Impeccable Table Manners

Paul and Jim

It is a tingle, definitely. A cautiously euphoric pins-and-needles feeling, that you don’t dare take notice of until you’re on your own, where nobody can see. It’s the feeling when you know a first date had gone well. Or when you think it has, anyway. Immediate sensations after a date can range from relief to revulsion via a two-hour stopover in shame and depravity, but the best one of all is that slightly jittery, sugar-rush tingle you get when you have met someone new and you want to see them again. You want every time to feel like the first time. It rarely does, by the way – so savour that tingle. Just in case.

Hoping that the tingle they’re feeling is post-date excitement and not the early warning signs of a stroke are 27-year-old web developer Paul, on the left and Jim, 26, an innovation consultant. Right. I’ve had a quick Google and looked at three job ads on LinkedIn and I have no idea what an innovation consultant is, but it does sound like it involves an awful lot of fiddling with PowerPoint decks, and sticking your head round a meeting-room door and shouting “synergy” at bewildered clients. See for yourself.

Read what happened on the date between these two men before I do what anyone sane would do when handed lemons – throw them at someone.

Paul starts us off:


Something to tell the grandchildren, perhaps. Of course what we really mean by a story to tell the grandchildren is a story we can tell to our open-mouthed mates, doing loads of funny voices, pulling faces, and widening our hands as a form of measurement until our pals’ eyes actually pop clean out of their head with envy. “Decent food and conversation” – aim higher, baby.

Over to you, Jim, in the pink:




“Better than I imagined.”

And they do, they do imagine what you’re like before you get there. In my experience, the ones I was most excited about tended to look like Plug from the Bash Street Kids when they turned up, while the ones I couldn’t care less about usually ended up being the ones you can’t get enough of.

Well-dressed is also good. I mean, sure, these things don’t really matter, because clothes come off after all. But a shop with dreadful windows probably isn’t going to have too much to offer on the inside. People who say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover usually a) have terrible taste in literature and b) dress like they fell face first into the bins behind the big Primark near Tottenham Court Road.



“He looks appealing yet slightly bland and I’ll probably give him a dunk because, let’s face it, I’m a gay man, I’ve come all this way and (spoiler) it’s the weekend.”



A complete non-match of conversation topics today. We are being spoiled. Just so you know, I would immediately shut down any conversation involving Jeremy Clarkson. There is nothing to say about him. He’s on that list, the one full of people for whom there is just nothing further useful to add, no jokes left to wring from their hopelessness, zero colour to enliven their dreary, blank grey. I am almost sure you can guess who else is on it. The key is not to end up on it yourself.



Well, I don’t know about you – literally, I don’t, but hello – but I simply had to know where these two had been sent on this date, because it sounded like an absolute trash carnival. And here it is.

Restaurants in hotels are always dodgy – especially hotels like this one, in the place where it is – because they tend to be full of hotel guests. People staying in hotels are not themselves. They’re away from home, for a treat, perhaps, or to fuck someone they met in a board meeting four hours ago. They are loud and vulgar and coarse and intrusive. They lean over to gay men on a date and goad them into getting off with each other; they try to recruit the whole place into being just like them, having their very specific, cliquey kind of fun that they know their mother wouldn’t approve of. And this is fine, in a way, if you’re in the mood for it. If you’re feeling drunk, philanthropic and mischievous, and are also safe in the knowledge that the bed you’re sleeping in is merely an elevator away, then helping a drunk lesbian turn her straight friend might seem appealing. If you’re on a date, however, you’d probably rather just concentrate on what you need to do and say to get your own end away.

Anyway, this place sounds like a fucking hellmouth, and an expensive one at that. Let’s never go.

EDIT: Paul got in touch to say that the incident with the drunk lesbian happened in a nearby pub, and he’s no recollection of the other. My general point about hotel restaurants still stands. I’m sure this one is a delight, however. 






Do you ever stop to think about what your best feature might be? Like, if someone did a survey about you, anonymously, and asked 20 or so people who knew you what you best feature was, what do you think they’d say?

It’s the kind of question you can’t ask anyone yourself, isn’t it, because you’d look super vain. But I actually think we should be asking it, because sometimes we really need to know what it is that makes people like us, so we can focus on that, and celebrate the positive. Too often we walk around not knowing what anyone is thinking, merely guessing, and driving ourselves mad with worry in case we’re getting it all wrong. So we should ask. What do you like about me? What’s my best feature? And build upon it, do more. Really curate that personal brand we’re always hearing about, but do it live, in person, rather than gonzo shots of your brunch or tweeting memes you nicked off Reddit.

Making someone laugh. Yes, that’s a good one. Job done.


And then maybe you shouldn’t. Keep it all to yourself, perhaps. I don’t know, but if I got that imaginary survey back and it said the best thing about me was that I talked a lot, I’d have a lot to unpack there. I don’t think I’d feel too super. Maybe he means it was great how he kept the conversation going. Or maybe he means he couldn’t get a word in. if I were Paul, I’d probably be sending a text round about now, asking Jim what the hell he means. You’d need to know.

But still: ask. Just make sure you have a stiff vodka to hand in case the truth is… inconvenient.



I have sat blankly in front of these two answers for 7 minutes and can’t think of anything to say that isn’t just a big shrug, so here’s a GIF to tide you over until the next set.



INTRIGUING like a secret, spiral staircase.
FUN like a night with Moira from Accounts in a trashy hotel room three floors above this snoozefest.
CHARMING like Charmin toilet paper with a G.


CHATTY like someone who talks too much out of sheer nerves because someone once told you that leaving long silences makes you sexy,  enigmatic and intriguing when in fact it makes you look… oh no, hang on, he said intriguing; it totally worked.
OPEN like a car door into the hard shoulder of the motorway.
FUN like what he said in his answer too.


You seem quite decent to me, Paul. Decent is good, isn’t it? Decency – it’s dying out. I’d quite like to be described as decent. I mean, I’d like it, but I’d also want it to be fairly low down on a long, long list of plaudits – long enough to make the Bible look like a Janet & John – below things like fuckable, handsome, slender, not Milo, sophisticated, stylish, alive.


If my grandma were here now, she would adjust her bifocals, dramatically flick her smouldering Benson and Hedges into the ashtray, and say, “Ooh, that Jim, eh? If he were chocolate, he’d eat himself, wouldn’t he?”

And she’d be right.



It’s a weekend, by the way. If we don’t get to see it go in and out, these two have to be closet straights.


“As we left to go home…”


You mean together, right? You went home TOGETHER?


Oh. Look. It’s one of Generation Cheeky, hiding in plain sight in the pages of the Weekend magazine.

“A cheeky smooch” – did you actually snog or did you just read out the labels off bottles of Innocent smoothies to each other? Language is rich and it evolves and I get all that, but the cheekification of every single thing we do, in an effort to make it more trivial, less permanent, really gets on my nerves.

Things that are allowed to be cheeky: buttocks; children; the Cheeky Girls; half an ecstasy tablet in 1997; Vimto; cheeks.

Things that are not supposed to be cheeky: kisses; overpriced chicken you have to queue up to pay for; gin and tonics; bottles of vodka; naps; snacks; shags; waiters.





What? What the fuck are you doing? That isn’t… that’s not what they’re asking you. Are you saying you’d undo the kiss? Do you mean you made romantic pretensions and now, in the cold light of day, as you tap your answers into your Gmail and prepare to fire them back to the Guardian, you want to make absolute clear that it was only ever going to be lightning-fast friendzoning once your Tube started to pull out of the station and his face blurred into the platform? Why is an event that hasn’t actually happened yet something you’d like to change? Are you a time traveller?

Whatever your methods or your reasons, you’ve just walked into a packed cinema auditorium in 1995 and told everyone that Kevin Spacey shows up three-quarters of the way in and, yes, it’s Gwyneth’s head in the box. Is there even any point carrying on?


This is a 9.

Paul, don’t make any sudden moves; just make your way slowly to the door, because something very horrible is about to happen to you and it looks like the call is coming from inside the house.



You can’t award a 7 to someone you’ve kissed – it’s… it’s… disrespectful. Sevens are for OK guys who were a bit dull, but enthusiastic and gave a limp handshake as you left, separately. Sevens are for the man who you’d love to go to the pub with, but don’t think you’d survive a trip to Ikea with. Sevens are 1s. They are kind 1s. They are 1s with tickets to Dignitas.

Oh, Jim. How could you?

Anyway, it’s now time to find out whether they’re up for meeting again. I WONDER what Jim has to say – very curious to see the answer of this famously mysterious and intriguing dude who plays his cards close to his chest. Let’s keep ourselves dangling a while longer, and go over to Paul first.





Photograph: Linda Nylind; Alicia Canter, both 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 am sure Jim is great and Paul couldn’t give two bronze fucks either way. 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. 

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  1. “Oh, Jim. How could you?”
    Your gran provided the answer with quite the funniest line I’ve heard in a long while: “Ooh, that Jim, eh? If he were chocolate, he’d eat himself, wouldn’t he?”
    Thank you for that, and thanks too for explaining the “cheeky” usage that frequently appears (often in tandem with something called Nando’s) in Guardian comments & has always bemused/rankled me.

  2. I’ve had a quick Google and looked at three job ads on LinkedIn and I have no idea what an innovation consultant is

    sounds to me like bullshit spinner just about covers it.

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