Impeccable Table Manners

Harry and Ivan

Today is my birthday. I am 42. I don’t really know what to say about this turn of events. I never imagined what being 42 would be like. 21, but twice, I guess. It’s weird, because you feel like you’ve lived for 1,000 years and have vast amounts of knowledge to impart – usually, rightfully, met with complete indifference from generations below – but also you were 18 about twenty minutes ago and you’ve never quite mastered how to cook rice properly and you still quite like a McDonald’s every now and again. A greying baby.

Anyway what better way to celebrate this momentous day – other than stare deep into the mirror and start mapping my wrinkles – than review a Guardian Blind Date! What could possibly go wrong? Let’s see who we’ve got:

Photograph: Sarah Lee; Sophia Evans, both for the Guardian

Oh, marvellous. Children. But at least they’re (presumably) gay ones. It’s like they knew. Read what happened on the date between journalist Harry, who is 21 (this is exceptionally cruel, today of all days; I kind of love this) and 24-year-old Ivan, a writer and activist, before I steam in there and ruin everything. It’s my party, and I’ll bitch if I want to.

24, and already so disillusioned. If I could, maybe I’d record an “It gets better”-style video to reassure Ivan that dating actually much improves with age, but it doesn’t – there’s just less scrabbling with the bill and the sex is kind of better unless you end up with someone who’s grown into laziness.

21 and wants “someone who knows what they want in life”. I don’t know what I wanted from life when I was 21. A better mobile phone signal when I was in the student union, maybe? An easier way to get amphetamines without laborious phone calls using ridiculous, easily decipherable code? (“Is Billy in tonight? I owe him… a tenner? Or maybe I owe him £15; I can’t remember. What about Auntie E-nid? Is she there? Tell her to grill me three burgers please.” I mean SERIOUSLY.)

I would be deeply suspicious of anyone under 30 who knew what they wanted from life, as it can only mean they’re aiming for something boring like buying a really square house at the end of a train line or they’re ruthless and ambitious and will end up on The Apprentice, and we can’t be having that.

If this praise were any fainter it would be a birthmark on the cheek of a baby in a Victorian photograph that had been left out in the sun since Eldorado was cancelled.

I’m never sure what geeky means anymore. It seems to be more an aesthetic than a way of life now. I think it’s supposed to be, like, someone who looks like they got dressed in a house fire with 3 seconds to spare, or buys magazines and doesn’t just look at the pictures. The more I hear “geeky” and the more I see who it’s applied to, I have come to the conclusion that the 2017 definition is “has cheekbones and orders decaf”.

I find it very difficult to talk about writing because I always feel I should be doing it rather than wanging on, and when people talk to me about my writing, I get slightly nervous in case I can’t remember the particular piece they’re talking about (I never can), or they’re going to remind me how much I contradict myself. “Oh sometimes I just say things,” is my usual, enigmatic (copout) response. The LGBTQ community is worth talking about – I used to find it all fascinating when I was young and first coming out etc. I like to hope it is easier and more fun than it used to be – although it was always lots of fun, just different – but I’m never entirely convinced.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I actually loathe the phrase “put the world to rights”; it is the Yvette to my Mrs White, from Clue. It conjures up such an image to me of dreary, monotonous pontification. Two men (always men) in a pub with accents banging their tiny red fists down on the bar, or gesticulating, or sweeping their hand round the room and saying this was “everything that’s wrong with the world”.  Not that that’s what these two were doing, but, y’know, I hate it.

“My magazine and his novel.”
“Tell me more,” said nobody, ever, as they booked a steerage ticket on the Titanic.

OK. Well done.


I mean, was this instead of a main course? As well as? I… I don’t know what to do here.

Our hapless heroes ate at a place called Flavour Bastard (yes, really), so wonderfully demolished by la reine du resto Marina O’Loughlin just before she left the Guardian for the Sunday Times magazine.

I had a look at its (annoying) website to peruse the menu and couldn’t make head nor tail of what it’s all supposed to be and what order you would eat it in, so maybe rather than being a little greedy – although it’s free and you’re going to be humiliated in a magazine and, uh, here, so fill your boots – perhaps he just didn’t have a sodding clue what was going on and thought he was ordering canapés and a roast dinner.

Six desserts, though – what have your teeth ever done to you?

This “yeah” is very misleading isn’t it, because Harry is actually saying no. It’s like the 1700s (subs: please check), when bad stopped meaning bad and started meaning good, except now it means bad again and to say bad to mean good would be very bad indeed.

So Ivan didn’t shut up, and poor Harry was sitting there waiting for his opportunity to speak. A meal taking three hours is my worst nightmare – well one of many in a very large, leather-bound collection that takes up three libraries (all now closed by the government). I hate to linger, and have had to train myself to take at least twenty minutes to eat something so my stomach will not still feel hungry.

All that sitting amid filthy plates, watching the food go cold, the wine go warm, and the beer go flat. The man getting less and less attractive as he bangs on and on and on about himself, shovelling unappetising forkfuls of slop into his mouth – God, that mouth, that you wouldn’t kiss even if your house were on fire and the front door key were sitting on his tongue. No.


Driven. So is a Ford Focus.

Friendly, like a friend who is trying not to show you that they don’t want to be friends with you anymore so is, ironically, friendlier than ever. You notice this – your Christmas present seems more extravagant than usual and they buy two rounds of drinks in a row, which is unprecedented – but you don’t want to tip the balance because this guilt they clearly feel is, in a way, really quite useful, so you order a third martini and pray their embarrassment will make this last for ever.
Chill, like a really fucking overused word.
Shy, like a neon arrow pointing right down into your underpants.

Passionate, like a kiss, at the end of a third date. Yes, it was a little too wet, and, yes, that grunting noise he made as his tongue clattered into your teeth was quite off-putting, and his massaging of your bottom did come across as quite unfocused and desperate, like he’d never done it before and wasn’t sure when he would get to again, but at least you got a snog.
Driven, like a… oh I’ve done that one. Regroup. DRIVEN, like into madness, by inanities, on a date, with you.
Complex, like a block of nine highly desirable luxury apartments overlooking [insert name of something quite ugly in SW4] with a Tesco Express on the ground floor.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Ivan’s answers make Chewbacca seem verbose. Maybe he knackered himself out doing all that talking on the date. Anyway, thanks for all this gold, Gore sodding Vidal.

Fair. The “point blank” confuses me here; I’m getting that thing where someone is word salad-ing me and I start to wonder whether everything I ever knew has been a lie.

Oh God. That awkward ride home when you just want the night to end. When on a date and it’s clear that you will not be making the beast with two backs or getting thrown around. a stranger’s room and rutting on all manner of Ikea furniture, the best thing to do – even if you live in the same place – is go in OPPOSITE directions on the Tube platform. Do not travel together. All you have to do is go one stop back and then get on a different train. And when you see them, later that evening, in another pub, getting hot and heavy with someone you would have trounced in a beauty contest, try not to take it personally.

Yes I’m sure that’s the only reason you two didn’t kiss.

I’m sorry, Ivan, are we… keeping you? Is there somewhere you need to be? Did you not realise about this part of the date, where you’d have to, like, tell us what happened? Or did you think all you had to do was turn up at Flavour Bastard (I mean, FFS) and eat six desserts, talk about yourself, and then go HOME, the end, nothing more? No, I’m sorry, this is not how it works. Nope. You’re putting yourself out there, for our entertainment, you’d better DANCE.

Oh, believe me, you were. The world is just fine being wrong, thank you.

SCORES. My Uber is waiting.

Two sevens. A gentleman’s one aka the waste of time mark. Not horrific enough to give them a low score, but not interesting or sexy enough to reach the dizzy heights of an 8 or 9.

7 is “I attended”. 7 is “neither agree nor disagree”. 7 is “no extra toppings”. 7 is “I preferred Rogue One”. 7 is vanilla, it is magnolia, it is milk, it is damp, it is beige, it is brown shoes with red laces, it is stale air, a broken down escalator. It is over.

Disclaimer: The comments I make about the couples are for LOL jokes and are based on the answers given by the participants, which the Guardian chooses to publish and usually edits to make them less boring or fit onto the page. I’m sure one day you will look back and laugh, or perhaps have me blacklisted by every commissioning editor in the country. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story; I’m nice.

Note: If you’ve liked this, do think about sharing it – I’m a writer who needs to be commissioned to earn money and I do this for you, for free. Yay me and yay you for reading. Seriously, though, it helps. If you’d like to buy my novel, then Google “The Last Romeo Justin Myers” and purchase from your preferred retailer.


  1. 42. Like one of those ages where someone guesses your age and you’re reassured when the age they guess starts with a 3… but 39 is too close for comfort.

  2. Ivan I’m rescoring you as a 1. Insufferable on the date and insufferable to read with your monosyllabic answers. Great as always Guyliner and Happy Birthday!!

  3. I *love* how there still so much to infer about the scores, with so little always saying so, so much.

    This week’s deconstruction of the ever problematic number “7” has been one of my favourites :

    “It is stale air, a broken down escalator. It is over.”

    Wonderful stuff, as always.

    Have a great day Justin!

  4. I turned 42 five days ago.
    So far it involves eating industrial quantities of Pierre Herme macarons and watching films in the daytime.
    Hope your 42 goes similarly well!

  5. Happy birthday!

    What is -with- these people who can’t fling themselves into enjoying life for one evening? They’re in their TWENTIES FFS. LIVE!

  6. I don’t understand Ivan’s one word replies. He sounds like a pop singer who’s got the hump with the interviewer. He must know that he’s going to come across like a petulant child. In a national paper. I can only imagine his novel has a big picture on one page and the opposite page contains just one word that tells you what it is. Like APPLE or ZEBRA.

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