Impeccable Table Manners

Lisa and Neville

This week’s trains desperate to crash into one another come in the shape of Lisa, 34,  a registrar, and Neville, a 31-year-old who works as an office assistant but also, in his spare time, doubles for Steve Buscemi in the “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme.

Uncanny, no?

Lisa on Neville | Neville on Lisa

What were you hoping for?
That I would be myself – despite the artificial set-up – and enjoy meeting someone new.

You don’t have to be yourself on a date. You probably shouldn’t be, actually. What is “yourself” anyway? Who are we really? We act like different people all the time – it isn’t inauthentic or fake to turn on the charm/tone down the crudeness on a date. Keeping it real is a fallacy. Know your audience instead.

What were you hoping for?
A good amount of chitchat, moderate to intermediate drinking and some flirting.

I loathe the word “chitchat”. I don’t know why. It’s just…horrible. “Moderate to intermediate drinking” is an interesting thing to say. Even if I hadn’t read ahead, I would (rightly) assume this is someone who bases their entire personality around drinking. It’s like this guys who list “gin drinker” or “cocktail obsessive” in their Tinder bio – who are you trying to convince? Why would you include something that you think, perhaps, makes you look quirky but does, in fact, merely serve only as a warning. Spoiler: this flag is redder than a London bus.

First impressions?
He’s shorter than me.And yay, we’re both late!

The pressure on men to be tall is real. It’s the thing most men lie about on their dating profiles. Trust me. I lost count of how many times I went on a date with a man who claimed to be “six feet tall” only to be confronted by his male pattern baldness from up on high, like I was in the most boring helicopter ride ever. (I am 5’9 and a half.) Thing is, a man’s height had never bothered or interested in me – it’s not a major attraction – but once duped, I felt annoyed by it. If they can lie about that, what else can they lie about? Maybe it’s something to do with the “tall dark and handsome” cliché that men think, “Well, I’ve fucked it on the last two but I can always pretend to be taller because who brings a tape measure on a date, right?”

I think it’s sad and dispiriting that men “have to” be taller than the women they date. “We will look ridiculous together” is in itself absolutely ridiculous.

“We were both late!” CONGRATS on both being garbage people. If I were running late (never happens) and the other person was also late, I would STILL be raging that they disrespected me in this way.

First impressions?
Very pretty; very cool hair.

OK so I’m looking at Lisa’s hair and I’m trying to work out what’s cool about it. Maybe it was longer or taller or… I dunno… pinker when the date happened. I don’t want to cast aspersions on Neville here, and I don’t for a minute think he is doing this, but experience has shown that white people fetishise black people’s hair to an alarming degree. My sister’s dad is black, so when she was little she had a head of huge, gorgeous natural curls. Going to the supermarket with her sitting in the trolley munching her crisps and merrily kicking against my thighs, we would be stopped umpteen times by people telling us she had “lovely hair” and then, unprompted, and without permission, sticking their fucking hands in it. In her hair. Right in. Rubbing the curls between their fingers like it was hundred-dollar bills. In my princess’s HAIR. It was odd, but I know it’s very common. Admiration of a black person’s hair is like the one free pass a racist will give them, I can’t help but noticed. Oh actually there is another one: “They make really cute babies, don’t they?” They. Babies. Like their usefulness ends once they reach primary school age. Nice. Anyway, my point here is: keep your hands out of the hair.

What did you talk about?
Work, the weather, and how poorly educated we are when it comes to refined French foodie words.
Travelling, jobs, religion.

The weather. The date took place during the “beast from the east” period, I gather. God how miserable was that? I couldn’t leave the house for more than 10 minutes, skidding all the way to the little Sainsbury’s near my house to buy something warm – “ANYTHING, YES I WANT 300 CHILLIS WHAT OF IT?” – only to scurry back and bury myself in fleecy throws. At one point I considered setting the house on fire for a bit of heat. No jury would’ve convicted.

Refined French foodie words. Huh? I mean, they at a branch of The Ivy’s new line of brasseries. I’m not sure which French words baffled them. Entrecôte? Blancmange? Le pissoir?

Any awkward moments?
I felt physically awkward for much of the time – I couldn’t get to grips with my chair.

Weird. When I am on an excruciating date and collapsing into myself with awkwardness, I can always get to grips with my chair – well, usually I’m gripping the seat in horror, anyway.

Any awkward moments?
On the contrary, there were some nice lulls in conversation while we took in the skyline.

One man’s nice lull is another’s stultifying deathless silence.

Good table manners?
His lobster-cracking skills were questionable.

I mean, OK, if he were terrible at, maybe, cutting a steak or a noisy eater or slurped his bougie cocktails too loudly, I could understand, but Neville – Nev – can’t even wear his baseball cap the right way round; he can hardly be expected to be a dab hand at prising a lobster open. Plus, y’know, he doesn’t eat lobster every day. Indeed, nobody does, and thank God, because everyone would have searing halitosis. I don’t really think being shit at cracking a lobster is a hangable offence – I mean, the cap. We need to talk about the cap.

Good table manners?

Best thing about Neville?
His adventurous nature – he’s quite the explorer.

He could perhaps extend his explorations to a branch of Topman.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Yes, although there might be an eyebrow raised, or two.

If by eyebrow raised, she means Nina, Jessica and Claire turning to her in unison once Nev has nipped to the loo and squawking, “Lisa what the FUCK are you doing?”, then yes, OK.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Drinking is the rock my friends and I orbit around and she doesn’t drink, so no. 

Alcohol. I have a strange relationship with it. I didn’t drink for most of last year and I really noticed how the rest of the world revolves around it. I was treated with suspicion by people when I said I didn’t drink, and it became the only thing people could talk about when it was revealed. Being a non-drinker around people who love booze weirdly makes it your problem – the drinkers start to feel self-conscious and inspired to recount to you, sometimes in great detail, their own relationship with booze, how they couldn’t live without it and all the advantages of getting out of your skull. They can’t understand why you would stop and quiz you about it, becoming very personal – not to mention hyper-sensitive – very quickly. I started drinking again when I went to an awards ceremony on my own and felt awkward and out of place. I drank three glasses of champagne in around 20 minutes and while I felt that lovely, light buzz of booze’s flirtatious grip, I felt utterly empty and even more awkward and alone than I had before. I realised that alcohol is not the magic potion or confidence boost people think it is – it just makes you forget, very temporarily, exactly who you are, which can be both exhilarating and quite sad. I gave up again after Christmas and then briefly fell off the wagon when I drank a glass of champagne to celebrate my book coming out. I drank yesterday too – a few French 75s to celebrate Easter. It was fun, but… I don’t feel good when I drink. I don’t like being drunk. Maybe I’m funnier, less boring, louder and more… well, just more when I drink, but perhaps I’m better off being myself and working on that, rather than drinking booze to fix it. I spent so much of my life trying to work out who I was and what the best version of myself could be, that to suppress, anaesthetise or ameliorate it with alcohol feels disingenuous of me somehow. Of course, drinking doesn’t have to be that deep but when it starts feeling less like an option and more like an obligation, the fun evaporates. I suppose what I’m saying here is that building your whole world around drinking – rather than socialising or having fun, which don’t necessarily need booze – is not a personality substitute. If anything, it robs you of your character. Your anecdotes become tales of stupid things you did when drunk, or stories about how you can’t actually remember what you did. Sure, it smoothes out your edges but it dulls your sheen too. You become generic. The culture of drinking in the UK is hugely fucked up and I’ve known this for a long time and chosen to ignore it because it was inconvenient for me to acknowledge it. It was only when I stopped drinking that I saw the adult world for what it really was. And, yes, the truth hurts but it’s better than oblivion.

Also, my main takeaway from being sober is that drunk people are absolute arseholes and terminally boring. 🍾 Cheers!

Describe Neville in three words
Nice, English, chappy.

Nice, like the biscuits, which are actually pronounced “Nice” and not “Nice” as some people think.
English, like, I assume Lisa is not, otherwise she wouldn’t have said this unless, not unlike me, she is one of those British people who thinks they were meant to grow up somewhere much more interesting and exotic and as a result pretends to detest all British people.
Chappy, like that fucking app that’s. not like all the others except it is.

Describe Lisa in three words
Spiritual, open, wholesome.

Spiritual, like jamming your mouth under an optic of gin and staying there all night.
Open, like the bottle of gin in your pocket.
Wholesome, like someone who thinks getting pissed makes you edgy would call a teetotaller.

What do you think he made of you?
Different; unexpected?

What do you think she made of you?
I hope she thought I was a sound dude.

And… did you kiss?
That would have been awkward.
Just a hug goodbye.

Kissing is awkward. That’s the best part. It’s kind of exciting. The first time, that repositioning of your heads just before they make contact, the look between you, the taste so unfamiliar and (hopefully) not unpleasant, their strange lips upon yours and your tongues finally finding each other. All butt-clenchingly awkward – the kisses that follow could never compare.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Less talk about work and more about the meaning of life.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
My palate isn’t sophisticated enough for the cognac I ordered with dessert.

Oh do you like booze, Sue Ellen? You should’ve said!

Marks out of 10?
I’d say a 7.

Seven! A 1 with a tummy tuck! A solitary one, all buy itself, but dressed up real nice.

8.5! Eight, but with half a mark added to sweeten the deal, like sprinkling glitter on a turd.

Would you meet again?
Possibly, but as a potential chum.

Would you meet again?
Our interests don’t really converge on the spiritual stuff and drinking, so no.

Lisa and Neville ate at The Ivy Tower Bridge, London SE1.

Fancy a blind date? Email If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, 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 us your side of the story; I’ll publish whatever you say. And seriously, booze doesn’t make you exciting; drop the act.


  1. In my circles (of similar minded Black people, especially those who are diaspora kids), English just means white person/white person who hasn’t really grown up around many non-white people. Super white stereotype with the stereotype accent, jokes, cultural things we kind of half get depending on how integrated we were with British tv growing up/lived in a more white area to even understand what they mean…

    I don’t know a single Black person in my life who’d call themselves English. It’s almost like an ethnicity, and you’d only expect a mixed or adopted person who’s lived mostly with white people in a white area to dip into that territory of identification.

    But that’s just in my life and circles.

  2. ” but Neville – Nev – wears a backward baseball cap in public. He doesn’t eat lobster every day.”

    …but look at that blazer and chinos, plus he ordered cognac (even if it turned out to be one he didn’t like) – he’s either one of those public school boys who prove the point that money doesn’t buy class, or he’s a fairly common middle-Englander with posho aspirations.

  3. Thanks Justin. Reliably ace.

    Laughed uncontrollably at the Steve Buscemi meme, while also thinking how perfect it would have been if John C Reilly had played that character in 30 Rock.

  4. These days (early 40s) whenever i manage to cajole my friends into a rare night out, they’re invariably not drinking or drinking so little as to have effectively abstained. And I must admit that I find it somewhat deflating to be in the slim minority when i want to have a few. I’m hardly knocking them back Begbie style but I do occasionally like to get tipsy, just not on my own. It’s fun and it can be a bonding experience when everyone lets their hair down a little. But these days, most of my peers live in so much fear of the hangover, or losing control, or looking desperate or, perhaps like you, alcohol simply doesn’t make them feel good, that the last drink-related fun night out is a distant memory.
    Which, i suppose, begs the question why do i NEED other people to get drunk too? Well, obviously it’s not a need but more of a desire for a cozy sense of complicity and togetherness and knowledge that we are all on the same buzz and wavelength…my gradual, pleasant intoxication doesn’t have to be accompanied by a niggling paranoia that i’m being a bore and being quietly judged. I don’t mind as long as I have one or two other drinking buddies but i’m usually on my own, and it’s a buzzkill frankly.
    I’m not defending Neville’s identifying drinking as a cornerstone of his identity and i’m well past the stage of drinking to the point of behaving stupidly but i have a lot of sympathy with the feeling that forming a romantic attachment to a teetotaller might be just a bit too ‘other’ for you.

  5. She’s politely suggesting that he showered her with bits of shell and lobster goo and he didn’t even notice.

  6. She seems old for her years, while he seems to be suffering from Peter Pan: the LAD years. Honestly, some of his answers make him sound like 21 rather than 31. This seems like it was a nonstarter from the get-go.

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