Assuming our blundering PM’s ‘roadmap’ doesn’t in fact lead us all into the sea, we should be back doing socially distanced in-person dates from around… May? Perhaps even April if they have them meeting outside in a pub garden, each dater standing on one leg and ordering a Scotch egg and/or a pie (but not the proper kind of pie, just one of those lazy ones that’s a scalding hot lake of indeterminable meat and veg in an oval dish beneath an anaemic duvet of puff pastry) or whatever the incomprehensible guidelines demand. I’m choosing optimism, mainly because I have to believe these Zoom dates aren’t for ever. As much as everyone tries their best, they generally have all the sexual tension of being hit in the face with a telephone directory to the tune of ‘When Will I Be Famous’. I will be glad to see the back of them, when we have more tangible clues that things are going well or badly – pouring the wine for each other, nipping off to the loo to text ChildLine, excruciating goodbyes at ticket barriers, and of course, sex.
Anyway, this week, definitely making the very best of a bad situation over a screen are Ken, a 60-year-old sales director and Shelley, 63, a Spanish interpreter. Here they are below in situ in Weekend magazine:
Well, if nothing else, they both have excellent taste in wall coverings. Read what happened on the Guardian website and then pop back here for a selection of gentle eviscerations.
Ken on Shelley | Shelley on Ken
What were you hoping for?
A great conversation with a view to possibilities.
Ken here approaching the date with the same go-getting attitude that made him a sales director. Possibilities. Sounds quite clinical, doesn’t it, like he’s hoping to secure the biggest order of biodegradable speculums since Specu-Con in 1996, but I choose to see it as full of vague optimism and a keenness to see how things go. Anything is possible, after all. Well, except meeting anyone we know.
What were you hoping for?
A stimulating lockdown conversation with someone different.
A common theme of these dates and indeed just about every interaction is that people are sick to death of seeing the same old people on their Zooms/FaceTimes/park walks/trundles to the local shop. Remember those days when we were so starved of human interaction (lockdown 1) that we practically licked the screen when someone video-called us? Now we press red, cue up the next episode of WandaVision and send them an automated text.
Shelley seemed confident, friendly and relaxed.
When you’re waiting for someone to answer a video call, and assuming it’s one where you’re sitting down, what do you do? I sit deathly still, eyes wide and lips slightly apart, like I’m in a Photo Booth at Bradford Interchange having my photos done for my half-fare pass, where any movement will mean I’ll have to find £4 for another set of headshots. So if Shelley somehow managed to look confident, friendly and relaxed sitting stair-rod upright and staring into a lens, congratulations to her.
Well presented, just as I would expect from a European sales director.
“Just as I would expect from a European sales director” is the most amazing Acorn Antiques-esque exposition. What would YOU expect from a European sales director? I’d expect a nice suit, perhaps, maybe even an Austin Montego out on the driveway, the promise of a café au lait on the red-eye on the Eurostar, romantic business-pleasure hybrid weekends in European capitals, trinkets brought home from business trips including beautiful jewels from the Champs-Elysées and a Clipper lighter inscribed ‘I survived the pickpockets on the Barcelona Rambla’.
What did you talk about?
Spain, where Shelley has a house; European culture; swimming, which we both enjoy.
The lockdown and its impact on us, family, work, our travel experiences, food, hobbies, previous marriages.
Houses in Spain, European culture, Ken’s job – I think we’ve got a double-Remainer date, ladies and gentlemen, which is at least one problem out of the way (please feel free not to bombard the comments section with your own voting history or opinions on the EU – mustn’t waste all those scintillating tweets we usually reserve for sending during Question Time, must we?)
Previous marriages – ordinarily I would discourage talking about exes on a date but I suppose you get to the point, maybe sometime in your 60s, when you can look back on those years as belonging to someone else and recount the stories without bitterness. Well, I hope you can anyway, because it would’ve been quite embarrassing and unsexy if Ken and Shelley had set two hours deconstructing each of their exes’ inadequacies. So maybe I have changed my position on this. If you can talk about your exes in a grown up way, without dismissing them as a ‘psycho’ just because they cried when you dumped them, then maybe you should mention them. They’re a part of who you were, and their absence makes you who you are now.
Any awkward moments?
I mentioned performing standup comedy as a hobby. “Tell me a joke,” Shelley asked. The best I could come up with was, “One of my favourite films is Groundhog Day – I could watch that over and over again.” My attempt to recover failed when I explained it was the only joke I could think of that wasn’t about my disastrous relationships.
Aw, Ken. Why do people do this to comedians? ‘Say something funny.’ It’s like meeting an off-duty bus driver at a party and asking them to change into third gear. And yes, Ken’s joke is… well, it’s the best he could come up with in the moment, but it is a solid dad joke, the kind of joke that’s wheeled out in the fourth hour of an M25 tailback or in the long queue for the toilets at a folk event sponsored by Higgidy Pies.
The ‘my disastrous relationships’ is a bit of a 🚩 and does kind of undo everything I said about talking about exes, but Ken didn’t get where he is today by mincing words.
Any awkward moments?
Only slightly at the beginning, when we both confessed we were a bit nervous. A glass of wine helped with that!
Shelley, when in doubt, KB the wine.
Good table manners?
Very much so.
Well, that’s very good news, nothing more to see here.
How long did you stay on the call?
We had a great rapport; our two hours passed quickly. I never once attempted to check the score of the Spurs v Liverpool match.
Um, congratulations? Rapport is quite a ‘meeting’ word, isn’t it? Not ‘we got on well’, it’s a rapport. I hope Ken finds time in his busy life for a bit of silliness – this is probably where the comedy comes from, I guess, I literally type out my thoughts as I have them if you haven’t guessed, which is why I sometimes glide over subtext. Anyway, I am GLAD about this rapport and apparent synergy, as it means there’s a good chance Ken will be circling back to Shelley.
Best thing about Shelley?
Great energy, positive and engaging. She knows what she wants out of life.
‘She knows what she wants out of life.’ It’s not unusual for older daters to say this and I suppose it’s because when we’re younger we have no clue what we want from life or what we’re doing and many of us are just waiting for someone to reposition our arms and legs like we’re made of Lego and shove us in the right direction. But as you get older, you become err toward automation – or at least find yourself in a fortunate position where someone does everything for you but you don’t really have to think about it – and the randomness and insecurity can fall away, to a degree. Added responsibilities like children, mortgages, and important careers can often speed up this automation and I wonder if this is behind a lot of these very boring internecine generational conflicts so beloved of the media. The elders miss the way possibilities unfurled before them, and yet judge the others for taking advantage of it, while the youngers both crave and dread the stability. We would perhaps all get on a lot better if we realised that age has nothing to do with it, that having a mortgage, or smooth elastic skin, or someone who calls you ‘darling’ doesn’t necessary make you any luckier, well-rounded, or knowledgeable than anyone else, that we are all drifting. We are never farther than two thought patterns away from that scared child we all used to be.
Best thing about Ken?
Very easy to talk to and outgoing.
This is very encouraging.
Would you introduce her to your friends?
Yes, and to my grown-up kids. They would all give a big thumbs up.
Yes, no problem. I think he would hold his own.
Describe Shelley in three words?
Attractive, charming, energetic.
Attractive, like the offer of a glass of champagne from a European sales director as you sit, late at night in a hotel bar in Cologne, down to your last Deutschmark (it’s 1986, btw) and really need someone to talk to.
Charming, like a girl in a French movie – she’s called Zizouette – who leaps about in capri pants and a headscarf and encourages you to speed through the streets of Paris in your convertible before stopping for crude oil-strength coffee and a fresh croissant at 5am in Montmartre.
Energetic, like a woman in another movie (Spanish this time, probably) who challenges you to a trampolining competition.
Describe Ken in three words?
Sensitive, adventurous, on the brink of something new?
Sensitive, like a man in a French movie – not the same movie as the annoying Zizouette person, a different one – who cries when he photographs you because, try as he might, he can never get the lens to appreciate your vivid beauty that lights up the room, telling you that God meant you only to be appreciated with the naked eye. Maybe don’t drink from that glass he just handed you, though.
Adventurous, like… okay, so we’re in an Italian film this time and we’re riding pillion with Sophia Loren through Rome, having just pulled off an epic jewel heist (it later turns out that an American has switched the gems for glass fakes, but it’s fun while it lasts).
On the brink of something new, like… hang on.
Shelley appears to be letting us know that… am I right? Is this…
What do you think she made of you?
She probably thought I was the most handsome, charming, funny and intelligent man she’d ever met. I’m glad I never got round to mentioning my passion for building Airfix kits.
Ken, I love you with all my heart. And I’m sure Shelley is willing to accept even your Airfix obsession. (Remember that bit in Adrian Mole where he sniffs the model glue in an Airfix kit and gets a Spitfire stuck to this nose? Amazing.)
What do you think he made of you?
That I’d had an interesting life, was inquisitive and (hopefully) fun to be with.
Yes, Shelley! He did! Run to him! Or tell him to run to you! Or… like, wait a bit until we’re farther down the roadmap, but still, prepare to do some running of some description! 💕
How did the call end?
When my teenage son texted me “what’s for dinner?”, a relatively long conversation for him.
See? Ken’s comedy act is GOLD. I’ve seen much worse comics get an hourlong special – time for Ken! ‘Bloody teenagers, am I right?’ – that would’ve got you six prime-time series on BBC 1 and audiences of over 20 million in the mid eighties.
Marks out of 10?
9. That’s top marks from me, I never give 10 to anything.
Well, I guess in the terms of a Blind Date, a 10 is usually reserved for some light snogging after dinner but… I can’t imagine going through life adamant that nothing would ever be worth a 10. Not one thing, Ken? Not even the Eiffel Tower as you zoom past it in your cab from Gare du Nord? Not even your son saying ‘thank you, I suppose’ as you hand him the pierce-and-ping Lean Cuisine lasagne you just made for him? Not even a vase of daffodils gently opening in the spring sunshine? Come ON, after the year we’ve had, we should all be looking out for 10s. Sevens just aren’t going to cut it any more.
Marks out of 10?
A solid 8.
While I’d never deign to question the solidness of a score, I feel this could’ve been edged to a 9 if Ken’s Groundhog Day jokes had landed. But I feel good things here, trips to Prague in their future, or Shelley wowing Ken with her language skills in a Madrid pavement café
Would you meet again?
Yes, I would.
You heard them. Like Ken said, ‘she knows what she wants in life’. And you know what, Ken? Sounds like it’s you.
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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, so please try not to speculate. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story. And Ken, Shell – please send me a postcard from your first adventure.
• Fancy a blind date? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.