Fred and Laurine
Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian/The Guyliner
Impeccable Table Manners

Fred and Laurine

We may all be stuck on Plague Island and governed by secondary characters in a mid-season episode of Cold Feet, but the search for love, or its nearest equivalent, must go on. Like Rita from Coronation Street‘s hair in a stiff breeze, the Guardian Blind Date will not stop.

This week braving the inanity of first-date chit-chat, not to mention the risk of dickhead diners at an adjacent table, are Fred and Laurine. Fred is 26 and a PhD student, and Laurine is 24, and a French teaching assistant. Does this mean she *is* French and also a teaching assistant, or that she is a teaching assistant in French lessons, or both? Well, she’s got a beret on everyone so… actually that doesn’t mean anything. My French teacher Mrs Billington (hello, sorry about… everything) was not averse to a beret and she wasn’t French.

Anyway, here they are, wearing the kind of clothes that look great on you when you’re young, but put some of this stuff on past 40 and your friends would be holding an intervention, or at the very least talking about you on a separate WhatsApp. It’s not ageist of me to say that ‘I just threw this on’ is usually admired when you’re younger, and looks like a carefully curated style decision, but by middle age it’s seen as a sign you’ve given up, or need to go for brighter lighting in your bedroom.

Fred is wearing a light grey shirt with a great jacket sling over his shoulders, black trousers rolled up, no socks, and black shoes. Laurine is wearing a beret, a thigh-length dark purple coat and black trousers, with chunky black shoes.
Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

– where you can also see a selfie of the evening and some lovely headshots of our pretty pair, before returning here to pour a cauldron of bile over everything.

Fred on Laurine | Laurine on Fred

What were you hoping for?
A genuine human connection, be it romantic or platonic.

If you read last week’s review, you’ll know I’m very much in favour of these dates having a platonic ending. Do you know how hard it is to make friends, especially once you’re past 40? Anyone can get a shag if they really want one – the internet’s primary aim is exactly that – but finding a new friend? Much trickier. Cliques close ranks, tastes become more specialised, and the sheer effort of having to explain yourself and why you’re the way you are to a stranger in the hope they will somehow overlook all your apparent ‘red flags’ and want to befriend you, becomes too overwhelming.

What were you hoping for?
That the other person wouldn’t be rude, boring or a Covid-denier.

I can accept a boring person because not everyone can be Marti Caine bringing the house down in Blackpool End of Season Comedy Madhouse on the North Pier circa 1981, but I draw the line at rudeness. I was talking about this with my dad the other day, about how some people just default to rudeness, especially if they know they’re never going to see you again. It takes quite a lot of energy to be rude, and if it’s unprovoked, what’s the point? It’s quite a ‘main character’ trait, I guess, assuming that being super-rude to someone gets you imaginary ‘points’ on some kind of scoreboard, or playing incidental music in your head as you walk away from someone who now will absolutely tell a good three or four people what a dickhead you are. Hint: you’re not in Succession, and your so-called killer putdowns wouldn’t get past draft stage on an episode of Two and a Half Men. Sadly I have now run out of room to talk about Covid-deniers, so here’s a gif:

sex education star maeve giving the one finger

First impressions?
She looked like she’d come straight from the set of The French Dispatch.

‘She’s wearing a beret.’

First impressions?
He started talking at me the second I sat down. Happily, he began asking me questions soon afterwards.

Not a first impression. This is what he actually did. Laurine might be French though, so I’ll let her off.

What did you talk about?
Childhood memories; the best film adaptation of Emma (Clueless); her belief that she’s the reincarnation of Charlotte Brontë; how she once laid a rose on Keats’s grave and shed a tear (sorry, Laurine, it was just too good).
Arts, our hobbies, views on literature, life and dating. We both have many opinions about the most casual things.

Not many actual matches but that isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes the best conversations are two people having two different ones at once.

Emma/literature – ✅  I studied Emma for English A-level. I wish I’d liked it more. You know, I can appreciate Jane Austen’s wit and gentle skewering of polite society now, as an ageing queen with a fair old collection of skewers myself, but as a 17-year-old who just wanted to the hell out of my hometown and never come back, well… I didn’t really enjoy the book, or myself, very much. It didn’t help that we’d just done Sons and Lovers before it, which I understood more, and is much easier to write essays about. I think my distaste for posh people began with Emma, actually. Anyway, I will concur that Clueless is the best ‘adaptation’ of it – I LOVE it when someone tells you that fact for what they think is the first time, like you didn’t spend half of your twenties hungover reading the ‘trivia’ page of every single film on IMDb.

Reincarnation of Charlotte Brontë – I can imagine Laurine loudly ordering a latte in Haworth, so maybe.

Rose on Keats’ grave – Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Oh, stop. (If Laurine is actually French, I have actually seen this kind of anglophile romanticism before – hello to the French man who, on discovering I was from Yorkshire,  wanted me to tell him all about the ‘beauty and brutality’ of the moors and my simple but charming childhood. I were born in Bradford, luv, not the 18th century.)

Any awkward moments?
We kept having to repeat ourselves as there was a flock of 30 bankers across the room, whose cacophony vastly exceeded the socially acceptable decibel level. We asked to be reseated.

I can be a bit of a Goldilocks when it comes to seating in a restaurant. I don’t mind asking to move, so long as it doesn’t look like it’s going to push the waiting staff over the edge. I have an amazing talent that I would like to share with you. Should we ever go out to dinner, and I have booked it, or I am the one asking for a table for two, watch in WONDER as we are led to the worst table in the place. Even if almost all the other tables are empty, I will be shown to the table that’s right next to the toilets, has a chair missing, and is actually on fire. Trust me. For a long time, I accepted this as my lot, but then about ten years ago, I decided to imagine I was in a hidden camera gameshow and that this was the first test, so I would ask to move, or even without sitting down, ask for another table right away. As long as you’re really polite and friendly, staff tend not to mind. My view is that unless someone who’s booked has asked for that specific table, if it has a reserved sign on it, they haven’t yet arrived, and it’s a better table than mine, it belongs to me.

Anyway, this is the second GBD in a month where a wanker at the next table has threatened to ruin everything.

Good table manners?
She tackled her curry, rice and naan with grace.

I don’t think I have ever managed grace with a naan in my hand, but well done Laurine if this is indeed the case.

Best thing about Fred?
He spent the evening discussing arts, opera and feminist literature, only to admit, four drinks in, that his favourite movie is The Devil Wears Prada.

Meryl spins round in her chair and grabs a coffee in the Devil Wears Prada

Haha remember the dreary Devil Wears Prada discourse over who was the most ‘terrible’ character in it? The ‘Andy’s friends are the true villains’ kept reply-guys and people who didn’t get enough attention in the sixth-form common room busy, for, ooh, most of 2017. God, Twitter was at its most ‘Dom Joly doing lines from Arthur 2: On The Rocks at Speakers’ Corner for a viral video’ energy back then.

Anyway, that film suffers from a major problem: any scene without Meryl or Emily Blunt is a real slog. I spent most of the film – and ALL of the book, God – wishing the supposed main character wasn’t actually in it. (I do like Anne Hathaway generally though.)

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Yes, especially the thespians and my friend who agrees that Clueless was indeed the best adaptation of Emma.
Yeah, I think they could get along.

man giving the thumbs up

Describe Laurine in three words
Kind, introspective and hilarious.

KIND, like the woman on the till at the Co-Op who tells you you have dried soup down the front of your sweatshirt.
INTROSPECTIVE, like that Pet Shop Boys album that wasn’t as good as Actually. (Don’t fight me, musique fanboyz.)
HILARIOUS, like my friend Hilary, whose birthday is today. Happy Birthday! You are great! ❤️

Describe Fred in three words
Funny, interesting and open-minded.

FUNNY, like a joke in the Christmas cracker of the person sitting right next to you, who gets to read out their joke before yours, so everyone is still aching with mirth as they wait for you to slowly and stumblingly read out your terminally unfunny limerick that was first written in cave painting form by Ug the Caveman, and raised so few laughs back then that Ug immediately went out and jumped balls-first onto a mammoth’s tusk.
INTERESTING, like those bank charges you keep saying you’ll do something about but never do.
OPEN-MINDED, like someone who throws their car keys into the collection tray at church, just in case.

What do you think he made of you?
He may think I’m not right in the head. I should’ve stopped before I said I was Charlotte Brontë in a previous life. In fact, I should’ve stopped after two drinks.

Look, at least you didn’t say Branwell .

Did you go on somewhere?
To the end of the street, whence she headed east and I west.

WHENCE. Prithee, young Frederick, might thou not have taken a chance and proposed to the mademoiselle that you retire to a welcoming alehouse and partake perhaps in some bad pub wine – that runneth from a charming wee tap and comes only in a shade of pink so violent it reminds one of the festering buboes suffered by one’s groomsman last michaelmas – and seen if there might be some kind of bewitchment between you two?

If it weren’t for physical distancing, would you have kissed?
It didn’t seem like the evening was heading in that direction.

She headed east, you headed west, the chances of a snog went south.

If it weren’t for physical distancing, would you have kissed?
Nah, don’t think either of us wanted to.

It’s good to know what you want and what you don’t want and given, contrary to what many nineties rom-coms might well you, a kiss when one or both of you isn’t that keen can ruin everything, this is probably the best outcome.


Marks out of 10?
9. Not 10 as I had to ask for his number.

VERY good scores – and well done to Laurine for admonishing Fred for not offering his number. A high score, and leaving not hating each other or the evening or being angry that it’s three hours of your life you’ll never get back… this is the golden stuff right here.

Would you meet again?
Who wouldn’t? She’s a delight.
I don’t think there was a romantic spark, but I would definitely meet again, and perhaps become friends.
Kieran Culkin saying "I f-ing love it, that's my honest opinion"
HBO/Warner Bros

Just quickly, this week I revealed the cover for my next novel THE FAKE-UP, and here it is below. If you like my work, or are interested in allowing me to carry on doing this for a living, please consider preordering it if you have the means. It makes a huge difference to a book’s success, and I’m not famous or anything, so success doesn’t just… happen. LINKS TO RETAILERS HERE

The Fake-UP cover, featuring a spearmint background, with the title in large white caps, and my name in pink script. Illustration is some petrol station flowers

I really love the cover. Hope you do too. What’s it about? Does it matter? Oh, okay. Synopsis is here.

About the review and the daters: The comments I make are based on answers given by participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits answers to make the column work better on the page. Most things I say are 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. There has been an increase in readers being quite horrible about the daters – this isn’t what we should be about. I will not approve nasty below-the-line comments and will report any abusive tweets. If you reply to my tweets about the date, please don’t embarrass yourself or assume I agree with you. 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, so please try not to speculate or fill our feeds with hate. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story. Dear bankers at the next table: your wives, partners, husbands, whatever: they all hate you. Like, violently. Trust me.

Fred and Laurine ate at Bangalore Express, London EC3. Fancy a blind date? Email

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