Impeccable Table Manners

Katherine and Ella

We all have our own ways of dealing with terrible events, and when they happen closer to home, yet don’t affect us directly, it can be difficult to know how to act for the best.

When bad things happen in the world, we talk of wounds, and healing, and scars. In order to understand it better, we make the Earth flesh, imagine it as a part of us. Instead of bedrest and medicines, we speak of cures as carrying on, and laughter, and being with the people you love. I am not, as regular readers may know, a huge fan of keeping calm and carrying on – I sometimes feel it’s disingenuous and overbearing, and insult to grief, and ignorant of what some might perceive as human fragility. Time is a great healer, they say, but nobody ever seems to know what to do with that time – fill it with stuff and trivia, or take it out, and wait?

There is a tall wound reaching up into the sky not far from my flat – I can see it in the distance, from the window of my living room, and it’s not even close to scarring. It is open and raw. One of my favourite routes if I take a Boris bike anywhere is to cycle round the small quiet streets surrounding Grenfell Tower. Just the odd car, the healthy comforting din of children playing nearby, teenagers screaming in delight at God-knows-what on their smartphones. I could do it with my eyes closed after a while, sweeping left into Treadgold Street like I’d always done it, my nerves of being on the road finally leaving me, knowing I was somewhere familiar, not too far from Shepherd’s Bush – nearly home and pedalling all the faster in anticipation.  I have to confess, I knew the tower was there but hardly ever looked up. We tend not to unless we need to do, do we? It’s one of those buildings which, despite its size and dominance of the skyline, kind of hides from you when you’re on the ground nearby. I must’ve looked out of my window a million times and across the rooftops and, so used to seeing it, merely stared right through its summit for the past two years.  Now, however, it’s all I can see. I don’t think anyone of us will forget what happened there, and the scale and the sight of it, and despite what “keep calm and carry on” enthusiasts might tell you, remembering it for ever – and why it happened, and who let it happen – is exactly the right decision. We owe them that much at least.

That’s just something I wanted to say.

And after careful thought, I decided I would offer up my own pathetic sticking plaster and do a Guardian Blind Date review today. Meet property developer Katherine, 58 and 55-year-old neurological physiotherapist Ella. Click to see what happened and then we can get forensic.

Kath Ella

Katherine (left) on Ella | Ella on Katherine
What were you hoping for?
Tall, energetic, humorous.

Well, we could all do with a laugh. You do hope dates will be funny above all else, don’t you? I mean, attractiveness always a big big one, obviously, and kindness, I guess, is a plus, too. But humour, we crave it from others. It’s no wonder stand-up comedians are continually shagging around – it certainly isn’t their looks, is it?

A relaxed evening. And that she might be “the one”.

Why does “relaxed” sound like it’s stepping in for “mildly and comfortably boring” here? Relaxing – oh I dunno. I don’t do it often. For something that is supposed to chill you out, it can be rather time-consuming and stressful. Relaxing always feels like it should be spontaneous, rather than the diarised downtime it so often is for people permanently on the go.

As for “the one”, well. There is no “one”. There is just “someone willing to put up with you right now who may well continue to do so in the future but if they decide not to it’s OK – someone else will be along soon enough”. Like, seriously. Stop living in a MOVIE.

First impressions?
I was struck by how attractive and easygoing Ella is.
Not my type: shorter than me and quite posh.

Well, there goes “the one”.

I’m sure Ella is very easygoing, and that sounds delightful, but I always laugh myself hoarse when other people describe themselves as easygoing because, you know, 8 times out of 10, they are nothing of the sort. They almost tell you it like it’s a threat, and usually followed by an example of why they are anything but. “Look, I am a very easygoing person but if my STAPLER is not returned to me forthwith, I will drive a TANK through the office until I find it”.

Posh. Ella not into posh birds then. Likes a bit of rough, maybe? or someone real. I feel a but sorry for posh people. When I was young, growing up on a council estate with my mum, I assumed that being posh was the DREAM. People would treat you deferentially wherever you went, I thought, because you spoke nice and had money. What must it be like not to have to queue for a token for your free school lunch, separate from everyone else? How did it feel not to lie about your address? I assumed that having a dining room, nice vowels and a car was the answer to everything. Anyway, I never did manage to get posh and now I’m quite glad because, well, yes, you have the money but very little else that anyone wants, it seems. And yet you rule the world. Go figure.

What did you talk about?
Where we live, our work, past relationships, music, the election.
Politics, opera, property.

woman saying 'sorry I am not going to be any fun tonight'

Any awkward moments?
There was a group of four behind me who kept screaming with laughter and I really wanted to say something.

Always a sign things are going well if the sound of the riotous, joyous laughter of others is getting on your nerves. I am quite sensitive to loud noises, especially in places with terrible acoustics because they’re decorated like a post-apocalyptic branch of Habitat, but laughter? Oh, really? Was it distracting you from the fun-fest happening at your own table?

Initially, I had trouble masking my surprise at what I perceived to be her age. But I got over it.

Well, Ella, I hope you managed to mask “OH MY GOD I THOUGHT YOU WERE OLDER” way better in person than you did in this awkward answer.

Good table manners?

This is so icy. Basically, Ella has checked out of this date so hard by this point, Katherine could’ve got on the table and recited the lyrics to “I Love The Nightlife” and then pulled two tickets to Honolulu out of her bra and Ella wouldn’t have noticed.

Best thing about Ella?
Straightforward and grown up.

“Just boring enough.”

Best thing about Katherine?
Admirable previous career running a charity.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Imagine your best quality being your career. And one you don’t actually do any more. Ella is a savage, a silent assassin. It’s what she doesn’t say that kills you. I mean, I have had quite a few jobs in my time, and if someone said to me that the best thing about me was that I used to work on a cigarette kiosk in a supermarket and do announcements over the PA, I think I would have to look deep into myself and wonder whether it was time to take up an evening class. (Although it is my favourite job I’ve ever had.)

Would you introduce her to your friends?
I would be delighted to.
Academic, really, but probably.

I am honestly quite surprised Ella could be bothered answering the rest of the questions. She’s giving them the due attention you would if you also had a risotto on the stove that stuck to the bottom of the pan last time so you really need to keep watching. Katherine’s optimism in the face of what seems to be slightly disdainful indifference is admirable. I guess she’s been on a few dates starting out in the hope of “the one” and realised quickly that “this one” will probably do until Christmas.

Describe her in three words
Warm, responsive, easygoing.

WARM like tea spilled in your lap.
RESPONSIVE like… a website being viewed on a smartphone?
EASYGOING like someone who couldn’t give two shits for a very good reason – they’re not interested.

Pleasant, compassionate, cultured.

PLEASANT like a Wednesday in April with only light rain in the morning then sunny internals for the rest of the day and a manageable pollen count.
COMPASSIONATE like an orderly in a hospital drama who is usually killed off in a stunt episode when ratings start looking a bit anaemic.
CULTURED like a 4-pack of Activia.

What do you think she made of you?
No idea.
Did you go on somewhere?
And… did you kiss?

Thanks for coming, Ella. This is the voice of someone who daren’t say anything in case they actually say the TRUTH.

What do you think she made of you?
I think she was a bit surprised by what a pleasant time we had. Me, too.

kitty has her mouth open

‘She said “Kitty, do you like fun?”
I said no I don’t.
I had enough of that in 1957 when I got trapped in a lift with a hula hoop salesman.’


If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I would have liked to laugh.

You should have joined the other table, Ella! It sounded like a riot compared to your deluxe boxset of watching paint dry.


Katherine’s 8 feels awarded out of politeness and in appreciation of getting out of the house rather than any actual appreciation of the joyless awkward fiesta she just sat through.

Ella’s 6 is, as all regular Impeccable readers know, a face-saving zero. You don’t give anybody you’ve enjoyed spending time with a 6.

Would you meet again?
I’d be happy to, but I don’t think from a romantic point of view.

I wonder what made her come to that decision? Perhaps the way Ella disappeared for dessert, wore a false beard all the way to the Tube station and changed her mobile number before she even got back in the house?

Would you meet again?
Not actively.


Photographs: James Drew Turner for the Guardian

Note: There are lot of people here today who will not be around tomorrow, as that’s the way the world works, but everybody who lived in Grenfell Tower *should* be with us today. If you have enjoyed this blog even once over the last three years, please donate anything you can to one of the relief funds currently operating to help those who survived and the families of those who didn’t. This one launched by the Evening Standard (I know, but let’s hold our nose on that for a moment) has already raised over £1m – that might be a good place to start.

Disclaimer: The comments I make are meant to be playful and humorous and are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. Not my fault you didn’t laugh once. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story. 


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  1. I’m also in West London but Trellick is in my eyeline, rather than Grenfell and its surrounding estate. However, like you, I know the situation is awful and no amount of sticking plasters will help.

    That said, thank you for this one. I read the article and cringed. Which made it perfect for your take on it.

  2. I love your blog, perhaps needed more today in the face of such terrible sadness. Thanks for mentioning Grenfell and not ignoring it, it’s a monumental disaster and I will donate to your suggested fund (probably some others too).

  3. Ella’s borderline contempt for this date is hilarious. It feels like a likely-now-former friend signed her up for Guardian Dates with a “you’ll have fun! What’s the worst that can happen?”.

    I second the approval of the Martine pic.

  4. I’ve never commented but have been reading for a while, and wanted to thank you for all the times you’ve made me laugh. I live near Borough Market and am still reeling from that; your heartfelt words resulted in me donating to Grenfell too.

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