Jack and Fiona
Christian Sinibaldi; Jill Mead/The Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Fiona and Jack

What could I possibly say that’s not been said already? What could I add to the noise, the incessant takes swirling, the good, the bad, and the dangerous. Probably nothing. Not that that’s ever stopped anyone before, but instead of wondering whether there is a point to any of this, leeeeeeet’s go over to today’s contestants!

Fiona is a doctor and is 26 – well, she’s 26 in the online version, but 27 in the magazine. Mariah Carey would be proud. Jack, an accountant, is 28 wherever you’re reading it and together they’re both very young and good-looking and, in their photos at least, blissfully unaware that in just a few weeks’ time, we will all be living in a bizarre version of an ITV disaster movie that sat on the shelf unbroadcast for two years. But real. All too frighteningly real. (Guardian Weekend makes a note, as should I, that this date took place before government guidelines on social distancing came into place. So let’s hope they used that freedom to its fullest potential, eh?)

And here they are, in their respective looks. Fiona and Jack. Jack and Fiona. Namecards you would expect to see next to each other at a wedding in a British romcom, although not the main characters, perhaps, but as part of a subplot about two BFFs who agreed years ago “no strings” but both, so very much, want strings, and get them, in the penultimate scene, while the main characters kiss nearby, soundtracked by a Maroon 5 ballad.

Fiona and Jack
Christian Sinibaldi; Jill Mead/The Guardian

If you were to assume that what they say in their speech bubbles is the most interesting thing about the date, you’d be tempted to think it had taken place over text message or needed approval through ten tonnes of paperwork. Read the online version, which goes for a different quote entirely (a last-minute change I’m guessing), before I go in and deconstruct.

Fiona on JackJack on Fiona

What were you hoping for?
A great date, or at least an amusing story.

Back when Family Fortunes was still on TV, in the final round, if one of the players gave an answer that had already been said, a BLEEP tone would sound to let them know then need to think of something else. So, in my near six years of reading this answer, can I just say: BLEEEEEEEP.

What were you hoping for?
The first day of the rest of my life. Failing that, some good pasta.

This answer is SO good, I love it. It has optimism, it has swagger, it has humour. It also includes science-fiction. Pasta? What’s that? Pasta whom? Mighty as well say you were hoping to be teleported to the date.

First impressions?
Well dressed, great smile, pretty cute.
Tall, beautiful and immediately chatty. Good start.

I would say that’s an excellent start.

What did you talk about?
Supermarkets, our respective drunken public transport mishaps, politics (!), our families, and whether being an accountant is a juicy enough job to warrant a This Is Going To Hurt-style book (we concluded possibly not).
Ice climbing, Dolly Parton, free brownies at work and Scotland being generally bad at sports.

Supermarkets – ignoring the current supermarket discourse, I think “favourite supermarket” is a good question to ask a date. As you ask someone to describe why it’s their favourite, and what they like about it, they end up revealing an awful lot more than their affection for the Tesco stir-fry meal deal. Just as everything in the UK is about class, so too is the name of the supermarket people will admit to loving, unless they are trying to be a living embodiment of the lyrics to Common People. Watch out for these interlopers, who grew up in houses with breakfast rooms and had liberal parents who let them have bolts on their bedroom doors and a glass of wine at Christmas from the age of 8 because “that’s what they do in France”. You usually spot them nicknaming Morrisons “Mozzers”, as they wrap their Hermès scarf round their face to avoid having to breathe in microbes left behind by whichever victim of the buy-to-let virus was congregating round the aisle-end 2 for 1s before they managed to elbow their way through. Similarly, yet conversely, I like to frequent supermarkets I’d never have gone to as a child and glide through them like a minor royal, before stopping at the fish counter, glaring at something unpronounceable and saying, “‘OW much?”

Respective drunken public transport mishaps – mainly, drunk people on buses are terrible, I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. Even if you’re good people on your way back from two hours of transactional worship at a Hillsong service, if you’re being drunk and loud on public transport, I will struggle to love you.

Whether being an accountant is a juicy enough job to warrant a This Is Going To Hurt-style book (we concluded possibly not) – This Isn’t Going To Add Up, perhaps? Maybe I should write one about my time writing these reviews! This Is Going To Be Two Sixes, No Kisses, and a School Night.

Dolly Parton – PROTECT DOLLY AT ALL COSTS.

Dolly Parton giving the finger

Anyway, no matches but it seems like they talked each other’s heads off and can actually remember what they talked about so the signs are good so far.

Any awkward moments?
Realising he must have received, word for word, the long and rambling description of myself I had to send in before the date.

It is apparently very hard to write a description of yourself. I have to do it every so often, if I’m doing an event – remember those? – so there is some info about me that will help people to decide whether to come. Perhaps I should review this – around nine people turned up to my last one.

Anyway, my tip for this is to imagine ten people in a room, and one of them hates you, but has been paid to tell the other nine how amazing you are. Write like them. It keeps you humble but also from veering into tiresome self-deprecation because nobody wants to hear your negative attributes in granular detail with (terrible) jokes as padding.

Any awkward moments?
My life is a roller coaster of awkwardness but I think we survived the night.

As a wise man once said:

Fake inspirational poster saying "Life Is A Rollercoaster, just gotta ride it", a Ronan Keating lyric

Oh, hang on, it wasn’t a wise man, it was Ronan Keating. I have actually seen him sing this song live at what you would now term a LARGE GATHERING at Albert Hall about 16 years ago (press ticket, okay?).

Good table manners?
Excellent. And he let me try his whisky sour, which I appreciated.

This only happened a few weeks ago but the very idea of someone offering you their drink to try feels about as plausible and current now as rubbing sticks together to make fire. We are post- “Ooh that looks lovely” and while I should be glad, I feel I am… not.

Good table manners?
Impeccable. Although I was more focused on not covering myself in ragu.

Jack is possessed by a deleted scene from the second Bridget Jones movie.

Best thing about Jack?
Great conversationalist across a range of serious and silly topics.
She knew something interesting about everything we talked about.

These two TALKED. It’s good to talk. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind silences, they can be thrilling – horny, even! – but if you’re both getting on and the talk is not only flowing but actually interesting then you are getting on very well indeed, aintcha?

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Sure.

I don’t think she’s being blasé about this, or overly cool, she’s just saying, why not? And why not indeed.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Absolutely. She was effortless, and would get on with them instantly.

This is a very good answer – again! I am starting to think Jack has read a lot of these dates in the past and has worked out exactly where each guy who’s been on one has turned the very worst of corners.

I am especially fond of the word “effortless” because it is such a compliment. We place a lot of importance on working really hard at either your job or being the “right” kind of person or having the perfect body or making yourself into some kind of brand and it is unsustainable. Productivity culture is going to drive us all mad – in particular now when many people have had inactivity trust upon them. Does everything have to be workshopped, and planned to the nth degree, and require megawatts of your personal energy because the idea of being yourself and exposing yourself to failure is so terrible? There is a lot to be said about maximising potential but not EVERYONE can be Beyoncé, no matter how many hours in a day they have. Nor should we want to be.

Effortlessness comes with the confidence to be the best version of you possible, but with as little pain and struggle as you can get away with. You don’t have to die trying – phone it in every now and again, and live.

Describe Jack in three words?
Warm, friendly, interesting.

WARM, like my forehead but I’m sure it’s fine!
FRIENDLY, like a neighbour popping a note through your door to see if you would like any shirtless selfies to keep you going during isolation.
INTERESTING, like the times we live in. I miss dull. I know life wasn’t easier but at least I understood the old difficult better.

Describe Fiona in three words?
Relaxed, engaging and attractive.

RELAXED, like a millionaire reciting the opening stanza of a John Lennon song down their (gifted) phone camera to an incredulous public.
ENGAGING, like watching, for the seven-hundredth time, Cardi B say [that word].
ATTRACTIVE, like the prospect of squishing a grapefruit into a (bad) billionaire’s face.

What do you think he made of you?
Jack announced he was going to recommend the Blind Date experience to his male friends – I reckon I must have been at least partially responsible for that.

Jessica Fletcher winking

The Guardian Blind Date has a man problem – I’ll just pause here to imagine a heckler shouting back, “Don’t we all?!?”

No, seriously, not enough (straight) men apply for it. Perhaps they fear rejection, or are too shy, or would really rather not be asked about someone else’s table manners in a national magazine. But it is an issue because without participants, the Blind Date doesn’t exist and thus, it would seem, neither would I. Get all the men you know to apply. I promise I will go easy on them. (I promise no such thing.)

What do you think she made of you?
I think I had my work cut out after admitting I was an accountant, but she continued to be chatty until the end, which I took as a good sign.

We have some unshakeable ideas about what our job says about us, and its place in society, don’t we? And even more of these ideas about how other people earn a living! I wonder if that’s all about to change.

A great reappraisal of the workforce seems to be happening. I am fairly cynical toward those only now realising that NHS staff and so-called “unskilled” workers are key to the economy and to our general wellbeing, but thanks for catching up.

Unskilled, especially, is such a loaded term, because it usually means a job you didn’t do further study to do, one that, in theory, anyone can do. What bollocks. It has quite a range, this “unskilled” umbrella. People working in shops and restaurants, or “flipping” burgers, those wiping the mouths of our grandmothers in care homes, filling our mouths by stacking food on the shelves, or cleaning the floors we walk and the walls we touch. Unskilled, quite the loaded term.

Ignore, if you like, the art of finding the exact way an elderly person likes to sit in their chair so they’ll be comfortable all night, or drying their tears, or washing them as kindly and tenderly as you can, knowing there are ten more people to get clean before breakfast. Disregard, if you please, the skill of serving, with an unflinching face, hot, fresh food to a series of drunks who think, because they have the option of tipping you, that they own you and can treat you how they like. Brush aside the talent for memorising where everything is and their stock levels in a store so when a customer pounces on you like a driving test examiner, you can help them, confident that this time they won’t get angry at you. Shrug, if you must, at the expertise of the armies of cleaners who know the exact technique to get somewhere hygienic and safe as fast as possible.

And then imagine how you would get on if you were suddenly wrenched from the bubble that allowed you to call someone “unskilled”, and asked to do these jobs. The way things are going, you might yet. You missed a bit. (I go into this in a bit more detail here.)

Rizzo kicking Patty in Grease

And… did you kiss?
A peck goodbye.
Yes.

So many scenarios:

  1. They kissed, with tongues, but Fiona knows her mother is reading this.
  2. They kissed on the lips, just a peck, but Jack was never one for detail.
  3. He pecked her on the cheek, but Jack still counts this as a ‘kiss’ because he went to an all-boys’ school.
  4. Jack has been telling everyone that they kissed so long and so passionately it was like they were each licking out two trifle bowls on Boxing Day, but Fiona has brought this fabrication crashing down.

Schrödinger’s kiss! Anyway, whichever, there was some very necessary contact. Those were the days.

Marks out of 10?
7.
9.

Fozzie Bear looking disappointed

Oh. Okay. This seems a little cautious on Fiona’s side, but not everyone is like one of the Real Housewives on ketamine when they go on a date. I think as a doctor –  who is probably VERY busy this week – Fiona is just practical and prefers to keep her stethoscope close to her chest. A 7 would usually terrify me here but I think this is a soft 8.

Jack on the other hand is all, yep, this was great, let’s go, which is very rare to see. Usually, if a man gets an inkling that he won’t score a 10, he does the scoring equivalent of telling a woman he “never fancied here anyway” by pulling out some ridiculous low score. Jack is, thankfully, either confident and optimistic or hopelessly misguided. Only Fiona could tell us that, which she does, in the next question. But at least they got on and they kissed in some way or another.

Would you meet again?
We exchanged numbers.
I hope so.

I’ll take it as a win. I need one.


Stay in. If you don’t need to be out, don’t be out. I miss flat whites, shopping, and going to the gym too, but I would miss my mother much, much more.

Please buy my book! My second novel THE MAGNIFICENT SONS is, as far as I know, still coming out on May 28 and… well, you can see where we are. In the scheme of things, it isn’t important, but all my hopes and plans have gone west. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know I worked hard on it, and it is good, and it deserves to be read. Amazon is currently overwhelmed so why not try preordering from other retailers? I list a few, and give a synopsis of the book, here.

If you liked this post, consider showing your appreciation by donating to the Trussell Trust to support food banks.

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. Like, seriously, where did the kiss land?

Fiona and Jack ate at Bocconcino, London W1.
Fancy a blind date? The Guardian has pledged to carry on setting up Blind Dates, to be held over video, with a takeaway provided by the paper. We can get through this. To take part, email blind.date@theguardian.com. If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, visit
soulmates.theguardian.com

6 Comments

  1. Oh my gosh … I read you every week but never comment but can’t leave your comments empty on this week.

    I’ve never been so gutted by a ‘7’ but “we exchanged numbers” brought me back to life.

    Ahmen to appreciating everyone who keeps society moving.

    Not only does Blind Dates need more straight men, but it needs more willing participants outside of London. Let’s just say I live in a city tht rhymes with ‘crystal’, and begins with the letter ‘B’, and I am fast becoming the Mayhem Miller of the Guardian Blind Date …

    Stay safe and thanks for keeping posting.

  2. Thank you! Keep theses coming, like you, we all need a bit of light relief. My favourite line, which has now been shared on my favourite WhatsApp group of supportive and funny friends is this: FRIENDLY, like a neighbour popping a note through your door to see if you would like any shirtless selfies to keep you going during isolation.

  3. Hi there, Friday is my 28th wedding anniversary, so I’m long out of the dating game, but I am thoroughly enjoying the Blind Date column and, especially, your recaps.

    However, I’ve come on now to commend you for your paragraph about ‘unskilled’ workers. One of our sons works in a supermarket and he goes out to work every day while we have been self-isolating for a week now (we’re in Canada), so I’m especially aware of how much people in these jobs are sacrificing by still working.

    I’m going to share this column as widely as I can. Thank you, and stay safe and well.
    P.S. You might like this, if you don’t already follow him:

  4. I loved your discussion of carers and the NHS here. I’m an NHS employee (not clinical, and currently on maternity leave) and the clapping this week actually made me furious. After cutting nursing bursaries and stripping back the service to the withered husk that is, how can politicians and we, the public who voted for them, now pat ourselves on the back for loving the NHS? Does it really take nurses, doctors, students and cleaners are putting themselves in harm’s way to value that parents don’t go bankrupt when their children get cancer? Thanks, I hate it.

    Anyhow, this was wonderful, as always, and a much needed laugh right now in particular. I look forward to your upcoming book.

  5. Yes, that 7 was devastating, I thought that the evening had gone so well! Fiona is probably having the worst fight of her life at work right now, if she is involved in healthcare, and I hope she is safe and has enough PPE, as I hope for all essential workers, but I also hope she and Jack are having a beautiful relationship and he is supporting her through this dreadful time.

  6. Never have I so much wished for the participants to pop up in the comments and say what happened next. And that includes the famous party knickers date. This really did feel like the opening chapter of a story, not the whole story. And 100% yes to C’s comment above on the clapping.

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