Impeccable Table Manners

Ella and Josh

The news has been so relentlessly depressing this week I don’t think I can even bring myself to do my usual vaguely topical or observational intro into the review. My satirical neurotransmitters have been deadened, finally beaten by the miasma of incompetence that hangs over Whitehall. Even the return of my favourite comedy EastEnders, and Sharon pouting in a series of different rooms in chiffon tops that gets floatier and fussier with every scene, can’t cheer me.

So let’s press on with the show and see which two members of the public are here for the dating equivalent of agreeing to clamber up onto the stage as part of the audience participation section of a Jim Davidson standup set.

On the left is Ella, a 26-year-old personal assistant, and on the right is Josh, also 26, and an actor/bar manager. Is this our first slash-job on the Blind Date? I can’t remember; I don’t keep the data. An actor and a bar manager – presumably not at the same time, apart from when he’s smiling politely and handing back the debit card of an aged punter who tells him he looks a bit like a more surf-dude version of Matthew Corbett, the guy who spent most of the ’80s fisting Sooty. Anyway, here they are:

Ella and Josh
Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

These outfits… Is it me or is there a third person missing from the above photo?

Ella Josh full length with General Zod from Superman 2

That’s better.

Read what happened on the date in full in the Guardian – I always leave at least one question out so this is *not* the full experience – and then let us reconvene here for what some people are calling a ‘takedown’.

Ella on JoshJosh on Ella
What were you hoping for?
A fun evening, with good company and/or to find the love of my life.

Another slash already! And/or. The ‘or’ rather suggests that Ella is willing to put up with a semi-shitty evening with a raging bore, so long as it results in meeting the love of her life. This either means she has read the plot of every third romantic comedy in the books section of a big Sainsbury’s, or she’s already been to scope out the restaurant and discovered that all the waiters are fit as.

What were you hoping for?
A blonde lass who has good chat and likes a drink.

‘A blonde lass.’ Lass. Don’t hear that much anymore, unless you’ve got All Creatures Great and Small on and Siegfried has his hand halfway up a heifer’s backside. ‘Come now, lass, let’s get this little lad out of you.’ Perhaps Josh is from the north of the country, or maybe in his sixties and has a great skincare routine. I don’t know.

First impressions?
He looks lovely.

LOVELY. Ella, a cake you just bought at a village fete and are eating in front of its baker and are pretending to like is ‘lovely’. Come on. What did you really think? ‘Mmm-hmm-HMMM’, maybe? ‘Phwoar’, even, if you remember that word from the nineties? Even ‘he’ll do’ is better.

First impressions?
Well, she was blonde, so that box was ticked. I thought she was a pretty lass and was looking forward to getting to know her.

Love to get a box ticked, it’s very romantic. And here we are with ‘lass’ again. Josh’s answers today have been drafted by Barbara Taylor Bradford.

What did you talk about?
Family, jobs, how amazing the food was, his acting career, university, how I’m not telepathic with my twin sister.
Work, lockdown life, family. She was into football, which is always good. We had lots in common.

Work/jobs ✅ – Personal assistant and actor/bar manager are such perfect romcom lead character jobs, I feel like I’m on page 34 already. If she drops a tray of doughnuts – perhaps he is handing them out on the street dressed as one, in a delightful ‘misunderstood what the audition was for’ scene – then I’ll expect things to be getting racy by page 178.
Family ✅ – Loving this twin sister angle to the story. Might Josh, the romcom version, bump into said twin somewhere – Columbia Road, maybe, in a shop that has somehow stayed afloat for the last ten years selling only greetings cards and small packages containing three jelly beans and a miniature of absinthe – and either accidentally insult the twin, or fall in love with her too, with hilarious consequences?
‘She was into football, which is always good’ – not for her gay friends it isn’t, Josh.

Any awkward moments?
When I thought he said he was a band manager and asked him what band he manages. He actually said he was a bar manager…

This reminds me of that bit in Normal People where Connell and Marianne are in the kitchen having a conversation about what to do over the summer and one of them mishears the other and it leads to a misunderstanding that has them breaking up for a year or something. I was watching it, like, what, they have just broken up because nobody can say PARDON? Being young is wild, I guess; you really do think you have all the time in the world. I have some news:

US Family Fortunes our survey says zero

Any awkward moments?
When the oysters came out. I had never had them before, so it was interesting to try them for the first time with a stranger.

I think I’ve only eaten oysters twice. Well, you don’t really eat oysters, do you? They kind of just happen to you. You experience them. I’ve always assumed that the oft-repeated cliché about oyster being an aphrodisiac is to take your mind off the fact that the bottom of the sea has just snotted into your oesophagus.

Good table manners?
Yes. He let me try every dish first and was very kind to our lovely waiter.

Ben Mitchell looking shocked in eastenders

Um… I’m never super comfy with the idea of clattering forks with a stranger over a shared dish at the best of times, but now? In these uNpREcedENteD tiMEs?! I thought it might be because the restaurant served tapas or shared dishes – so fair enough –  so hotfooted it over to their website (ridiculously over complicated and full of animation; it was like being lost in a deleted scene from Fantasia) and did see they have rices that require a minimum of two people (that sound very nice actually, even at £25 per head, no I’m not joking) but almost everything else seemed to be a singular main course.

I know it’s polite to say ‘would you like to try a bit of my beef cheeks?’ but for god’s sake don’t actually say YES. Not with someone you don’t know.

Good table manners?
Very good, and she was always appreciative towards the waiters.

Patti Lu Pone clinks a glass in Company

I’ll drink to that. This is so important. So so important. This is what opens doors for you and, probably, gets you laid. Being snarky and shitty to waiters is just not on – not unprovoked, and even if you have been provoked, you still have to smile and be nice because, quite simply, it will help you get what you want. I’m not saying some waiting staff can’t be horrible – a guy was so rude to me in Wagamama once (for no reason other than I got up from my table to get a fork because he was busy) that he made me CRY and I boycotted the entire chain for years – but usually servers are just trying to get through the day without dropping something and the last thing they need is someone who just watched ten YouTube videos on assertiveness training back to back and thinks the ideal time to become the mouse that roared is in a busy Zizzi at someone who’s paid (although not enough) to bring someone food and smile at them, no matter what. I know men fall into this trap a lot because I’ve seen it done too many times, as a date, a fellow diner, a casual observer and, best of all, as an actual waiter myself, and I can hand-on-heart tell you that being rude and domineering to your waiter in an effort to impress someone has the opposite effect. It flips boners inside out, vaginal walls slam shut, ass cheeks weld together, lips meld into an impenetrable blob.

Best thing about Josh?
He’s easy to get along with and a very caring, engaging guy.

This is nice. I can imagine Anne Hathaway in a pink dress singing this in a musical adaptation of my blog.

Best thing about Ella?
She was chatty and understanding. We are from very different backgrounds but there was never any judgment.

The first part is also nice but I am fascinated by the second. Different backgrounds – okay, I’m guessing this is a class thing, I don’t know. ‘Never any judgement’ – I mean, okay? Um. Is this about him saying ‘lass’ a lot? Is it a north-south divide? Are we still doing that in 2020? And who would be judging whom? Maybe this isn’t what he meant to say. I don’t know. How strange.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
I would – they’d like him.
Probably not.

Sean Bean as Sharpe looking disappointed

I am going to give the Lord of Lass Vegas the benefit of the doubt here and assume he means that as this isn’t going any further – spoiler, sorry – then he wouldn’t be introducing her to his friends. Otherwise… why not? Say why not. That should be the rule now. Say why you wouldn’t bring the other person along to a meeting of your close coterie of in-jokes and stories about bizarre initiations so I can take the piss out of you properly.

Look, Josh, you’re an actor, you should know this: we all pretend to like people the very first time we meet them anyway, and if we’re lucky it grows into a genuine affection and bonds are formed. If you’re unlucky, and dislike each other but don’t make that clear enough in time, you get this:

prince Charles and lady di wedding

Describe Josh in three words?
Kind, smiley, genuine.

KIND, like a chugger who doesn’t make you take your earphones out.
SMILEY, like your most annoying neighbour as they lick their lips and click ‘SEND‘ on their application to be a Covid marshal.
GENUINE, like my shock at discovering the price of a pint at a Jane McDonald concert in Leeds.

Describe Ella in three words?
Kind, understanding, driven.

KIND, again, like someone who helps you pick up the doughnuts you just dropped, not even complaining as you bump heads, laughing as you both stand up straight and hold out your hands in introduction, before remembering there’s a death virus that wants to wear your respiratory tract as a handbag so instead you bump elbows and exchange phone numbers so you can both undress over FaceTime later.
UNDERSTANDING, like your partner wouldn’t be about you doing any of the above.
DRIVEN, like a beef tantanmen ramen in the back of a Deliveroo bike.

What do you think he made of you?
Talkative, loves her food (he was full by the time the main course arrived and I pretended I was, too, as I thought it was good date etiquette) and a very fast drinker.

Woman saying, slowly and deliberately, 'what?'

No. No, no. Eat. Eat! If he’s full, fuck him, carry on eating. I know the world is complicated and women feel they have to play out a million different roles – especially when it comes to keeping men onside, or being attractive to men, or showing independence from men, or not being attacked by them – but if you’re still hungry you should not pretend you aren’t just because some man you never met before says he’s full. Know why? Because a man wouldn’t do that for you. A straight one, anyway, no he wouldn’t. If you said you weren’t hungry, he’d go ahead and order, or tuck in even more. He’d probably start ripping meat straight off the bone to prove a point.

We are all playing roles, at every point. Our different selves help us navigate tricky social situations and keep the peace and, yes, sometimes, we have to suppress our own pleasures and wants because it simply isn’t our turn and we must try to be considerate to others. ‘Be yourself’ is a loaded gun, a trap, because we must quickly flip through our rolodex of different personas to find the one that suits the situation – it’s a defence mechanism. It’s also exhausting. And if you can’t just let the veneer slip every now and again and sit back and just eat on a first date, then what’s the point of living?

Fuck first date etiquette – first dates are not auditions; they are statements, presentations. Hide the crazy a while, sure, but keep as close to the truth as you dare. Eat the grass-fed Cornwall tomahawk (whatever that is).

The habit women have, when answering this question, to call themselves talkative is something I have covered before. Fast-drinker is a new one but it all taps into the same thing that women are more likely to pick at traits they assume others would find negative, or things about themselves that they don’t like. I think that’s a real shame, but the world is a sewer so what are you going to do?

What do you think she made of you?
I think she liked me as a person – not too sure about sexual attraction though.

See the difference in answers? Not a single care about any characteristics good or bad, just that she probably didn’t fancy him. The patriarchy is choking us all slowly to death.

On a side note, do you *need* be immediately sexually attracted to someone? Must you feel it within those first two hours or there’s no point?

I am glad they are getting on and seem fine with the fact it’s going nowhere at a rate of knots, but do they have to be quite so ‘end of part one cliffhanger in an ITV drama about a divorcing couple from Barnes’ about it? You’re in your twenties! Roll your eyes more! It’s fine!

If it weren’t for social distancing, would you have kissed?
I’m not sure we would have.
I would say no.

the queen pulling a face

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
A mask-free waiter so I could understand him a bit better. I misunderstood what he said and accidentally agreed he could pick our dishes. Oysters as a first course was a bit of a surprise. Josh had never had them before but handled the situation very well and seemed to enjoy them. Either that or he’s a really great actor.

I like Ella; this is a brilliantly romcom answer. However: masks are good. Thanks.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change anything. The food, service and wine were all amazing, and it was nice to experience it with a stranger who is a great person.

And this is good too. Nobody’s getting dragged today, lad.

Marks out of 10?

Two eights – the highest possible score you should give if you don’t kiss someone (and enjoy it) or wouldn’t have kissed someone had there not been a whole pandemic vibe.

Would you meet again?
Maybe I’ll see him at one of his band’s gigs one day…

Hahaha, as NOPES go, this is a good one.

Although she was lovely, and great company, I don’t think so. There wasn’t any sexual chemistry.

Missy shedding a tear in Doctor Who



Yeah, so guess what, my second book still exists and I’d love for you to buy it.

Or you can show you care by supporting my work on Ko-fi, from only £3 (I don’t set this amount, it’s automatic)

If you don’t have any money, it’s fine, maybe think about liking and sharing on social media. It helps me get more work. Or just read it and enjoy it, whatever!

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. And, Ella, eat. Eat! Please.

• Josh and Ella ate at Arros QD, London W1. They were photographed separately for this image. Fancy a blind date? Email


  1. Feels like such a slap in the face reading that sudden “probably not” about introducing her to his friends. I’m probably reading far too much into this but coupled with the judgement comment earlier I’m definitely feeling that there’s a wee bit of class snobbery going on that I get the feeling she’s oblivious to. Crazy how I can concoct so much from so little!

    Plus that pic of Sean Bean is everything.

  2. Thank you for making me laugh out loud, whilst still being kind to the people. The whole Romcom riff was brilliant! And the thing about gay friends and liking football too…so true! My gay friends like sewing, baking, gossiping and choosing my nail polish colour ( there was disagreement over nude and orange…ORANGE ffs) but glaze over when I talk about the offside rule. Anyway long story short I am going to buy your book forthwith…I can’t believe I have waited so long. Please keep writing this blog. It makes my day every time?

  3. The no sexual chemistry thing is so interesting. I had a date once and had great chats but didn’t feel mega sparky. But we continued hanging out and ended up… well I don’t want to be crude but turned out we had *fine* sexual chemistry. Narrative fiction really warps our expectations.

  4. It seemed like a little bit of reverse snobbery was going on maybe – with all his ‘lasses’, it felt like Josh saw himself as a bit of a salt of the earth northerner and Ella was quite posh and southern possibly so he felt he didn’t relate to her? The ‘probably not’ did sound just little a bit abrupt as an answer to that question.

    Love the Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe gif. One of the sexiest TV characters ever. And a salt of the earth northerner who wasn’t averse to a posh lady or two.

    1. It sounds so ridiculous to non British people all this class obsession and ‘I would not introduce them to my friends’. I am Italian and I like this blog very much

  5. Please keep writing these blind date analyses. They are witty and sharp but not unkind – a little bubble of joy when I find a new one (and heaven knows, bubbles of joy are much needed at the moment). I hope you don’t under estimate the appreciation of your effort.

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