Linda Nylind; Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Henry and Emily

 2019. Probably the same permanently ablaze sea container, but with a ‘9’ crudely daubed over the now-faded ‘8’ that was there before, let’s face it. I’ve trapped my finger twice this morning – first in the dishwasher door, then my iPad keyboard – so let’s press on before my laptop slams down and renders my digits useless.

This week, Henry and Emily. No, not two characters from an amateur dramatics play being performed in Esher this spring, but actual humans, 26 and 23 respectively, with Henry claiming to be a software engineer and Emily a masters’ student.

No full-length view today because my iPad is being weird (and also intent on crushing my fingers) so let’s just straight on with reading the date before I leap in there with bons mots, caustic zingers and, let’s be real, some moisturiser.

Henry on Emily | Emily on Henry
What were you hoping for?
A fun evening with someone willing to look silly in the paper. That, or a good story.
A miraculously wonderful evening to tell the grandkids about, or a catastrophically bad one to share with friends.

OK, so I am banning “that, or a good story” for 2019. But it’s true, isn’t it? A bad date might be painful at the time but it can give you infinite mileage if you’re not one for small-talk, or one of those people who pretends they hate attention and then, three Jagerbombs later, you’re working that circle of friends like they’re the audience in an off-Broadway preview. Bad date stories bring us together because, by now, almost everyone you know has been on one. The slobbery kisses, inappropriate innuendo, gross politics, terrible habits, that one huge flake of dandruff that floated majestically from his hair on to your hand as you pulled him toward you by his tie – in the comfort of our friends we can laugh about it.

First impressions?
Relief that we were both dressed up to the same degree.

I get the feeling Henry is one of those guys for whom  the dress code “smart casual” is an instant trigger. Button-down Oxford or regular shirt? Jumper over shoulders or over shirt? Brown boots or brown shoes? Which chinos? The beige, the beiger, or the beigest? It’s a minefield, Hen, hun.

Anyway I had a quick peek at the venue and it’s one of those pubs in Belsize Park that serves, among other things, pizza. But, like, artisan Romano pizza, not regular pizza. The kind of pizza you could only eat at a taxi rank if your watch were worth more than the car your date refused to give you a lift home in.

First impressions?
Relaxed, tall and welcoming.

Like… Big Ben ten seconds after stubbing out a joint. Oh I’m getting ahead of myself aren’t I?

What did you talk about?
Growing up around snakes, the army reserves, open-water swimming, data privacy.
Tumble turning when swimming, the perils of living in Australia

Snakes/Australia ✅ Right? That’s a match, yeah?
Data privacy ❌ I thought we all agreed after the summer of GDPR and all those stories about Cambridge Analytica – which has always to me sounded like a yoga studio with a visiting shrink who asks you about your mother in a windowless room among piles of boxes of powdered chai latte and spirulinaccino – that we could never talk about data again?! Oh hang on, software engineer – they’re talking about his job. Jobs worth mentioning on a date, whether you’re asked or not: wing-walker; Princess Diana’s crystals guru; famous actor who has seen everything

Any awkward moments?
She asked for my number as the doors opened for her to get off the tube.
My miscalculation of the number of tube stops meant I had to fling myself off before the doors closed.

You. Have. Jumped. Too. Far. Ahead.

I mean, if the doors opened, and you were about to give you her number, why not… step off the train, hand it over and then get on the next one? My grandma always said that clever people’s curse was that they had no common sense.

Good table manners?
Yes. She was unapologetic ordering steak after hearing I was trying to be pescatarian.

I don’t fully understand. Good table manners? “Yes, and then she said, ‘fuck your pescatarianism – not particularly a thing, btw – because I’m having a steak, and I’m going to eat it with my hands, blood raw, and smear the lot of it over your face when I’m done. More wine?’ and threw her head back in maniacal laughter.”

Maybe she was apologetic? Or maybe just confident? Or really wanted a steak? Anyway, if you were only “trying”, and there’s every chance she’s only going to meet you once, why should she forego a colossal, free steak at some snootery in Belsize Park in case it offends your sensibilities which, it appears, are temporary and performative. You get your steak, honey. Life is long.

Good table manners?
I deliberately did not order the mussels to avoid scoring poorly on this question.

Best thing about Emily?
Her conversation: we had to keep telling the waiter to come back because we hadn’t looked at the menus.
He can talk about anything.

We need to send some flowers to this poor member of the waiting staff who has tablets to clear, orders to take and a manager to feel oppressed by every waking hour. All they want to do is take your order, guys. I always feel insane guilt at sending a waiter away. The clue is in their polite question: “…or do you need a couple more minutes”? They mean that. A couple more minutes. Two. Just order. Order anything. It doesn’t matter. They have a home to get to, a scrapbook to fill. Contents of scrapbook: a copy of your bill, with the caption “hunt these fuckers down one day”.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Probably not, but that’s a reflection on them, not her.

Get better friends.

Sure, he’d fit in well.

Get better friends.

Describe her in three words
Smart, interesting, independent.

SMART, like a blazer – or is it a sports jacket, you can never remember the difference – that you wear to all those dinners that are kind of, like, formal, but not black tie. After a while, people start to recognise it. It becomes an old friend to them. “Oh I love that jacket,” they say, “is it part of a suit?” (It is, but the trousers don’t fit you any more.) Eventually, they are inviting the jacket to events without you.
INTERESTING, like plot twist in Luther which is honestly a cartoon now, isn’t it? If they make another series, Luther is going to have robot arms or telekinetic powers or something.
INDEPENDENT, like Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle.

Describe him in three words
Easy-going, polite, passionate.

EASY-GOING, like nobody ever truly is once you arrive fifty minutes late to meet them.
POLITE, like a notice asking you *not* to flush hand towels, jumpers, goldfish, bills, models of the Blackpool Tower, VHS recorders, and Kent down the toilet in a Virgin Trains service to Wigan in 2014.
PASSIONATE, like someone engrossed in a word search when the bomb drops.

What do you think she made of you?
I think she had fun, but I suspect the free meal did more for her than I did.

Haha, you shady bitch, Henry.

What do you think he made of you?
A stingy and hungry student.

Oh, actually, well spotted, Henry.

Did you go on somewhere?
We stayed until closing, then had half a tube trip together.
See awkward moment.

And… did you kiss?
And… did you kiss?
Nope (see awkward moment).

Can someone please check Emily’s battery? She appears to be stuck on “awkward moment” mode. 

Marks out of 10?
Marks out of 10?

Aw shit. Henry. Seven? OK, I am guessing this is caution and also perhaps mild anxiety that Emily’s asking for the number right before she hopped off the Tube was politeness and not an actual desire to see him again. Emily’s 9 suggests he is wrong about this.

Would you meet again?
We failed to swap numbers, so it looks unlikely.
Difficult, given the tube fiasco meant there was no time to exchange numbers.

Honestly, do these two have jet lag? Were they dropped on their heads as a child? Is agonising tinnitus making their brains foggier than usual? If only there were some way, someone who maybe has both your details, who can, like, hook you up? Perhaps someone at the… uh, Guardian, who arranged the date (Hi Nina! Hope you’re well) and could, if permission was granted, pass your number on?


Henry and Emily ate at The Belrose, London NW3. Fancy a blind date? Email If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, visit

NOTE: 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. Get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll happily publish whatever you say. 

BOOK: Don’t worry I’m not going to plug the book again.

AND FINALLY: The new WordPress editor is even worse than it was last time and actually lost a few parts of this post when I uploaded an image. It is about as intuitive as using Marmite for eye drops every morning.





  1. Link leads nowhere…. Will have to search for the Guardian bit before reading your ‚pull-apart‘ (as I hope and like)

    1. The new WordPress editor is a nightmare. It keeps removing links or making copy vanish. I’ll have to go back to the old one until they sort it out.

  2. Hi Justin, it’s a few weeks on and I wonder how you’re getting on with the WordPress editor now. I’ve done a couple of posts since it appeared and made peace with it, but I hated it at first, and it was nice to see it’s not just me who was a bit thrown by it. I only blog very occasionally, so every time I log into my WordPress site there’s some update, often hiding a few odd surprises. I imagine if blogging was an important part of how I made my living, I’d be pretty annoyed by it.

    Your book is on my ‘must-read’ list, by the way. I’m bogged down in a history book at the moment, and have got to that ‘over-a-third’ part where giving up would feel like a defeat and would leave unanswered questions.

    1. Hey Peter. I must confess I’ve used the plugin that gives me the old-look editor for now – until they sort out all the bugs at least!

      Understand re book. Hope you enjoy once you do get to reading.

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