Impeccable Table Manners

Martin and Almaz

What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot actually. As you may know, my name is Justin and, believe me, that got me some tough crowds growing up in Yorkshire. In the ’80s, it was “unusual”; it’s the kind of name that should be posh, but I wasn’t; and in many TV shows – even now, when there are loads of famous Justins out there – it was a name given to just about any peripheral gay character. Because it sounds gay. Which was great, because so did I. Oh, it does. I bet even Justin Theroux would admit to that.

Anyway, somehow I survived that – and being referred to as “Jason” by mistake at least three times a day – and learned to live with it. I wonder how life has played out for today’s pairing, Martin, 36 and an energy consultant and 28-year-old Almaz – which was the name of a really famous song (in the ’80s again, what a decade that was, eh?) by Randy Crawford. I wonder how many times she had to endure “Almaz, you lucky, lucky thing” over the years – perhaps everyone had forgotten the song by the time she came along. Almaz, from one “unusually” named person to another, you have my sympathies.

Anyway, here they are, click the pic to read the Guardian’s version before I submit my remix.

A whist drive at a church hall?

What people actually go on a date for. If this feels like an ominous chapter of a choose your own adventure novel, or the first hit in a one-two punch, well… it is.

I think it’s safe to say we lose Almaz from the whole romantic process right about here. It can get like this, especially if you go on a lot of dates. It’s like walking into a hotel and seeing the guy behind reception scratch his armpit with a room key and knowing, just knowing, you’ll hate your room and the ensuite will be tiny and one of the taps won’t work. You go through the motions and allow yourself to be shown up to it, knowing in 15 minutes you’ll be placing a hysterical phone call to that very same receptionist and demanding a change.

The room you’re moved to will be worse, that’s how it is. Almaz probably knows this so has decided to sit tight for now.

A natural brightness and an upbeat aura. A lot of light and stimulation going on when Almaz walks into a room. Is she a Christmas tree? Elegant is a man’s way of saying a woman is tall and slim without wanting to sound like a judge on Miss World, in case you were wondering.

“The cut-throat London dating scene” – God how often did I used to sit and listen to that spiel from some witless drongo who assumed turning up, pouring a bit of wine into your glass, and holding in his farts until the taxi home constituted being a good date and couldn’t understand why he never got a second one. Cut-throat? Cut mine.

The interesting thing about these answers is how keen each of them are to flag up the differences between them. And they both dragged in some parentheses to prove their point. Martin’s sidenote about parties may seem innocuous, but he’s being very clear – “I’m just a simple guy, small group of friends, don’t like to be centre of attention, but Almaz is hugely showy and likes to ‘host’ (that word is dripping with intent) great big parties that would make me feel uncomfortable”.

Almaz has read this column many times before, I think. And she’s always read the “What did you talk about?” question and realised that unless someone is very clear, you can’t tell who talked about what, which subject belonged to who. Guessing that Martin will say something lame – because SPOILER she seems about as keen on him as you would be a spider in the bath or Piers Morgan sitting at the end of you bed reading aloud to you – like “the Royal Family” she has attributed ownership of the conversation topics she can remember, to avoid looking like a dullard.

I can’t decide whether it comes off as a bit mean or just extremely vigilant management of her personal brand. To be honest, they would BOTH bore me to death.

I don’t know if I can look at the next one.

You don’t hear that very often anymore, do you? Not from someone under 50, anyway. Cliff was everywhere in the ’80s – God what a horrible decade that was; the ’90s were MUCH more fun. You couldn’t turn on Saturday night TV, at your nana’s eating one carefully sliced piece of Mars bar every half-hour, without seeing his face. I’m not really sure what there is to be a fan of. Cliff does have at least two good songs, Wired for Sound and Devil Woman, but sadly he also has everything else that makes him Cliff. Just… no. We all have weird stuff we’re into, that few would understand, so it’s actually brave of Martin to come out with this on the first date, unless he was doing it to shock her, which is very whatever. It seems shallow for this to be a dealbreaker, and it would depend on how intense the fandom was, but I don’t think I would be the right support for a man who liked Cliff Richard. They would need someone stronger than me.

Anyway, that noise you can hear is Almaz’s taxi waiting outside. She called it before Martin had even got to the second syllable of “Richard”.


Oh my goodness. They shared. Well, I say “shared”. They ate from the same plate but this was not sharing. Not equally, anyway. I bet poor Martin was starving on the way home. The thing is, even if you do eat more than your “fair share” – which is open to interpretation from the very off – then your date isn’t going to call you out on it, unless he is determined to a) have a bad night and b) get a drubbing off you in a magazine column. And of course he let you, he’s a Cliff Richard fan, for heaven’s sake. This man’s tolerance must know no bounds.

Is that it?

Important. You may think this is a bit of a copout for Martin’s best quality but it’s 2017 – have you seen the state of people’s opinions out there? Everyone is chucking everyone else under the bus so often and so fast we have run out of buses. We’ll be under scooters by autumn.

Martin uses up his three words a bit early there.

Its been a while since we had this answer. Welcome back! Why oh why oh why are the daters always so keen to tell the world what a bunch of cliquey, menacing arseholes their friends are? I just don’t understand it. I don’t have a huge amount of friends – I mean, you read the blog, you’ve seen the tweets, this shouldn’t be a huge surprise – but the ones I do have are very different people, from all kinds of backgrounds and with all sorts of outlooks on life. I don’t think any of them are Cliff Richard fans but I feel pretty sure that if I took Martin along to a gathering – or perhaps invited him to one of the huge parties I have never hosted in my life – they would be open, friendly, welcoming. They would make conversation, find out more about him, look for common ground and, if none, celebrate the differences. Look, I have some weird friends who hate everybody too but that’s life. Sometimes that is who you need to be. That’s why we have different friends for different occasions.

If my friend were in the Blind Date column and gave this answer, I’d want to know why he or she thought I couldn’t be trusted with a stranger’s heart. And I’d wonder if I maybe needed to do something to change that opinion of me. Or get a better friend.

Plus, take it from me, who’s endured many a lions’ den of so-called impenetrable social cliques and stood in rooms filled with people who would much rather I wasn’t there: your friends are nowhere near as funny, exciting and intimidating as you think and they hope.

BRIGHT, like a lightbulb.
ELEGANT, like a standard lamp, which contains afore-mentioend lightbulb.
ENGAGING, like the penultimate slide on a presentation. Lit by the lamp.

MILD-MANNERED, like Cliff Richard.
GOOD-NATURED, like… Cliff Richard?
CONVENTIONAL, like Cliff Richard’s oven.

What do you think gave it away, Martin?

Yes, I am absolutely POSITIVE the only thing holding you back from a wild night on a pub crawl through some of the capital’s low joints with Martin was the fact it was a Sunday night. You’re 28!

OK, before Almaz gets dragged by you lot for this one… I have to confess. I have done this. I have sat on a date – with a man I really did not like or find attractive, because he was not a nice person – and have played “look-away chicken” and engaged in some serious eye-riding with the waiter. Thankfully my date, an actor, was so wrapped up in himself he didn’t notice, and I was subtle. Or so I hoped. Anyway, the date ended mercifully quickly and we paid the bill – it was itemised and my date insisted we each pay our exact amount which was extremely sexy – and the waiter and I exchanged one more flirtatious look, and then once he’d taken the silver tray and the small tip away, the looks ceased almost immediately because… drumroll… WAITERS DO THIS TO GET A BIGGER TIP. THEY LITERALLY NEVER ASK CUSTOMERS OUT. I have fallen into this trap a few times over the years and have managed to bang precisely zero  waiters – OK, well actually one, once, but that was different.

Anyway, I’m sure Martin enjoyed reading this this morning and hopefully the waiter is also reading this and can get in touch with Almaz so we can go away from this at least partly satisfied.


Martin is too pure for this world. Either that or absolutely oblivious. 10. That’s very sweet. I often give the straight guys in this date a really hard time for the way they talk to and about their dates so while it’s nice to see Martin being respectful – for maybe a bit dull, I’m sure Almaz can fill us in – I do think that on *this* occasion, there might have been a little more to it than Martin is letting on. Or maybe Almaz has an excellent poker face.

Anyway, Almaz doesn’t want to get his hopes up and she’s got that waiter to keep an eye out for so she delivers a 6 which, as we all know because we are not new to this, is a ZERO. I’m not sure what Martin did to warrant such a lowly score so this is either Almaz’s revenge for untold Christmases enduring Mistletoe & Wine or she wants to leave no room for doubt – she did not enjoy this date.

Thankfully she has one more question to really hammer this home.

Left: Almaz. Right: Martin.

Yep, thanks for clearing that one up, Almaz.

Photograph: Linda Nylind, Alicia Canter; both for the Guardian

Note: Disclaimer: The comments I make 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.  And Cliff Richard probably is a dealbreaker – but wow. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story. 


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  1. Poor love. If he worked harder at the hipster affectations he could get away with “ironic” love of Cliff Richard.

  2. He seems a bit of a drip (I mean Cliff Richard…come OOOOON) while she seems a bit full of herself. It’s an odd pairing for the Guardian to put together – feels like they were trying to contrive an “interesting” date.

    By the way, you get all the bonus points this week for your use of the underrated insult “drongo”.

  3. #teammartin it’s not a crime to be truthful and nice and not hipster. Almaz is just a devil woman! Amazing as always.

  4. Thank you so much for your takedown of Almaz’ ‘my friends would eat him alive’ comment. I get so bored of seeing that.

  5. I wouldn’t call myself a Cliff Richard fan but I have to agree with you about those two singles. Disco Cliff, OK, otherwise no.

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