are in fact GAY MEN. Yes, again.

Ross and Charlie

Read what happened on the date between Charles, 33, a healthcare manager and in what I think might be a navy top, and Ross, a 39-year-old lawyer, who’s wearing that check shirt we’ve all got. The Labour government used to hand them out as soon as they’d got wind you’d come out to your parents, apparently. And then come back here to read what I’ve got to say about it, if you like. I’ll be waiting.

Charles starts us off, and his answers are in green. Ross’s are in blue because patriarchy.

charles hoping


ross hoping

Vin Diesel – basically EastEnders’ Phil Mitchell through 17 Instagram filters.

charles first

ross first

Smiling. I mean, it’s nice, I guess. You don’t want to turn up to a date and find a guy with a face like thunder or staring off into the distance with a solitary tear dramatically sliding down his cheek.

The trouble with smiling, that nobody except Victoria Beckham seems willing to admit, is not everyone looks hot when they smile. Oh, wow, I have tried every pose in the mirror to perfect that smile and… no. When I smile, I look like I know a terrible secret – a truth so terrible that were I to stop concentrating on smiling so hard for even a second, I would blurt it out and bring about the total devastation of Earth.

Years ago, Smash Hits printed a picture of Take That’s Mark Owen doing something I had never seen him doing before – grinning widely. He looked like Norman Wisdom coming up on an E and I can’t even begin to tell you how much retrospective un-fantasising I had to do just to feel clean again.

“This isn’t a smile; it’s a lid on a scream.” – Coronation Street‘s Bet Lynch.

charles talk

“The life journeys that had led to us being in this restaurant on that Friday night.” Well. If that’s not the perfect opening line to a book on mindfulness or the autobiography of a Barratt house, I don’t know what is. I wonder how much detail they went into. I mean, these blokes are in their 30s, and gay men’s stories aren’t usually light on plot. I struggle to stay interested when someone recounts their Tube journey to where we met, let alone their life story, but each to their own.

Oh, and brushing aside, the abysmal boner-destroying “London property market” chatter, can we just take a moment to realise this date is happening on a Friday night? Sex Night. And it’s a gay couple. Ooh, the Guardian knows what it’s doing here, doesn’t it, readers?


ross talk

Oh. That kind of journey. Travel. Traaaaaaavel. The “I’m really into running” for the congenitally lazy. I love to travel, and to see new places and to try new things, and I have ‘been around a bit’, but unless your date has been to the same places to you, talking about your various globetrotting exploits is just a lecture without a handout or even slides to copy while you pretend you’re listening.

“Obscure things on the menu” – they ate at one of those snoot cafés that’s popped up in Peckham. I went to have a peek. The menu includes steak-frites, artichoke, croquettes. Hardly negotiating cauldrons of monkeys’ brains or sheep eyes or octopus ganache. What have they been eating all their lives? Frozen French bread pizzas and Slush Puppies?

charles awkward

ross awks


Table manners next. Best have some Ritalin handy, just in case.

charles table

ross table

“No concerns there.” I’m sure this is meant amiably, but it does sound like a waspish middle-class nightmare in mom jeans desperately trying to find fault in her son’s new girlfriend.

“No complaints.” I have some. Who do I need to call?

charles bst

I know, from bitter experience, that rating people after a date is hard, but this… it’s a passionless, fat-free, gluten-intolerant, hurried questionnaire of a response. Not “I found him so interesting; I loved that he’s done so much. And he was hilarious – I laughed all night long”, but the dead-eyed facts delivered above with all the vigour of a Twix thudding to the bottom of a vending machine.

“Plus he can be quite humorous” – if this praise were any fainter, it would be an albumen print of a wasp landing on a daffodil in 1854.

ross best

I lived alone for years and worked from home for most of it – after a while, my whistling kettle was easy to talk to, Charles. What did you actually think of him?

Anyway, they both pass the “would you introduce him to your friends” test with flying colours so well done, boyz. Onward:

charles three

Accomplished. That’s a new one. We don’t often hear that among the endless cavalcade of “chatty” and “smiley” and “engaging” and whatnot.

Would I be pleased to be called accomplished? I guess so. Although it does rather suggest that I’ve nowhere to go as a person, that I’m in my finished state, how I will continue for ever. Anyone who’s met me or read one of my dim political tweets will know that is a very frightening prospect.

ross three


This is kinda sweet. We’ll ignore for now the disgusting rule-breaking that is using a three-worded sentence, thus wasting one of the words on “a”. I think they do this to look kind of charming and cute and clever and I guess it works – if Christmas cracker jokes excite you and you mistake a predilection for a Gordon’s and tonic as having a personality.

charles made

Some of the best dates I’ve met didn’t behave very well at all. I feel like I’m routing through Tyler Brûlé’s sock drawer. Everything in order. Nothing to see here. Bristling with efficiency – project-planned down to the very last talcing of the balls.


ross made of you

Dot dot dot. He might just be a drunk, Ross, did you think of that? And he might work in PPI and want to add your number to his database. Hmmm? I mean, it’s probably not that, and it looks like he really likes you, but you cannot dump yourself on the pages of a magazine thousands of us are paying for and not actually answer any questions. It’s not enigmatic, you’re just being a politician.

charles kiss

ross kiss


Hang on. It’s Friday night. Sex Night, like I say. Or at the very least, Snog Night. It’s Friday. You’re both gay. You like each other. A hug?! That’s it? Not even the milquetoast peck on the cheek so favoured by others whose crotches are aflame but want to look respectable in a weekend supplement?


charles change

ross change

If you’ve been following closely, you’ll notice their answers are quite similar throughout, which makes me wonder: do gay men with beards share a hive mind? I mean, when I hear a group of them speaking – no idea what about, it tends not to matter – they sound indistinguishable, so are they all actually the same person?

I say this, of course, with the inability to grow even the faintest whiff of a beard. Perhaps I’m envious. But I’m intrigued – there must be a reason half the gay population is walking around looking like a Victorian mill-owner who got Superdry vouchers for Christmas. Hive mind. Plotting to take over the world. It’s gotta be.

Scores. Yeah, I know, I can’t believe this is almost over either. Will we ever taste such highs again?

charles score

ross scores

As Countdown legends Carol Vorderman would no doubt be thrilled to tell you: the problem with an 8 is that it’s not a 9.

A 9 can’t wait to see you again; it won’t stop thinking about you. A 9 remembers what you smelled like, and how it felt when you accidentally brushed against them for the first time. A 9 has promise. It tantalises. There will be more to come.

An 8 has had a very nice time, thank you, and the sex was fine and the evening perfectly satisfactory overall but it has to be at work in an hour so really must be going. But, hey, at least it didn’t wipe its cock on your curtains like a 7 would.

Meeting again boys? Shall I buy a hat or maybe book you a table somewhere with an uncomplicated menu? Like the Wimpy at Clapham Junction? (Gone now, I think.)

charles meet


ross meet


Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re lovely and, hopefully, not planning to take over the universe and establish a new galactic republic for the bearded. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves.  If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. 

Another note: No blog next week. I’m away.

Photograph: Sarah Lee; Linda Nylind, both for the Guardian


  1. “…if this praise were any fainter, it would be an albumen print of a wasp landing on a daffodil in 1854.” One for the ages, or at least for the next edition of The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations.

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