Impeccable Table Manners

Oli and Elspeth


Food on a first date – it’s a no from me. If a man ever suggested we go to a restaurant for our first meeting, I’d know he wasn’t a keeper. Why would you, when you have romantic intentions on someone you’ve never met before, want to spend two long hours glued to their disgusting table manners?

“How about we grab some noodles?” they would say. Noodles – a food it’s almost impossible to eat sexily unless you’re being paid by the hour and you’re going to be dragging them out of somewhere else 45 minutes later. If we’re trying our best not to spill soapy broth down our chin, how can we relax and get to know each other? All the talk will be about this meal, and how we both wish we weren’t having it. Want to go on a date with me? Get me drunk and enjoy the show – but don’t ask for menus.

Elspeth and Oli

Sadly, the hapless duo who slug it out in the Guardian Blind Date column every week don’t get to decide where they go on their date, and it always has to include food. But where would we be without the table manners question? Food on a Guardian Blind Date is the third character, more important even than a snotty waiter, the peck on the cheek at the end of the night and us, reading at home. The quality of venues varies wildly: one week you can be queueing outside Busaba in the rain with a load of online editors whinging about Adobe Premiere, and the next you may be, as this week’s are, propping up J Sheekey’s Oyster Bar.

Read what happened on the date between 24-year-old Elspeth and Oli, 28, who are both medical students, before I go in make a final incision. As a side note, one of the most unpleasant men I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet styled his name as “Oli”, so I wish this one all the luck in the world.

We start with Oli, who is in blue. Elspeth is in yellow.

oli first

I think I’ve managed to feel more romantic sensation from a self-checkout machine telling me there’s an “unexpected item in the bagging area” than Oli’s incredibly clinical statement. It’s like when you have your appraisal and your boss tells you to fill in a form, and then fill his or her parts in too, and you try to be as non-committal as possible because you don’t want to seem too ambitious or unsatisfied with your job, even though you lie awake at night dreaming of buying a flock of starlings and training them to peck your boss to death.

elspeth first

“An exciting Monday.” No such thing. I love “haunt” as an expression. Although you kind of expect to hear it falling from the whisky-tasting mouth of one of Dorothy Parker’s acolytes, not a 24-year-old. You relationship with a “haunt” isn’t always a positive one – they end up being places you go because nowhere else will have you. If the last place in all of London that can bear to watch you fall off a bar stool is showy (but tasty) fish peddler J Sheekey, you haven’t lived.

oli impress

Don’t call people short. Especially people who are actually short. They don’t like it. We all notice someone’s height, usually immediately because hello they’re standing in front of us. It’s just impolite to mention it. You wouldn’t lean over and congratulate someone on their eyebrows or acne scars or teeth, would you? No. Or would you? If you would, and you’re that lawyer who said you couldn’t wait to kiss me because I had such nice teeth, I still think that’s a bit weird.

els impress


els talk

oli talk aboit

Not a single match on the conversation topics. Were they in the same room? Rugby. Millennium Stadium. Hmmm. Are they both Welsh?

Oh, and “running” – God, not again.

oli awkward

meryl lightning strike

“She thought I was serious.” Wait until she finds out Father Christmas isn’t real. Anyway, this will be a great story to tell the grandchildren on their one-way trip into a boredom coma.

els awkward

Yes, very good advice. Extremely relatable.

We’re onto table manners next and I can hardly bear to look.

oli table


els table

Oh, yes, we get it. You ate oysters and you’re the ditsy, elfin heroine of a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ romantic novel.

This is really very nice and I’m all for watching two clean-shirts inhabit the same space as each other and exchange pleasantries but where is the GRIT? Oysters? I think it’s going to take more than that to get these two moving. Quick, somebody nip down to Vauxhall and get them a Viagra.

oli best thing

nadine coyle punch

The best thing. That attribute ABOVE ALL OTHERS that Oli liked about Elspeth was that she slides out of her pristine bed and into some screwed-up lycra and a pair of sweaty old trainers and goes “for a run”. Nothing else could top it. Not her chat, nor her boobs, nor her eyes, nor her hair, her politics, the fact she too has worked in the Millennium Stadium, her laugh, her smile, her ability to include the word ‘oyster’ in every conversation she’s ever had, nothing. She runs. And that’s the best thing. Perhaps Oli too is a runner and has been waiting all his life for someone else he can bore rigid with his agonising over which knee supports to buy. The best thing. You don’t deserve to be young.

I have to be blunt here. If I spent a good three hours or so on a freezing cold Monday in a fairly upmarket restaurant throwing back champagne (I assume, unless they both had to be up early in the morning to go for yet another run) and guzzling oysters and, y’know, actually getting on, and they said the very very best thing about me – not even the evening itself, but me, as a person – was that I was really into running, I would NEVER EVER EVER EVER fuck them. I’d be keeping that trim athletic figure all to myself. I mean, seriously, at least say you fucking fancy me, you awkward estate agent. Jeez.

And, I even LIKE running.

els best thing


Hugh Grant, the celebrity equivalent of a Greggs sausage roll that they’ve forgotten to fill with sausage meat. It’s not exactly a mariachi band sitting next to you in the distraction stakes. “He kept my attention even when a movie star who looks like the manager of an East Dulwich deli-cafe sat at the next table.” High praise indeed.

oli friends

“On first evidence” – I wonder what dark secrets Oli thinks lurk within the woman who had to gently explain to him she wasn’t actually a ninja. And they’re both medical students! Nurse! The screens!

Oli’s caution here is quite… weird and unnecessary. Just say “yes”. All this “evidence” nonsense makes it sound like he suspects Elspeth hasn’t been honest with him, or something. You’re talking about a woman, not diagnosing hypothermia. Maybe she actually is a ninja. I hope so; I’d quite like to see her karate-chopping her way out of this mouldy old wine gum of a date.

oli made of you

Oli, you’re 28. If you can’t hold your own against the man who used to hold Elizabeth Hurley’s handbag while she went for a slash, then there is zero hope for you.

els made of you

All together now:

🎵How do you solve a problem like Elspeth?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Elspeth?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!🎵

oli go on

els go on

“We’re medical students, and the entire bill was being paid for by someone else – of course we didn’t go on somewhere. We’re not stupid.”


els kiss

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 10.06.30

Welsh, then.

oli kiss

You just did say. Christ. I WANT TO SEE THEIR BIRTH CERTIFICATES. It’s like watching the figures in an Alpine weather house dance around each other for all eternity.

oli change

See? It’s like I said earlier: the food plays an important role in the Guardian Blind Date. It gives the daters the chance to talk something else apart from each other. It’s a copout. You can always tell when you’ve got a pair of dullards, because when it comes to this question, they don’t say something witty or insightful or sexy – they read the fucking menu out to you.

Tell me how you feel. This is a magazine. The entire print industry is being burned up by the sun and here you are to save it singlehanded, coveting someone else’s starter. I give up.

els change

Not “I wish the night could’ve gone on longer” or even the dreaded “That it hadn’t been a schoolnight”. No “I should have kissed him sooner” or even “I wouldn’t change a thing”, but THIS. Food regret.

Octopus you may very well get to eat again. This moment? It’s never to be repeated; this is your one shot. What are you going to do with it? More octopus? Less you.

It’s the scores. You ready?

oli scores


SEVEN? You kissed her and it’s a seven?! You had a Hollywood movie star sitting next to you, and she didn’t look over once, or rush and tell him how many times she’s seen Four Weddings and a Funeral (87) or get drunk and scream “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed” and yet you still score her a seven, which is a ONE with a conservatory built on the back? What did she have to do for an 8?

els scpore


The passion is oozing from this exchange, isn’t it? I’ve seen more romantic potential in a queue for the flu jab.

So one more question left. Will the running enthusiast and secret ninja meet up for another long stare at each other over expensive aphrodisiacs, or is it time to switch off this particularly dreary radio play?

oli meet again

Oli, what the hell are you talking about? What weren’t you sure about, exactly? Did you spy a handgun in her Peppa Pig backpack? You “hate to make a judgment” after one date, so you’re going to seer her again to decide whether you, erm, want to see her again? Imagine picking out Ikea furniture with Oli – your nerves would be shredded. “Just TELL ME, Oli, we’ve been here for four hours – wide or narrow Billy bookcase?!”

Elspeth, please, for the first time in the entire column, give me some content.

els meet

bette davis closes door

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 dicks – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re cool people. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves.  If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally, and I hope you enjoyed your oysters.  If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal. 

Photograph: James Drew Turner for the Guardian



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