Freddy and Rufus
Photograph and illustration: Jill Mead/The Guardian/Paul Lang/The Guyliner
Impeccable Table Manners

Freddy and Rufus

Here we are, back in lockdown. We should at least make hay while the sun shines, by which I mean, before the Zoom dates return.

This week on the chopping block, we have Freddy, a 29-year-old journalist and Rufus, 25, a production assistant. Two guys working in the media. Freddy and Rufus – both names you would definitely hear at registration at a fee-paying school currently embroiled in a fraud scandal over Tory party contributions and a mysterious new swimming and showjumping complex that seems to have been built overnight behind the science labs.

Here they are in their fashion:

Freddy and Rufus
Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Do pop off and read the before we reconvene and see if there’s anything that can be done.

Freddy on RufusRufus on Freddy

What were you hoping for?
Someone with a sense of humour to accompany me to weddings and other major life events.

Ah, weddings. I like going to weddings. I enjoyed them as a single guest, and they’re equally fun as part of a couple, especially a gay couple. Of course everyone is gay now so you’re less of a curiosity, but I remember way back, when being a gay person at a wedding was super-exotic. You were guaranteed to be the second most stared-at person in the room. Of course now there are *actual* gay weddings this kind of ruins the effect a bit but I guess that’s progress for you. Maybe *this* is the real reason some unpleasant lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are so keen to wind back LGBTQ rights or pull the ladder up after them – they’re huge attention seekers, desperate for someone to slither up to them at a wedding and ask “so, when you’re in bed, which one of you is the man, and which one of you is the woman?” Halcyon days!

What were you hoping for?
A laugh, fun company, lovely grub.

So, just to flag here, if you’re at all sensitive to the kind of lighthearted slang you’d hear a posh comedian use to try to seem down to earth, look away now, because Rufus is a huge fan of it. ‘Grub.’ My mum would wince if she heard me saying that, and we come from nothing.

First impressions?
Handsome man with crisis bleached hair.

What did you do with your hair during lockdown? There were two dominant trichological meltdowns among men. You were either so terrified at the prospect of not getting your usual spot in the barber’s chair that you shaved  off all your hair – some did this literally three says into lockdown, talk about an easy nut to crack; you wouldn’t want them taking the witness stand in your defence, would you? Or there was the crisis bleach, the rushed reach for peroxide in an effort to assert some kind of identity. Overnight, Instagram grids across the land suddenly switched to an array of Crimewatch photofits of ripped, shirtless Myra Hindleys.

Anyway, Freddy calls Rufus ‘handsome’ which is a good start.

First impressions?
Oh, I am a lot taller than him.

Rufus would definitely get full marks in the observation round of the Krypton Factor.

What did you talk about?
Travels, family dynamics and other unspeakable things. His mum’s new life in Margate and my previous life as a puppeteer.
The brief amount of stuff we knew about each other prior to the date. The classic coronavirus filler chat, politics, our favourite flicks.

Other unspeakable things – obviously these are the things I’m most interested in hearing about. I’m guessing exes, food allergies, first song they downloaded, the time they were sick into a cowboy boot, favourite ever page of the Daily Mail, which political party leader they’d rather see shirtless, and a slightly rambling story about some kind of drug taking incident.

Previous life as a puppeteer – Puppets are freaky, aren’t they? Why do we pretend they’re not? Whose idea were they? Growing up in the ’80s, I was exposed to terrible puppetry quite a lot – and I don’t mean Margaret Thatcher having her hand up most of the cabinet members’ arses. Seriously, there were slews of terrible variety shows and game shows and tired star vehicles for past-it comedians, and every third act was some form of puppetry or ventriloquism. Orville. Nookie sodding Bear. That posh bloke. with the monocle. The guy who pretended to be sitting on an ostrich. Emu. Punch and bloody Judy. Fucking Sooty. God. I loved them all at the time, of course, but the internet hadn’t yet been invented and we weren’t rich enough for decent computer games.

Flicks – what did I tell you? ‘Flicks’ to describe films – is this back? Is it because of Netflix? This was an ANTIQUE thing to say when I was young – my grandma used to say it. There is a brilliant moment in the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 and 3/4 where Adrian’s father has to cancel a date because his ex wife is coming to visit and he calls the woman to say he has to “take a rain check on tonight’s flick” and it’s a full body-cringe and so wonderfully evocative, because he’s trying to be very chilled and aloof and sexy and… well. ‘Flicks’ – I honestly thought I would never see this word again to mean anything other than three women called Felicity waiting for their boyfriends in the Fulham All Bar One.

Any awkward moments?
I think he thought I was trying to snog him when I asked about his attitude to social distancing.

“So, where do you stand on the two-metre rule? Or should I say, how do you feel about six inches?”

This is a bit like when you’re nice to someone at a party for about five minutes (usually a man) and they immediately assume you’re in love with them and either try to bag off with you, or back away from you slowly, and tell other people (also men) that you’re ‘obsessed’ with them.

Any awkward moments?
I commented on his restless leg, which I felt a bit bad about because he tried to stop it but couldn’t.

I live in a state of perpetual movement. If my feet aren’t tapping, I’m cricking my neck, or stretching out my arms or whatever. I would love, just for once, to be able to sit absolutely still, but I can’t. I sympathise with both of them here because if someone does something you’re not used to then you can’t help but comment on it – even if it was the one thing they didn’t want you to notice.

Good table manners?
The best – kept my glass full and pretended not to notice when I burped.
Yes, very. He showed an interest in what the waiters had to tell us and kept our glasses topped up.

Woman fills wine from water cooler

So they BOTH kept each the other’s glasses topped up? Were these young men STRETCHERED out of there?

Best thing about them?
He was really easy to talk to. He made everything feel normal right away and kept the conversation going.
He was easy to talk to and had an interesting background.

Cate Blanchett drinks wine in Carol

This is good! This is sweet! Did you know how hard it is to find someone who is easy to talk to? Especially now, when so many of us are totally desocialised and can’t even remember how to order a Five Guys in person. A conversation? In real time? That’s not over Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, a WhatsApp or tapped out in predictive text?! Can’t relate.

Describe Rufus in three words
Sweet, fun, relaxed.

Sweet, like a bar of chocolate you know you shouldn’t have because, well, you personal trainer is always on about sugar crashes and energy levels and  you did promise you’d do ten star jumps every time you thought about having a Twirl but all you want to do is have…
Fun, so when you nipped into the Tesco Express for dishwasher salt – you don’t have a dishwasher but you were hoping one of your neighbours might see you buying it and think you do – and you saw they had orange flavoured Twirls in stock and you thought, ‘Well, I’ve had a hard day, we’re about to go into lockdown, and I know that this limited edition, slightly bitter and tangy version of one of my favourite chocolate bars will help me feel very…
Relaxed, so I’m going to buy it and schedule the star jumps for later. Might get a Greggs on the way home too, fuck it; I did 75 burpees last Tuesday, I’m practically Jessica Ennis.’

Describe Freddy in three words?
Friendly, articulate, engaging.

Friendly, like the dog you meet in the park who bounds over to you and nuzzles into your knee and the owner comes over and starts to remonstrate with the dog but you say it’s fine and somehow you both start talking and he’s just so…
Articulate, and not at all like all those men you’ve been talking to on LocalSingles4U who always make dirty jokes about social ‘bubbles’ and while you’re talking to this guy you start to get a little lost in the moment and imagine what it would be like to date someone who’s so handsome and…
Engaging, and you fantasise about the wonderful breakfasts he’d make you, and the outings you would go on, and how he would always pick up your discarded underwear from the bedroom floor without comment and just as you’re mentally selecting the colour scheme for your napkins for the running buffet at your wedding, he looks down and says, ‘I’m sorry but my dog appears to be eating your sausages’ and you realise the dog has her nose in your shopping bag and then she’s sick and the puke is green because she ate some of your coriander and wheatgrass face mask and the man says he’d better take her to the vet and he scoots without taking your number and that means another night on LocalSingles4U blocking a man who asks if it’s possible to be fingered from two metres away and if so, what time should he come round? ‘Half-seven,’ you say, pouring the last of your Cointreau into a beaker you usually use for mouthwash.

What do you think he made of you?
That I was an aged old queer.

There is rampant ageism everywhere – from both directions – and especially in the LGBTQ community, so it’s quite depressing to see it laid out so bare, and anticipated here, even if it is in a joke. It is one of the greatest mistakes we can make, to dismiss someone for reasons they can’t control. With age, it’s just too easy – treating older people like they’re an irrelevance or their eventual death is contagious allows more egregious younger people to rise through the ranks and take centre-stage just because of their youth. Just as damaging is the demonisation of young people as self-interested dummies. All this does is give the loudest vessels – usually the bad ones reeking with entitlement – more space to make their unpleasant din, while the rest of us wonder why an arbitrary event such as your date of birth allows you to be ignored. There are people of all ages to be appreciated. I sometimes label myself as old as a defence mechanism, so I can beat to the punch anyone desperate to write me off. I’ve seen the lights in people’s eyes dim when they hear my age, have been ignored at events and parties in a mixed-age group of people because it was assumed I had nothing to contribute, or expected me to naturally defer to them because – and lots of people do this – they assumed *their* date of birth made them more interesting and valuable.

I’m not super-hot on the word ‘queer’ being used this way either, tbh. It’s hard to hear words used to hurt me as a younger man chucked about so liberally. I let it go mostly, especially as an adjective, because it’s been in use in academia for decades anyway, but also ‘queer’ is used by many people who don’t feel the still-quite-restrictive classifiers of the LGBTQ+ spectrum apply to them, so use it as a word that both helps them belong but retain their individuality. I’m all for that, and accept this use of word isn’t meant to be harmful, but inclusive, and support anyone’s right to identify themselves and use that as empowerment. I can definitely take the hit on this one for the greater good. But ‘a’ queer, noun, like it’s used here? Still stings. It jarred. I guess words like this are all about the intent – see the ongoing war over that Pogues’ Christmas song – but I’m not sure I’d ever use it so lightly or negatively. But this is no reflection on Freddy at all and I’m sure he means no harm and is doing that self-deprecating thing we do because society’s messaging is so confusing – you’re supposed to believe in yourself and promote yourself and love your body but… not too much in case you’re accused of being attention-seeking. What a world.

What do you think he made of you?
Hopefully that I was quite pleasant and chilled, maybe that I can put away a lot of scran… God knows.

SCRAN! On his way to the date, Rufus found a magic amulet that contained the spirit of a long-dead northern woman who definitely had a knitted loo roll cover shaped like a flamenco dancer and LOVED her gay grandsons.

If it weren’t for social distancing, would you have kissed?
I would probably need a stepladder.
No, I don’t think so.

Fozzie Bear looking disappointed

Oh. (Do we need to take Freddy out for a drink to give him a bit of a confidence boost? Once this is all over, of course.)

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
We’d probably have got on better had we met at a house party in non-pandemic times.
If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’d have sunk a couple more bevs, lived, laughed, loved and danced on the table, but the curfew was calling.

Woman crying and gasping

BEVS. I can’t decide whether Rufus is speaking normally or just a really posh person who follows Liam Gallagher on Twitter.

The pandemic is ruining everything, although I do like Rufus’s nod to the ‘live laugh love’ optimism of the large number of people who are perfectly happy in their own chaotic little worlds.

Marks out of 10?

Animation of man looking at phone screen, crying

Fourteen. 14. 8+6=14. Rufus’s six seems under marked. We all know, after years and years of reading this thing, that a 6 is a zero that went to finishing school. Rufus is making it clear that the light at the end of the tunnel is not daylight – it’s a train.

Freddy’s 8 is a bit kinder and in keeping with his answers. Maybe it *is* an age thing, but once you accrue a few more miles on the clock, you do find yourself reluctant to rule anything out. If the last few months have shown us anything, it’s that the world isn’t done surprising us yet.

Would you meet again?
Maybe as friends.
Probably not, unless I get an invite to the premiere of the musical he’s writing. We shall see.

Man from Police Academy saying 'too bad, so sad, bye bye'

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. Good luck with the musical.

Please buy my books so I can be a successful author and start wearing velvet more.

Freddy and Rufus ate at Kolamba, London W1. They were photographed separately for this image. Fancy a blind date? Email


  1. Pretty sure Rufus is from Liverpool, judging by the vocab. On a separate note, I describe myself as queer (quicker than saying “pansexual and non-binary”) but I think it’s the indefinite article which makes it sound icky. It would be the same for “a gay” or “a trans”. Something to do with turning adjectives into nouns seems objectifying. Idk just my two penn’orth oh god the ghost of the northern nana’s got me, I –

  2. Times change clearly, in my youthful days (and even now) a “6” would be a high enough score to try a snog at least ….. or even a shag. An “8” would be marriage material (and I’d still have worried that he was too good for me). Where are these mythical 9s and 10s that they think they are entitled to be on a date with? Frankly, I think the blind dinner date thing is not really ideal for a gay encounter…. meet them after mandatory 2 cocktails at 10pm …. snog then see what happens.

  3. Love your writing, thank you! Love the word halcyon, although when I was younger I thought it was pronounced “hal-i-con”, no idea why I thought that. Thought there descriptions of each other in three words were lovely. Maybe if they had a date 2? I really think people can jump to conclusions too fast in relationships, some things take time. And expecting an instant connection straight away is mostly unrealistic. Sometimes it happens, but then it doesn’t last. Relationships are tricky. Making assumptions and a final judgement on a first date is a bit like how I see job interviews… sometimes the people who interview well are not the best people for the job, they are just the best at selling themselves…

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