As Santa changes the batteries in Rudolph’s nose, and the rest of us ask whichever higher power we believe in if they’re kidding with these temperatures right now, we find ourselves in the middle of what is known as cuffing season to… actually nobody other than feature writers desperate for a December story. Ah yes, ’tis the season to feel the need to be unwillingly tied to another human just so you don’t have to walk along the south bank by yourself drinking overpriced and undermulled festive wine-flavoured warm drink. I remember my few winters as a single person being perfectly enjoyable. I got to wear some lovely jumpers and scarves and if I got lucky, felt the benefit of someone else’s central heating for the night. Regardless, now Cilla has gone to that great first class lounge in the sky, the ultimate cuffer-in-chief is the Guardian Blind date column which, thankfully – in a week where the most deserving gay icon of recent years Jennifer Coolidge gave a barnstorming performance as an accidental assassin of murderous ‘gays’ – gives me a gay date to get my teeth into, like a very welcome tray of stollen bites at a party that has so far only served the remnants of a prawn ring that’s been sitting out all afternoon.
Well, let’s *get* to know them: James, 25, is an events manager, and 23-year-old Will, who’s an office administrator. Here they are in longform, James is on the left, standing exactly the same way I do when I’ve been queuing a while:
Why is Will wearing shorts in December? A lot of men do now, have you noticed? Why do they do it? A desperate clawing at the rock face of masculinity, because trousers are too ‘femme’? An opportunity to show off the results of what I am reliably informed by gym goers is known as ‘leg day’? Or maybe Will was supposed to go on a date in the summer and it fell through so his photo is ancient. Either way, none of this is explained in the full writeup of the date on the Guardian website, but you should read it anyway because I won’t review all the questions.
James on Will | Will on James
What were you hoping for?
To meet someone I connect with. My night started in Wetherspoons, where I popped in to use the loo and then had a tequila shot. It could only go up from there …
The night started in Wetherspoons. I mean, the night can only end on a comparative high – even falling down a toilet, face-first, in a service station that’s just been visited by a coach load of previously constipated dockers who all had out-of-date corned beef sandwiches and five dulcolax for lunch, would be a step-up.
What were you hoping for?
A low-stakes evening with the love of my life.
A low-stakes evening, with… a few thousand stakeholders here watching, ganting on something interesting happening, given our own lives are a gritty slush of bills, bad news, and a toaster with the hair-trigger temperament of a dictator.
Trendy, and nice eyes.
‘Trendy’! – Maggie Smith is deputising for James in this question. Good to see ‘nice eyes’ make a return just in time for Christmas. It is code, by the way, for ‘he was fit’.
Very smiley. And he seemed to share my trepidation at the number of football fans around, which was reassuring.
Ah… football fans. I know the allegedly beautiful game has gone through something of a reputation rehabilitation over the last couple of decades or whatever but few things make me as nervous as being somewhere there are lots of football fans. I feel extremely unsafe. And this is not a baseless concern: I’ve been attacked twice by someone on their way back from a football match – the first time when I was quite young, at university, and the second, only a couple or so years ago, round the corner from my house – I lived near QPR at the time. Crowds can be intimidating at any time, but there’s something so tribal and aggressive about a group of football fans. In football, someone has to lose, and that failure often stretches much farther than the confines of the football ground. Just ask any domestic violence charity. I can be anywhere, and hear even the distant chant of spectators and instantly feel anxious and at risk. And before you say ‘not all fans are like that’, I’m afraid I have no idea what kind of fan you are until you’re standing right in front of me and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the group dynamic of football all supporters it’s that they love to single out anyone who’s not like them, so please, for once, listen to the lived experience of someone who simply can’t get invested in this pastime that has a stranglehold on British culture. And don’t ever complain to me about Eurovision or Strictly.
What did you talk about?
The adrenaline rollercoaster of failing to get Glasto tickets. Our disdain for Matt Hancock being on I’m a Celebrity. Our most tragic teenage jobs.
Travel. Festivals. The World Cup. Pub roasts … I promise I’m not secretly straight!
Failing to get Glasto tickets/festivals ✅ – Glasto! Oh ho ho! You can recreate the sensation of being there at home! To get the full effect, stream the festival on your phone, sellotaping the phone to your kitchen window, and go stand across the street, drink dark fruits cider out of a paper cup, eat bad nachos the entire weekend, and pee in the gutter every four hours. For the deluxe experience, hire a couple of people to tap you on the shoulder every 15 minutes and ask you if you know where they can get any MDMA.
Matt Hancock on I’m A Celeb – Matt Hancock looks like a sleep paralysis demon who won a Next suit in a raffle; why on earth would you be talking about him on a date? He’d love the attention, too, so let’s not give him any here.
Tragic teenage jobs – I’ve had my share of those I suppose. Working as a teenager always feels so humiliating, in case anyone sees you actually having to earn money rather than – oh I don’t know this never really applied to me as I knew not to ask, so I’ll have to make this up – nagging your (middle-class, divorcing, temazepam-addicted) parents until they threw you a twenty just to get out of their face.
My favourite teenage job was working on a cigarette kiosk and I wrote about that here.
Pub roasts – Man I have had so many disappointing ones, usually dropping far nearer to £20 than is decent. Three roast potatoes, luv? An eggcup’s worth of gravy? Am I in PRISON? ‘All the trimmings’ – darling you can’t even get the basics right. I want to see the serving staff staggering to my table with a plate crammed with roasties and a golden Yorkshire pudding bigger than Demis Roussos’s jacuzzi. Okay? (This is how I know I’m old btw – giving two f•cks about things like this. In my twenties, pub roasts were just something I sat and stared at in last night’s going-out clothes while my neurotransmitters tried to put my brain back together over bad dial-up.)
I promise I’m not secretly straight! – I dunno, Will, your shorts look like they’d definitely write ‘if anybody ever hurt my kids I’d end them’ in a comment underneath a greasy, aqueous cottage pie on a Facebook group called Shit Platez.
Most awkward moment?
The dining space was quite compact and I may have kicked Will under the table a few times. I’m not sure if he thought I was trying to play footsie.
Ordinarily, I’d be like… this is not a bad thing! Sitting closely can be intimate. But there’s a selfie on the website that shows the table they were eating at, and it’s basically a floorboard. Next, they’ll be making us stand up or eat our tacos over the washbasin in the accessible loo. We know you need to cram them in but… can I please eat in slightly more comfort than a battery hen who’s just had three Billy bookcases delivered?
Most awkward moment?
The lime garnish fell off the rim of my cocktail and hit me in the face, but I’m actually not sure if he noticed.
Oh, sorry, I saw the word ‘rim’ and thought we’d skipped ahead to the end of the evening.
Good table manners?
Excellent! My wine glass was kept full all evening.
We set ourselves up for a fall ordering shared plates: “splitting barbecue cod collar elegantly” is an oxymoron.
Topping up the wine glass! Shared plates! It’s a line call on Impeccable Bingo. I don’t know what barbecue cod collar is and I have decided, for mental health reasons, never to find out. I will concede that MAYBE, so long as you are removing half the food from the shared plate and placing it on your own plate – to avoid any fork clashes or the DREADED “‘scuse fingers” – that sharing dishes is perhaps semi-romantic. But only in December.
Best thing about them?
He asked a lot of questions and was great at conversation.
Very easygoing but a touch sardonic.
I would say this is a near-perfect combination of personal qualities. My congratulations to James and Will.
Would you introduce James to your friends?
If we were all in the same place, it would be strange not to.
Hahaha. Fair enough.
Describe Will in three words.
Inquisitive. Composed. Attentive.
Inquisitive, like a dog peering into your man-bag in the hope it will find sausages and not three (3) open packets of balsam issues, hand cream with a gummed-up lid, a stale packet of Extra (spearmint), the gloves you bought from Uniqlo but forgot to return, a novel you’ve been pretending to read since Hillary Clinton fainted during her presidential campaign, and a (flat) bottle of Coke Zero Cherry.
Composed, like a resignation email to a job you miiiiiight have to return to if the freelance fire-eating career doesn’t work out.
Attentive, like I never was in PE. Pass the what to who? We’re all in shorts and you expect me to CONCENTRATE?! (JK, everyone at my school was repulsive; my first major crush was on my favourite table in the school library.)
Describe James in three words.
An affable raconteur.
Robbed of the of my adjectives, I can only run this through a compliment translator. It’s thrown up the following possible meanings: He didn’t shut up; He had half-decent celebrity gossip; His humour was a bit cutting but not in a horrible way; I wasn’t listening.
Did you go on somewhere?
We did not – most of the nearby pubs were full of football fans.
BOOOO. World Cup Final this weekend, of course. I will be celebrating by ignoring it completely. I hope both teams lose. 💞
Did you go on somewhere?
We did not, but we had dessert, which I feel shows investment in the evening.
It was free – where else did you have to be?!
And … did you kiss?
I mean, if you weren’t feeling it, or you had spiritual motivations, or suddenly remembered that you’d both eaten cod collar, whatever the hell that is, then I get it. No kiss. But also: you might as well.
Marks out of 10?
I’ll channel my inner Motsi and say 7.
Channeling your inner Motsi? Have you ever watched Strictly? Motsi is a dance champion but she’s also an unmatched, energetic hype-woman; she’s great at lifting spirits, shouting encouragement – you’d have to be a three-legged donkey with vertigo trying to do the Argentine tango with a branch of WHSmith to get anything less than an 8. This 7 is sending James straight to the dance-off.
(I’m joking! And given Motsi is the second best judge – after Craig, his scores are the only ones that count – this is a decent aspiration.)
These scores are honest, if nothing else.
Would you meet again?
We exchanged numbers so I’d be happy to meet again.
We swapped numbers, but for me it felt more like friendship than romance.
And we do friendships with potential romantic interests better than anybody. Don’t be sad there’s no romance, no need to be cuffed this time of year. With the current state of the world, we need all the friends we can get.
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Something to remember about the review and the daters that I put at the end of every review
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, so please be kind to them in comments, replies, and generally on social media. 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. And please explain the shorts in December thing.
Please note: I describe this date as a ‘gay date’ because it’s a date between two men; I’m not making any assumptions about their sexuality or how they label themselves. Daters: if there is something I need to correct, please let me know.
Happy birthday to my wonderful godson, Luke. ❤️