Impeccable Table Manners

Jack and Francine

What I have ‘enjoyed’ most about the deathless debate around returning to offices is the wilful ignorance by both the people trying to encourage us to hot-desk with death, and the people trying to avoid it, is that lots and lots of people have been back at work for a long time – indeed some people never stopped going. Buses haven’t driven themselves, supermarkets didn’t operate on a ‘help yourself’ policy and lots of people have simply had to carry on going to work in unsuitable conditions, because that is how rents are paid. And, more importantly of all, the Guardian Blind Daters have been risking life and lung by meeting up in person for a whole month now! I hope office workers hold out as long as they can because it fascinates me how genuinely terrified the government seem of office traditions like ‘treats in the usual place’ and mid-grade sexual harassment dying out.

Anyway, looking for L-O-V-E in PPE this week are Jack, a 35-year-old freelance journalist and Francine, 37, a broadcast journalist. Oh no! It’s the mAinsTREam mEdiA!! Here they are in their full socially distanced, Photoshop-manipulated date attire.

jack and Francine
Photographs: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

I don’t usually comment on a dater’s clothes unless they have a patchwork hedgehog on their jumper but as Francine’s pull-quote is ‘I felt slightly overdressed’ I guess we should address the fact that Jack’s look has slightly ‘rolled around in my floordrobe for the entire duration of Round Round by Sugababes’ energy and Francine has erred toward ‘Boots Christmas ad’ glamour. It’s a bit like this, isn’t it?

Beyonce looking v glam while Ed Sheehan looks a bit plain

Anyway, before we misinterpret smart-casual and get busy with the analysis.

Jack on FrancineFrancine on Jack
What were you hoping for?
A free meal, good company and that my picture wouldn’t show what my sister calls my weird half-smile.

I wonder what Jack’s sister is saying to him this morning.

What were you hoping for?
A fun evening with someone who was easy to get along with. Failing that, someone with a funny story to tell.

Translation: ‘Failing that, a horrible evening with someone difficult to get on with but still had a funny story to tell.’ I don’t know, like who? Piers Morgan reading from Bob Monkhouse’s joke book?

First impressions?
Very easy to chat to. The conversation flowed.
Tall! He seemed friendly and I felt relaxed around him straight away.

How soon do you reach ‘first impression’ point? It’s obviously up for debate, as even these two can’t agree. First five minutes? Ten seconds? A whole evening? The next morning as you watch them reach for their contact lenses, drink a cup of coffee and light a Superkings all in one fluid movement?

Jack has obviously gone for an overall first impression while Francine has plumped for a first-sight impression. ‘Tall!’ – like a toddler pointing to a bald man on the bus and asking Mummy ‘Why has all that man’s hair fallen off?’ It’s nice that she felt relaxed around Jack straightaway, but it’s also possible there was an open bottle of poppers nearby.

What did you talk about?
Cat-sitting, running during lockdown, our career paths.
Our jobs as journalists. Jack is taking part in the Oxford vaccine trials and has appeared on Lorraine for an interview, so as a broadcast journalist I was very interested in that. Also cat-sitting and both being quite useless at cooking.

Jobs ✅ – Do journalists talk about anything else lol only joking please don’t kill me

Cat-sitting ✅

When I copy and paste the copy over from the Guardian website (fair use; satire, I think, they haven’t sued me yet anyway) I keep all their original links so I am thrilled to see they’ve added in a link to a piece about Lorraine, just in case Guardian readers don’t know who she is. You can get ITV in Islington, can’t you? Anyway well done to Jack who’s been taking part in vaccine trials – I already knew this as I follow him on Twitter, hi Jack, you’re still going to get roundly dragged, that’s how it works, sorry – and well done to both of them for being useless at cooking because, as we all know, burning toast and having your lips move while you follow Nigella recipes is just one of many scintillating personality replacements available to try now that sourdough starters have fallen out of vogue.

Any awkward moments?
Beaming “Oh, hi!” when I saw her, only to be recalled by a waitress who pressed a temperature gun against my temple as if I was being murdered in No Country For Old Men.

I’ve had my hair cut twice since salons reopened and they do this at my barber’s. Obviously I understand we have to be patient and this is the ‘new normal’ but there’s something quite terrifying about having someone scan you like you’re a Tylko flatpack bookshelf in the local Ikea. I wonder what happens if your temperature is too high? Do they really not let you in? The downside of this is that in summer, unless I have walked with the glacial place of Lady Diana down the aisle on her wedding day, I arrive everywhere looking like I’ve just got off a triple shift spinning screaming teenagers on the waltzers. If I remember in time I dab my forehead with a tissue and try to stand in a light breeze before going inside but usually I just flop through the door like someone tipping a microwaved steak and kidney pudding out of its container. Anyway, agreed, this is a bona fide awkward moment.

Any awkward moments?
I saw Jack arriving, but then he had to fill in his track-and-trace details, so that was a slightly awkward start. Also, I felt slightly overdressed.

I am quite enjoying having people greet me on the door, though, and table service – my local boozer refuses to do it, you just have to queue in a long line at the bar like it’s that one cash machine working in Hoxton on a Saturday night in 2003. I hate going to the bar, I hate carrying (and spilling) drinks, I hated going up to order in Nando’s. This all feels more civilised. Staff in my local theatre bar – hello Bush Theatre thank you for opening again – tell me they prefer it this way, because it’s so quiet. I know things will change once we’ve all had enough of being frightened of the virus but for a few precious weeks, I’m going to enjoy feeling a little continental.

Overdressed. How do you dress for a date, anyway? It’s a looooong while since I’ve been on one but my standard date attire was trousers that fit snugly around my arse and a shirt – T, polo, long-sleeved whatever, but always casual – that clung to the good bits and skimmed the bad. I saw myself as a book cover and expected to be judged. And if I especially liked the look of the date and wanted my spine to be stretched all the way back like a well-thumbed Jackie Collins in the Romford Oxfam, I’d wear even tighter trousers and go to the bar a lot so they could have an uninterrupted view. Ah, so maybe there was a good thing about going to the bar after all.

Good table manners?

Julie Goodyear grimacing on Big Brother

Good table manners?
Very polite. We chatted for ages before deciding which tapas to go for. We tried octopus, which I’d never had – a good shout.
suspicious octopus
Joana Sebastião for Octopus Labs

Not a particularly good shout for the octopus, Francine.

Best thing about them?
Her chat. We had lots in common.
He seemed interested in finding out about me, which makes a change from some of my dating experiences.

I have said this before but I agree with Francine that so many people go on dates and see it as an opportunity to raise brand awareness rather than find out more about the other person. Sometimes a balance is hard to get right because we all have different levels of shyness and confidence or… in many cases, some of us really are quite dull. There is something alluring and attractive about curiosity – whether it’s for the world around you or the person sitting opposite trying not to clench too hard on the tortellini in case some sauce shoots out. Genuine interest in others – and I don’t mean someone who sits there and says ‘Tell me about yourself’ before mentally switching over to recounting their own favourite Instagram snaps in their head – is hot. Well, maybe not hot, but it’s warm – and if you don’t have warmth in your life, where are you?

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Yes, but as a mate.

Sharon EastEnders wtf face

Francine, there’s no need to get this in so early. What we’re asking here is would you be okay with this guy meeting your pals, generally; it’s not a big commitment. Surely you could see your way to guiding him up the stairs to the rooftop at Century and warning him beforehand that Friend A is lovely but can get a bit ‘deleted scenes from Mrs Brown’s Boys‘ after three glasses of blush and that Friend B is one of those gay men who’s pre-programmed to look down at your shoes and say something like ‘Are you doing Second Hand September?’

Describe Francine in three words?
Fun, warm and interesting.

FUN, like watching a man on a train, engrossed in his sudoku, accidentally put his hands into the open crisp packet of the man sitting opposite him and looking horrified as if this has turned him GAY.

WARM, like your trousers the first three seconds after you pee yourself because all but one of the cubicles in the pub loo are closed because of Covid 19.

INTERESTING, like accruing debt on a loan for a time-share you will almost certainly not get to use until 2021.

Describe Jack in three words
Friendly, chatty, honest.

FRIENDLY, like a dog who is so desperate to be stroked in these ultra-sterile coronavirus-cautious times it’s thinking of setting up a Grindr profile.

CHATTY, like a cab driver whose radio can’t get Talk Sport.

HONEST, like I was the other week when I found a fiver on the floor in a shop and handed it in and the shop assistant said I should keep it and I was AGHAST and said absolutely not. I now regret this, obviously.

What do you think she made of you?
Hopefully, a good guy to spend an evening with. At the very least, a competent Lorraine Kelly impersonator.

Lorraine Kelly looking horrified at whatever Esther McVey is saying

Jack, just to make you aware, you can’t just say ‘Hullo’ in a Scottish accent and call it a Lorraine Kelly impression.

If it weren’t for social distancing, would you have kissed?
We had a goodbye peck on the cheek, but I think our connection was more friendly than anything.
No, I felt more of a friendship connection.

Looking with Russell Tovey Jonathan Groff

Guys I’m going to try decode this but I think… what’s that Lassie? They wanna be just… just friends? Oh, really?

Also: ‘we had a goodbye peck on the cheek’?!? QUARANTINE THESE SUPER-SPREADERS IMMEDIATELY.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’d have worn a more sensible T-shirt.

Tan France in Queer Eye nodding

I can’t actually see what’s on the front of it in this pic but, yes.

EDIT: This is the T-shirt in question, modelled by Jack himself:

Jack's T-shirt, which is a parody of a Sonic Youth album cover, but featuring Taylor Swift and a cat.

I think it’s fine. A talking point. Maybe better for date three or four though.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
To have not started work at 6am that day: I was knackered by the end.

Oh Francine you are going to LOVE your forties.

Marks out of 10?

A fifteen. I think Jack’s 8 here is actually a Gentleman’s 7, which he’s given because he knows that anything less than an 8 might as well be a 1. Francine, who mentions the word ‘friend’ more than Courteney Cox in an Entertainment Weekly interview is making this clear with her seven, which I feel is a genuine 7 and not a 1 in false lashes.

Would you meet again?
Yes, as friends.

Jim Carrey Courterney Cox going whoa in Ace Ventura

FRIENDS. Just in case we didn’t get it. The last death rattle of ‘just mates’ heterosexuality, to the tune of ‘Getting to Know You’ from The King And I.


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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; I’ll happily publish whatever you say. Jack, what was on the front of your T-shirt? Perhaps you and Francine can go AS FRIENDS to Arket and pick out some nice plain ones for you.

• Jack and Francine ate at Iberica Marylebone, London W1. They were photographed separately for this image. Fancy a blind date? Email


  1. Weird half-smile, check! I though Francine looked fabulous, and Jack could have dressed up a little more (perhaps he is out of practice, after all, dressing for comfort has been our lives for the last few months). I looked at his tshirt on the guardian, and I don’t have dyslexia but I thought it possibly said “2020 WTF”, which, after all, is very true, but maybe not a slogan to wear on a first date. So thanks for the photo! Makes sense now!

  2. ‘usually I just flop through the door like someone tipping a microwaved steak and kidney pudding out of its container.’ Yeah, that’s exactly why I bought your books. There is no resisting the beauty of your writing. Also, these two! Maybe after they spend a year as friends, they’ll find they’ve fallen in love?

  3. Was very disappointed when Jack’s shirt was a T.Swizzle shirt instead of a Sonic Youth shirt. COMPLETELY FINE to wear on a first date aside from that.

  4. I’m glad you’ve dragged his clothes. Single heterosexual men really need to learn that the bare minimum of first date politeness is to turn up looking like you made an effort. Not three-piece-suit effort, but like you had a shower, ironed your jeans and sprayed on a pleasant fragrance effort. Two (TWO!!) of the last restaurant dates I’ve been on the guys wore converse trousers they had definitely picked off their bedroom floor and a t-shirt with a stain on it. Maybe this a means of weeding out women with a tiny speck of self-esteem, but still, weird.

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