Jen and Jeremy

December. A month of too-soon nostalgia, everybody winding down, sore throats, and retail panic only made more bearable because there are pretty lights everywhere and there’s at least one roast dinner guaranteed near the end of it if we’re lucky.

The trouble with being surrounded by year-end reviews and people staring misty-eyed into Christmas trees while they sip thoughtfully on eggnog is you start to look back upon your own year and what you’ve done, especially if you’re single. That guy I kissed and then walked away from in July, hoping he’d follow – did I try too hard to be mysterious? The woman who texted me keenly three times during the Olympics but I was too busy to reply – was she the one? December brings it all: gold, frankincense, myrrh, and regret. Don’t be fooled by memories and should’ve-beens scented with cinnamon and pine needles, however – you were probably right first time.

Nervously looking at each other over a polystyrene cup of mulled cider in a woeful popup in Southwark this week are 26-year-old lawyer Jen and Jeremy, 29, a chartered surveyor. Well.

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Jeremy does not appear to be looking into the lens of the camera which I always take to be a very bad omen, but perhaps he muddles through. Read the date and find out, before I lean in to inspect a bauble and somehow “accidentally” bring the whole tree crashing down.

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I was talking about this the other day, how important it is to be with someone who make you laugh. I totally agree, but it depends how they’re doing it. If they’re the kind of person who can’t take anything seriously, ever, then no thank you – it would be like dating Mr Blobby. Similarly, if all their laughs come from waspish humour and pithy putdowns, this can get old very quickly – just ask my boyfriend. No, if you’re going to hang on to someone, your comedy routine has to be varied, the perfect mix of highs and lows, pathos and bathos, sleaze and wit, gallows and end-of-the-pier ready. No pressure.

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Outgoing. You don’t hear this much anymore, do you? I suppose it can be interpreted as a bit of a diss these days – nobody likes a show-off. Well, not the old-fashioned kind of show-off anyway. It’s perfectly OK to photograph yourself on an hourly basis (clothing optional) and document every single moment of your life on social media, but be a bit outré in polite company for more than five minutes and your companions will be drawing their fingers across their throats and dragging you on WhatsApp the next morning.

So I’m pleased to see “outgoing” make a comeback, right at the fag-end of 2016. Let’s be a bit more of that for the rest of the year, in whichever way you like; we’ve earned it.

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“His course on how to cook Christmas dinner on a barbecue” – can anyone else smell that? No, it’s not the faint aroma of burning turkey or the distinct whiff of pigs in blankets rolling off a fatty grill into powdery ash, never to be seen again. It’s… well, let’s look at the evidence. A Christmas dinner on a “BBQ” – where would you do such a thing? Yes, that slightly malodorous pong assaulting your nostrils is the hot air of someone chatting about their gap year Down Under, isn’t it? Just hold your nose until it passes.

“My friends are running out of interest.”

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They were never, ever interested. Unless we have some kind of blood or emotional connection to the infant, or are longing for a child ourselves, or are casting an am-dram production of Bugsy Malone, you may as well show us pictures of teapots, or drawer knobs, or dead senators. We don’t care.

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New on BuzzFeed: Five Conversation Topics You Didn’t Know Were the Perfect Catalyst For Finally Getting Round to Doing Yourself In.

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Cecelia Ahern couldn’t have written it any better.

But, seriously, how does this happen? Table booked under a certain name, you arrive at restaurant, give name, are seated at table by waiter who takes an instant dislike to you for no reason, you wait, other person turns up and gives the name and is seated opposite by said same miserable waiter. How hard can it be?

“I arrived first” is hanging in the air like a champagne glass about to shatter, isn’t it? Jen is not happy about arriving first.

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The best thing. Did you ever imagine a world where a pair humans  could say the best thing about each other was “New Zealand”? Nothing else, no other flutter of the heart, except the palpitations brought on by the mere mention of New Zealand?

This, of course, is an answer given when there is nothing else to say, or don’t want to give anything away. If there is nothing to say about someone, and you don’t want to throw your head back in fury and start typing about the stupefying conversations, the basic anecdotes and dreary attempts at quirkiness, then FINE. Whatever. But if you’re playing your cards close to your chest, you’re in the wrong place. The chaste PG double-feature is in the auditorium next door – we’re here for the blood and gore, and my popcorn is getting cold.

Being from or living in New Zealand the best thing about someone?  The very best? The zenith? The summit of excellence? Don’t be ridiculous. You’ll be telling me you connected with your soulmate over a shared interest in the big Nando’s in Centenary Square, Bradford, next. Get out.

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cruel-intentions

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Why not? Why. Not. “Sure.”

I think I could be in a room with Jeremy where the temperature was 55°C and I still wouldn’t undo the top button of my blouse.

You can’t go through your life shrugging your way into social situations, Jeremy – it’s bad for your posture.

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Kind, like a relative who brings grapes to your hospital bedside and doesn’t spit the stalks back into the bag.
Funny, like that smell.
Enthusiastic, like the person who finished last in a sack race but is still wildly excited to be offered a funsize Mars bar as consolation.

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Smart, like a lovely two-piece (mauve) in the window at C&A in Leicester in 1983. (If there was no C&A in Leicester in 1983, please do not write in; I don’t give a fuck. But I think that’s where Adrian Mole got his school trousers so there very probably was, thank you.)
Funny, again. I don’t have another simile for this one, sorry.
Attractive, like oh so you’re not actually dead in the crotch area, Jeremy – I was beginning to wonder.

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Confident, great, yes I imagine you could say Jeremy’s “smart” alluded to confidence, but here we are again with the “scatty”. I don’t have a photographic recall of all the Blind Dates but I am almost positive that the guy on the date NEVER says he thought the woman was scatty, or a chatterbox, or a bit mad. And yet here it is, week after week.

Men never have to check their behaviour. I mean, see Jeremy’s answer below. “Who knows?” He doesn’t give a fuck. And why should he? He’s never been taught that he must. Women, however, there isn’t one thing they do that isn’t scrutinised and pulled apart and fretted over by everyone male and female – whether it’s how they behave in public, what they wear, who they have sex with and how often, their cooking skills, their fertility, their marital status, their hair, everything. Everything.

And this is why, almost every single week, when the woman on the date is asked to stop reviewing the other person and consider instead how she came across, she instantly looks for the negative. Even if it is nonsense, she will hunt it out. There is absolutely nothing about Jen’s answers that could be considered remotely scatty; she is from New Zealand FFS, and most of those women do not take ANY shit.

The worst thing about this use of “scatty” is that it immediately follows a “confident”, something women hardly EVER say in this column, and you’re like YAY and unfurling the ticker tape – before you see the door isn’t actually closed and there’s someone else coming in. Oh, look, it’s good old “scatty”.

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Anyway, we need to stop making women think that they’re in some way awful or annoying, or have to invent ridiculous characteristics for themselves just so men won’t think they’re too big for their boots. It is bullshit. It hurts us all.

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See? Maybe he doesn’t even want to guess. Why would he?

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Imagine being in your 20s and even having any concept of “late”. You have plenty of time to be in bed by midnight when you have no other option. Stay out, have another drink, sweep your fringe out of your eyes, flirt with a barman. (Full disclosure: I left a Christmas party at 6:30 pm the other day.)

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Why? It sounds like the most exhilarating thing to have happened to you all evening.

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Regular readers will know I am not fond of using food as deflection. At least Jen was honest; the chat about cows made her want to dress in a turkey costume and go dancing at Bernard Matthews’ largest abattoir. If the evening was a fucking dud, then say so. Don’t blame your bad menu choices.

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Fackin’ ‘ell. Six point five. There’s brusque Kiwi, and there’s Kiwi who won’t just be not taking your calls, she’ll be setting fire to her mobile phone to make sure she doesn’t answer by mistake.

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Oh just get out. Enough enough enough. What a waste of all our time.

Will you meet again? God, I couldn’t care less but we’re here now. I’m guessing Jen is already in witness protection and Jeremy’s going to let us know his true feelings in a couple of hundred years, just as soon as he’s cleared his threat and found the camera lens.

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Empire wine throw punch Cookie

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Photograph: James Drew Turner; Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Note 1: 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 do this live on a Saturday morning. My dad went to New Zealand and said it was marvellous. 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. 

Note 2: The Impeccable blog is now taking a break.

 

 

Marco and David

There was a blackout in Soho yesterday evening. Everything was off: street-lamps, traffic lights, shop signs. Restaurants and bars were either turfing everyone out or making the best of it with candles. It was so strange to wander through it in the dark, people lighting their way with iPhone torches or the dim glow of a Grindr screen. “Ooh it’s like the blitz,” said some 20-year-olds who once read about the Blitz on the back of a Coco Pops packet. A few years ago, the prospect of making your way through Soho’s sinful alleys in the dark might have been exciting for a gay man. Whose hands would grab you in the dark? Who would you bump into? Would it be a handsome hunk, a creepy old perv or, more likely, a pickpocket? We would perhaps have made the most of the unexpected dark, knowing that the light didn’t really want us unless we were behaving ourselves.

Thankfully those days are gone and now we know we’re as safe as houses in Soho. Gay men who might once have felt up a stranger behind Norman’s Coach and Horses are all at home, curled up on the sofa, planning their wedding – almost certainly plumping for cupcakes instead of a cake – or at the gym doing “leg day”, or they’re running screaming to find a bar with power on because they were halfway through a Medium post and the wifi went off in Costa. As alluring as the past may seem, I certainly don’t long to be sexually assaulted in the dark, and the march toward equality means that everyone is now freer than ever to be as boring as they like.

That first brick thrown at Stonewall may have been for freedom, and justice, and equality, but the second was for normcore, nights in, pictures of pornstar martinis, #instagay, and getting matching haircuts at Tommy Guns.

Feeling their way through the dark this week are Marco, a 35-year-old buyer manager who looks VERY familiar – maybe he’s been on TV – and David, 33, a global health adviser who also looks familiar. I dread to think, but I checked the spreadsheet and I haven’t had sex with either of them, so that’s a good start.

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Read what happened on the date before I turn the lights out and throw a tarantula on the table.

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The “far right” after David’s name is making me scream, especially in that T-shirt, as he is anything but.

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Liberté! Egalité! Inanité!

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“Very Italian-looking.” Perhaps Marco arrived at the date on a Vespa and his opening gambit was “Whens’a YOUR Dolmio day?” He doesn’t look particularly Italian to me, mainly because most Italians kind of look like everyone else, but here’s what I think happened. David got the email from the Guardian saying his date would be called Marco and he’s gone into obvious stereotyping overdrive – instantly dismissing I imagine, the scores of eastern Europeans also called Marco – and just decided his date would be Italian-looking. I mean, if a beard and dark hair means you’re Italian-looking then Vauxhall on a Saturday night could perhaps apply to be twinned with Rome.

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Nice. Nice. Ni— Easy-going. Hmmm. As a first impression. How? “Yeah, dude, sit where you like. I’m easy.” Was David sucking the last out of a joint as Marco marched in? Was he asleep? The only way I can tell someone is easy-going from my very first look at them is either they haven’t washed their hair or they’re wearing what can only be described as “floordrobe”.

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“London life” is one of my least favourite conversation topics ever. Ever. Each time someone starts one up, I’d love to raise my hand and stop them. “It’s OK, I’ve got this,” I’d say, maybe. “Let’s save some time and get this out of the way so we can talk about something more interesting and meaningful, shall we? This is all we’ll have to say:
– It takes an hour to get everywhere, yes, no matter where you’re going.
– House prices. Yeah. Terrible.
– But, no, you can’t be expected to move to zone 6. Not until you have a baby anyway.
– So many people.
– Tube. Awful.
– Bus. Worse.
– Boris Bikes. So dangerous. And they don’t wear helmets.
– Nobody talks to each other, no.
– Shop assistants hate you. Especially in Zara, yes.
– No, I don’t have a favourite restaurant. I’ll just say whichever one Time Out are wanging on about this month, although I haven’t been.
– Yes, you have to go east for the decent bars. I never go east.
– Hipsters are terrible, yes.
– So dirty.
– Bloody Heathrow.
– The Tube. Again.
– I’D DIE IF I HAD TO LIVE ANYWHERE ELSE. YES, ME TOO. Okay, great. Done. Now, what do you think of Madonna?”

Bingo.

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Anyone dangerously near the edge of their seat may want to sit back a little, for their own safety.

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I hope David was all right after his fall from his bike, but I have to ask: why do you have your bike with you? Maybe the Guardian only told him about the date on the day, and David was unprepared so had his bike with him and was reluctant to leave it at work – understandable. Or, maybe, David was one of those… cyclists we hear so much about.

Whenever I’d turn up to a pub for a date and see a bike chained up outside, my stomach would drop. The ultimate passion-killer, a sleek metal cockblocker, a gooseberry with a saddle. One of the more decent takeaways from the original Sex and the City book is the critique of boys on bikes. Not because, as it was in the book, they probably can’t afford cabs or anything like that, but because the bike gets in the way – it always does, unless you meet a fellow cycling nut.

Don’t bring your bike to a date. You may as well say you’re not expecting any chemistry, that spontaneity is out of the window. There shall be no “let’s just have one more”, no whisky kisses in the Soho blackout, no avoiding eye contact on the Tube ride home together, no duvet twisted this way and that in a stranger’s bedroom. There will only be a polite peck on the cheek after two Coronas, an awkward exchange of niceties on the slow trundle back to the station and then one of you alone, balls freezing as you pedal down Hackney Road, with all the night’s missed opportunities whirring around you like a coastal gale.

The only bike you need to bring on a date is yourself, honey.

As for the wetting himself, I once went on a date and on going to the loo decided to multitask and and answer a text from a friend about how it was going. “Not too badly, I guess,” I began to type, as I urinated down the entire left leg of my jeans, before slowly deleting the text and instead typing, “I just pissed all down my leg. Cheers.”

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He had his bike with him, Marco. You may as well have not turned up.

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But otherwise no.

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GAY PRIDE!

Aw, this is a nice thing to say. Is Marco actually Italian? I hope his friends are like those proper Italians you get in London who wear huge puffa jackets all year round and sit outside cafes smoking in all weathers and drinking the tiniest cup of coffee they can find. Dating non-Brits who live in London always gives you a fresh perspective on the place, both positive and negative. People who say that Londoners never talk to strangers need to sit at the next table to a bunch of Spanish/Italian/Moroccan/Indian/American/Brazilian/anywhere friends for half an hour. Never French, though.

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SOPHISTICATED like the ambassador who is really spoiling us with this Ferrero Rocher.
SMILEY like I don’t fancy him.
CHATTY like I don’t fancy him at all.

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POSITIVE like a pregnancy test in a soap opera inexplicably left where anyone can find it, usually before a big event like a wedding or a plane crash or both.
SMART like a guy who I’m assuming was not wearing that T-shirt on the actual date.
NOMADIC like someone who’s just bored you to the point of coma about their various travels.

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Didn’t mention it once, David. Perhaps try leaving the Eight-Hour Cream on for nine?

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This isn’t really a lasting impression I’d be doing my utmost to leave but it’s good to aim low occasionally.

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I’m really starting to feel quite strongly about how much I hate this bike.

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I’ve been reading this over for an hour and half or so and I’ve certainly had enough of you both. I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel after four hours and only caramelised aubergine to sate me.

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😷😷😷😷😷😷😷😷😷😷😷😷😷😷

God, this sodding, fucking, useless bike. See what I mean? Go on a date with a guy who’s got a bike outside and you are on the date with the pair of them. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Not only do you have his metal mistress waiting for him, gently rusting in glee at the thought only she’ll be getting a ride off him tonight, you also have to deal with everything that comes with it.

Newsflash to people who cycle to dates: you smell the very opposite of great when you arrive. You’re kind of sweating and there’s a sour cloud around you as you peel off your lycra and unclip your helmet. Then you leave your cycling leggings on and slowly braise in the suffocating warmth of  heat-trapping fibres until finally your date asks if you’re OK and need some water, before lightly sniffing up and asking what that pong is.

Oh, and don’t forget David actually pissed himself in the toilet too, so those leggings will be feeling F R E S H. Bloody hell.

Cycling leggings? You may as well have worn a chastity belt, David.

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You’d never have got past all that Lycra, Marco.

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A 9 but no kiss because you “didn’t get that vibe”? Then why a 9? A 9 at least has potential for a kiss. You can’t give a 9 to someone you’re not interested in; fucking hell you’d never survive as a Strictly Come Dancing judge, David.

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I’m going to be honest with you, I totally forgot Marco was on this date. What has he even said? I feel like my eyes have been wallpapered over with woodchip and painted apple blossom white. David may have brought that bloody bike, but at least it’s given us something to talk about. Marco, bless him, has been mere scenery.

Gay guys, if you’re going on a Guardian Blind Date, get drunk, get hard and never go home. We’re relying on you to keep it real when the lights go out.

I would say I’m intrigued by the notion they might meet again but all I can picture is two pre-packed sandwiches sitting on a park bench.

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DO YOU HAVE A BIKE, DAVID? YOU SHOULD’VE SAID.

Boys with bikes do love everyone they date to be on bikes too, so they try to convert you. The two-wheeled cult is eternally looking for new members to whiz through traffic lights with or unexpectedly mount pavements alongside.

Here’s a pro-tip or a life-hack from somebody who’s been on dates with cyclists: the non-cyclist of the two is only saying they’d be interested in buying a bike because they’re hoping to bone you. They do not want to buy a bike – they want to ride you like one.

“We come from slightly different worlds” – Italy vs the UK? Gryffindor vs Hufflepuff? Different echelons of Doctor Who Fandom? Who can say?!

You’re two white gay guys who look almost EXACTLY like each other – how different can these worlds be?

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Bikes, I’m guessing. Oh, Marco. He’s got you. We’ve lost you to them now.

Enough.

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Photograph: Graeme Robertson 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 do this live on a Saturday morning. Look, I like cycling and cyclists just fine, but I have been stung too many times by these Lycra-clad wasps – first dates have to be bike-free. Insist upon it. 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. 

Joe and Astrid

It’s becoming harder to get out of bed, sometimes, to be a part of our brave new world. Life isn’t as much fun when you find yourself on the losing side, over and over again. “I don’t want to wake up in the morning, but I’ve got to face the day,” as the Vaccines once so wisely sang. It is scant comfort that someone, somewhere is enjoying this chaos and disorder, is invigorated by it – these are not my people.

Hoping to find someone on their wavelength and free of garbage opinions this week are 24-year-old economist Joe, and Astrid, 25, an estate manager. Are they reason enough for us to swing our legs out from under the duvet this week, or will they have us praying that climate-change armageddon speeds up and obliterates us all?

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Read what happened on the date, before I blunder in on a hover board and ruin the whole evening.

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Reaching for the sky, as ever. Next.

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Right. As regular readers will know, I am very big on punctuality. Huge. I insist upon it for myself, hope for it in others and judge those whom it eludes. I’m sorry, I do. I get furious when other people make me late, because I have very, very often been the one standing there waiting for others to arrive. Oh, how I’d laugh and shrug it off when they eventually turned up 10–15 minutes after we were supposed to meet, a flurry of air kisses and half-hearted apologies and little white lies like “I’m not sure what time we said” or “I couldn’t get on the first Tube” or “It took me ages to get here; I came out of the wrong exit”. I’d tell them it didn’t matter, even though I knew they were late because they’d stopped off at a shop on the way – the carrier bag usually gives it away, friends – or had decided to have another piece of toast before leaving the house, or, as the slightly puffy eyes would tell me, had plumped for an extra half-hour in bed. Their time, you see, is precious, but yours is not, because it doesn’t belong to them and they feel no need to  consider it.

We very rarely say to people “Don’t be late” unless it’s something serious like a meeting, or a funeral, or the Oscars, because it makes us sound overbearing, like we’re ordering people about. We are accused of being controlling – “what does a few minutes matter, bloody hell” – but we need to say to people not to be late because your time is precious and it is finite and there is not enough of it to waste waiting outside the Argyll Street exit of Oxford Circus (the one next to the stir fry takeaway) for someone who was always going to be late, whatever time you said. Don’t wait. 10 minutes, if you’re feeling generous, then a text telling them you had to go.

That said, Joe sounds like he’s talking about a train here. And he does sound a bit controlling, actually. It does feel like we’re reading from a faded computer printout of a machine that was invented by accident in a lab and is capable of taking over the world. “She was dressed very smartly and we arrived at the same time” – you wouldn’t want it as a review quote on the cover of your romantic novel, would you?

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They never do, Astrid. Before  you go on a date, remember to Google Ted Bundy, or perhaps search for some American Psycho GIFs. They don’t all look like Fred West or the Yorkshire Ripper, you know.

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24 and 25, apparently. I like to imagine they were just pretending to be grownups, like they were in a Wendy house or eating Monster Munch off a plastic plate from an A La Carte Kitchen set, and being all la-di-da before collapsing into heaps of giggles. Board games and patterned clothing are conversations 60-year-olds would have while barrelling round the Edinburgh Woollen Mill sale.

Your surroundings influence your chat on a date, however. If you’re in a “buzzy” bar in east London, I dare say your love for Monopoly and penchant for golfing jumpers won’t get a look-in. These two were eating in the restaurant of that mortifying court-themed hotel on Great Marlborough Street, the one with the bar that has actual police cells in it. The restaurant still has all its original features and is laid out like a courthouse with tables cleverly added where they can fit them. I don’t know what I’d have done on finding myself eating here, on a blind date, aged 24, but I do hope I could’ve pulled some better conversation topics out of my then very-limited “bag”. The funny thing about this restaurant is that if it were in, say, Essex, it would be tacky af, but somehow it gets a free pass because it’s in London and cocktails are a million pounds.

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fascinating

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disrespectful

I’ve said this before, but one of the easiest ways to unnerve someone, or communicate you don’t like them, or that they’re irrelevant to you, is to pretend to forget their name, or ask it more than once. Sometimes, often even, it is genuine, and you can usually tell those moments from the fake. I have quite a bad memory for names, but never ask for it more than once. People tend not to remember my name, or they get it wrong; it’s just one of those things. It can be a hard fact to swallow, that you’re not particularly memorable, and while I don’t care that much any more, as it helps to slip under the radar sometimes,  it teaches you that it really does bother some, that it’s very important to them you remember their name. And once they’ve revealed that, you can have lots of fun with it. Seriously, get someone’s name wrong more than once at a gathering and watch them simmer.

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The Oxford English Dictionary press office – the thirstiest in the game – may want to contact Astrid with an up-to-date definition of “overlook”, because she appears to be misusing it.

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Oh, Joe. Go on, tell us, what is it about your friends, your clutch of bros and lads and maaaaates, that would puzzle Astrid? Are they too boisterous for her? Maybe fond of telling a few “off-colour” jokes and doing a bit of swearing? Astrid is an estate manager in Windsor – she very likely meets about 100 dickheads a day, at all levels of age, class, wit and intelligence. I doubt very much that your bunch of righteous, black-sock wearing, graduate scheme dudes – no doubt all imperially terrible at ironing, cleaning up, handling their beer, eating anything other than pizza, paying bills on time and, crucially, talking to women – would faze her in the slightest.

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QUIRKY like a patterned jumper.
FUNNY like that time your bodacious best bud got drunk on, like, a pint of wine and did that super middle-class amazing rite of passage thing that I wouldn’t understand.
PUNCTUAL like Mussolini’s breakfast.

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EASYGOING like nobody who ever said that word ever was, ever.
INTELLIGENT like a self-checkout machine that refuses to acknowledge you’ve put the chewing gum into the bagging area.
CHATTY like a child in the queue at the Post Office asking you why the man in front doesn’t have any hair and “smells funny”.

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I don’t know, but with his punctuality obsession, mortification over wearing the wrong shirt and then spilling food down it, and now his interrogation, Joe is starting to sound about as joyful and “easygoing” as Herr Flick from ‘Allo ‘Allo.

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Astrid has no time for Snapchat or Twitter, and yes, her phone screen – a Nokia 3210 – is cracked because she’s too busy to get it fixed because of all the horses and stags and lawns and stuff to worry about in her job. I’m always amazed, impressed or envious even, when I meet someone who is so off-grid, and that they don’t care about it. I can’t think of anything worse, but then if everybody was on social media, there’d be no room for all our terrific opinions, would there?

astrid-go-on

Ah, the train. That train. I know that train. I have boarded it and felt relief, I’ve got on it and felt regret, I have accidentally missed it, I have purposely missed it, I have pretended it doesn’t exist. If there is true chemistry, a train won’t hold you back. What are timetables, and quiet carriages, and freezing cold ticket halls, when it comes to that tingle of passion and excitement you feel when you know you won’t be going home tonight? The train is an excuse, your get-out clause. Sometimes, like on this date I’m thinking, we really need that train.

joe-change

ast-change

madonna-dick-bigger

THIS is what you’d change? Your food? Your shirt? This is all you’d alter, at the age of 24 and 25, about the entire evening? You’d keep the rest? An insipid meeting of minds in an overpriced fun-pub with nibbles, chatting amiably, yet dully, about the Yorkshire sodding Moors and Scrabble? You’d hang on to the total lack of rapport or, dare I say it, spark (!) and the utterly tang-free end to the evening, where each of you trundled off, before 11pm I bet, back to your boltholes to sigh and shrug at your flatmates that it was “OK” before firing up Netflix and watching two episodes back-to-back of benumbing borefest The Crown, before settling into bed? You wouldn’t change that? No?

You wouldn’t fancy swapping them out for a girl in violently applied lipstick with a dirty laugh who said she had a bit of coke in her bra and tickets for a club in a converted sewer, or a bestubbled charmer in trousers one size too small who had a magnum of champagne stitched to the inside of his lapel and tickets for the same club, but in a VIP area high above the bubonic crowd below? No? Definitely not? Horses for courses, I guess.

joe-score

Ugh. That point-five. “I don’t want to score her a 7 because that is a gentleman’s 1, but I don’t want her to get the impression I’m interested in her, so an 8 is out of the question. Yeah, 7.5.”

It’s still a 7, Joe. I didn’t just fall out of a sodding tree.

astrid-score

Astrid’s rule of thumb is never to give a score that you wouldn’t happily write on a rosette and pin to a horse, or a cake, or the jacket of a minor royal, so she has very kindly gone for an 8, despite the evening showing as much sexual promise as a bale of towels tumbling off the top shelf in Debenhams.

Last and, by the look if it, very very much the least, we discover whether our star-crossed lovers will ever meet again. Perhaps they could have a second date in another themed restaurant – is TGI Friday’s ironically cool yet?

joe-meet

blake-roll-eyes

“Logistically”, like he’s talking about building the pyramids instead of, you know, getting on a train. However, he’s right, you know, east London is too far for any self-respecting person to ever want to go, unless it was Jake Gyllenhaal waiting for them at the other end. (Sorry Joe.)

If you really want to be with someone, you’d make it work. Just SAY you can’t be arsed, FFS – we’re not here for long. Or perhaps Astrid is from Windsor on the South Island of New Zealand, and has thus far kept this under wraps.

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dominique-alexis-2

Bullet dodged, perhaps, Astrid.

Photograph: Graeme Robertson; 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 do this live on a Saturday morning. Astrid, and Joe, even though you are wasting your 20s with relish, you seem nice – live a little, though, eh? For me. 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. 

Abolade and Sam

Hasn’t it been the longest week of what feels like the very worst year? I am always very reluctant to say things like “I can’t wait for 2016 to be over”, as if it’s the digits making up the year that are the problem, because it gives us false hope that things will magically change once the last firework on New Year’s Eve has dive-bombed pathetically to the ground. Maybe things aren’t terrible because it’s 2016 – perhaps this is just the way things are now.

But has the rain ever felt so hard? Has it really been as cold as this before? Was your milk ever so sour as it was in 2016? Has the news really been so relentless and depressing before – how some of us must long for a slow news day. In 2016, if a cat were to get stuck up a tree, it would likely have a suicide vest strapped to it and reveal it voted for Trump, before falling on its owner’s head and killing them. 2016. I’m not saying it’s all your fault, but at least have a day or two off in your final weeks.

The last thing we need now, then, is two doughnuts whinging about school nights, too many glasses of wine and dying for a “lovely chat and a tasty meal”. Hope arrives in the form of 31-year-old lawyer Abolade and Sam, 30, a senior merchandiser.

abolade-sam-full

Yes, that’s right – we have escaped the media bubble, which means we get a break this week from the usual tryhard Olympics. Read what happened on the date before I walk in and say “2016” over and over again until someone starts crying.

abo-sam-key

abo-hope

queen

TOPICAL.

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Fun? A night out? What, no “good food and good company”? Did we… wish hard enough? Have your dreams come true? Will this week’s couple actually NOT be two bores who were looking for the Made in Chelsea auditions but got into the wrong lift? Hold on.

abo-first

sam-first

No, you’re not seeing double – they really did say exactly the same things as each other. A complete match.

Smiling. I don’t do it often. I don’t have a natural smile. Smiling makes my face look rounder, and I have dimples, so I kind of look like a Shar Pei – and that’s before you even get to the other lines and wrinkles and potholes I acquired at a knockdown price throughout my advancing years.

It’s one of the very few times I feel for Victoria Beckham, when she tries to smile. She looks like she just killed somebody, hid them under the floorboards and is trying to “act natural”.

abo-talk

sam-talk

neighbours_a

While it’s a bit meta, I too have often wondered how they put people together for the Blind Date column. Is it an age thing? Do they match by job, or background? Do you get to say the type of person you’re after? Who can say?

They do tend to throw the media wanks together in this column – and we get a load of those, don’t we? If Narcissus were up and about in 2016, he’d own a start-up that didn’t pay its interns and would be applying for Blind Date. Oh yes.

abo-awks

Really? Nothing for us? Awkward-free. Cool. I mean, I am glad, I know I should be glad. It’s not like I’m sitting here, shivering under a fleecy throw while my central heating plays its usual mind games, waiting for you to say something  I can latch upon. You had an evening totally devoid of awkwardness, which, for you, is perfect. I am glad. Good.

chewbacca-2

sam-awks

What’s it got to do with you? If he wants to order lamb then… let him? Unless… no. Oh, no. Were you going to share? On reading this I dashed over to the website of the restaurant they ate in pursued the menu. The prices for “plates” – nobody says “mains” any more because it doesn’t sound like it can afford a second car and a dishwasher – seem to be quite cheap (for Soho, anyway; I have lived here 14 years and am ridiculously assimilated) so I’ll assume they were getting “a few things to share”. And this is what happens when you have to share. It causes potential conflict in a night that so far has been so uneventful, it makes after-school detention sound like the last days of Studio 54.

A Post-it note with “let’s share a starter” written on it could start a fight in an empty room – it is food-sharing that will bring down civilisation, I’m sure of it.

Don’t like the look of the lamb, Sam? The entire meal is free; push the fucking boat out, get a “plate” all to yourself. Christ.

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sam-table

beige-high-heels

It’s been one of those weeks where you could quite easily have expected the Blind Date column to end with one of the daters running over the other, so perhaps we should be grateful that this week we have two perfectly nice people enjoying an evening that’s neither awkward or dogged by terrible table manners. “Impeccable”, even!

Perhaps we should spend the rest of the column politely tittering at everything they say, like workers in a community centre would do should Princess Anne come to visit. How odd it must be for the Royals – everywhere they go, all they have to do is say anything, literally anything, and even if it has the faintest whiff of being amusing, everyone around them will collapse into paroxysms of mirth. Slapping their thigh and clutching their chest in hysteria, just because Princess Michael of Kent said “sausage” in a chemotherapy ward.

Let’s struggle on.

abo-best

BANTER. Here we go. Banter means so many things to so many different people, and in the process, it’s kind of lost all meaning. The main strand of banter seems to be the ability to both hurl and take light insults in a joking manner, without going too far or being too weak. Quite what the sweet spot is for the perfect level of banter, I have no idea.

Whenever I think of banter, I think of men wearing white sport socks, in a locker room, over spraying with Lynx or vigorously towelling their balls and pointing into the air with every syllable. Del Boy, but on protein shakes.

I don’t like banter. I hate it in fact. Banter is the tarpaulin you throw over words; nobody says what they means. It’s even worse than repression, and saying nothing at all, because banter demands to be heard, even though you know it’s empty, and shallow. Banter is what we do when we’re too frightened to say who we really are. Show yourself.

“It’s just banter.” OK.

she-ra-1

sam-best

I love it when people get on and have a good time, but I tell you what I don’t like – I’m not talking about Abolade and Sam in particular, here, btw – and that’s someone three tables away from me in a Soho restaurant screaming laughing at each other while I can’t hear a word my boyfriend is saying. I don’t know how people do it, or why they want to be so obnoxious. Why MUST the world hear you?

abo-friends

Not exactly dripping with enthusiasm, but I’ll take it this is meant sincerely.

abo-three

FUN like this has not been to write.
ADVENTUROUS like literally zero answers in this column.
OPEN like the fire I want to throw myself into.

sam-three

HOT like a burn, which I’ve been unable to produce this week.
HILARIOUS like nothing on this page.
SOPHISTICATED like a cat that chews with its mouth closed.

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sam-made-of-you

hm-911

Here it is. Regular as clockwork. Tale as old as time. It’s the weekly “woman assumes anything other than perfect poise or borderline mute behaviour will mean a guy thinks she’s too talkative or insane”.

To Abolade’s credit, he doesn’t appear to sign up to bullshit, remarking on Sam’s laugh and how fun she was, but even then Sam still worries she hasn’t come across well. I don’t know where the change in mindset is going to come from; it seem to be so ingrained. We all stress from time to time about whether people think we’re awful or not. Despite what some people tell you, it doesn’t simply evaporate with old age; you can still be comfortable in your own skin and yet be concerned someone thought you were a douche. In fact, if you don’t have the occasional wobble about your own behaviour, you’re probably a sociopath. But that this idea is so widely shared, especially among women, makes me feel really sad.

I’m going to assume that Sam’s “worried” here is just a mild cringe she’s laughing off and not something that’s keeping her awake at night, although I know, for a lot of people, it does exactly that. I’d never say that it doesn’t matter what people think of you, because it does, of course, but sometimes that opinion is out of your hands and, most of the time, down to their own petty prejudices. It doesn’t mean you have to change your behaviour. Let them adapt to you; there is always room for manoeuvre in the right person.

We are all a little mad at times. I pity those who aren’t – how awful for them to be so utterly composed and restrained 24/7. Cereal boxes carry a warning to avoid people being disappointed when they open them: “Contents may settle during transit”. Feel sad for the cereal box people. My contents never settle, even when I’m standing still. They shake. Who wants to be a cereal box? Let’s never stop shaking.

(Edit: to be clear, I don’t want people to think I’m genuinely mystified why the women in the column say this kind of thing. I’m not; I’m just exasperated. There are some good comments below from women readers about this. Go take a look.)

abo-change

Yes, Abolade! Thursday, for the uninitiated, is the “risk it all” night for dating. Anything can happen on a Thursday. It’s so tantalisingly close to the weekend, but without all the pressure of a date on a Friday or Saturday. Friday and Saturday dates mean business, sure, but they’re pretty blatant – you’ve nowhere to be the next day except on top of one another. Thursdays have promise, but they also have doubt. Thursday dates are exciting because you might just end up with that second shot of Patrón and think “fuck it, let’s go to a club” because tomorrow is Friday and you can always sit crying at your desk with a bacon sandwich to get through it.

Thursdays, yes. Perfect. Sundays too. Days that are DTF but don’t like to tell the world about it.

sam-change

ashton

A BIT FUCKING LATE NOW, SAM.

abo-score

A shy 10.

sam-score

Eight. Hmmm. He was “hot” three questions ago, Sam. Unless that “hot” was the sexless kind of hot my straight female friends say to me when I try on a new pair of jeans or a top that “really sets off my eyes”.

Either this is a cautious 9, or Sam didn’t think Abolade was hot at all. But why would she say it? Cautious 9, then.

It’s been nice to have another couple get on really well. After the last few weeks, it’s nice to know there are still come civil people in the world, who don’t go in for showboating or trying to dig up drama just to make themselves look cool or arrogant in a magazine. While the date has been a little dry, hasn’t it been rather refreshing to have two people meet and be genuine? We earned this one, everybody. This was the antidote to 2016’s supposed poison.

But will that 9 and that 8 translate to a second date?

abo-meey

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sam-meet

love-your-balls

Photograph: Alicia Canter; Graeme Robertson, 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 do this live on a Saturday morning. 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. 

Thanks to @olenskae for the “beige high heels” tip,

Patrick and Giuseppe

Thirst. How did we get it? When did it arrive? Have we always had it, but kept quiet? Did the advent of social media and the ability to express ourselves at every opportunity awaken a huge beast within us?

Like putting  toothpaste into the tube, it’s hard to recant once you’ve shown the world just how thirsty you are for its gaze. Shirtless selfies on Instagram, long missives on Facebook, tweeting every breath or, even, writing a blog just like this one (self awareness klaxon) – most of us like to know someone’s watching. Pretending we don’t like the attention always seems a hollow complaint, like Mel C (for example) when she says she hates being famous. What did you think being in the Spice Girls would bring you? A job on the Clarins counter in Debenhams?

Warren Beatty, chastising Madonna in her Truth or Dare documentary, seemed a ridiculous and prudish dinosaur when he said, “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk… What point is there of existing off-camera?” but most people agreed he had a point. Times have changed. Warren would now be decried as a share-shamer. Maybe we all need a Warren in our lives to tell us how ridiculous we are. We’d ignore him anyway, adding another filter to our couples selfie in Five Guys, but at least we’d know he was there.

Queueing up for a great big vat of water and hoping it’ll quench that thirst for good today are Patrick, a 24-year-old PR assistant (wow what are the chances, eh?) and Giuseppe, 30, a graphic designer. I long for the day we have someone who works in Saxone and another who dresses as a chicken and hands out flyers for KFC on the high street. Prick the media bubble.

patrick-giu-full

Read what happened on the date before I wade in with a final demand for council tax and ruin everything.

pat-giu-key

giu-hope

pat-hope

You see? You see this, homophobes? This is why you need a gay man or two on your life. No hoping for ” a tasty meal and lovely chatter” for these two, like all the other greige throw-my-jumper-over-my-shoulder-and-hang-loose heterosexuals – although Patrick nearly chucks it away with the “good conversation”. They want to get DRUNK with someone HOT and they don’t want to be MURDERED. Now, we’re cooking.

pat-first

“Definitely lives in Hackney.” I wonder what gave it away. Perhaps Giuseppe arrived on a fixie, or walked in waving his library card.

I have an irrational dislike for the phrase “easy on the eye”. I mean, I am vainer than Jeffrey Archer staring into the webcam during a Skype call with [REDACTED] but if there’s one compliment I can’t stand, it’s “easy on the eye”. Maybe it’s the “easy” part. It’s all so passive, so nonchalant. I don’t want to be easy on your eye; I want to make your eye work for it. Take me in, focus on me, drink absolutely all of it in until you want to poke your eyes out to give yourself some respite. Easy on the eye? You wish.

giu-first

We’ll let “he seems nice” slip away into the pneumonic coma it deserves and instead move on to the “he’s almost as blond as me”. I have literally zero times in my life arrived on a date and marvelled at a date’s hair colour and its similarity, or lack thereof, to mine. And this is back even when my hair wasn’t greyer than a badger’s arsehole. But blond people, well, they hate to be outblonded. I started writing something about Tiger Tiger here but thought better of it and deleted. I will leave it to your imagination.

pat-talk

Whatever, whatever, Negronis. Negronis. They’re back, unexpectedly, out of context, like Cannon and Ball doing a winter season at Bridlington.

I refuse to believe anyone enjoys negronis. I have sat in bars and restaurants opposite good friends, people I thought I really knew, and watched them chuck back a negroni like it was A-lister jizz or whatever elixir Cher drinks. “How can you not like them?” the negroni lover will say, as if it’s unreasonable of you to be reluctant to drink a cocktail that tastes like a coffin.

I sometimes think negronis are God’s way of telling you that the person who orders and drinks one should never, ever be fucked. If you’ve already fucked one, try to unfuck them as quickly as possible.

giu-talk

Even my dog, which I am yet to actually buy, yawned at this one.  Anyway. This is Xavier Dolan:

xavier-dolan-mommy

He’s kind of like James Franco, but 10 years younger and with full access to a nail brush.

pat-awks

Oh look someone just walked in as you started watching Broadchurch for the first time, told you who the killer was, and walked out again.

I wonder where they kissed. The restaurant, maybe?

cl4jrlawiaaws7y

Kissing in a bar is fine, to be encouraged, even, but I could never accept canoodling over dirty dinner plates. We didn’t amble out of the cave and invent the wheel just so you could maul each other over a half-eaten chateaubriand, darling.

giu-awks

Oh, Patrick is a sex gay. You get those on dates, sometimes. I have been that gay on dates sometimes. Good for him. We’re funny things, aren’t we? One date I could be shyer than a parlourmaid being shown an aubergine for the first time, other dates I’d make Casanova blush.

Who we are, and whether we get our sex out, depends on the person we’re on a date with. If a guy starts asking you about sex –something I really can’t stand talking about on a date because I would rather show than describe – then it means he fancies you. How you respond to that is rather up to you.

Let’s take a peek inside Giuseppe’s brain:

iggy-legs-akimbo

Ah. Looking good for Patrick, then.

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One of my huge secrets is that I absolutely destroy every tablecloth I ever sit at. I don’t know how; I don’t behave like a messy eater. But somehow I manage to get at least £4.50 worth of each course all over whichever over-starched square of cotton happens to be draped over my poor unfortunate table.

giu-table

Haha, if ordering tagliatelle on a date isn’t code for “come meet me in the toilets for a quick nosh” then I don’t know what is. FILTH. I love it.

giu-bets-thing

More important than dick size or being kind to animals.

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mrs-slocombe-the-guyliner

giu-friends

Ever since it was pointed out to me that the “sure” in answer to this question sounds like it was said with gritted teeth, with all the sincerity of a doctor’s receptionist wishing you a merry Christmas, I can’t get it out of my head.

“Sure I will. If I ever see him again. Which I won’t. But sure.”

pat-three

AFFECTIONATE like a cat that wants you to get off your arse and empty its litter tray.
SARCASTIC like no other gay man ever.
SEDUCTIVE like a mixtape by Leslie Phillips.

giu-three

FUNNY like the gay best friend in a ’90s romcom who dies halfway through to teach the much less entertaining straight main character a valuable lesson about life, love, and loss.
EASY-GOING like a person who can’t be arsed to make a decision ever.
SMILEY like a fucking emoji. Smiley. Jesus.

giu-mad

pat-made

Is today’s Guardian Blind Date sponsored by a joke shop? Have you ever known “funny” to make such a dominating appearance? I’m not auditioning for a Fringe show, so it’s never really concerned me whether people think I’m funny or not; I just don’t want them to think I’m unfunny. There’s a difference.

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sex-and-the-city-black-wedding-1475858673

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obama-you-did-it

giu-kiss

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Finally, some sexual activity on a date. You can always rely on the queens to bring that trophy home.

big-whore-the-guyliner

I’m just joking. No such thing as whores where dating is concerned. I should know. I am pro-this. Pro-kissing, pro-action, pro humans behaving like humans should do when they’ve had too much to drink. Better this, an inebriated fumble in the world’s most exciting city, than trudging home with your Fitness First gym bag to make a risotto and have an early night because you’re getting up first thing to stand in a room full of “don’t know, don’t care” clean-shirts and read out a series of PowerPoint slides.

pat-change

Look, I’m as “drop sex into absolutely every conversation” as the next man – as long as the next man is Norris from Coronation Street – but, seriously, is Patrick typing this with his hard-on?

giu-change

A bottle less? Wh–why? Hangover the next day or… could it be that you woke up the next day with a little more than a monumental wineover, in the shape of, ooh I dunno let me hazard a guess here, a Patrick?

Don’t regret the wine. Never regret the wine. Learn from the wine. Appreciate the wine. Get down on your knees and thank the wine. Because even if the wine was responsible for you slutdropping up against the local vicar, or confessing to your mother you did coke off a rent boy’s belly, or, well, letting Patrick ride you like the slippiest car on the waltzers, it also made you who you are today.

pat-score

“He swallowed!”

giu-score

“He spat.”

Aw, is it over already? We’ve come all this way with Patrick and Giuseppe, watched them eat like two Tasmanian devils let loose in Burger King, gaped as they bagged off in front of two pensioners and marvelled at their capacity for alcohol. Will we get the happy finish we deserve? Will they see each other again?

Boyz?

pat-meet

yaaaas-the-guyliner

giu-meet

no-emotions-just-sex

Oh.

over-it-the-guyliner

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. Thank you to these two guys for feeding the monster – not to mention the beast with two backs. 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. 

Another note: Happy birthday, Dad. xx 🎂

 

Tom and Emily

There are very few times you will turn up to a date and instinctively know that things are going to work out fine. Attraction likes to keep your guessing right until the very end – your own personal “will they or won’t they?” storyline.

Repulsion, though, doesn’t hang about, and your gut seldom lies when it’s telling you the date will be a non-starter. Oh, sure, you can grow to like someone over the course of the evening – alcohol helps – but you will be harder to persuade if, for example, they haven’t brushed their hair, or are late, or are too young or old, too stylish, too smiley or too glum. And, yes, there is such a thing as “too smiley”.

But when you know, you know. “Oh, they’re exactly my type,” you say to yourself as, miracle upon miracle, your very narrow and, at times, restrictive attraction criteria have been met. How lovely it must be to go through life with zero surprises, every moment so prescriptive and useful, because you refuse to stray from your own stringent regulations, dismissing people because of their immediately evident physical or character traits. How nice for you indeed. Nice.

Hoping to meet their match this week are Emily, 28, who works in PR and 29-year-old Tom, yet another web editor.

tom-emily-full

I have that sweatshirt too, Tom, so congratulations on that.

I don’t know about you, but I can already picture them arguing about aubergine and blocking the aisle in the Fulham branch of Waitrose, but do read the date to see how they got on, before I arrive with an unexpected item in the bagging area.

tom-emily-key

tom-hope

em-hope

I can’t imagine how much of a disappointment your 20s must’ve been so far to aim as low as this.

The answers to this question are getting worse aren’t they? They all hope for nice food. They’re going to one of those satellite restaurants The Ivy has started doing, so it’s probably a given the food is going to be more than OK.

“A good chat.” Reach for the fucking moon. I bet these two never wanted to be pirates or astronauts or spies when they were children.
“What would you like to be when you grow up, Emily?”
“I’d like to be the owner of a wardrobe filled with immaculately ironed and folded cardigans.”
“And you, Tom?”
“I’d like to have a 2 for 1 discount card for Vue Cinemas.”

tom-first

Whenever they say things like this, I always imagine their date getting out an old-fashioned pocket watch and swinging it before their transfixed face, or slamming them down onto a massage table and invigorating their chakras.

emily-first

This is an overall first impression, not a very first impression. I will die on this hill if I must.

tom-talk

I bet they said Waitrose. Look at them. Of course they did. Waitrose has quite a sinister hold over white, relatively young and vaguely middle-class people. They see it as a status symbol, a sign they’ve “made it”, not only financially, but as an adult. You don’t get sulky teens wandering branches of Waitrose trying to shoplift – it’s all perfumed grannies, friendly vicars, and digital basics floating around flinging products that cost half as much everywhere else into their trolley which, naturally, does not have a wonky wheel.

Yes, you’re still buying a ready meal for one and, correct, you’ll never finish all those olives before they go off and, agreed, Coke Zero tastes just the same no matter where you buy it, but this is Waitrose – you’re in the John Lewis-approved version of grasping food retail consumerism. It’s different. You’re not like the others, the great unwashed wrestling one another for the last can of pilchards in the Old Kent Road branch of Asda, or the beleaguered couples on the brink of divorce buying organic in Surbiton Tesco – you are a Waitrose person.

However.

It’s just a fucking supermarket. Get over yourself.

emily-talk

They both went to the same university, so I’m calling it right here and now that these two will end up together, for the joy with which they can tell the origin story alone.

“So, for all those years,” their dinner-party guests will say, in around five to seven years’ time, swirling amaretto round their glass, “you were at the same university and never met? Incredible!” And Tom and Emily will laugh – perhaps they’ll pause at this point to pat the head of the angelic toddler that’s just wandered in trailing its comfort blanket behind it – and say, “Yes! Meant to be together in the end, though”, and the value of their house in East Dulwich will immediately rise by 17%.

tom-awks

I reckon you could take a look at Emily from across the aisle at your favourite Waitrose and guess she was called Emily, but we’ll let you off Tom because you are at least a kind of endearing nervous and awkward, rather than the usual self-help book swallowing egomaniacs we’ve been getting in recent weeks. I bet you wouldn’t ever ask a woman to take off her headphones to talk to you, even if she was standing on your foot.

emily-awks

Right, we can either immediately assume Emily is going to magically transform into Hyacinth Bucket on the eve of her 48th birthday, or we can have a think about this and agree that, well, it is a little awkward to go for a kiss on the cheek when you greet a stranger. Unless you live in Belgium.

An awkward shake of the hand, accompanied by slightly goofy smile and borderline shrug of the shoulders is the ideal hello on a date.

tom-table

betty-draper-bang-your-head

I have made my feelings perfectly clear on this in Impeccables passim so I shan’t be trolled. Next!

emily-table

james franco WHUT

I mean, there’s good table manners and there’s basically being Country Mouse who offers to sit in a different restaurant so you don’t disturb the other diners.

I understand sorting out your hunger can lead to a more pleasant date overall, but you’re not here to eat, you’re here to get it on. I hope Emily said no to this kind, and totally weird, offer.

If you want “a silent first course” go back and eat it in your flat. I’ll wait right here for you, drinking your share of the wine and playing “fuck me eyes” with every single member of the waiting staff.

tom-friends

Tom gets it. Of course they would.

Sometimes that fact is actually more of a worry than the prospect they might not get on.

emily-friends

sarah-lancashire-1

I’m only joking here, as it is great she’d introduce him to her pals, but, y’know, I refuse to believe Emily’s friends are anything other than perfectly pleasant, harmless and about as “mad” as a dinner plate.

I bet at least one of them says they’re “really OCD” because they alphabetise their books.

tom-three

FUN like telling someone about Harambe for the first time and trying to laugh off their concerned stare.
INTERESTING like interest that is accruing on the savings account you took out when you were 7 but still refuse to touch.
INQUISITIVE like someone who’s asking a lot of questions and showing an interest in you and yet somehow you want to convey that you found this intrusive and nosey even though you’re on a date and asking questions is totally fine.

emily-3

FRIENDLY like a ghost that just wants to sit at the end of your bed crying, rather than chase you down the hallway.
INTERESTING like the people at the next table may well have been.
LAID-BACK like someone who’s acting a little too nonchalant for your liking even though he’s probably just trying to sit on a hot, vibrating can of nerves.

tom-made

firtheyes

You aced it Tom; she either didn’t notice the nervousness or she’s actually a stealth Mean Girl and the “laid-back” she gave you above was a spectacularly sarcastic diss.

emily-made-of-you

rachel-noooo

At the risk of repeating myself – and I have said this so many times before, because the straight women who go on the dates almost always say this – it makes me massively sad that women in this column think the overall impression of them was that they talk too much.

Why don’t we value the ability to hold a conversation more? It’s what both daters said they were hoping for in their first answer – “good chat”.

The most harmful thing about this toxic old trope is that women not only think the world wants them to shut up, they also feel guilt when they don’t comply. It also reinforces the idea that a man’s ideal partner is someone who won’t talk to them too much and will merely glide in and out of rooms silently, picking up socks and newspapers as she goes.

For some men, perhaps, that is the optimum, and maybe there are women out there who are only too happy to fall into line. But let’s be clear: nobody in their right mind should date either of them.

Talk, talk, talk. Speak until your throat is raw and you’ve exhausted every conversation topic possible. Read out pages of the internet to each other if you must. A relationship where nobody’s talking is one that isn’t working. Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

tom-go-on

See? Went to the same university, live down the road from each other? This is a silver-wedding anniversary anecdote waiting to happen. I can practically hear the light thud of grandchildren plonking themselves down into an overstuffed armchair to hear this story.

em-go-on

No, it doesn’t.

But this is very sweet; they are both very sweet. I think I’m having one of those days where I’ll cry at Strictly.

tom-change

em-change

In the movie based on my own novelisation of this date, these two cosmetic disasters will be told in a montage form, with Tom being played by Theo James or Douglas Booth and Emily portrayed by Carey Mullligan or Laura Carmichael. The soundtrack? Clean Bandit’s Rather Be.

You’ll go see it. Yeah, you will.

Scores, now, and today’s Guardian Weekend magazine has this letter from a reader: img_1444img_1445

Pity poor Jacqui, readers, who can only see what is presented in front of her. Perhaps she doesn’t have the free time that we enjoy, that enables us to look further and make wild, inconclusive guesses and interpretations on what the scores actually mean.

Nobody wants to open that page and see people scoring honestly, Jacqui. We want to work it all out for ourselves. While I’m glad Jacqui has given the Blind Date feature the attention it deserves, if future daters start getting liberal with the 2s and 4s, I’m coming to Cardiff and we’ll be arm-wrestling.

Observe, Jacqui:

tom-score

deirdre-glance

This seems… low. Cautious. It sounds like we should all be slinking off home, dejectedly putting on our coats as the very last light in your local BHS flickers and splutters to its death.

Read everything again, Tom. Either your 8 is a spot of face-saving, because you couldn’t work out whether Emily fancied you, or it’s a depressing sign that, once you’re married, you’ll never notice when Emily gets her hair done.

em-score

tracy-barlow-2

Wow. Even worse. Seven point five. You have to wonder why Emily knocked off half a mark. Shoes not quite so shiny? Spinach in his teeth? Tried to picture them doing it but all she could see was someone flicking quickly through the pages of a Jamie Oliver cookbook? We’ll never know, but that missing half a mark is brutal. Everybody deserves a round number, Emily, even it is a pitiful and polite 8.

And finally…

tom-meet

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em-meet

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Photograph: James Drew Turner; 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 love these two and hope they’ll both be very happy together, although I’d prepare for a couple of rocky patches if things don’t get a little more exciting. 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. 

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.

simon-hannah-full

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

simon-hannah-key

hannah-hoping

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

simon-hoping

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.

hannah-1st

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.

simon-1st

Zoe-Conversation-Piece-Nice-Biscuits

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.

hannah-talk

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-talk

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

hannah-awks

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.

simon-awks

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.

hannah-table

mr-burns

simon-table

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.

ezgif-com-resize-5

hannah-best

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.

simon-best

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.

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simon-friends

anne-bancroft

Absolutely. No. Comment.

hannah-theee

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.

simon-three

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.

hannah-made

hilda-ogden011_medium

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.

simon-made-of-you

rockyhorror

hannah-goon

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.

simpon-go-on

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hannah-change

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.

simon-change

jade-over-it-2

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

hannah-score

simon-score

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.

simon-meet

madonna-sorry

hannah-meet

meryl-goodbye

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. 

 

A weekly roast of the splendid, stupid or sexless things said by participants in the Guardian Blind Date column.

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