Impeccable Table Manners

Joe and Astrid

It’s becoming harder to get out of bed, sometimes, to be a part of our brave new world. Life isn’t as much fun when you find yourself on the losing side, over and over again. “I don’t want to wake up in the morning, but I’ve got to face the day,” as the Vaccines once so wisely sang. It is scant comfort that someone, somewhere is enjoying this chaos and disorder, is invigorated by it – these are not my people.

Hoping to find someone on their wavelength and free of garbage opinions this week are 24-year-old economist Joe, and Astrid, 25, an estate manager. Are they reason enough for us to swing our legs out from under the duvet this week, or will they have us praying that climate-change armageddon speeds up and obliterates us all?


Read what happened on the date, before I blunder in on a hover board and ruin the whole evening.




Reaching for the sky, as ever. Next.


Right. As regular readers will know, I am very big on punctuality. Huge. I insist upon it for myself, hope for it in others and judge those whom it eludes. I’m sorry, I do. I get furious when other people make me late, because I have very, very often been the one standing there waiting for others to arrive. Oh, how I’d laugh and shrug it off when they eventually turned up 10–15 minutes after we were supposed to meet, a flurry of air kisses and half-hearted apologies and little white lies like “I’m not sure what time we said” or “I couldn’t get on the first Tube” or “It took me ages to get here; I came out of the wrong exit”. I’d tell them it didn’t matter, even though I knew they were late because they’d stopped off at a shop on the way – the carrier bag usually gives it away, friends – or had decided to have another piece of toast before leaving the house, or, as the slightly puffy eyes would tell me, had plumped for an extra half-hour in bed. Their time, you see, is precious, but yours is not, because it doesn’t belong to them and they feel no need to  consider it.

We very rarely say to people “Don’t be late” unless it’s something serious like a meeting, or a funeral, or the Oscars, because it makes us sound overbearing, like we’re ordering people about. We are accused of being controlling – “what does a few minutes matter, bloody hell” – but we need to say to people not to be late because your time is precious and it is finite and there is not enough of it to waste waiting outside the Argyll Street exit of Oxford Circus (the one next to the stir fry takeaway) for someone who was always going to be late, whatever time you said. Don’t wait. 10 minutes, if you’re feeling generous, then a text telling them you had to go.

That said, Joe sounds like he’s talking about a train here. And he does sound a bit controlling, actually. It does feel like we’re reading from a faded computer printout of a machine that was invented by accident in a lab and is capable of taking over the world. “She was dressed very smartly and we arrived at the same time” – you wouldn’t want it as a review quote on the cover of your romantic novel, would you?


They never do, Astrid. Before  you go on a date, remember to Google Ted Bundy, or perhaps search for some American Psycho GIFs. They don’t all look like Fred West or the Yorkshire Ripper, you know.




24 and 25, apparently. I like to imagine they were just pretending to be grownups, like they were in a Wendy house or eating Monster Munch off a plastic plate from an A La Carte Kitchen set, and being all la-di-da before collapsing into heaps of giggles. Board games and patterned clothing are conversations 60-year-olds would have while barrelling round the Edinburgh Woollen Mill sale.

Your surroundings influence your chat on a date, however. If you’re in a “buzzy” bar in east London, I dare say your love for Monopoly and penchant for golfing jumpers won’t get a look-in. These two were eating in the restaurant of that mortifying court-themed hotel on Great Marlborough Street, the one with the bar that has actual police cells in it. The restaurant still has all its original features and is laid out like a courthouse with tables cleverly added where they can fit them. I don’t know what I’d have done on finding myself eating here, on a blind date, aged 24, but I do hope I could’ve pulled some better conversation topics out of my then very-limited “bag”. The funny thing about this restaurant is that if it were in, say, Essex, it would be tacky af, but somehow it gets a free pass because it’s in London and cocktails are a million pounds.





I’ve said this before, but one of the easiest ways to unnerve someone, or communicate you don’t like them, or that they’re irrelevant to you, is to pretend to forget their name, or ask it more than once. Sometimes, often even, it is genuine, and you can usually tell those moments from the fake. I have quite a bad memory for names, but never ask for it more than once. People tend not to remember my name, or they get it wrong; it’s just one of those things. It can be a hard fact to swallow, that you’re not particularly memorable, and while I don’t care that much any more, as it helps to slip under the radar sometimes,  it teaches you that it really does bother some, that it’s very important to them you remember their name. And once they’ve revealed that, you can have lots of fun with it. Seriously, get someone’s name wrong more than once at a gathering and watch them simmer.



The Oxford English Dictionary press office – the thirstiest in the game – may want to contact Astrid with an up-to-date definition of “overlook”, because she appears to be misusing it.


Oh, Joe. Go on, tell us, what is it about your friends, your clutch of bros and lads and maaaaates, that would puzzle Astrid? Are they too boisterous for her? Maybe fond of telling a few “off-colour” jokes and doing a bit of swearing? Astrid is an estate manager in Windsor – she very likely meets about 100 dickheads a day, at all levels of age, class, wit and intelligence. I doubt very much that your bunch of righteous, black-sock wearing, graduate scheme dudes – no doubt all imperially terrible at ironing, cleaning up, handling their beer, eating anything other than pizza, paying bills on time and, crucially, talking to women – would faze her in the slightest.


QUIRKY like a patterned jumper.
FUNNY like that time your bodacious best bud got drunk on, like, a pint of wine and did that super middle-class amazing rite of passage thing that I wouldn’t understand.
PUNCTUAL like Mussolini’s breakfast.


EASYGOING like nobody who ever said that word ever was, ever.
INTELLIGENT like a self-checkout machine that refuses to acknowledge you’ve put the chewing gum into the bagging area.
CHATTY like a child in the queue at the Post Office asking you why the man in front doesn’t have any hair and “smells funny”.



I don’t know, but with his punctuality obsession, mortification over wearing the wrong shirt and then spilling food down it, and now his interrogation, Joe is starting to sound about as joyful and “easygoing” as Herr Flick from ‘Allo ‘Allo.


Astrid has no time for Snapchat or Twitter, and yes, her phone screen – a Nokia 3210 – is cracked because she’s too busy to get it fixed because of all the horses and stags and lawns and stuff to worry about in her job. I’m always amazed, impressed or envious even, when I meet someone who is so off-grid, and that they don’t care about it. I can’t think of anything worse, but then if everybody was on social media, there’d be no room for all our terrific opinions, would there?


Ah, the train. That train. I know that train. I have boarded it and felt relief, I’ve got on it and felt regret, I have accidentally missed it, I have purposely missed it, I have pretended it doesn’t exist. If there is true chemistry, a train won’t hold you back. What are timetables, and quiet carriages, and freezing cold ticket halls, when it comes to that tingle of passion and excitement you feel when you know you won’t be going home tonight? The train is an excuse, your get-out clause. Sometimes, like on this date I’m thinking, we really need that train.




THIS is what you’d change? Your food? Your shirt? This is all you’d alter, at the age of 24 and 25, about the entire evening? You’d keep the rest? An insipid meeting of minds in an overpriced fun-pub with nibbles, chatting amiably, yet dully, about the Yorkshire sodding Moors and Scrabble? You’d hang on to the total lack of rapport or, dare I say it, spark (!) and the utterly tang-free end to the evening, where each of you trundled off, before 11pm I bet, back to your boltholes to sigh and shrug at your flatmates that it was “OK” before firing up Netflix and watching two episodes back-to-back of benumbing borefest The Crown, before settling into bed? You wouldn’t change that? No?

You wouldn’t fancy swapping them out for a girl in violently applied lipstick with a dirty laugh who said she had a bit of coke in her bra and tickets for a club in a converted sewer, or a bestubbled charmer in trousers one size too small who had a magnum of champagne stitched to the inside of his lapel and tickets for the same club, but in a VIP area high above the bubonic crowd below? No? Definitely not? Horses for courses, I guess.


Ugh. That point-five. “I don’t want to score her a 7 because that is a gentleman’s 1, but I don’t want her to get the impression I’m interested in her, so an 8 is out of the question. Yeah, 7.5.”

It’s still a 7, Joe. I didn’t just fall out of a sodding tree.


Astrid’s rule of thumb is never to give a score that you wouldn’t happily write on a rosette and pin to a horse, or a cake, or the jacket of a minor royal, so she has very kindly gone for an 8, despite the evening showing as much sexual promise as a bale of towels tumbling off the top shelf in Debenhams.

Last and, by the look if it, very very much the least, we discover whether our star-crossed lovers will ever meet again. Perhaps they could have a second date in another themed restaurant – is TGI Friday’s ironically cool yet?



“Logistically”, like he’s talking about building the pyramids instead of, you know, getting on a train. However, he’s right, you know, east London is too far for any self-respecting person to ever want to go, unless it was Jake Gyllenhaal waiting for them at the other end. (Sorry Joe.)

If you really want to be with someone, you’d make it work. Just SAY you can’t be arsed, FFS – we’re not here for long. Or perhaps Astrid is from Windsor on the South Island of New Zealand, and has thus far kept this under wraps.



Bullet dodged, perhaps, Astrid.

Photograph: Graeme Robertson; Alicia Canter, both for the Guardian

Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. I do this live on a Saturday morning. Astrid, and Joe, even though you are wasting your 20s with relish, you seem nice – live a little, though, eh? For me. If you want to give your side of the story,  get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. 


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