Impeccable Table Manners

Laura and Rob

ABBA music everywhere, beards, a burning hot summer, a general feeling of political hopelessness – as any old-timer who corners you on the bus will tell you, it’s just like 1976 all over again.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence 1976 was my very first summer on Earth. I have no memory of it, obviously, but after eight weeks of dry, dusty, throat-grazing, eye-crunching weather in 2018, I can visualise it. Imagine, the hottest summer in living memory, plus dealing with ME as a baby; I cried a lot, apparently. Plus ça change.

It’s a sign of our black-and-white, leave-or-remain times that only extreme weather opinions are welcome – you either have to be a fully paid-up sun worshipper who wants it to be 45º until we finally crash into the sun, or a meteorological killjoy who longs for freezing temperatures and ceaseless rain that will finally bring those sea levels up to our chin where they belong. Be the voice of reason – “perhaps it could be 26º for a day or two and maybe it would be nice if the wind remembered it existed for an hour every afternoon” – and you’re the very worst of people. You’re a centrist dad, or a coward, or a puzzled Gen-Xer akid the millennials and the baby boomers who doesn’t understand why you can’t just have “LIKE” tattooed on your knuckles rather than the “LOVE” and “HATE” of everyone else.

One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that talking about the weather is the most harmlessly patriotic thing we can enjoy together, for once. Whether you’re a gently sizzling gammon or a metropolitan elite melting pot of skin tones, one thing unites us all: British weather is an unpredictable, vengeful bitch, but at the very least, a welcome distraction from things going off a cliff that we *could* actually control, but choose not to, for complicated reasons like “Nobody wants to lose an election”.

But let’s take each other away from all this, shall we? Rather than focus on our own misfortunes, let’s pull up a chair, scrape the tomato sauce off our laminated menus, and intrude for just a moment or two upon a Guardian Blind Date. This week, we have Laura, a 27-year-old photo shoot producer, and Rob, 26, an energy consultant. Read what happened on the date before I jam everybody’s fingers in my Dualit toaster and switch it on.

Laura on Rob | Rob on Laura
What were you hoping for?
A fun evening with no awkward silences.

I have a top tip for you here – or life hack if you are intent on sounding like a digital marketing executive who just discovered you can put Birds Eye potato waffles in the toaster. If there is an awkward silence, talk about it. Chat about the concept of silence, what makes an awkward one, the worst one you have endured, times when it’s acceptable to have silence and ways you have managed to overcome them. Because once you have, guess what, there is no more awkward silence. It’s, like, science.

What were you hoping for?
A good story to tell.

To tell whom? What constitutes a good date story? In my experience, people prefer to hear about the terrible ones in person, but when reading on the page, the good ones are more popular. We’re romantics who can only admit so with our keyboard, or our quill. Face to face, however, we need our bants levels topping up, so talk only about walking out of the toilet with loo roll stuck to your Converse or the date who constantly referred to “formaldehyde” when he meant “fluoride”. Or at least you hope he did.

First impressions?
Friendly, with a great head of hair.

Dogs are friendly, so you can keep that one but hair, YES, love to get a compliment on my hair. I had it cut last week and it’s too short and I’m a bit sensitive about it but when the locks are in optimum condition and flowing like Coke Zero out of a soda gun on an ocean liner then I feel absolutely magic. Dates used to comment on my hair a lot actually. I couldn’t work out why at first and then the more dates I went on, the more I realised that loads of men turn up to dates with dirty or unkempt hair. If you’re not going to look after nature’s wig, then shave it all off, because there are bald dudes who’d kill to have a luxuriant mane to look after. It’s like longing for a child for years and then when you finally have one, calling them “Neon” and smacking them in a supermarket. Disrespectful.

First impressions?
I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Laura had a smile on her face and brought good energy from the start.

Good energy! Laura is a spare mobile phone battery and she never even knew it. Perhaps two weeks ago I would have made a joke about “big dick energy” (Google it; it’s not worth the paragraphs explaining it) but life comes at your pretty fast and that cultural reference has already sailed.

What did you talk about?
1980s music and his uncanny resemblance to Jon Clark from 2015’s Love Island.

I don’t watch Love Island. Not because I think I’m above it, or anything like that, but because there is too much of it. That amount of TV waiting to be watched, demanding commitment and time, makes me anxious. I can never keep up, and I don’t want to. I don’t need to anyway; it’s all anyone talks about. I think I’ve been asked “Do you watch Love Island?” more in the last few weeks than I’ve ever been asked anything at all.

From what I can see, Love Island is the perfect microcosm of everything that goes wrong in our relationships, acted out by people who would be very rude to us in a nightclub but, from a distance, we can respect and admire.

Anyway I googled Jon Clark, and basically I’ve made an appointment for Laura at Specsavers on Shepherd’s Bush Green for next Wednesday. It’s on me.

What did you talk about?
George Michael, Waitrose, Laura’s competitive edge.

There are very few celebrity deaths I still think about, but George is one, along with Amy, of course. And Diana. Poor George; he seemed like a good egg.

The cult of Waitrose. It’s just a supermarket, you know, whose USP is making dyed-in-the-wool middle-class people feel slightly better at having to lower themselves by doing something so basic as buying groceries. My favourite thing to do there is laugh at the price of yoghurt, or be extra polite to the staff to prove, for some bizarre reason, that I am not like their usual customer. Oh, and point at the queue of jacquard-clad desperadoes lining up for a free coffee with their loyalty card, despite the fact they are richer than Croesus.

Any awkward moments?
When I discovered that I wasn’t on a date with Jon from Love Island.
I was only a third of the way through my mac’n’cheese when she polished hers off.

Ignoring the Love Island thing if we MAY, I have some questions about this macaroni cheese – SORRY, life hack fans and people who drink in Wetherspoons ironically, I mean mac’n’cheese. And here they are: Why the hell would you eat something as cheesy, gloopy, and heavy as mac’n’cheese on a first date? I suppose if both of you are eating it, you won’t notice the sour tang of dairy about each other’s breath, and perhaps it’s cute that your pasta-bloated stomachs brush against one another as you go in for a kiss, but honestly. As regular readers will know, I am staunchly agin eating on a first date anyway, but if you must, at least eat something fairly neutral so the only thing they’ll remember you for is your passionate kiss, not the flecks of bulk-bought cheddar between your teeth. GOD.

The next question, and I ask this as someone who eats fairly quickly and isn’t going to let my food go cold just because you are chewing at a glacial pace: why is it awkward that she finished hers first? Were you hoping to finish first, as the man? Or can you only enjoy your food if the person opposite you has a full plate, or is exactly mimicking your own eating – like someone who can only get off watching gonzo porn?

Good table manners?
Impeccable, although I did seem to do a lot of the wine-pouring.
She knows how to keep a glass topped up, that’s for sure.

Waiters pour wine, guys, as annoying as it can be when you are downing your Pinot Grigio Blush to have them at the table every two minutes. That way, you don’t have to worry about anyone looking like a drunk, or challenging the gossamer-thin threads of masculinity.

Best thing about Rob?
He was dressed up as George Michael in the 1980s, with no skimping on attention to detail.
She managed to spin that being in a choir is cool.

Honestly some of Laura’s answers would suggest she dropped a microdot on the bus on the way over, so let’s focus on Rob here.

Choirs are becoming very popular now. I remember reading years ago that singing a few times a week – no matter how melodic – is a great stress reliever and more people should try it instead of the usual 21st century balms like smoking dope, shopping, reinventing yourself as a gin and tonic, and eating carbs ironically.

Plus, there is the added bonus of joining a choir and having a whole new bunch of people in your life to make friends with, fall out with, have instantly regrettable sex with and, best of all, bitch about with all the friends you prefer to them.

Describe him in three words
Fun, chatty, open-minded.

FUN, like that time on the waltzers where you managed to wait until you got off before you were sick. For a change.
CHATTY, like the word “talkative” never existed. Chatty is the Mellow Birds to talkative’s Monmouth Coffee snoot roast and I am here for it.
OPEN-MINDED, like that couple who move in across the road and have a gay teenager of whom they are immensely proud – but they wish he would at least wait until he was at the Tube station before he changed into his “SLUTS FOR CORBYN” T-shirt.

Describe her in three words
Smart, witty, attractive.

SMART, like a dress code in a hotel bar, in 1983.
WITTY, like the guy behind the ticket counter at the Edinburgh Fringe, who had a show last year, and will probably do one next year, but this year just really wanted to get a feel for the place and, like, y’know, do the whole thing as an actual punter, for the full experience.
ATTRACTIVE, like an investment, a sofa in John Lewis, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, or cuff links.

Did you go on somewhere?
To a cool little bar with a jazz band. I very nearly made a beeline for a saxophonist in his 70s.
To a small bar with a jazz band who created quite the atmosphere.

This is honestly one of my many worst nightmares. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run screaming from a half-eaten meal and untouched drink just because I’ve noticed someone in the corner of the pub setting up a small drum kit or gingerly relieving a double bass of its cover, while a woman in a dress eight sizes too big and loads of bangles floats over and beams a perfectly veneered smile into a microphone she has suddenly produced from one of the folds of her outfit.

And… did you kiss?
Whatever he said.
The saxophone player was filling the bar with seductive tones. Need I say more?

Well at least something good came out of all that JAZZ. Yay!

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I should have remembered I was on a first date and not inhaled my mac’n’cheese.

Look, Laura, just eat your sodding MACARONI CHEESE as slow or as fast and you want. If all goes well and you end up together, he’s going to see you eat a whole lot worse with much less dignity.

Bad table manners are things like eating with your mouth open, coughing into your hand and not the crook of your elbow, and flirting with the waiting staff. Clearing your plate at your own pace, and not according to the indecipherable rules of a stranger you have only just met, is not bad manners.

THIS is why I never like eating on a first date – people are weird and judgey about food and I don’t have any time for it.

Marks out of 10?
A solid 8 – points deducted for how long we spent talking about golf.

Did you KNOW there is a whole TV channel devoted to golf? This knowledge made me want to build a time machine just so I could go back and bop John Logie Baird over the head with a (frozen) chicken drumstick to ensure television was never invented.

Laura’s 8 is a shy 9 because she thinks Rob will give her an 8, because he’s a man. Rob’s 9 is a 9. These two aren’t the type to give tens. Nobody who can sit through jazz, let alone snog to it, will be free with their full marks.

Would you meet again?
It would be fun.
If Laura can put up with me for another night, absolutely.


Rob and Laura ate at Oslo, London E8.
Fancy a blind date? Email
If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded (it says here), visit

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. Get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll publish whatever you say.


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


  1. Had a look at the menu of Oslo. My that is one pretentious place, there are cartoons of pixies? That bear no possible relationship for food at all. All this covers what is a very bad and very basic menu. Smoked salmon, eggs and chicken cooked in 30 different ways or the 1 veggie option is very uninspiring fried hallumi.
    Probably the macaroni cheese was all either of them fancied, I would seriously struggle. Cheap for London prices I’ll give it that

  2. I didn’t notice his “good energy” comment when I read the Guardian yesterday, but now I am wondering if his job as an “energy consultant” is less about getting you to switch utility suppliers and more about woowoo.

  3. I read your book and loved it. I don’t do any reviews or stars (Black Mirror is worryingly near) but I wanted to let you know.

  4. “Honestly some of Laura’s answers would suggest she dropped a microdot on the bus on the way over, so let’s focus on Rob here.”

    My favourite line from another great unpicking, haha

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