Impeccable Table Manners

Leon and Sue

Do you remember when Ronan Keating, former lead squawker in Irish quintet of greige Boyzone, launched his career by sitting on a park bench, pretending to be a pensioner and croaking, “You say it best… when you say nothing at all”?

It’s possibly the most faux-romantic way ever of telling the one you love to shut the hell up, and if we all took Ronan’s advice, we’d all glide about in silent fury, and Jeremy Vine’s radio show would be three hours of white noise punctuated by travel updates.

Sometimes, however, there really is nothing to say and today’s Guardian Blind Date, between Leon, a 38-year-old recruitment agency boss and Sue, 32, a PA, is a pretty good example.

Nevertheless, I like a challenge. Pour yourself a very strong, super long coffee and read what happened on today’s date before I try to make something out of nothing.

Leon | Sue
What were you hoping for?
Tasty food, a decent drop of wine and maybe a cheeky kiss.

Is Leon good-looking or not? I think he might be.

Imagine visiting his recruitment agency, surrounded by shrieking graduates trying to sell you in to a three-month long contract out at Sky. (“No, it’s Osterley, not Oswestry. And it’s not that far really.”) For the hundredth time, you catch sight of dandruff tumbling from the consultant’s head onto your CV.

Suddenly, you look up and there’s Leon, a vision in brilliantly laundered Oxford shirt cotton and dad jeans, with effortless stubble and a kind of “I used to be a geek but inexplicably turned into a hot dad at about 35, so I still wear glasses to remind myself of how far I’ve come” air about him. And he owns the place.

I’m 39, remember.

Sorry, my mind is wandering a bit because that answer was pretty boring. “A cheeky kiss.” The Nando’sification of romance continues apace.

What were you hoping for?
Not to be paired with an axe murderer.

I’d quite like to be paired with an axe murderer, actually. I’d love to know their motivation, what it’s really like cleaning up the blood – if they even do – why they went for an axe rather than a sword/dagger/rake. I’d then pitch it as a series to Vice.

First impressions?
A confident, down-to-earth and charming lady.

I would say this is an overall impression gleaned from two hours of awkward conversation in Quo Vadis, Leon, but I won’t split hairs because anyone with a shirt that white can’t be all wrong.

First impressions?
Friendly, but not the type I usually go for.

WHOA. Sue has swept all the crockery off the table here. “Not the type I usually go for” is polite-speak for “fuck no”.

We’ve all walked into dates and thought “well here goes a wasted evening” but sometimes, with enough Sambuca and goodwill, you can grow to like these anti-types. But a first impression is a first impression and this is Sue’s world and we’re just living in it.

What did you talk about?
Family, travel, our professional lives, her work summer party, Zorb football.
Work, holidays, dating in London, working out.

“Her work summer party” – I could feel my eyes glazing over there, even from the safe distance of my sofa a full week after the date has actually happened. PAs work incredibly hard, I know, but nobody wants to hear about that big do you’ve organised for your overweight, adulterous bosses.

“Zorb football” – I’m not even Googling. I don’t care.

“Dating in London” – I think one day I will present my Top 10 very worst things to talk about, not just on a date, but EVER. And riding high with a brand new entry near the very top of the hit parade would be the totally interesting and “oh my God your observational humour is on point” boreathon that is two disillusioned pre-millennial miseries waxing lyrical about the “London dating scene”.

I hate how boring this is. I got out of bed. It’s Saturday.

Any awkward moments?
She might think I’m a touch greedy, because I managed to see off a huge cheese platter.

There is something deeply, deeply unsexy about eating cheese on a date, isn’t there? You can’t eat Stilton seductively. Brie doesn’t lend itself particularly well to post-dinner snogging.

All of a sudden I have noticed that the collar of Leon’s brilliant-white blouse is a little grubby and I don’t know what’s up and what’s down any more.

I didn’t know how to eat my starter (a whole artichoke).

If a friend said this to me in person, I’d probably say something trite like: “We’ve all been there”,  just so we could move the conversation on.

I’d then go home and write pages and pages of diary – in green pen – about them.

Good table manners?
Of course.


Fine, I think. I didn’t really pay attention.

“I was too busy recounting, in mind-numbing detail, how hard it is to acquire an ice sculpture of our company logo (two arrows whooshing beneath the word ‘SYNERGY’) at such short notice for my work summer party.”

This is the point of the column at which Sue decides she would rather walk on her hands across the M25 than pay any attention to our hapless Leon. Her answers get super-frosty from here.

Best thing about Sue?
She’s easy-going and relaxed.

“She just kind of sat there, really.”

Best thing about Leon?
He kept the conversation going.

“I just kind of sat there and he kept talking and talking. Even my yawning didn’t put him off. Quite remarkable.”

Describe Leon in three words
Nice, nervous, chatty.

“Nice.” I would rather Google myself and find an entire Reddit subthread comparing me to dog turds that have been expelled from the efficient sphincters of canines owned by famous dictators than be called “nice”.

“Chatty” is also a diss here. Nobody ever gushed about someone not being able to stop talking.

Hats off to Leon for at least trying to keep things going.

What do you think she made of you?
I think she warmed to my basic and not so subtle northern humour.

DATING IN LONDON LOL AMIRITE YOU KNOW IT ROFL. Just kidding, Leon – your talents are wasted here.

And… did you kiss?
I’m afraid to say there was no heavy petting.

Leon: that guy at the barbecue who makes the joke about “meat” and grabs his crotch through his Blue Harbour chinos while his embarrassed, priggish brother-in-law covers the children’s eyes.

But you’d still laugh. I would.


I’d have picked a different starter, and had more alcohol.

Shots, Sue. Shots.

If the date is going badly, do shots. All the shots.

When the waiter says, “Are you sure?” – shots.

When your date shifts uncomfortably in his seat – shots.

As the sirens wail and you are dragged to the police van with a nearby diner’s head in your jacket pocket – shots.

Still: #TeamLeon

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
To have had a tad more of a romantic spark.

A “tad”. A TAD?! I have seen suicide pacts with more of a romantic frisson than this grisly summit.

Scores. Let’s stay with Leon.


I don’t think Leon knows how this works. 9 means it went well. That you were both DTF. Maybe you even hooked your thumbs around the waistband of each other’s underwear.

A 9 is not for what reads on paper like it has all the sexual tension of a queue in the dole office.


Fucking hell, Sue. 4. A FOUR?! That is a minus score. Something went down here and Sue isn’t saying. Bad breath? “Interesting” views on single mothers? 4.

Would you meet again?
I’d be happy to on a social level, because we had a lot in common.

This might have been one of the beigest finishes for a while, but at least Leon isn’t doing the usual trick that men can’t resist when they realise it’s not going well – a total about-turn with shameless face-saving.

Leon: you’re a good guy. Also, what detergent do you use? I could really do with some advice on getting my whites whiter.

Come on, Sue, have a final swing of your hammer – I think the corpse is still twitching.

No – he’s a nice guy, but there was just no chemistry.



Photograph: Fiona Shaw; James Drew Turner, 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 this may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena. I am sure, in real life, they are cool people. Aside from a general musing that maybe Leon is kind of hot, I am critiquing the answers, not the people. If you are the couple in this date and want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal. 


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