Impeccable Table Manners

Stephen and Zoë


There are only a couple of problems with being old, really. The first is looking it. What a cruel trick of nature that is. In your head, you feel 18 – but, like, wiser, and with better taste in knitwear, and more money – and you barely even notice now the twinge of your arthritic knee or the “ooooh” sound you make when you sit down. But grey hair, wrinkles, the dulling of your eyes, your once-full lips fading to a scar – they really are a punishment for not relishing your youth enough while you had it.

The other main issue with being old, of course, is youth itself. It didn’t just go out of fashion the day it left you; it’s still out there, clinging to the tight skin and even tighter buns of all those young people in your eyeline every single sodding day. Just like you were, they’re dismissive of the power their lack of birthday candles gives them. But that’s up to them. Getting old means there are so many more of them. And because you’ve sailed past that magic age of relevance – a number which is never revealed to you, by the way, until at least three years after you’ve passed it – you are invisible, undoable. Especially if you’re gay, to be honest. As a friend over 40 put it, “I could walk into a gay bar and set myself on fire and nobody would notice”. I’m not sure this is true – they would at least stoop to light their cigarettes from him. This is why your parents are posting vaguely racist memes from 2003 and soapboxing about Brexit all over Facebook – they just want you to see them.

Anyway, I don’t care about being older and although I love young people I don’t particularly want to be ‘noticed’ by 17-year-olds throwing up their Mai Tai in the smoking yard in G-A-,Y thank you very much, but I would like to look a bit fresher. Ah well.

Stephen Zoe

Bridging the generation gap today are Stephen, 36, a textile designer, and 25-year-old lingerie seamstress Zoë. 36 and 25. Eleven years. A lot can happen in 11 years, especially to Madonna’s career, but even more can happen in a couple of hours on a Blind Date. Go and read what happened on it while I queue patiently for the carvery and prepare to have an argument with the staff about just how many slices of gammon are appropriate for the “meal deal”.

To match the speech bubbles in their picture, Stephen’s answers are in pink and Zoë’s are in yellow.

step hope

Reading on, I hope it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Stephen should perhaps have invested instead in an electric blanket, a North Face jacket, a sheepdog or a burning building – all much warmer options than going on a date.

I mean, dashing a scalding cup of cocoa in someone’s face would warm them up considerably – it would certainly distract them from the cold for a few short, bloodcurdling minutes – but I’m not sure I’d recommend it.

zoe hope

25, eh? If you could buy York Notes on how to answer questions in the Blind Date column, this would probably be up there in the ‘safe things to say when you have the breadth of imagination of a newt’ section.


step first

“Eyes are popping out, whilst lips are receding.” Eyes are the big new trend in what men bang on about in the Guardian Blind Date, it seems. I think it’s because men are so nervous about complimenting anything physical about a woman, they have to go for the least offensive.

Nobody really minds if you say they have nice eyes. Hair, too, I guess, is safe. But wouldn’t it be kind of refreshing if, when asked this question, or the “what’s the best thing about them” question, they said something like, “I really loved the way I could see the shape of his dick through his cords”? I once spent a date wearing trousers so tight my buttocks had to get a restraining order, and the guy I was on a date with couldn’t stop looking at them, so I know people notice these things. (Yes, he got to see everything close-up later – I’m not an animal.)

zoe first


Poor Stephen. It was done for him before it had even begun. Rightly or wrongly, there are things people just can’t get over. Age. Height. Bad hair. UKIP.

Arriving at a date and knowing straightaway it’s a non-starter is such a crushing disappointment – you know you have to go through with it because you don’t want to look shallow, but every staccato response to their perfectly innocent and amiable questions is peppered with the annoyance you feel that you’re wasting your time. You don’t want to be mean to them, because it’s not their fault they don’t live up to your expectations – unless they’ve lied on their profile or their pics were 100 years old – and yet to give them false hope wouldn’t be fair. Sometimes I’ve gone home with people from dates like this just because I felt sorry for them. Don’t do this.

step talk

These conversation topics sound like things you’d be asked to draw in a game of Pictionary.

If you’re ever stuck for a conversation, “the horror of renting in London” is quite a good one. It is impossible not to have an opinion on it, whether you’re a millennial trying to save for a deposit for a luxury hutch in Zone 8000, a broken Gen X-er still clinging to Dalston or a baby boomer who couldn’t give three bronze fucks where anyone else lives as long as it’s not anywhere near the five-bedroomed house in W1 they bought for 7p in 1973 and rent out to the precocious child of an oligarch.

“Mad Men.” I liked Mad Men but what I liked even more about Mad Men were actual men, in real life, telling me in very, very granular detail how great Mad Men was, and what we could learn about society from it, and how lovely the styling was, and what fantastic clothes Don Draper wore, and how Don was an icon but obviously things have moved on a lot since then, and what a terrible mother Betty was, and how Peggy’s rise to the top was so inspiring even though is such a shame more women don’t get those chances, and isn’t it great how it’s been such an influence on modern culture and let’s try an Old Fashioned!


zoe talk

It is probably best, on a date, not to slag off what TV programmes people watch, because it’s a little bit snobby and why do you care? Let them live. Unless it’s Hollyoaks – I’m sorry but I can’t have anyone telling me they watch and enjoy that.

I hate wildlife documentaries. I just don’t care. I know that’s wrong – lots of dates used to tell me this, actually, which was always fantastic – but I am not remotely interested in what lions do, or whales, or bears. I don’t kind watching a penguin vomit into the mouth of its young of entertainment value every now and again, and I like David Attenborough generally, I’m not in thrall to the natural world.

Warning: things get really weird now.

step awks

monkey puppet omg shock gif


Sorry, what?

I think I… has anyone got a paper bag handy? I need to… I’m not sure what’s wrong with me, it’s just that I can’t really breathe and… I can’t feel my legs. I…

No. Don’t do this. Even if it looks like they’ve finished. Like vampires coming over the threshold, any food sharing – if you really are going to get into this – has to be by invitation only. Not that this sounds like sharing; she just nipped off to the loo. I am a great believer in not wasting food but if anyone had done this to my dinner I swear to God I would be typing this from the top bunk of a prison cell.

zoe awks

robin hood

Half an hour?! What was he doing? Phoning his bank to sort out a direct debit? I don’t really understand why he had to go and “get drinks” anyway – why isn’t someone serving you?

Maybe this is one of those “half an hour”s that is actually seven to ten minutes, which is how long it takes to get served at a semi-busy bar if you’re not absolutely drop-dead beautiful or over six feet tall. Oh, I have stood at many a bar watching gods and models and giants who just turned up get served before me.

Here’s a tip if you’re around 5’9” and want to get a drink at the bar: send someone else. Someone taller. It’s quicker.

step table


“Yes” is a very funny way of saying “The bastard waited until I had gone to the toilet before attacking my plate and taking my last piece of chicken – I mean who does that? What kind of garbage person are we dealing with here?” But this is Zoë’s story to narrate, not mine.

step best

If this praise were any fainter, it’d be a drawing of a cloud, etched on tracing paper, using a pencil dangling from a bit of string.

zoe best

Nice people are underrated. We forget about them, as we push on and off trains during our morning commute, or roll our eyes at them when they serve us in McDonald’s, or peer over their shoulder while talking to them at parties, looking for someone more attractive, or dangerous, or exciting. And that’s a shame, because being lovely and kind is a lot more admirable than spending two hours getting ready to look beautiful or having a really good job or whatever.

That said, if kindness was really the best thing anyone could say about me – not that there’s any danger of that – I’d burn their house down.

This is a very nice thing for Zoë to say, but “lovely and kind” is what you would say about the care worker looking after your grandma in the old people’s home.

zoe friends

Zoë, readers, is actually best friends with a load of tarantulas, serial killers, and flesh-eating bugs. THAT is how scary her coterie of buddies is.


step made of you

Three boxes ticked here. Style, intelligence and personality are all ? when it comes to compliments. Vivacious is interesting because, frankly, Zoë’s replies have been anything but. Maybe she really brought it on the date; I can imagine her throwing her head back in raucous laughter when Stephen spent half an hour at the bar, before returning to tell her why the Kardashians were trash. Yes.

I suspect that this “vivacious” actually means “young”.

zoe three


stephen made

I have been Stephen on a date, and I have been Zoë. I’m not sure which I preferred. To know, absolutely, that the person sitting opposite you is put off by you because you were born first is quite unsettling. It feels like propaganda, I know, but age really is just a number. Honestly. Inside this slightly more careworn packaging, we are still insecure and a little bit stupid and scared and desperate not to show it. Yes, we can remember Kylie’s first comeback and actually watching Eldorado live on TV, but don’t let that put you off.

By the same token, being trapped at a table with a know-it-all who tells you that “you wouldn’t understand” or that a really important cultural event was “before your time” or “you had to be there” is zero fun too. So you’re older, great! More time on Earth to hone your ability to bore people to death!

But, seriously, if you’re dating people your own age and aren’t getting anywhere, go younger for a bit, or try someone older. You don’t have to know who’s no.1 in the charts or remember rationing to be relevant – your minds should align, not your birthdays.

step go on


HAHAHA. This is my favourite thing.  I’ll assume Zoë was faking her tiredness to bring a relatively dignified close to the evening. I certainly hope so. Zoë is 25.

Tiredness does not exist when you are 25. It’s not a thing. Save tiredness for when you’re straining to open a bag of Werther’s Original on that boating holiday you’re on with the husband you’ve been with for 28 years but don’t really love. Don’t be tired at 25 – it’s an absolute insult to those of us who can’t stay up long enough for the second episode of Family Guy.

step kiss


I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone to kiss you on the lips if they’ve shown zero interest in you throughout the date, Stephen. After all that, even queueing at the bar for half an hour, you didn’t get so much as a tongue sarnie, eh? Shame.

(I know what Stephen actually means. Please don’t write in.)

zoe change

*reaches for Guardian Blind Date York Notes on bookshelf YET AGAIN*
*thumbs through it in bitter concentration*
*comes to section entitled “Oh my God I can’t think of anything to say that won’t sound like I was a hostage negotiating my way out of a kidnap, and I can’t really be honest and say what I’d change would be his HEAD, and his age, and everything else, and let’s not forget that chicken thing”*
*answers as above*


step score

zoe score

polite applause

These scores are the equivalent of getting into a cab, pecking the date on the cheek, then leaning over to the cabbie and saying “JUST DRIVE”.

So after all that, the theft of the chicken, the Mad Men diatribe, not even one horrendously post-lad mention of the fact Zoë sews knickers, and half an hour at the sodding bar waiting for them to mix a Raspberry Collins, will our dynamic duo see each other again?


zoe meet

not ever

step meet

Olivia Newton John Physical react

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 lovely. 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. 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. If anything, I want to know what the hell took Stephen so long at the bar.

Another note: There’ll be no blog on 11th June.

Photograph: Felix Clay, Linda Nylind, both for the Guardian


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  1. What is happening on 11th June? Why must we be deprived? Cancels Saturday morning routine and sulks (which is horribly unattractive at any age let alone in my “Miss Haversham Years”) That is a very long winded way of saying your blog is the cornerstone of so many a Saturday morning routine, and thank you so much for all the LOLs and enjoy the 11th June (through gritted teeth)

  2. “If this praise were any fainter, it’d be a drawing of a cloud, etched on tracing paper, using a pencil dangling from a bit of string.”

    I only subscribed a mere 5 months ago but this is my favourite line (so far) …and there has been plenty of competition..

  3. “If this praise were any fainter, it’d be a drawing of a cloud, etched on tracing paper, using a pencil dangling from a bit of string.”
    i also thought this line was amazing. great, witty, punchy writing.

  4. I’ve only just turned up to the party (nothing new there but at least I have arrived) and found your blog so I will now be spending the next few hours reading all the archives whilst waiting in an airport lounge for a flight in 4 hours. Apologies now to anyone sitting next to me as I will be laughing at a phone screen and if I pick up any tips I could be trying them out on you.

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