Impeccable Table Manners

Marion and Will

It’s September. That means everyone who’s been telling you “the nights are drawing in” since mid-July have now moved on to “it’ll be Christmas before you know it”, and the entire public transport system smells of damp washing because everybody’s holding out until 1 October before putting the heating on, so their laundry’s taking six days to dry.

It also means thoughts turn to “cuffing season”, an entirely made-up part of the year coined by dating experts to keep themselves from remembering how irrevocably single they are. Apparently, once the Christmas shop in Liberty opens, we’re supposed to turn into deranged commitment-seekers under some kind of enchantment that means if we’re not coupled-up by the time the first bonfire is lit, we shall spend all winter alone, like Hannah Hauxwell up on those moors.

First cabs off the rank in the quest to be spending summer 2019 arguing about wedding favours and where everyone’s going to sit are Marion, a 24-year-old think tank assistant (I don’t know, but I’m intrigued) and Will, 25, a TV development assistant who, in this photo, looks like he’s just caught sight in the distance of all his enemies being eaten by lions, but is sadly too busy scratching his locust bites to enjoy it properly.

Read what happened on the date (it went well), before I go in there and… well, I don’t know, kill their vibe?

Will on Marion | Marion on Will

What were you hoping for?
Only the love of my life.

Why, does she wait tables at the restaurant you were going to? I’m all for optimism but only someone who’d never picked up a copy of Weekend magazine in their life could expect this.

A good story to tell my coupled-up friends.

Marion looks like a nice person so I’m sure she means well here. Because I am not particularly nice, however, I prefer to imagine she means ill – that she wants to go back to her smug, married and coupled-up pals and, over a below-average Sunday roast in a Dulwich pub with too many children in it, regale them with boozy, saucy tales of a wild night with a gorgeous stud, revelling in their increasingly glassy expressions as they silently knock back their Pinot Grigio Blush, bristling with creeping envy, remembering what it used to be like to wake up next to a mystery guest reeking of sex, and not the person you argued with just before bed about who left that mark on the toilet bowl.

First impressions?
Power coat! Chic or intimidating?

A power coat: Alexis Colby in. floor-length fur.

Not a power coat: whatever Marion was wearing.

Marion if you were wearing the Alexis coat above CALL ME and we can go sink oil tankers together.

He doesn’t take himself too seriously. Nice glasses.


“Doesn’t take himself too seriously”: dressed like he fell face-first into Dame Edna’s wardrobe covered in Appletiser.

I mean, I don’t know how else you could take that for a first impression. Maybe he turned up in clown shoes or arrived rolling down the hill in a bathtub with the surviving cast members of Last of the Summer Wine.

What did you talk about?
The pain of realising your school wasn’t in a John Hughes film, Ryan Gosling, working in retail, how expensive London is.

1. I hear you.
2. OK. Y THO.
3. GOOD first date conversation topic, I find. Bonding over working in customer service of some kind, and finding common ground over how garbage everyone is, whether posh customer in Harrods or salt-of-the-earth pensioner in Asda, the one thing you can rely on if you’ve worked in retail is that people buying stuff from you inexplicably hate you.

Being nerdy kids in crappy comp schools, Ryan Gosling.

I wonder what kind of nerdy kids they were? There’s more than one. Too many to go into here. Misunderstood geeks, perhaps, who read quietly in a corner while everyone else dragged the puberty out of one another through sheer peer pressure. Brainboxes who stuck their hands up every time the teacher asked a question, much to their derision of the baying mobs of effortlessly cool teens, who had hairstyles and wore “fashion” and lovebites like badges of honour. Or maybe they both wore specs, never dropped a consonant and were a bit boring, but otherwise just like every other teenager.

Ryan Gosling again. Yeah, I wouldn’t bring him up too often on a date. It might…well, remind everyone I’m not Ryan Gosling.

Any awkward moments?
I said his shirt made him look like an ice-cream man, which I meant as a compliment.

A compliment HOW?! What were the ice cream men like where you grew up?

I tried to incorporate the table into our initial handshake/half-hug/air-kiss hello, but she was very forgiving.

Oh you GUYS it’s just two accident-prone geeks falling in love. Come on, you love this. I cycle past Richard Curtis’s house most weekends – shall I drop in and tell him I’ve got his next blockbuster?

Good table manners?
Oh, impeccable.

Best thing about them?
She has a good line in cocked eyebrows, mainly in bemusement at my floundering.
His sense of humour and easygoing nature.

Although Will’s answers seem to have been subedited by Russell Brand, and both these responses seem to be missing key superficial signifiers about attraction or whatever, this is sweet. I can’t really go in on this too hard, tbh; at least they’re not horrible people.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
They’d find her charming.

So few pass this test. Not the actual anxiety of passing muster with friends, but the actual willingness to introduce them. It seems a default reaction to think our friends most extraordinary, excluding characters, with endless quirks so wise and weird that no outsider could possibly understand or get to know them. We assume – and perhaps rightly – anyone unaccustomed to their humour would hate them on sight, and are reluctant to let them mix with other, new people we may actually want to keep in our lives.

All friendships are held together by only a few truths: they know too much to let them go, or you haven’t successfully pissed them off enough to drive them away – although you have probably pushed it on more than one occasion. Making friends is hard and dissolving friendships only becomes more traumatic as time moves on, as your shared history and love stretches out in agonising threads like the caramel between two halves of a snapped Twix. The real reason we’re frightened to introduce a new person is we worry it will hold up a mirror to us all, and that like the Wicked Queen in Snow White we’ll realise we’re not the fairest of them all, and that our bonds to these people are flimsier than we thought. But I say bring them in! Give the group new blood! It can revitalised a stagnant social group or, even better case scenario, you have someone new to slag off once you’ve driven them away.

It’s a risk we have to take. Gaze into it. Go on.

Describe him in three words
Just my type.

Well, not quite.

What do you think he made of you?
A massive nerd who laughs too much at her own jokes.

I’m not sure how I feel about the word “nerd” being reclaimed by people who might not have been that nerdy. I need to see your credentials. Remember that trend a couple of years ago when people started wearing T-shirts that said GEEK and goofy glasses and pretending they weren’t the most popular person in their school but actually a great big DWEEB because a) they had a T-shirt saying so b) their teeth were, like, ever so slightly out of kilter and c) they read a comic once.

You’re a nerd, really? I want to see those diary entries, I want to hear about the loneliness, the shunning by just about everyone who thought they were cooler than you – even the ones who weren’t cooler than you – and I want to hear about your boring obsessions that would have relatives’ eyes glazing over and meant you didn’t leave your bedroom between the ages of 11 and 17. Otherwise, you’re just doing bad nerd drag.

Did you go on somewhere?
Yeah, to a pub down the road. I got a bit pissed.

This is natural on a date. I used to see so many couples out on a date sitting rigidly and chatting in excruciating staccato with interrogative stares. I’d think it was strange until my eyes would track down to their table and I’d see a couple of barely sipped glasses of wine or a shared elderflower sodding cordial or something.

I don’t advocate binge-drinking, I’ve seen the devastating effects of alcoholism, and believe you should always keep yourself safe and, importantly, coherent and interesting, BUT if the date is going badly – or well! – have a few drinks. Look, the world is probably going to be blown up by a Fanta-coloured potato in a trucker’s cap or a militarised egg in utility gear ANY DAY NOW. Go to a pub down the road, drink, and kiss.

Like they did.

And… did you kiss?
A little bit, yeah.
What happens on a blind date stays on a blind date.


Two eights! So, basically shy nines. Unless there was death-breath, a weird, forked tongue, the exchange of remaining food between mouths or a clumsy cough right into the gob (happened to me once) then any date where you kiss should be a 9. So allow me to ignore your eights and reassign them as a 9 each. It’s my car and my hands are closest to the radio.

This has all gone quite well, but will Will chase Marion down Portobello Road and proclaim his undying love for her while the middle-class nibble on their spelt rolls outside Gail’s Bakery (having a refurb at the moment but still open)?

Would you meet again?
It’s up to her.

Ummmm, OK, this is a bit muted for someone whose opening answer made Julie Andrews look like Margaret Thatcher in the sentimental stakes.


Hopefully we can watch a film sometime.

You two play it cool all you like. I’ll be watching.

Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian

Note: My first novel, THE LAST ROMEO, is coming out early 2018 and is available for preorder on Amazon, among other places like Waterstones. If you like my writing, it contains LOTS of it, so there is that to consider –plus it would mean a great deal to me if people actually bought it!  Here is a pic of me with the cover. You can order the book at

Note 2: I have a new mailout, The Truth About Everything*, which goes out occasionally. If you’d like the next one, you can sign up here. No news or tastemaker stuff – lots of other people do that much better than I would – it’s just some of my writing, first.

Disclaimer: The comments I make about the couples are meant to be playful and humorous and are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy.  Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story. And please, once more with FEELING for the next date – you kissed FFS.

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  1. Happy to see these two seemed to have hit it off. They drank, they kissed, none of that dreary “oh it was a school night I had to catch the train”. Hilarious with great gifs and analysis here. Congratulations on the book! I’ll seek it for import.

  2. The Guyliner is searching for just the right simile. Staring out of the window he absently reaches for a finger Twix, snaps it and shoves it in his mouth. Strands of caramel cling to his chin. “Bingo!”

    Love it. Can’t wait for the book.

  3. “Misunderstood geeks, perhaps, who read quietly in a corner while everyone else dragged the puberty out of one another through sheer peer pressure.”

    And the Twix bit.

    These are the best two sentences I’ve read in ages! Nice one.

    His shirt is like an Escher painting. I don’t understand it.

  4. ““Doesn’t take himself too seriously”: dressed like he fell face-first into Dame Edna’s wardrobe covered in Appletiser.”

    Thanks – I just laughed and spat soup all over my laptop.

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