Impeccable Table Manners

Sophie and Killian

I worried we’d never get here, that the sun would refuse to come. I thought I’d have to sit under my aubergine throw, shivering as I typed, forevermore. But, no, like a latecomer banging through the doors at a wedding and sitting down noisily, summer appears to be here – spring jettisoned through lack of interest – and I’m in a questionable “indoors only” vest, joggers, and my bare feet are tapping on the cool floor in anticipation. Thank goodness.

Aside from the distraction of heat, this is shaping up to be a year unlike any other for me. My first novel, The Last Romeo, is out on paperback in just over a month and I am nervous and excited and everything in between. It also means I am time- and energy-poor. Even though I finished it yonks ago, the book needs more of my attention than ever, and I have to do lots of work not only to promote it but also to keep things ticking over financially while I write the second book, which I am two-thirds of the way through. This means there will be less time, for a short while only, I hope, for me to do other things – go to the gym, eat, worry about my hair and, sadly, sit for a good couple of hours in front of my laptop forensically shredding the Guardian Blind Date column. And I need to look after myself, I really do; something’s got to give. So after today we shall be taking a break. Just for a while.

If you’ve enjoyed the work I have written here over the last four years – eight if you count the other stuff that came before it – then I am very happy. If not, try Ofcom. I don’t have a Patreon or anything like that, I rely on (ever-shrinking) freelance writing to keep afloat, so it would mean the world if you would consider buying The Last Romeo – I have no shame in asking, this is a big deal for me – and you can find out where and how to do that here. It’s on , Waterstones and all your other fave booksellers. It’s out 31 May and I can’t wait for you to read it.

But before all that, we have this. Sophie and Killian are both 23 (deep sigh) – she is a science communicator (stands shouting “physics” at the roadside) and he is a journalist (uses caffeine and lying as a personality replacement) and they went on a date!

Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Let’s have a good old rummage through their answers and pick on everything they say like an auntie waiting to catch then out.

Sophie on Killian | Killian on Sophie

What were you hoping for?
Marriage and two children.

Oh I mean, same.

What were you hoping for?
I’ve just returned from India, so wanted to carry on the excitement.

“I was looking forward to boring someone rigid about my holiday/gap year/life experience.”

First impressions?
He made me feel at ease straightaway. He was reading a book I liked, which was encouraging.

This is all very “I’m into vinyl”, isn’t it? Is this how it’s done now? Has technology finally become so populist that it’s uncool, and instead of arriving on your date to find them hunched over their phone, everyone’s going to have their nose in a book? Imagine the process of choosing this book, which will be in no way incidental. Sales of Catcher in the Rye or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter will soar. If I were single and this did become a trend, I’d sit there thumbing through my dog-eared ’80s edition of The Stud by Jackie Collins.

I suppose someone (even a 23-year-old) sitting there reading a book you actually like is encouraging, but what if you didn’t like the book? Or had never read it? What would go through your mind? Oh no, you might think after 31 May, he’s reading The Last Romeo. I hate that sarcastic old cow from the Guyliner blog; maybe my date is an asshole too. I can’t help but feel this is a dangerous road to go down and yet another way we can immediately deselect someone who might otherwise be a thoroughly lovely person. Not only do your dates have to run the gauntlet of your merciless swiping, unchecking of boxes and aspersions on their dress sense, but now they have to choose the right book to impress you? I can think of better reasons to keep libraries open, tbh.

First impressions?
Very pretty and well spoken.

OMG well spoken, do people under 80 actually say that? Is Killian – actually, hang on, I have never seen this spelling of Cillian before and I keep reading it as an instruction to KILL IAN which is quite weird and subliminal, perhaps his mother named him and was not a fan of Lovejoy. Anywaaaaay, is Killian perhaps relieved she is posh and/or has a nice accent? What is a nice accent? I mean, I always assume, thanks to bitter experience, when someone says “well spoken” they mean “not northern” or slightly obsequious. I am puzzled by this impression. Where are you from Killian? Tell me.

He also says she is pretty so that is nice; well done Killo.

What did you talk about?
Working abroad, women’s empowerment and vegetarianism.
The cultural appropriation of yoga by the west, my parents’ jobs, ratatouille and Welsh accents.

This is a lot. Even for me. I’ve got plans today; I would never get through this.

I wonder which side of the cultural appropriation argument each of them were on. It’s one of those subjects where you have to make sure you know what you’re talking about, or are at least willing to learn, and it can be an easy buzzword for someone who wants to look woke – or is taking the piss out of liberals – when really they are making things worse by bumbling in in their chino shorts and broken-down Toms. That said, I’d loved to have been a fly on the wall to see Mr and Mrs Newsround hammering it out over their Gressingham duck terrine.

Any awkward moments?
Maybe when I ate food off his plate.

It’s been so long! I’m almost excited to be levitating in fury at this again!

I’m getting over my sharing food thing, believe it or not. I’ve actually been sharing food for years, but it’s always with an understanding – even more so since I started writing about this, because now friends I share e.g. dim sum with cower from me whenever my fingers hover over a gyoza – that we won’t be greedy, and I don’t particularly mind. What I hate about sharing food is the politics around it, the dishonesty and fake politeness and the resentment that follows. Nobody leaves the situation satisfied tbh but some people are absolutely obsessed by trying every single food they can, in the smallest portion possible, before their dotage, so you have to go with it.

This, however, will not stand. Of course, if she was invited to take it from his plate, then fine. I’ve scoured the menu and saw chips on it so I’m guessing that’s what it was.

Chips float about in an eery subset of food to which varying rules of etiquette apply, and it’s much more acceptable, in some circles, to nab a couple of unwanted chips from someone’s plate ONCE THEY ARE DONE EATING THANK YOU or even, as has happened to me on numerous occasions, ask strangers in the street if you can have one! Yes! People go on about tea, manners, and sexual repression as the great British traditions but, no, I disagree. I would propose instead the truest of all British traits is that we will behave like animals at the mere sight of a chip. All bets are off, the rules are declared void. GIVE. ME. A. CHIP.

Any awkward moments?
Not a single one.

Killian is just back from India, remember, so is probable feeling very chilled and is totally fine with whatever, babe.

Good table manners?
Much better than mine. He let me pick and taste the wine.

I often gloss over table manners now because there is so much to cover, but I’ve noticed this new trend of women saying the men “let them” pick the wine or starter or pudding or some other bizarre act of permission that shouldn’t really be a thing.

I know she’s really saying that Killian couldn’t be arsed to help pick the wine or didn’t know anything about the wine (perfectly acceptable at 23 fyi) but when this is selected as an example of having good table manners and not just, y’know, something people do, is really grating to me. The bar is so sodding low for men these days it’s practically grazing the top of the Central Line. What was he like? “Oh he played fast and loose with the bizarre laws of masculinity by letting me have the wine I wanted so we’re marrying in the spring and planning to summer in Provence.” I mean, come on.

Good table manners?
Yes – we even shared our dishes with each other.

We already did this one.

Best thing about Killian?
He let me eat food off his plate.

When will this end?

Best thing about Sophie?
Outgoing, active and intelligent.

Killian have you read this column before? When you answer this question, you give some anodyne statement like “She had a lot to say for herself” or “She seemed really comfortable in her own skin” or something. Just a nothing statement, a verbal day without weather or under-dunked Hob Nob. You do NOT give three adjectives because THAT question is coming up later.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
I think he’d find us a bit intimidating all together.
Yes, I can’t see why not.

Ooh, it’s like a contractually obligated greatest hits today, isn’t it? I love it when the dates imagine that their ten Chloes or pack of Tobys would be the most intimidating thing on Earth. Stand back, marauding wildebeest. Hold your fire, final approach to the summit of Everest. You’re but small fry. Nothing can instil fear and reverence like the sight of a platoon of post-grads sharing a bottle of Sauv Blanc between 12 in the All Bar One in Battersea, before they troop back to their house-share and argue over the state of the bathroom.

I wonder sometimes whether the sitcom Friends encouraged this idea social groups can’t possibly be penetrated by outsiders, that anyone hovering at the periphery can only ever be a guest star. Sure, we’ve got our cliques, but the notion we socialise with monsters, creating our very own Algonquin round table wherever we may sit, is a load of bollocks. Almost everyone in the world is a boring cretin, myself included. You might as well be intimidated by a loaf of bread, parsnips, Buckinghamshire, or the name Susan.

Describe him in three words
Enthusiastic, friendly, engaged.

Enthusiastic, like the first 30 seconds on a trampoline when you’ve just had pudding.
Friendly, like a dog in a pub who thinks you have chicken in your pockets.
Engaged, like all the cubicles in Victoria Station around 4:15 on a weekday afternoon.

Describe her in three words
Confident, loquacious, pretty.

Confident, like the woman on roller blades in the – whoooooooooaaaaa – Bodyform advert.
Loquacious, like someone who was chatty but had just had a dictionary shoved up their arse.
Pretty, like watching Alderaan explode.

Did you go on somewhere?
We discussed the potential, but I was really tired (and drunk) and he had a 10k the next morning.
No, I was due to run a 10k race the next morning.

Oh to be 23. Not intellectually, of course; my brain was salad and I had that annoying tic where admitting I was wrong would be like accidentally confessing to an unsolved murder. And I don’t want to be the 23 I was; I want to be this kind of 23, the idealised version I see before me. To have all that time, stretching out in front of you, with the luxurious option of wasting it. To have that smooth skin, that metabolism, jutting collarbone and a jawline that could slice bacon. To be sure of absolutely everything and worried about almost nothing, because your life experiences so far have been largely institutionalised, mapped out. Fiercely independent, but barely having to think for yourself, which, though you will not realise this until years later, is a glorious state to be in.

Anyway, 23-year-old sports powerhouse Killian had a measly 10k to run in the morning so passed on a couple more drinks with Sophie. I’m not being FUNNY, but I once stayed out all night, at least 10 years Killian’s senior, and drank tequilas until I was talking backwards, and managed to troop out of the door the next morning (Sunday) and do a 10k in the very hilly Brockwell Park so HONESTLY. This is ridiculous.

And… did you kiss?
No, but one of us has the other’s number.

Are you going to do it over FaceTime? Interesting Killian doesn’t say who has the number, isn’t it?

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’d order the steak instead of the chicken (I was taking a night off vegetarianism).

I can’t cope with these two. It’s like my heavy Thursday and Saturday paper rounds all over again. A night off vegetarianism? Is that a thing? I know labels mean less as we move toward a more accepting, open-minded society, but I was under the impression vegetarianism was pretty rigid. Like, if you eat meat every now and again, you are… not one. Oh I don’t care.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
That I hadn’t planned to do a 10k race the next morning.

Sort yourself out, Killian. One day you’ll be an embittered, middle-aged man like me sitting in joggers on a Saturday morning wishing you’d had that last drink instead.

Marks out of 10?

These are bad scores. Imagine getting on reasonably well, albeit in the most wilfully dull way possible, and deciding the evening was a 7/10. I don’t know which of you has the phone number but if I received one of these scores I’d be starting a texting vendetta.

A 7 in this column is a 1 that can’t wait to make its excuses and leave with a minimum of fuss. A 7.5 is the same, except its Uber comes quicker and it didn’t pay for that last drink.

Would you meet again?
Maybe, if he wants an (unromantic) cold-water swimming lesson.

Is there such a thing as romantic cold-water swimming? Rose petals? Céline Dion blasting in the background while you reenact the final scene from Titanic? Or is Sophie making it clear – as it is depressingly necessary to do tbh – that the fact she’ll be wearing a swimming costume is not actually a come-on, it just means she’s going swimming.

Would you meet again?
Yes, I quite fancy some cold-water swimming.

I don’t think you have to dive too deep to figure out how this one will work out.

Thank you to everyone who’s bought the book so far. See you soon. I will be back, I promise. x

Sophie and Killian ate at The Megaro, London WC1.
Fancy a blind date? Email
If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, visit

NOTE: The London LGBTQ Centre has launched a project to raise money to establish the a dedicated LGBTQ+ community centre in east London. You can find out more about the project, donate and spread the word.

AND FINALLY: The comments I make are based on the answers given by the participants and not what they may actually be like in real life. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits it to suit the column. Get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll publish whatever you say. And please let me know how you got on in the 10k, Killmeister.


  1. I can say nothing about these two that won’t turn into the bitter and cynical ranting of a middle aged hag. I will buy your book Justin, and read it proudly in public in the hope that it might attract a similarly cynical but unconventionally handsome and generous lover. Hope it sells by the bucket load.

    Miss you already.

  2. Well, I liked them. And I thought her “marriage and two children” opening gambit was one of the best answers ever. Good luck, kids.

    And thanks, Guyliner. We’ll miss you.

  3. Just saw this Blind Date in the print edition of The Guardian. Killian really needs to put his Adidas shell-toes in the washing machine…

    (I am currently reading The Last Romeo on my Kindle… try not to make that break too long!)

  4. But how amazing that he didn’t mention running until that late on.

    Also, what do his parents do?

    I liked Last Romeo, I will buy the next one too.

  5. Loved this week and you’ll be sorely missed – I bought the book to tide me over until your triumphant return one day

  6. Dotage?! Nice use of language!

    FWIW, I didn’t have a fast metabolism when i was in my 20s, although I think it’s speeding up now.

    I promise to buy your book (but it’ll probably sit on my shelf while the 10 books I have to read first collect dust while I binge This is Us).

  7. I’m a bit sad (but happy for you) to read that you won’t be writing here for a bit. I come here late at night when I’m sad and can’t sleep because I know you’ll make me smile.

  8. I know I’m late to this, but that 10k thing is really confusing to me. Who lets running dictate their life? “Oh, I’d love to stay out, do something exciting and maybe have a shag, but I’ve got this run tomorrow”. Just blow the 10k off, man. Who cares?

  9. Oh, just annoying my office with my laughter.

    But no, I don’t understand any people who just drink and drink and drink and act normal the next day. I can’t even stay awake late and act normal the next day.

    The first time I started “party hard drinking” at age 20, I didn’t go to class for 3 or 4 days (maybe the whole week?) and actually lay in my bed without moving and only sipping water so the summer heat could evaporate it before reaching my bladder for 4 days, on the 5th day my friends had to bring me food as I hadn’t eaten.

  10. Am I the only one who reads the Guardian on a Saturday morning and immediately clicks on this blog hoping to see a dissection of the date? Hope may be eternal, but I’ll admit to a bit of creeping pessimism…..

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