Photograph: James Drew Turner for the Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Kimberly and Deepan

Are you woke? Should you be woke? Whether or not you agree with the application of a past tense in this manner, the answer ought to be yes. You can moan about snowflakes and millennials if you like – extra points if you invoke avocados and smartphones – but the thing is without woke people, by which I mean people who are awake to the idea that the world is a hell mouth of injustice, we’d still have people routinely treating others like crap. Yes, Twitter is evil etc etc etc but the truth is it has also enlightened, educated, and created empathy among people who otherwise may have continued to live in their own bubble. Some of those bubbles are fine, and protect their inhabitants, but some are noxious, malevolent cauldrons of hate and, frankly, there is no time for that. No need to let me know whether you agree with me or not.

This week’s Guardian Blind Date is a special one, as the Weekend magazine that houses it has been taken over by writers from gal-dem, an online mag populated by women or non-binary people of colour, but written for everyone. This is an intriguing prospect for me, as I literally spend my entire day saying I am sick of reading the same thing over and over, but I can only imagine what the online comments under every piece are going to be like. For all its image as a lentil-munching, cardigan-wearing, yoghurt-weaving mouthpiece, the Guardian’s online commenters are not so much “woke” as comatose. Anyway, to give the column today some context, Kimberly is 27 and a policy officer, and she wrote elsewhere in the mag about her search for a man who was “woke”, that is to say, not a bigoted trash carnival. Good luck, hun! Anyway, fate arrived with its dish of the day in the shape of Deepan, 29, a telecoms engineer. My paternal grandfather was a telecoms engineer back when the Post Office still ran the phones, and he was a gentle soul, albeit exceedingly grumpy, so let’s see if it’s a “thing” among telecoms engineers, or whether it was particular to Grandad.

Read the date before I come in and go all “Dynasty Moldavian wedding episode” on everything.

Kimberly on Deepan | Deepan on Kimberly
What were you hoping for?
Good conversation and a bit of flirting with someone woke, of course!

Remember the context! Bit of flirting, yeah, I can go along with that. Nobody flirts with me anymore. It’s fine, I’m in a relationship anyway, but I do remember the days when I couldn’t walk into a Sainsbury’s Local without being catcalled by all the female staff over 50.

What were you hoping for?
Great conversation, scenery and good food.

“Scenery.” They ate in one of those restaurants that’s in a hotel and looks like a millionaire got hold of some spare cash and decided to decorate it in the style of an insurance company’s canteen, but expensive. I mean, I’m not sure what “scenery” means – I usually use the word as code for “there were some good-looking people there” – but perhaps Deepan was hoping to be going on a date with a painting.

First impressions?
Great manners, very polite, nice shirt.
Lovely, compassionate and comfortable.

I would say these are overall impressions rather than first impressions. Bring me my funeral cortege; I shall perish upon this hillock if I must.

“Nice shirt.” Haha.
“Comfortable.” Deepan has gone from wanting to date a painting to mistaking Kimberly for a sofa.

What did you talk about?
His new puppy, the flashy bathrooms in the restaurant, tech, politics and Netflix.
Netflix binges, where we grew up, politics. It was an uncomfortably PC discussion.

Netflix: ✅
Politics: ✅
Blanks on everything else.

We’ll get to the prize-winning answer in a moment, but let’s start with Netflix. I find it remarkable how it has become socially acceptable to vegetate in front of the TV for days at a time, merely because you are paying a subscription for the pleasure. It’s basically the gentrification of the couch potato. Live in a council flat and binge on Judge Judy in your (grey) joggers, and the media will demonise you, say your telly is too big, and that your children should go into care. Live in a flat with oak floors, high ceilings and Council Tax to match, munch your carefully controlled portion of artisan popcorn – slug & diesel flavour because you are “real” – and stay glued to some kind of ironic period drama for five hours, however, and it’s culture.

I accidentally binge-watched five episodes of Kath & Kim the other day and I felt ill afterward. I had to go outside and touch a tree to affirm I was still alive.

Politics: I get there is a woke theme here, but seriously, do not talk about this on a first date, it never ends well. As we shall see.

“An uncomfortably PC discussion.” 🚨🚨🚨 Bore off, Deepan. I know politics is a bit zzzzz when you’re trying to kick back with the second-cheapest bottle of wine on the menu, but invoking the term “PC” is such a load of bollocks, especially coming from a 29-year-old. You are Homer Simpson’s dad shaking his fist at the sky; you are “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” writing into Points of View because two women kissed on TV; you are the man who says “elf and safety” like you’re the first person who ever thought of it.

Political correctness, like “snowflake”, is a bullshit term invented by people who cannot be bothered giving a hoot about anybody else.
“Oh you can’t say anything anymore,” they trill, while saying absolutely anything they like, to zero effect. If taking a micro-second or two to consider somebody else is such a daunting prospect, may I suggest you… well, continue to live, love, and prosper as openly and freely as you already do. Because that’s your right, and it has been earned by the gritted teeth and the graves of those who fought for it in days gone by.

Uncomfortably politically correct? Good. Let’s hope that seat never gets too comfy, shall we?

Any awkward moments?
When we talked about the NHS. Everyone should be entitled to healthcare and fraud cases are low… but he didn’t agree.

Fucking hell. I can remember very clearly one time I had to cut a date short because the conversation was going in a direction that could only have resulted in us fighting with swords. It was so odd, like an opinion that had been plucked from a dog-eared ’80s copy of a tabloid that he’d found on a skip after a house clearance. It featured a diatribe about single mothers and how young women have babies so they can get council flats. I still remember the feeling of the summery night air beginning to chill around me as my face froze and I tried to process what he’d said. I didn’t realise people actually believed it. I thought it was a stereotype used in comedy programmes by people with degrees, mortgages, and a couples’ therapy appointment a week Thursday – not an actual worldview. I was brought up by a divorced woman, on her own, in a council house that she and my dad had waited a long time for. Spare me the fuckery, you semi-detached, bay-windowed, “summering in Tuscany” twat.

The government plays into this fear and loathing, of course. It’s why you hear so much about benefit fraud rather than corporate tax evasion. People can’t be bothered getting angry about the bigger things, because they “need that caffeine hit” etc, but conjure up the image of some single mum screwing the welfare system for every penny, and suddenly they’ve got a joint Masters in sociology and anthropology, and are talking about “bringing back hanging” and “how can they afford satellite TV”? It doesn’t really help that middle-class columnists patronisingly harp on about the working-class or people on benefits like they’re a downtrodden, homogenous mass of Oliver Twists with huge, angelic eyes, rattling their empty bowl for another scoop of gruel either, btw.

Anyway, what I’m saying here is that Deepan is cancelled and from here on, every single one of his answers will be followed up by a photo of Alexis from Dynasty looking bored, vengeful, or sarcastic.

Any awkward moments?
I yawned at the end. It had been a really long day, and I hope she understood that.

Good table manners?
Yep – I was happy we had both Googled the menu beforehand and chosen our food already.

Jesus, Kimberly, don’t live a little, live a Lotto. Agonising over the menu is part of the dating process. Why would you remove the option of the one failsafe, inevitable topic of conversation. Your planning for the evening should stop at looking up your route there (and home) on CityMapper. This is unacceptable.

Good table manners?
Impeccable.

Best thing about Deepan?
Really easy to talk to. None of those never-ending awkward silences.

I think in some cases, especially this one, the silence would’ve been blessed release.

Best thing about Kimberly?
She loves to write.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Sure.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
I’m not sure she’d get on with a lot of them, because they have no care for politics or social justice.

Describe Deepan in three words
Easy-going, friendly, gentlemanly.

Easy-going, like a control freak who’s finally agreed to give Citalopram a go.
Friendly, like a dog who’s just relieved you’re not going to put him on Instagram.
Gentlemanly, like a spy in a tight sweater.

Describe Kimberly in three words
Content, interested, polite.

What do you think he made of you?
Maybe that I’m a bit serious.

To be honest, yeah. I imagine if you weren’t on a quest to find a woke man, things might have been a bit lighter, but this is a lesson to us all perhaps to try to draw out the other person’s personality rather than their politics. Don’t forget that while it is not your responsibility to try to train somebody up not to be a dickhead, people can change, and be enlightened.

What do you think she made of you?
I took more than 50% possession of the conversation, but I hope she didn’t mind.

Did you go on somewhere?
No, it was 11pm when we left the restaurant.

Hi Kimberly, I’ve got a text here from your youth, reminding you it’s still here and ready to be used at any time.

And… did you kiss?
No, we hugged goodbye.
I’ll let her tell you that.

?!?!?!?!?!

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
We’d have more in common. He relaxes by fixing up cars and taking the dog out; my hobbies – writing and campaigning – are steeped in social justice.

Remember that Whitney and Bobby sang “we’ve got something in common” and look how that ended up.

(Weirdly, when I was 18 and used to go to the local nightclub in Bradford, Maestro’s – a veritable dungheap of heterosexuality – Something in Common would always be the song that was playing on the big screens as I walked in, just before they retracted them and the DJ started playing a cacophony of ’90s drivel.)

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
The weather would have been cooler.

Marks out of 10?
7.

This is a one. UNO.

Marks out of 10?
A strong 7.

Would you meet again?
Not romantically – he needs a nice girl who wants to move out of the city and settle down with his puppy, which isn’t for me.

These people are in their twenties, FYI. I know social issues are important, but it’s also key to get a balance of social responsibility and, you know, JOY. I like Kimberly, but this date reads from both sides like it was as much fun as a razor-blade enema.

This is the problem with an age where only extremes will suffice, a world full of “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree”. Whither the “Don’t Know”s? Come back, oh indecisive ones. I detest the “you gotta see both sides” argument because that is toxic and cowardly, but I do miss gentle, harmless DITHERING.

YES, Mavis. I do.

Would you meet again?
As friends, yes.

 

Kimberly and Deepan ate at Serge et le Phoque, London W1.
Fancy a blind date? Email blind.date@theguardian.com. If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, visit soulmates.theguardian.com.

NOTE: The comments I make are based on the answers given by the participants and not what they may actually be like in real life. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits it to suit the column. I’m sure Deepan is great company despite everything. Get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll publish whatever you say.

NOTE 2: I wrote a book and it’s a bit like this blog only fictional and better. If you enjoyed this free content, please buy it!

NOTE 3: The Impeccable blog will return later in the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

  1. The restaurants web page, first line states-
    “Dining Room is an exquisite, red lacquered salon in which 28 individual paint processes have created an extraordinary setting that is both distinguished and dramatic”
    So looking for scenery, this seems to be the main theme.

  2. Nice to see the Guardian still using the services of photographers on loan from a dermatologist’s or coroner’s office. I’m especially thrilled to see the glare off Kimberly’s forehead, because it reassures me that I won’t miss a single imperfection.

  3. Is it possible that Deepan simply shared your distrust that “middle-class columnists patronisingly harp on about the working-class or people on benefits like they’re a downtrodden, homogenous mass of Oliver Twists with huge, angelic eyes, rattling their empty bowl for another scoop of gruel”?

    If so, you have allowed yourself to be triggered into a terrible, terrible injustice.

    Great rant, though, regardless of whether or not Deepan deserved it.

    My take, FWIW, is that there are people who have dropped out of, or never got to grips with, paying their way. Helping them onto their feet takes time and face to face effort, not threats. The Prince’s Trust puts two full time staff into a 13 week course for a dozen people, a couple will drop out and the rest will have some benefit. (I understand that in parts of London, the uptake is mainly from nice middle class families. This is not so everywhere.) Until we are ready to mobilise this sort of support on a national scale, it’s probably best to keep paying the benefits. And stop blaming the underprivileged for the government’s economic mismanagement. And go after the tax avoiders.

  4. Since I know people who are into social justice as a part of life… usually when you don’t claim people are scrounging off the NHS or that the poor are the problem, the conversation goes elsewhere organically. I know of one person who just refuses to talk to white people and gives one chance to non-black people outside of her work – which is just too extreme for me but hey. I feel the ultimatum thing so much.

    I almost got sucked into it back in 2012, then I decided to gain some perspective, I was also trash and will be trash to others. Just need to discern properly between intentional trash and incidental trash due to ignorance. Doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.

    She probably didn’t want to endure the strain of his enlightenment journey since she’s looking for a safe relationship where she can retreat into love and not nervousness of “oh, what other crap is he going to say?”

    I guess it goes along the lines of the book “Why I’m No longer Talking to White People About Race”

    I wonder if he’s the type to make self-deprecating jokes about his ethnicity or race amongst an audience that doesn’t look like him – only because of the use of ‘PC’.

  5. Great, simply great. I’ve stated my envy of your talents previously, but this is on another level. Perhaps it’s because you sound like the voice in my own head, but I could never write it down like this. Serious and funny? Vital and side-splitting? You’re a good man, doing great work.

    Bravo, especially as you’re from Yorkshire…which is obviously not as good as being from Lancashire, but better than being from anywhere in the south…!

Leave a Response

%d bloggers like this: