Jemma is wearing a tartan T short and blue shorts with trainers. She has blond hair. Pietro is wearing a blue shirt and green trousers. He has glasses and a beard
Photo: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian/ThenGuyliner
Impeccable Table Manners

Jemma and Pietro

Got a hangover from ‘wine time Friday’? Allow me to prescribe the greatest balm since solpadeine – a few short minutes peering into the early stages of what could be a very beautiful relationship. Or a very expensive divorce, depending on how far forward your time machine goes.

Trying to ease our disillusionment with everything – no pressure! – are Jemma who is 31 and a gardener, and 25-year-old PhD student Pietro. Here they are looking like they’ve just been told they have won a day out testing face creams for Priti Patel.

Jemma is wearing a tartan T short and blue shorts with trainers. She has blond hair. Pietro is wearing a blue shirt and green trousers. He has glasses and a beard
Photo: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Two attractive young people! One date! What could possibly go right? , before returning here to read my acidic annotations.

[Before we start: if you like how allegedly funny I am here, then you would LOVE my new novel The Fake-Up, which is out now. It’s about two idiots who fall in love – sound familiar? – but then have to convicne everybody they’re not in love at all, for varying plot reasons. BUY IT, IF YOU LIKE. It helps me keep the lights on.]

Right, on we go.

Jemma on Pietro | Pietro on Jemma

What were you hoping for?
An interesting and fun chat with someone new.

Someone new. This is the issue with apps, I suppose. Unless you move house every year – highly possible thanks to the housing crisis, yay! – every time you open a dating ap, you’re confronted by the same old faces. You get the ones who haven’t changed their photos since Lucy Beale got murdered in EastEnders and are still somehow ’25’. Or the people who change their photo every! single! day! to try and snare an unsuspecting neighbour, each pic being an awkwardly posed selfie in a mirror that could do with three swipes of a Windolene-drenched Thirst Pocket.

I heard that the REAL reason the Elizabeth line got government approval was so you could quickly tear over to the other side of London to find new people to blip into your dating app’s radar. My apologies to viewers in the north, whose trains are made of old buckets and take three hours to go from one side of Huddersfield to the other.

What were you hoping for?
To meet someone interesting.

Someone interesting. Harder than it looks.

First impressions?
Smart, well dressed, polite…

The first of many ellipses for Jemma in today’s date. I quite like the sense of mystery it suggests, but it also does sound a bit like Jemma was writing her answers and then the doorbell went, or the microwave pinged, or her flatmate shouted and asked her to ‘dispose of’ a spider in the bathroom. Anyway, these are all very good first impressions if you are a six-year-old ring bearer at a cousin’s wedding.

First impressions?
She was immediately friendly and talkative, maybe nervous, but she made it very easy to start chatting.

You need people like this in awkward situations. I know we get lots of women worrying they come across as ‘too chatty’ on these pages – spoiler, actually, Jemma later bets Pietro thinks she is ‘crazy and chatty’. That’s just the patriarchy telling you women shouldn’t speak unless they’re confirming how many sugars you want in your tea and we can’t be having that. On a first meeting between two strangers, you can’t really go wrong with someone who starts burbling at you immediately, like a radio stuck on an afternoon play about a scientist who accidentally invents a smokeless fuel while looking into the cure for split ends.

What did you talk about?
Our travels. Food. Animals (we both got a bit excited over Attenborough!). Places we’ve lived. TV shows.
Climate change. How to swear in Italian. Getting lost in London and Bulgaria without a phone. How Kesha ruined The Simpsons. Future plans.

Animals (we both got a bit excited over Attenborough!) – can I be really honest here and say that I find Attenborough worship quite odd? It’s always quite patronising and simplistic. Seems to go hand in hand with ‘Pimms O’Clock’ morons and arguing with your neighbours about parking spaces in your terrifying new-build development called something like Cherry Tree Enclave. I don’t like wildlife programmes anyway; I got all my essential commentary on the laws of evolution thanks to watching seven series of Big Brother in the Noughties.

Our travels/Getting lost in London and Bulgaria without a phone – ✅ At least if someone loses their phone on holiday you’ll be spared their ‘TAKE ME BACK’ Instagram posts one year, two years, three years, and four years to the day after they flew out.

How Kesha ruined the Simpsons/TV shows –✅ I had to google this. I don’t really get it. I haven’t cared about The Simpsons since I used to crack one out over a shirtless photo of Jordan Knight in TV Hits (or was it BIG!, I can’t remember). Anyway, I’m sorry for your loss.

Any awkward moments?
I got so engrossed in the conversation I leaned over the candle and my shirt sleeve went up in flames. Waiters came over to put it out! Strange thing was, I was just telling a story about setting myself on fire doing a kids’ science show! Luckily, Pietro found it funny.
Five minutes after she’d told me how she set herself on fire for a children’s science show, her sleeve caught fire.

OH HELLO can anyone else spell ROM-COM? I bet Daisy Edgar-Jones’ ears are burning right now. Look, all I’m saying is if something happens on your first date that would be ‘a good story to tell the grandchildren’, you have to go on at least one more date. Even if you don’t get on. Yes, darling, content is king. Second date not going well? Slip on a banana skin or something and see how you feel then.

At my age, I would literally have to set myself on fire to get anyone to notice me in a gay bar.

Good table manners?
Perfectly good. Responsible enough to ask the waiter for a quieter table, which got us a nice upgrade to a booth.

A quieter table. Again, oooooooh. I went and had a look at where the Guardian sent them. A pub on the fringes of the City. They serve burgers (double-stacked) on wooden boards, which is one of the biggest tells you are in a wankers’ bar, so the upgrade to a booth has probably saved them the bother of spending the date at gonzo-level to a table full of city boys ranking their favourite sexual harassment claims powered by £13 pints of Estrella. You just know this place smells of fish and chips until 7:30, when the dominating ping becomes the mixture of City-boys’ Creed Aventus and East London-boys’ “my girlfriend’s cucumber and cherry body spray”

Best thing about them?
He was very interesting and had a great sense of humour. I really enjoyed talking to him and conversation flowed naturally. We got along great!
She seems to have a big love for life and is very adventurous.

We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we? Do we really acknowledge it? In the journey to getting back to normal, I’m not sure we’ve really taken stock of just how terrifying and weird things were only two years ago. One year ago, even. So many of us didn’t make it, and a lot of people are still living with the effects of what happened to us, but we are here. That’s the main thing. And I find it a miracle, despite everything, that two people can go on a blind date and find each other interesting and get on and talk about just STUFF rather than this big bad that’s dangled over us and wrapped itself round our throats and generally tried to break us. So that’s something.

Describe Pietro in three words?
Intelligent, interesting, funny…

INTELLIGENT, like absolutely nobody in government is. I’m sorry, I have lived through a lot of administrations including Thatcher’s FULL reign of terror and I cannot remembered the Cabinet being full of so many irredeemable thickos. I don’t judge anyone with limited intelligence because we can’t all discover uranium in our tea break but HOLY MOTHERING CHRIST ON ROLLERBLADES these people look and act like they need a Post-it stuck to the inside of each of their eye lids, one labelled BREATHE IN, the other scrawled with BREATHE OUT, just to remind them. UGH.

INTERESTING, like the knowledge that half of Downing Street was vomiting Co-Op chardonnay into a printer overspill bin while people sat in joyless crematoria watching relatives trundle away to ‘Angels’.

FUNNY… like the first word in a text from your partner that is about to reveal they have caught you out in a lie. ‘FUNNY… Joshua because Dean saw you ordering a round of Pornstar Martinis in QueerzBar, NOT volunteering at the orphanage as you said you were…’

Describe Jemma in three words?
Capable, experienced, approachable.

CAPABLE, like a woodwork teacher might write on your school report – not that your parents care, they just skip straight to the maths, English, and science teachers’ remarks to make sure their dream of you being a doctor and one day paying off their mortgage is still intact. ‘Shirley, it’s not good news, we need to rethink… are there any highly paid jobs that involve being adept with a glue gun?’

EXPERIENCED, like someone might say on an application form for a bakery. I’m not sure what Pietro means here. That she’s done lots of stuff? Maybe that’s it.

APPROACHABLE, like… again this is a very customer service appraisal form vibe. Does Pietro moonlight as a mystery shopper?

Did you go on somewhere?
We couldn’t as I had to run off to catch my last train. We needed more time.
Sadly, she had a train to catch, so our time was cut short.

Trains need to run all night in this country. I’m sorry. Mind you, the last train can be a good get-out if… you need to get out. Or a missed last train can be a good excuse to get naked. Okay, so last trains can stay but what a shame they don’t go a little bit later.

And … did you kiss?
No, it was a brief goodbye, but he chased after me to give me the takeaway pavlova to eat on the train. Very chivalrous of him.
A crude remaginign of the 'How to lose a guy in 10 days' movie poster, with the title changed to 'How to set yourself on fire but also get pavlova' poster features Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey standing back to back
Paramount Pictures
And … did you kiss?
No. I don’t think I would do that on a first date.

Wouldn’t you? Not even a… little one? A peck? Okay. See, I guess, but also live while you’re young, darling. It’s a kiss not an engagement ring.

Marks out of 10?
9. Unforgettable.

Okay, so if we go by the actual rules (which I made up) that if you don’t kiss, you must automatically knock one point off, what do you think made Jemma give an 8? Or maybe Jemma was just really disappointed not to get that kiss so decided it was a two-pointer. Pietro’s ‘unforgettable’ is very sweet but five days in hospital with appendicitis are also ‘unforgettable’ so we must take that with a pinch of Maldon’s.

Would you meet again?
Yes, we still had lots to chat about!

Photo of a goat screaming. With the caption (screams)

Result. Let’s hope the fire on Jemma’s sleeve will translate to an actual spark between them.


Buy my books, please. They are how I live! 

Alternatively, if you liked this,  I know times are hard so I genuinely don’t expect anything.

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. But seriously, Pietro and Jemma, let’s write a rom-com!

Jemma and Pietro ate at The Gun, London E1. Fancy a blind date? Email


  1. ‘k… are there any highly paid jobs that involve being adept with a glue gun?’

    All I can offer is Mob enforcer? Especially given the fire thing as well!

    As usual, made my Saturday.

  2. Oh thank God. I’m glad no one mentioned the age difference that no one would care about if the genders were reversed but everyone seems to lose their minds over if it’s the woman who is older.

    I hope we somehow get a follow up from these two although I don’t know how they would happen but I am living for this

  3. Brilliant commentary on the “feel” of life right now re 2 yrs. of Covid. Yes, resilient and still able to do small talk. High hopes for these two!❤ Cue: Inkspots’ “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”

  4. I found the original write up a bit boring, sleeve fire notwithstanding, but your post made my afternoon. Brilliant thoughts on this moment in time.

  5. I was like the screaming lamb at the end of this as well. Woohoo!
    Sadly, I had to Google Jordan Knight, but happily, I think I found the pictures that worked well for you. ?

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