Impeccable Table Manners

Libby and Ed

As humans, it’s in our nature to try to game the system. From behaving in front of our grandparents so we can butter them up for sweet shop money, to walking around the office holding a piece of paper to look busy, we like to think we’re super-smart and the rest of the world are witless dummies. All we have to do is say the right things, drop some in-jokes or buzzwords, try a few confidence techniques that we learned in an NLP session once, and whoever we’re dealing with will love us immediately, leaving the world ours for the taking. I am delighted to spot attempts to work this magic on me, and I usually go with it for a while, to see how far they’ll take it. It’s fascinating. Anyway, here are two people who have definitely never read my blog before, oh no. Meet Libby, a 26-year-old development fundraiser and medical student Ed, 24.

Photograph: David Levene and James Drew Turner for the Guardian
Libby on Ed | Ed on Libby

What were you hoping for?
Someone to have a laugh and a flirt with.

FLIRTING. Nobody admits to doing this anymore, do they? I never hear of it. Perhaps it’s because nobody tries it with me. Once the #MeToo movement got going, flirting is one of the things mucky old pervs claimed would be the first thing to go, but that’s not remotely the case. True flirting – mutually fun, thrilling, exciting and flattering – hasn’t gone anywhere. It is still freely available and being employed across train carriages, in bars, and over chip shop counters the world over and will be for years to come. One-sided flirting – hot, Timothy Taylor breath in your ear and yellowy fingernails clawing at your third button down – is definitely off the menu, though. Sorry, creeps.

What were you hoping for?
A good craic.

OK, so I’m guessing Ed is either Irish, or once sat next to a man drinking Guinness.

First impressions?
He looked like the kind of guy who was in all the school sports teams.

Whether this is a compliment or not depends on who’s saying it, doesn’t it? I mean, this would make me recoil in horror but perhaps this is something people in their 20s who are still obsessed with school hierarchies find… impressive? If her first impression really was he looked like someone “who was in all the school sports teams”, that would signify to me that he came in dragging a younger skinnier kid behind him, flushed their head down a loo that just happened to be adjacent, belched a lot, smelled slightly mouldy, had cheeks like freshly sliced ham off the bone, and had a wanking sock under his bed.

Horses for courses, I guess.

First impressions?
Charming, with a remarkable drive.

What did you talk about?
The NHS, south London curry, outdoor swimming.
School shenanigans, the NHS and her grouting skills.

NHS. A match! ✅ Topical and “relevant to their interests”
South London curry. I lived in south London for over a decade and I thought the understanding with south London curry was “Tooting or don’t bother”. Although O had some lovely ones in Balham over the years. Happy to be illuminated.
Outdoor swimming. Oh they love this, don’t they? The clean shirts? (No offence.) So much of it going on. Those pink faces braving the elements because arthritis can’t come soon enough for them.
“Shenanigans.” This, and the earlier “craic” make me think perhaps Ed grew up above an O’Neill’s. If, later on, he says, “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet”, we’ll know for sure.

Any awkward moments?
He said he lived in Streatham and it “wasn’t great”, so I said I lived in Brixton (I live in Streatham).

There’s so much here. I… I haven’t got time. I have to be somewhere today. It’s just so…. No, I don’t have time to be a class warrior and marvel at the absolute fucking audacity of both their viewpoints on this. Sorry.

Any awkward moments?
None springs to mind, which probably means they were all committed by me.

Yes, probably.

Good table manners?
Yes, although we were confused about what the pebble on the table was for.

A pebble on the table would be quite handy if you didn’t like the look of your date as they were guided toward your table by a waiter wondering whether he was going to spend the whole night hating you. You could smash yourself in the head with it, or, if you fancied living ironically in a prison for a while – “such stripped back chic, I was in awe at the minimalism” – then you could lob said pebble at your date’s head.

Good table manners?

Best thing about Ed?
He chose the vegan menu because he knew I was one. That was appreciated.

This is both gentlemanly and quite skeevy, if you think about it. He wouldn’t want to rule out a snog later so very astutely made sure his mouth was a meat-free zone. What a pity it stayed that way.

Best thing about Libby?
She’s admirably worldly.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Who says “No” to that?
I can think of a few she’d get on famously with.
Describe him in three words.
Genuine, chatty and kind.

Genuine, like an antique vase you accidentally find in your grandma’s attic, which you are disappointed to find has a Post-it stuck to it, with your cousin’s name scribbled on it. How distasteful, you think, as you rip it off and attach a very sticky label to it featuring your own name.
Chatty, like every shopkeeper in Streatham as soon as you or Ed leave the shop.
Kind, like the first four letters of the word “kindling”.

Describe her in three words.
Stylish, composed, confident.

Stylish, like good manners, which never go out of fashion.
Composed, like the symphonies you no doubt grew up listening to.
Confident, like a middle class person demanding his immediate vicinity be gentrified as soon as possible – so he can begin complaining about this very fact just minutes after the second Little Waitrose opens.

Did you go on somewhere?
After seven paired wines, I think we’d had our fill.

Seven glasses of wine each? Seven rounds of wine that came with stems intertwined? Did they have the same wine each round? Is “paired” a menu-ism that sounds so convincing you end up using it in real life? I went to the trouble of going to the restaurant’s website – one of the worst I’ve seen in my life, in a hotly contested category – and couldn’t see any such wankery so I assume this is Ed’s own choice of words. Also, the restaurant website was still advertising its Valentine’s Day offering. No further comment.

And… did you kiss?
My grandmother will be reading this.

If your grandma is reading this, Ed, no doubt she’ll wonder why you didn’t just say “no” rather than suggesting that you may actually have kissed Libby? Because now, with this locker-room chivalry, you make Libby look like a liar and/or yourself look anything other than gentlemanly.

“A gentleman never tells”, BOYS, or all variants thereof, is not actually a very gentlemanly thing to say. Do better. If you kissed and don’t want anyone to know, I have two pieces of advice: 1. Agree at the end of the date that you’ll leave that answer out as it’s nobody else’s business or 2. Don’t be in a dating column in a national newspaper in the first place.

Quite why you would wasn’t to suggest you had kissed someone when you hadn’t – apart from at school where French kissing, dry riding and fingering were bizarre badges of honour worn proudly by people who drew on the front of their exercise books and fell off their chairs in class – is beyond me. How cool do you think you look on a scale of 1 to 10?

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
We could both have been a bit weirder. I felt like I was trying to make myself seem more normal.

I can’t take any more of this. Weird doesn’t equal interesting, you know. It’s just as exhausting as watching two library books knock back seven “paired wines” and talk edgy neighbourhoods. Normal is good. Not everyone can be a huge extrovert, although plenty are trying.

The world was not meant to full of flamingos. Some of us have to be starlings to make others stand out, and give everyone else a rest for the eye.

Marks out of 10?
A solid 7 – he was really nice, just not my type.

I believe these sevens. It seemed a seveny kind of evening. Nothing major happened, it was fairly straightforward, regulation-issue date between two young people who are on the normal side.

Would you meet again?
Given we’re at the same swimming club, I have no doubt I’ll bump into him at the lido at some point.
I’m sure we will at the lido.

NOTE: The comments I make are based on the answers given by the participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits it to suit the column. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story; we can work this out. I’m not that into cheese either

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  1. It’s more affectation; you can either be good craic or have good craic but there is no such thing as “a good craic”.

    1. Unless it’s an arsecrack, I guess.

      Thanks for this comment, the original one pained me. Craic is uncountable 🙂

      And apparently just stolen from Scots Gaelic and is an Irish affectation too!

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