There was a blackout in Soho yesterday evening. Everything was off: street-lamps, traffic lights, shop signs. Restaurants and bars were either turfing everyone out or making the best of it with candles. It was so strange to wander through it in the dark, people lighting their way with iPhone torches or the dim glow of a Grindr screen. “Ooh it’s like the blitz,” said some 20-year-olds who once read about the Blitz on the back of a Coco Pops packet. A few years ago, the prospect of making your way through Soho’s sinful alleys in the dark might have been exciting for a gay man. Whose hands would grab you in the dark? Who would you bump into? Would it be a handsome hunk, a creepy old perv or, more likely, a pickpocket? We would perhaps have made the most of the unexpected dark, knowing that the light didn’t really want us unless we were behaving ourselves.
Thankfully those days are gone and now we know we’re as safe as houses in Soho. Gay men who might once have felt up a stranger behind Norman’s Coach and Horses are all at home, curled up on the sofa, planning their wedding – almost certainly plumping for cupcakes instead of a cake – or at the gym doing “leg day”, or they’re running screaming to find a bar with power on because they were halfway through a Medium post and the wifi went off in Costa. As alluring as the past may seem, I certainly don’t long to be sexually assaulted in the dark, and the march toward equality means that everyone is now freer than ever to be as boring as they like.
That first brick thrown at Stonewall may have been for freedom, and justice, and equality, but the second was for normcore, nights in, pictures of pornstar martinis, #instagay, and getting matching haircuts at Tommy Guns.
Feeling their way through the dark this week are Marco, a 35-year-old buyer manager who looks VERY familiar – maybe he’s been on TV – and David, 33, a global health adviser who also looks familiar. I dread to think, but I checked the spreadsheet and I haven’t had sex with either of them, so that’s a good start.
The “far right” after David’s name is making me scream, especially in that T-shirt, as he is anything but.
Liberté! Egalité! Inanité!
“Very Italian-looking.” Perhaps Marco arrived at the date on a Vespa and his opening gambit was “Whens’a YOUR Dolmio day?” He doesn’t look particularly Italian to me, mainly because most Italians kind of look like everyone else, but here’s what I think happened. David got the email from the Guardian saying his date would be called Marco and he’s gone into obvious stereotyping overdrive – instantly dismissing I imagine, the scores of eastern Europeans also called Marco – and just decided his date would be Italian-looking. I mean, if a beard and dark hair means you’re Italian-looking then Vauxhall on a Saturday night could perhaps apply to be twinned with Rome.
Nice. Nice. Ni— Easy-going. Hmmm. As a first impression. How? “Yeah, dude, sit where you like. I’m easy.” Was David sucking the last out of a joint as Marco marched in? Was he asleep? The only way I can tell someone is easy-going from my very first look at them is either they haven’t washed their hair or they’re wearing what can only be described as “floordrobe”.
“London life” is one of my least favourite conversation topics ever. Ever. Each time someone starts one up, I’d love to raise my hand and stop them. “It’s OK, I’ve got this,” I’d say, maybe. “Let’s save some time and get this out of the way so we can talk about something more interesting and meaningful, shall we? This is all we’ll have to say:
– It takes an hour to get everywhere, yes, no matter where you’re going.
– House prices. Yeah. Terrible.
– But, no, you can’t be expected to move to zone 6. Not until you have a baby anyway.
– So many people.
– Tube. Awful.
– Bus. Worse.
– Boris Bikes. So dangerous. And they don’t wear helmets.
– Nobody talks to each other, no.
– Shop assistants hate you. Especially in Zara, yes.
– No, I don’t have a favourite restaurant. I’ll just say whichever one Time Out are wanging on about this month, although I haven’t been.
– Yes, you have to go east for the decent bars. I never go east.
– Hipsters are terrible, yes.
– So dirty.
– Bloody Heathrow.
– The Tube. Again.
– I’D DIE IF I HAD TO LIVE ANYWHERE ELSE. YES, ME TOO. Okay, great. Done. Now, what do you think of Madonna?”
Anyone dangerously near the edge of their seat may want to sit back a little, for their own safety.
I hope David was all right after his fall from his bike, but I have to ask: why do you have your bike with you? Maybe the Guardian only told him about the date on the day, and David was unprepared so had his bike with him and was reluctant to leave it at work – understandable. Or, maybe, David was one of those… cyclists we hear so much about.
Whenever I’d turn up to a pub for a date and see a bike chained up outside, my stomach would drop. The ultimate passion-killer, a sleek metal cockblocker, a gooseberry with a saddle. One of the more decent takeaways from the original Sex and the City book is the critique of boys on bikes. Not because, as it was in the book, they probably can’t afford cabs or anything like that, but because the bike gets in the way – it always does, unless you meet a fellow cycling nut.
Don’t bring your bike to a date. You may as well say you’re not expecting any chemistry, that spontaneity is out of the window. There shall be no “let’s just have one more”, no whisky kisses in the Soho blackout, no avoiding eye contact on the Tube ride home together, no duvet twisted this way and that in a stranger’s bedroom. There will only be a polite peck on the cheek after two Coronas, an awkward exchange of niceties on the slow trundle back to the station and then one of you alone, balls freezing as you pedal down Hackney Road, with all the night’s missed opportunities whirring around you like a coastal gale.
The only bike you need to bring on a date is yourself, honey.
As for the wetting himself, I once went on a date and on going to the loo decided to multitask and and answer a text from a friend about how it was going. “Not too badly, I guess,” I began to type, as I urinated down the entire left leg of my jeans, before slowly deleting the text and instead typing, “I just pissed all down my leg. Cheers.”
He had his bike with him, Marco. You may as well have not turned up.
But otherwise no.
Aw, this is a nice thing to say. Is Marco actually Italian? I hope his friends are like those proper Italians you get in London who wear huge puffa jackets all year round and sit outside cafes smoking in all weathers and drinking the tiniest cup of coffee they can find. Dating non-Brits who live in London always gives you a fresh perspective on the place, both positive and negative. People who say that Londoners never talk to strangers need to sit at the next table to a bunch of Spanish/Italian/Moroccan/Indian/American/Brazilian/anywhere friends for half an hour. Never French, though.
SOPHISTICATED like the ambassador who is really spoiling us with this Ferrero Rocher. SMILEY like I don’t fancy him. CHATTY like I don’t fancy him at all.
POSITIVE like a pregnancy test in a soap opera inexplicably left where anyone can find it, usually before a big event like a wedding or a plane crash or both. SMART like a guy who I’m assuming was not wearing that T-shirt on the actual date. NOMADIC like someone who’s just bored you to the point of coma about their various travels.
Didn’t mention it once, David. Perhaps try leaving the Eight-Hour Cream on for nine?
This isn’t really a lasting impression I’d be doing my utmost to leave but it’s good to aim low occasionally.
I’m really starting to feel quite strongly about how much I hate this bike.
I’ve been reading this over for an hour and half or so and I’ve certainly had enough of you both. I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel after four hours and only caramelised aubergine to sate me.
God, this sodding, fucking, useless bike. See what I mean? Go on a date with a guy who’s got a bike outside and you are on the date with the pair of them. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Not only do you have his metal mistress waiting for him, gently rusting in glee at the thought only she’ll be getting a ride off him tonight, you also have to deal with everything that comes with it.
Newsflash to people who cycle to dates: you smell the very opposite of great when you arrive. You’re kind of sweating and there’s a sour cloud around you as you peel off your lycra and unclip your helmet. Then you leave your cycling leggings on and slowly braise in the suffocating warmth of heat-trapping fibres until finally your date asks if you’re OK and need some water, before lightly sniffing up and asking what that pong is.
Oh, and don’t forget David actually pissed himself in the toilet too, so those leggings will be feeling F R E S H. Bloody hell.
Cycling leggings? You may as well have worn a chastity belt, David.
You’d never have got past all that Lycra, Marco.
A 9 but no kiss because you “didn’t get that vibe”? Then why a 9? A 9 at least has potential for a kiss. You can’t give a 9 to someone you’re not interested in; fucking hell you’d never survive as a Strictly Come Dancing judge, David.
I’m going to be honest with you, I totally forgot Marco was on this date. What has he even said? I feel like my eyes have been wallpapered over with woodchip and painted apple blossom white. David may have brought that bloody bike, but at least it’s given us something to talk about. Marco, bless him, has been mere scenery.
Gay guys, if you’re going on a Guardian Blind Date, get drunk, get hard and never go home. We’re relying on you to keep it real when the lights go out.
I would say I’m intrigued by the notion they might meet again but all I can picture is two pre-packed sandwiches sitting on a park bench.
DO YOU HAVE A BIKE, DAVID? YOU SHOULD’VE SAID.
Boys with bikes do love everyone they date to be on bikes too, so they try to convert you. The two-wheeled cult is eternally looking for new members to whiz through traffic lights with or unexpectedly mount pavements alongside.
Here’s a pro-tip or a life-hack from somebody who’s been on dates with cyclists: the non-cyclist of the two is only saying they’d be interested in buying a bike because they’re hoping to bone you. They do not want to buy a bike – they want to ride you like one.
“We come from slightly different worlds” – Italy vs the UK? Gryffindor vs Hufflepuff? Different echelons of Doctor Who Fandom? Who can say?!
You’re two white gay guys who look almost EXACTLY like each other – how different can these worlds be?
Bikes, I’m guessing. Oh, Marco. He’s got you. We’ve lost you to them now.
Photograph: Graeme Robertson 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 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 great. 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. I do this live on a Saturday morning. Look, I like cycling and cyclists just fine, but I have been stung too many times by these Lycra-clad wasps – first dates have to be bike-free. Insist upon it. 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.