Impeccable Table Manners

Simon and Hannah

It’s terrible being single in autumn. Summer is the carefree season of flirting, showing skin and getting amiably drunk with people you’d never even consider speaking to in January. Summer is open and free; it’s OK to have no ties. Autumn, however, is for couples. Romantic walks, photographing  leaves, excitedly shopping for baubles, pointing in wonder at sunsets like a toddler picking out his favourite chocolate bar in the corner shop. Everything about autumn says “together” – some basic couples probably write the word in the foam of their matching pumpkin spice lattes while they plan their coordinated fancy dress outfits for Halloween.

Hoping to find a Robin for their Batman and another face for their Instagram this week are Hannah, a 33-year-old content editor (the only thing worse than being a 33-year-old content editor is being a 40-year-old one, according to eyewitness reports) and Simon, 36, who is a research manager. Not sure what kind of research he manages but I hope it’s the sort where you get to stop people in the street and ask them about mayonnaise or Gogglebox or the Iraq war.


Read what happened on the date before I storm in, accuse everyone of stealing my jacket, and make the evening very awkward.



Hannah, the lovable turbo-realist we have all become in the absolute rain-shower of Satan’s jizz that has been 2016.


I have a feeling Simon watches cult movies and blurts out well-known quotations from them around 0.33 seconds before they are performed on screen.


Attractive. Mmmm. I like that word. It’s more than saying someone is “good-looking”, isn’t it? It’s indicating that not only are they… dare we say handsome? Let’s say handsome. Not only that, but it says you are , in some way, attracted to them. They are drawing you in. I like it. Well-dressed is also a good one, although, y’know, relative, but tall is such a weird thing to say.

I sometimes wonder how these people who marvel at height get through life. How do they cope when they see skyscrapers or mobile phone masts or trees? It must take ages to get anything done if you’re gazing up in wonder at the fact something exists that is taller than you. Yes, he’s tall – I’m all out of crackers for you, though.



Is “nice” back? Are we cool with this now? Is this what normcore and dullness as a leisure pursuit has brought us? The return of “nice”.

I used to have an amazing English teacher called Mrs St Ruth and whenever anyone used the word “nice” in a piece of writing she would recoil in horror and pull a face like Margo Leadbetter from The Good Life eating a bag of Haribo Tangfastics.

“Nice.” Simon has just painted Hannah magnolia.


Don’t kiss anyone who uses Quizteama Aguilera, Quiz McDonald, Quiz Hurley or Quizzy McQuizface, or similar, for their quiz team names.

Festivals. I don’t go to festivals that often but here’s a tip if you find yourself on a date with someone who does. Do not, under any circumstances, mention how hard it is to get tickets for them because they will then bore you absolutely rigid with their strategy for their annual purchase of Glastonbury tickets. It involves a lot of sitting on hold on a phone, apparently, or staring into a progress bar on a browser and having some kind of tag team… I mean, I can’t remember because I kept nodding off.

The “poster boy” thing – I assume they’re talking about when the staff at Soulmates, bored on a Friday, pick the new “featured profile” that will inhabit the little promotional box for Guardian Soulmates across the entire Guardian website. It is not, I’m afraid, likely to give David Gandy anything to worry about. I was picked for this once – I had always assumed it was done randomly because Jamie Dornan I am most certainly not – and I greatly enjoyed the increased attention from men I wouldn’t have crossed a parking space to go and talk to. Random men on dating sites who send you three-line messages and expect you to unbutton your shirt all the way down in delight are quite literally the worst people you’re ever going to have to endure – keep your “poster”, darling.


Simon, you’re on a date. The auditions for the new grimly unamusing comedy for Radio 4 are in the next room.


Ah, hence the “explosive diarrhoea”. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but if you’re talking about changing a nappy on your first date, I’m going to throw it out there and suggest the rest of the conversation was overly loud and the kind you’d be really disappointed to overhear.


I would maybe embellish this a little, Simon, before you settle the grandchildren around you on a rug and hand them each a Werther’s Original.




Food sharing. My bête-noire. I wonder whether Simon means Hannah took food from his plate (unforgivable) or merely offered him some of hers (slightly less criminal)? I wonder why I hate it so much? What happened in my past to make me so violently against it? I have an idea. Let me “share” it with you.

My siblings are 20 years my junior, so essentially I grew up an only child. It was quite unusual then – as I guess it is now, now everyone is determined to wring every last gene out of their fertility before it sails off into the sunset – not to have any brothers and sisters, and it makes people react very strangely to you. You are painted as a loner, purely because of the very physical reality that there is nobody else around you quite a lot of the time, and you may also be thought of as weird. My mother was harangued almost continually both by  family members and complete acquaintances to “have another one” citing that it would be “nice” – that fucking word again – for me to have some “company”, like I was desperately sad having no other human who looked a bit like me interfere with my possessions and my daily life. My mum, who claimed her body had been all but destroyed at the age of 20 when she was pregnant with and gave birth to me, was reluctant to go through this again just so I’d have somebody else to play Connect 4 with, and refused to subject her uterus to the will of the public. The resentment by others could be quite astonishing at times. And this is where we get to the food sharing.

One of the most common accusations levelled at me since I was small was that I was selfish and didn’t “know how to share”. Seriously, it was constant. I had an aunt who vaguely liked me, but was particularly obsessed by exposing me as insolent and self-centred, and would regularly attempt to “teach me how to share”, usually by taking things off me and giving them to my cousin, who was literally one of the most horrible, bossy children on Earth. I hate to say things are character-building, but it did make me very determined to be polite and well-behaved and not give adults an excuse to dislike me which – as a bookish, effeminate, short child who sassed like a 45-year-old world-weary secretary called Janice – was no mean feat. It also taught me how to share, but also keep a close eye on other sharers. While I’m happy to share almost anything, in my experience there’s always one person who likes to share a little bit less, or likes a bigger “share”, or uses this supposed fondness for sharing as a smokescreen for taking your stuff off you – and it happens all the time with food. World exclusive: people who like to share are out for YOUR share. Don’t let them have it. Also: get your filthy hands out of my dinner.

Never fuck with an only child: we’re not scared to be alone.



The thing about being on a date with someone who is very dry is that you very quickly begin to long for something wet. It can be exhausting. I am quite dry, to be honest, and I can always tell when I’m sucking all the moisture out of the room because my friends’ eyes glaze over or they give a slight roll of them as if to say “Oh, you!”

You are in danger, when you are too dry, of people not wanting to talk to you about stuff or worrying you don’t take them seriously because you simply cannot help yourself. It’s like a blessing and a curse. You can reel people in with your dry sense of humour – and, honestly, people will fuck you just because of it – but it’s keeping them there that becomes difficult. What starts off as “the thing I like most about you” becomes the thing they shout back at you as they close the door for the last time.

You should never be drier than the wine you’re drinking.


So is the woman on the checkout at the Tesco Express on Uxbridge Road. And I’m sure that’s not even her best quality – she looks like she’d be good at karaoke.

All that dry wit, Simon, and you couldn’t run to anything juicy here.





Absolutely. No. Comment.


FUNNY like when people ask “funny haha or funny peculiar?” and you think it might be neither but you don’t know what to say, so you reply “haha” because it sounds kinder than “peculiar”.
FRIENDLY like a gorilla who just drank 5 litres of undiluted Ribena and wants to get to know you.
CHATTY like a French cat.


FRIENDLY like that gorilla again, but this time he’s a in tutu and wants you to look over a script he’s been working on with a view to casting Josh Widdecombe or one of those famous Russells in the lead.
SARCASTIC like something that I’m sure was really amazing where you had a great time and weren’t at all bored out of your brain because, yeah, fantastic.
INTELLIGENT like the show-offs who go for THREE big numbers on Countdown.



I hear you, chuck.

I would never say to anyone not to be themselves, but on a date, you need to be a version of yourself that is at least palatable. Save some jokes for the speech at your wedding. If your date feels like they are having to keep up with you, or match your humour, they’ll get tired. It can become an effort. I get that people want to step it up and, like I said, your sense of humour can get you an amazing amount of cock if you target it well, but it is NOT a competition.




Non-Londoners may not be aware of this, but every Monday, it is once again 1947 in the capital. They bring back rationing and everything.

Some of the best nights of my life have been on a Monday.




See what I mean? Hannah’s just spent two hours+ at the romantic equivalent of a struggling Edinburgh Fringe show and yet she still wants more.

Anyway, you can’t go for a drink, Hannah. It’s MONDAY. You have a PIE to bake. And they lock the door at the nursing home at 10:30pm so you’d have to knock for Matron and that wouldn’t do at all.

Your 30s absolutely whizz by, guys – use them or lose them.



Scores. Thank every fucking hair follicle on Christ’s holy bonce for that.



Two eights. The post-fact, Brexit-obsessed, Bake Off-watching, Trump-voting, Theresa May’s shoes’ score we truly deserve in 2016. I want to get rabidly drunk and it is 10:03am.

One more question and then we can all sink into a large vodka.





Photograph: Sarah Lee, 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 would love to listen to Simon’s relentless badinage and taste Hannah’s pie. 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. 


No Comment

  1. Not only are you funny (‘funny’ ha ha) as fuck, but you are incredibly wise too. I always finish your column with food for thought about the nature of men, women and the way we treat ourselves and each other.
    Thank you.

  2. I used to cop the “only child bad at sharing” thing too, DESPITE the fact that I lived in a large extended family with a child who was 6 months older than me and got given EVERYTHING of mine. THAT’S what made me bad at sharing.

  3. As a woman of 5ft 8in, I don’t consider myself tall because of all of the taller men around. But when I meet a woman taller than me, I generally do think “tall” because it’s so unusual. And when I meet a man taller than say 6ft 2, I also think “tall”, so maybe Simon is more than six inches taller than Hannah, and that’s unusual for her, and that’s why she commented.

    Or maybe she couldn’t think of anything else to say about him because “attractive” and “well-dressed” were adequate.

    Loving your work.

  4. In my experience, only children are nicer about sharing – they certainly are as children – BECAUSE they never have to share. Those of us with siblings want what is ours to be established from the get go, the borders of our ownership, our amount, and we will never surrender a piece of it gladly. It’s ours. Food sharers are terrible people, though. Make your choice and stick with it. In the past, going out with people I know to be food sharers, I have deliberately chosen the same as them. EVEN IF I DON’T LIKE IT.

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