Impeccable Table Manners

Mansoor and Alice

Before we start, just to say that I’m in the Guardian Weekend magazine – home of the Blind Date column – this week talking about the surefire ways you will mess up your first date. The print version looks very nice indeed and has some cool goldfish in it. The online version has GIFs – yep, really, on the Guardian website – and you can read it there now.

Anyway, to business.

Something you have to remind yourself very early on in your adult life is that not everything can be exciting. For every wedding, birthday, big win at the casino, or night spent in Paris pressed up against a bar by a sailor who definitely doesn’t have a gun in his pocket, there is the mundane stuff: days spent cleaning out the guttering, trips to B&Q, finding moths in your merino cardigan, Catchphrase reruns. We need the dullness to make the brilliance shine all the brighter. Light needs shade.

And it’s the same with dating. For every romantic, starry-eyed evening where you never want to be apart again, there must be queuing for a pop-up in the rain with the unofficial king of halitosis, listening to him tell you about a choc ice he once ate in Sandown in 1986. It has to be this way, otherwise everybody would go on only one date, fall in love and that would be that. And then where would we be? Well, the Blind Date column would be a lot more one-note for a start.

Mansoor and Alice

Hoping that today will be the big one and not a damp squib are Mansoor, 31, a telecoms executive, and 26-year-old Alice, a commodities analyst. Read what happened on the date – I predict the millennia are simply going to fly by – before I call them both up and ask if they like scary movies.

Mansoor kicks us off and is in lurid green. Alice is in the more subdued yellow.

mans hope

I must confess I’m immediately unsettled by this use of lil’. I know some people can only convey their true feelings through song lyrics, so I thought it might be one of those. Some quick Googling brought me nothing but headlines from the Sun about Lily Allen.

alice hope

“To meet someone new.” I know it happens in most soaps and sitcoms at least once, but in real life, how many times have you turned up on a totally blind date and it’s been someone you already knew? I suppose hoping to meet someone new is a pretty good way of meeting your expectations because it’s, like, achievement unlocked as soon as you walk through the door.

manso first

Mansoor does sound a little like he’s a vet checking a puppy over for distemper, but these are actual compliments for a change. Cute, as regular readers will know however, is best left to teddy bears and the afore-mentioned puppies.

alice first

To me, if you arrive bang on the arranged time, you’re already late. The only exception is on a date, where you should aim to arrive second, and be three to five minutes late. So both Mansoor and Alice fail miserably at this one.

“But what if both of us follow this advice; it’s impossible to get it right!” I hear you cry. My honest answer? I don’t know. Create a diversion and keep going in and back out again until one of you arrives late.

mans talk

Broad City hot handsign

I think I’d rather get every tin and jar out of my kitchen cupboard, pour the contents into a blender, blend them, pour the sludge into a tall glass and drink the lot than talk about *any* of these things on a date. Especially rent prices. Why not just hold up pages of the Standard at each other and have done with it?

alice talk


These all sound like pointless answers on, where else, Pointless, in response to the question “Things people talk about on dates”.

mans awks


First of all, what are you doing ordering spaghetti on a date, Mansoor? Yes, it was a relatively sensual and seductive meal in Lady and the Tramp, but remember: a) that was a cartoon and b) they were dogs – dogs lick themselves (everywhere) and consider it romantic.

Is there anything that ruins your chances as much as food does on a date? You can be hot, and beautifully dressed and saying all the right things, and your date’s mind will wander to thoughts of Christmas Day engagement rings, ordering the favours for the tables at the wedding breakfast, your first child falling and cutting its knee – only for it all to come crashing down when you order yaki soba and eat like Jabba the Hut trying to get the dregs out of a Slush Puppie, using only a pair of tweezers.

alice awks


“Only.” “Only a few.” “Awkward.” “Silences.”

We mustn’t be afraid of silence – there is so much noise, so much chatter, that a little break from the low, juddering hum of human existence can be quite refreshing. The only kind of silence that belongs on a date, though, is comfortable silence. Say, oh I don’t know, you’re on a date with an artist and you’re appreciating the landscape – assuming you’re not on a date in a Tiger Tiger or outside a cafe next to the bins by Primark – that would be a comfortable silence. Maybe you’re both taking a moment to reflect on Alexandra Burke’s righteous victory on X Factor, no problem.

Awkward silences, though, when you’re willing the other person to speak – like say anything, even that they have two tickets for Dignitas at the weekend and would you like to come – are the worst. They span oceans, reach out to space, they last for ever. Just go to the bar. Quick. Get doubles.

mans table

rainbow plane crash

alice table

Said with such gritted teeth, I bet, even water couldn’t get through the gaps.

mans best thing

We need to make people realise how unctuous and unpleasant it is to say “easy on the eye”. Ugh. It’s that uncle, isn’t it? The one who always mysteriously has a quarter of penny chews in his coat pocket, their wrappings dog-eared and faintly grimy – he’d say someone was easy on the eye. And then he’d adjust his flies and say he was off to clean his van.

alice best thing

I’ve read that topping up someone’s drink is chivalrous and romantic – and it can, of course, make them look easier on the eye – but as I’ve said before, you’re putting fresh booze into non-fresh booze and ruining my ‘taste sensation’. You just look after your own glass there, babes, and I’ll sort myself out.

Someone seeming interested in everything you say is quite a nice thought, I guess, but it wouldn’t have me rushing to my calendar to arrange date 2.

mans friends

Mansoor’s mates have made a bet with him to get the word ‘easy’ into the column as many times as possible.

OK, this is nice; of course you can introduce her to your friends. They’re just people. We’re all people.

alice friends

Beryl Reid Blankety Blank

Oh, honestly. People with different interests can stand in the same room without tearing a hole in the space-time continuum, you know. Are you telling me your coterie of close-knit buddies don’t ever talk about the cost of renting, or London? It’s just Brazilian jujitsu all the way, is it?

Truth bomb for everyone with friends: they’re not that fascinating and you could do with some exciting storylines. I’d introduce some new blood if I were you, keep things fresh.

mansoor three

“Bored me rigid about her holidays and her French lessons. Fit, though.”

alice three

“He talked a lot. I hope he enjoys his first-class journey on a Japanese bullet train to the friendzone.”

mans go on

I feel a bit sorry for Mansoor – there are few things worse on a date than knowing for sure that the person you’re with can’t wait to get out of there, even if they have to climb over an electric fence. In a bikini.


What did I do, you wonder. Could they not even fake it, for another ten minutes? Go through the motions and have one more drink – a soft drink, even?

alice go on

“I’m sorry but we only serve Pepsi, not Coke, is that OK?”

This ‘school night’ nonsense, though – let’s not play this game. If you feel the coup de foudre, that insane attraction where you’re so frightened to let them out of your sight in case they meet someone else that you want to glue yourself to their groin, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is.

You could have to be up the next morning to fly a jumbo jet to Canberra, you’d still stay out and be with that person. To want to go home is Alice’s right, of course, but it isn’t a weekday that’s calling the shots here, it’s you.

mansoor change

This is a very polite tactic by Mansoor here, because of all the things he could have changed – I mean, having your date actually interested in you would be quite a good alteration to make – this is the one that puts him in the wrong. It’s very gallant and I’m sure Alice didn’t do anything particularly offensive anyway, but I’d have to make something up here. We’re in a magazine, I’d want to draw blood. Maybe Alice is sharpening her fangs as we speak. Let’s see:

alice change


Tom Hiddleston has replaced Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Benedict Cumberbatch, that one off Parks and Recreation, and untold other famous, average Joes as the default answer given by people who panic when asked “Which celebrity do you fancy?” It’s like we’ve been conditioned to find Tom Hiddleston attractive. I mean, you could put him in the paddock and be assured the horses wouldn’t rear up in horror, but is this it? Is this the pinnacle of male hotness? Someone, who, if he weren’t dressed in designer labels and groomed to within an inch of his life, or worked behind the counter at that McDonald’s opposite King’s Cross station, wouldn’t get so much as a second glance? It would appear so.

We get the studs and starlets we deserve. 2016, this is yours.


mansoor marks

alice marks

What sad sevens these are. They’re sevens that are told by their teacher – who has a grand total of 18 inspirational fridge magnets clamped to the door of their rusting Zanussi – that they can go on to do great things, be whatever they want to be. Their teacher is lying to them. They may look like sevens, but they’re ones. 1. They can’t be whatever they want to be; they are destined only to come before 2, and be a sympathy digit for anyone who can’t bear to give someone a 0. Ones. 1. Uno. Not sevens.

There’s only one question left. Most weeks, it barely needs asking, just like very often you don’t particularly need to see the last scene in a movie to know how it went. Today, however, everyone has been on their best behaviour; the date has even executed with the clean-shirted politeness and tooth-grinding tolerance of a lunch queue in the staff room of an Oxbridge college.

Will they meet again? Will Brazilian jujitsu get another airing? Will Mansoor be able to hear Alice this time?

mansoor soark


alice meet


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 editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re lovely. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves.  If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. Easy.

Another note: There’ll be no blog on 11th June.

Photograph: Alicia Canter; James Drew Turner, both for the Guardian


  1. When did Tom Hiddleston become the standard of “I’d do him”? Is this what Britain is becoming – class-based to the point that people (men AND women) cream over a weedy, unlovely, skinny, not very attractive person because (SOLELY because, apparently) he went to a fee-paying boarding school for his formative years?

    I sigh heavily in despair.

    Btw, Guyliner, incisive as usual. Why do they put themselves up for this? Warhol’s 15 minutes? The real question to ask them is, was it worth it? *

    * Might require commentary on budging uglies.

  2. Who do you suggest as a tasteful homme du jour then? I googled “hip men” and it showed me “male hip replacements”…

    1. My own personal tastes are, as evidenced by my befuddlement at the Cult Of Tom Hiddleston, perhaps not indicative of the mainstream.

      I laughed at your google search – I wanted to learn how to hand-strip my Airedale Terriers, so went to YouTube – there’s a video for everything there, no? – and typed ‘hand strip Airedales’. You can guess which word caused the most (unedifying) results.

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