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Guardian Blind Date: Scottish Independence Special

Ever wondered what would happen if Scotland and England were to appear as romantic hopefuls in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine column Blind Date? Me neither. But, anyway, it might go something like this…

Fiercely independent Scotland, 1171, meets homely England, at least 1113.

Scotland on England

What were you hoping for?
The chance to meet somebody who’d let me be who I wanted to be.

First impressions?
A little domineering.

What did you talk about?
West Lothian, our health, cash. About how I was looking to travel but he’d rather stay at home. He seemed very interested in my skincare regime and which oils I used – and how much I had left.

Any awkward moments?
Every time I got up to go to the loo, he begged me to reconsider.

Good table manners?

Best thing about England?
He seems keen to make a go of things.

Would you introduce England to your friends?
We already have a few mutual friends; I’m not sure I’d want him at all my social events.

Describe England in three words.
Flattering. Possessive. Deluded.

What do you think England made of you?
Hopefully he realised I was no pushover.

Did you go on somewhere?
Not together.

And… did you kiss?
I considered giving him a Glasgow one.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
That I’d left sooner.

Marks out of 10?
3. One for each century we spent together.

Would you meet again?
Maybe as allies.

England on Scotland

What were you hoping for?
Someone like me – in it for the long haul.

First impressions?
Rather flighty, with a lot of big ideas.

What did you talk about?
I talked money. I can’t really remember what she said – none of her arguments seemed to go anywhere.

Any awkward moments?
When I suddenly took an interest about 20 minutes before the end of the date. And she wouldn’t share pudding.

Good table manners?

Best thing about Scotland?
She knows her own mind.

Would you introduce Scotland to your friends?
If we stay together, she has full access to my entire social circle. If not, well…

Describe Scotland in three words
Please. Don’t. Go.

What do you think Scotland made of you?
I think she might have found me a bit controlling. But hopefully she saw me as more than a friend.

Did you go on somewhere?
I wanted to talk some more – she wasn’t having any of it.

And… did you kiss?
Not even a Chelsea smile.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Now’s not a time to change. But I’d probably have listened to what she was saying more.

Marks out of 10?
We said we wouldn’t mark each other. But I say a lot of things. 7.

Would you meet again?
I’ll wait to see what she says first. (Probably not.)

  • Scotland and England ate at Café Ritazza, Southwaite motorway services on the M6.

See the real Guardian Blind Date column in all its glory/horror in the Weekend magazine every Saturday or read it online. I love it really.

Do you really need a six-pack to make an impact?

Do you really need a six-pack to make an impact?

The year is 2001.

I am in a bar, talking to a gay man. I used to do that. He might be trying to pick me up; I can’t tell. He takes another sip of his almost-drained drink and looks me up and down carefully. Here we go.

“How old are you?” he asks, with a mouthful of beery spittle.

“I’m 25,” I reply.

He surveys me again as if looking at a child’s finger painting. Finally, he speaks.

“If you want a body, you’re going to have to get on with it pretty quickly.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your body,” he sighs. “You don’t have one. You’ve no shape. By the time you get to 30, it’ll be too late. Start going to the gym as soon as you can.” He walks away.

If there’s one thing you’re going to need as a gay man, it’s a body.

If there’s one thing you’re going to need as a gay man, it’s a body. You can try telling me different, but nine times out of 10 you’re not going to get a great deal of initial interest from another gay man just because you look as if you read a lot of books. Looks count, even if they are only a beautiful lid on a simmering pot of ugliness, despair, bitterness and venom.

While I’m not bashing its usefulness, take good old Grindr, for example. You select your potential partner by browsing a gallery of tiny thumbnail pictures, lined up together like the world’s least appealing mosaic.

Users have less than a square centimetre to make an impression, and while most of us need a pretty face to experience the first stirrings of arousal – or at least a half decent face, depending on the time of day, how long it has been since ‘the last time’ and how many vodka and tonics you’ve had – many users decide to cut straight to business and get out their best weapon. No, not that, you’re not allowed to show that.

No, it’s the bod, the rack, the torso – buffed, shiny, preened and, usually, headless. Yes, these gods are so confident in the appeal of their sculpted trunks that they don’t even bother including their face.

“I have a body like this,” they drawl. “Why on earth would you care what I look like?”

“I have a body like this,” they drawl. “Why on earth would you care what I look like?”

Flicking through these prime cuts of flesh can be a humbling experience. A few brave or fetishised exceptions aside, everyone has everything in the right place.

An array of eye-popping guns, perfect pecs, killer abs and broad shoulders awaits you. It pays not to look down at your own torso while you’re surveying the merchandise, especially if you’re standing next to an open window at the top of a large building. The urge to jump may just be too strong.

All these muscles they’re honing, but for what? What are they lifting that’s going to need mass like that?

You wonder to yourself how they have the time to get bodies like this. Don’t they work? Do they exist in a parallel universe – a carb-free dystopia with no pubs?

And why do they want a body like this? All these muscles they’re honing, but for what? What are they lifting that’s going to need mass like that?

Unless they’re removal men who are forever navigating grand pianos up and down narrow spiral staircases, it all seems distressingly pointless.

I partially blame that Athena poster. You know the one: the oh-so-sensitive, muscle-bound babydaddy, emotionally cooing over the newborn in his arms, while a universe full of women (and gays) are far more emotionally swooning (at the very least) over his beach ball-sized biceps.

Until then, musclebound bodies were more or less restricted to wrestlers and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Why are a generation of bloggers and social media editors all walking round looking like they lift fridges all day?

Sure, there’d be weightlifters in the gym and selected movie stars who were ‘built’, but everybody else was either weedy or podgy, with only the odd natural Adonis scattered in between. And he’d usually be a manual labourer – so why are a generation of bloggers and social media editors all walking round looking like they lift fridges all day?

Watch some television from the 1970s or early 1980s. Glamour sagas like Dallas and Dynasty aside, everybody is fairly average. Potbellies, scrawny legs and funky teeth are the order of the day. Gradually, as Eighties’ aspirations began to be more body-focused than wallet-aligned, everyone started to look a little buffer, more toned. The war against podge had begun.

British soap operas used to be the last bastion of the ugly. Now everyone’s ripped and looks like they’ve just fallen from the underwear section of the catalogue.

Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer whipped off their vests in Top Gun for a slow-mo, trouser-bulging volleyball match and suddenly, every man wanted to be able to disrobe at a moment’s notice and not feel ashamed of their tummy.

Some corners of the media held out longer. British soap operas, for example, used to be the last bastion of the ugly. There’d be one token ‘phwoar’, sure, but everybody else was distinctly average – lumpy, bumpy and boring to know. Shirts would stay reassuringly on.

But now most younger male stars are all ripped and look like they’ve just fallen from the pages of the underwear section of the catalogue. They pull off flimsy cotton Ts at any opportunity, or star in scenes conveniently set post-shower, so they can show off their mile-wide chests and xylophone abs. At home, millions of men gulp and resolve to renew that gym membership. Or at least to go more than once a month.

When it comes to the buffness revolution, personality and kindness are first up against the wall.

But is it realistic for all of us to acquire this body beautiful? Our 9-5 existences don’t usually lend themselves to rigorous, continual exercise, rounds of protein shakes and special eating regimes delivered to our door. Something’s got to give, right? There are a number of exceptions, but my experience is when it comes to the buffness revolution, personality and kindness are first up against the wall.

I don’t want a six-pack, which is handy, as I’m unlikely ever to get one. They look ugly, harsh, as if you don’t do anything else except slog at it in the gym to have this alien stomach, which, of course, you are required to show off at any given opportunity.

I go to the gym; I’ve got a ‘body’, but I’ve got a real one. There’s hardly any fat and a one or two T-shirt friendly muscles are in attendance, yes, but it’s real.

It’s a body that likes a few beers, has been known to eat badly but isn’t averse to going for a run. I can look in the mirror at it and know that it’s mine, that it’s living along with me and I’m not killing myself – or boring everybody else to death – to make it look impeccable. And, most importantly, it’s not for display. You only get to see it if I really want you to.

So if you’re Mr Average, don’t despair at those Grindr galleries – let them keep their bowling-ball guns and starving stomachs. And leave them to slog it out when it comes to those killer abs.

Because when suitors’ eager eyes tire of looking at faultlessness and uniformity, they’ll come looking somewhere else, for something real. And you’ll be waiting.

An early, different version of this piece originally appeared on Huffington Post. Take a look at other stuff I have done for them.

Image: Melanie M on Flickr

The Guyliner: The Hot Mess

The Hot Mess

I am in a taxi, speeding away from logic, reason, my friends and safety, with someone I only met about two hours ago. Harry, apparently. Hello Harry.

I don’t know how long we’ve been in the car or where we’re going, but I don’t recognise the houses flashing by – and I have lived in London a long time. He makes a couple of attempts to lay a kiss on me, but the taxi seems to lurch round corners at just the right/wrong moment, plus I’m swaying like the clumsiest waiter on the Titanic.

Just as the neighbourhood starts to look even less familiar, he bids the taxi to stop, and we get out on a fairly rundown high street. I expect him to take a key out of his pocket and open one of the scuffed doors, but instead he says he “just needs to get something” and slopes off.

Could he buying drugs? For the first time, I start to worry – am I about to be chem-sexed?

I can’t think what he’s after at this hour. Condoms are not a consideration, because I won’t be doing that with a total stranger, thanks.

Could he buying drugs? For the first time, I start to worry – am I about to be chem-sexed? And then he suddenly stops – I hold my breath – before striding right into a chip shop. Oh.

My stomach heaves; I tell him I’ll wait outside. It certainly puts Harry in a different light – nobody has ever broken off the promise of copping a feel of me to get food before.

I stand on the pavement, wobbling slightly, until he comes out, armed with a huge portion of fish and chips and a battered sausage. I’m amazed.

“Are you going to eat all that?” I gasp.

He looks down at what is essentially a meal for six. “Well, yeah. I’m a growing boy.”

We start to walk down the street. It is our first time under a bright light, so I look at him anew.

“Just how much growing have you got to do?”

“I’m 26,” he shrugs. “What about you?”

Quick as a flash, my first lie of the evening: “30”.

I wait for him to start laughing, but he doesn’t, so I exhale and we carry on.

“Older man, eh?” he says. “Like it.”

Silence from the peanut gallery, thank you.

After what seems like for ever but has actually been two minutes, we arrive at a rundown block of flats. Every window-frame has paint peeling off it in lumps, the entrance hall is filthy and the stairwell hasn’t seen a broom since Kylie last had a number 1.

Eventually there’s a jangle of keys. He lets us into a dark hallway that smells strangely. I can’t quite place it.

“There’s no light,” he whispers. “Just go straight ahead.”

I stumble my way in what I assume is a straight line and find a door handle. I walk into a room lit by a few candles. It’s a lounge. There is very little furniture, save for a sofa, on which there is a girl, sleeping under a puffa jacket. She is surrounded by fag packets and cups.

“Erm, Harry?” I call out.

He appears behind me. “Ah, shit,” he says. “I thought she’d be in bed. We’ll have to go to my room.”

“Wouldn’t that be better anyway?” I ask.

“Um, yeah. You just wait there. I’ll put the lights on.”

He darts off and leaves me in the hallway. I am really starting to sober up now – all my realities are coming back to me at once. I am in a stranger’s flat, in the pitch dark, God knows how far away from home. I feel the stupidest I have felt in… oh, I don’t know. Since I last did this.

Just as I am trying to work out how to get back to the front door, another door creaks open like Dracula’s coffin and there is a vague idea of light, with Harry’s silhouette in the middle of it. I move toward him with all the enthusiasm of an aristocrat walking into a plague pit.

The room may as well be illuminated by a cigarette dangling from the ceiling.

Once I’m in, it’s pretty hard to tell where I am. It’s a bedroom, I imagine, but I may also have come through a portal into a junk shop. There is stuff absolutely everywhere, but I’ve no idea what it is, as Harry’s room is lit by two tealights, both ten miles up, atop a huge stack of what I think are books.

“Harry, why is it so dark in here?”

“Um, ambience?”

He lights another tea light. The room may as well be illuminated by a cigarette dangling from the ceiling.

“Fucking hell,” I say. “Where is the light switch?” As I make to find out, I trip over something, something that moves, and then hear a seriously perturbed miaow come out of the darkness.

“Is there a cat in here?”

I hear Harry scratch himself. “Very possibly. Look, don’t turn the light on.”

“Don’t be silly,” I snort, finally finding it on the wall.

“No, really don’t…”

He is soon drowned out by my exclamation of surprise and horror as the light switch fizzes like a firework. I leap away from it.

“I did say,” he sighs. “Look, I’ll put a lamp on.” I feel a furry tail brush against my leg.

Suddenly, the room is bathed in light, and I very quickly see why Harry was eager to keep me in the dark. It is the room of a hoarder, a mad man. The type of guy who becomes emotionally attached to an old baked bean can. The shelves – at least I think they are shelves – are piled high with books, magazines, jars, coffee cups, boxes, tins and, in one corner, what looks like a metric tonne of old telephones. The wallpaper is desperately trying to escape from the walls and the ceiling sags like an old scrotum.

There is a television, its screen thick with enough dust to make Bruce Forsyth a dozen toupees and, on top of it, tails swishing menacingly, three cats, regarding me with ill-concealed loathing.

The one tidy part is the bed, which has been made and looks clean. I guess Harry reckoned if he managed to guide me onto it by candlelight, I’d be too preoccupied with him to notice the chaos around me. I flop down onto it in disbelief.

Within two seconds he lets out a vinegary belch inches away from my face.

Harry noisily finishes off the last of his chips then gets onto the bed with me. He touches my face tenderly and for a second I am lost in it, but then I hear his stomach grumble and within two seconds he lets out a vinegary belch inches away from my face.

It is just the smelling salts I need. I need two minutes to decide whether I really want to do this.

“I need to use the bathroom,” I say, weakly.

“It’s straight across the hall,” he smiles, then pulls me toward him and finally gets that first kiss. It is very nice indeed, but I can still taste the salt and vinegar and have to pull away sooner than I’d like. I curse my lack of chewing gum.

I schlep to the bathroom, my hangover starting to kick in. I find the light cord and pull it, expecting instant electrocution, Instead a dim bulb sputters into life and I quickly realise I am standing in hell.

The walls are covered in black mould and the room reeks of it. The bathtub is brown and has almost certainly been the scene of much dismemberment. The shower curtain hangs pathetically, the Turin shroud swinging from a meat hook. There is toothpaste all over the sink and the pedestal mat around it is hairier than a thousand coconuts.

If this is Harry’s idea of interior decorating, what terrors lurk for me with his personal grooming?

I peer at the loo, desperate to pee. My desolation is vast. Suddenly, a bang at the door. A voice. “Harry!” it cries. I am guessing the girl in the lounge has arisen at last. “Will you hurry up? I need a shit.”

I blanch like Margo Leadbetter in an abattoir and open the door to push past her, propelling myself forward and landing next to what I hope is the exit. I spin round again to see Harry standing there.

“You all right?”

“I’ve… I’ve got to go, Harry,” I gasp. I think he’s disappointed; it’s too dark to tell.

“Why?” he asks.

“Because, well…” I groan. “I’m just too sober.”

And, like magic, I feel the latch and pull open the door, stepping out onto what was the filthiest stairwell in the UK upon my arrival, but now seems fit to eat from. I rush down it, ignoring Harry’s calls and flop out of the main door to see a bus that goes right past my house pulling up to a stop.

I clamber on it, elated, and realise I must’ve been really, really drunk in that taxi.

I live four streets away

Stats: 5’ something, 26, brown/blue, God knows
Post-date rating: 4.5/10
Date in one sentence: Cleanliness is next to sex-godliness.

Image: Federico on Flickr

Decoding dumb things people say on their dating bios

Decoding dumb clichés on dating bios

Your dating profile – or the bio on whichever app your fingers are getting busy with – is your storefront, your prime advertising space.

Sure, a picture tells a thousand words, but as anyone who’s spent more than a minute in the company of a  boyband can tell you, hot looks are no guarantee of a great brain or a good time.

Given that most people are only a swipe away from dating oblivion, you’d think that guys (and girls, of course, if that’s your thing) out there might try a little harder to attract your attention. Sadly, most people are saying very little but a slightly different version of the same 20 or so things – most of them as empty and meaningless as a blow job in a train station in 1973.

Here, I decode a few.

“Might be time for some strings attached.”
Here I am on a sex app, a bit of tech that was created by somebody who wanted to make it easier for people to have sex with perfect strangers, using it to look for sex.

Thing is, I don’t want people to think I’m only here for the sex, oh no. I’m a sensitive soul, you see – I have a lot of thoughts, most of them quite deep and meaningful. I’m not just a piece of meat. So I’m looking for a boyfriend – some ‘strings’, if you like – who can take me away from all these endless cock pics and headless torsos and “what u into”.

But of course, rather than say that I want a relationship and rule myself out of any anonymous boning, I’ll only say that I ‘might’ be looking. Step this way, Prince Charming.

“Tall, dark and handsome to the front of the queue.”
War-torn Afghanistan has nothing on the devastation caused by the hordes vying for my affections. There are catfights, broken hearts and bloodshed at every stage of this miles-long queue, each suitor more beautiful and statuesque than the last.

And when you get to the very front, where I sit like Caesar on a throne made not of marble but made from bathroom selfies and protein shakes, there are the tallest, darkest and most handsome of them all.

Each one is on his knees, praying to his god (that would be me), hoping he’ll be the one selected by me to have uninspiring, brief and regrettable sex in a box room that could really do with vacuuming.

“I don’t bite… unless you want me to.”
Spoiler: the sex probably isn’t going to be that good and I will say “fuck, yeah” a lot during the act in the mistaken belief this makes me sound  ‘kinky’. Then I’ll bite you.

“I like going out and staying in.”
Sometimes I even do both on the same day! Get on this rollercoaster if you dare!

“I love to laugh.”
That’s not to say I do laugh, or indeed will laugh. The chances of me making you laugh are pretty slim.

Usually when I manage a chortle, it’s at something inappropriate like a child falling over, or you, in three months’ time, telling me that this isn’t really working out.

“Looking for a reason to delete this app.”
I, too, am looking for true love, without which I couldn’t possibly press and hold my finger on the icon of this dating app, then press the little ‘x’ that appears in the corner of the icon, deleting it for ever. Yes, I can definitely only do that once I have collected a slew of marriage proposals, not before.

And when people ask us the story of how we fell in love, I can look at the ground, then at you, then at them and, with a tear in my eye, tell them: “He helped me delete Grindr, and from then, I was hooked”.

“I can’t think what to write here. I’m not that good at talking about myself.”
I get up, I go to work, I come home. Sometimes I’ll go for a drink after work with colleagues. But usually I go straight home. There is TV, takeaways, masturbation. Sometimes Grindr.

Oh, and I also head up an international crime syndicate, have a meth lab in my kitchen and have killed a man – but my life’s too uninteresting to talk about really and I never know what to write on these things.

“I like to stay in with a DVD and a bottle of wine.”
I’ve had all my fun being an amazing, exciting, vibrant, sociable person already – before I met you – and now it’s time for me to settle for the boring inevitability of a relationship before I am too old and ugly to snare anyone. And all my friends are doing it.

We’ll be staying in a lot, talking about what to watch next on Netflix. I am 25.

“I’m very discrete.”
I’m married and do not own a dictionary.

“Whatever happened to all the cool guys on here? Am I really the only one looking for more than just a bunk-up with a faceless body, a spiritual connection with someone where you identify not just on a sexual level, but an emotional one too. I guess I’m being unrealistic looking for something deeper on here, but it would be nice to find out. If that’s not what you’re after, keep on moving.”
Pump me raw, stranger.

More like this:
10 toxic things you really shouldn’t say on your dating profile
10 terrible opening lines for a dating profile 

Thanks to everyone on Twitter who suggested their favourite dating bio clichés.

Image: Chazwags on Flickr

Emergency exit

The breakup: Matthew the hot controller

Until my current relationship, I had always believed there was a price to pay for going out with a beautiful man.

Every Adonis I met seemed to come with their very own set of hang-ups. While they would hide these shortcomings from you at first, only the very best of actors could keep up the pretence long enough to make a lasting relationship out of it. And let’s just say I’m yet to screw an Oscar winner.

Matthew was beautiful, there was no getting away from that. From that very first date, when he had charmed me into taking him home with a little boy lost routine that I now look back upon and feel slightly green around the gills, his confidence and good looks fooled me completely. His eyes were so huge and dark, they made him seem vulnerable. I didn’t realise then the depths of darkness within.

In fairness, he’d warned me that he had left endless broken hearts behind him, but I mistook it as an attempt to get sympathy, and also a challenge. While I knew in my heart he was only good for one night, I was lonely. Plus, heads turned whenever we went anywhere. I told myself that I was more than up to the task of keeping this lothario on the straight and narrow. My vanity nearly destroyed me.

When the first glitch in a courtship appears, it’s like that moment when you realise that to get that super fast, super cheap internet, you need to fork out for line rental.

Matthew’s ‘line rental’ was his need to have a say in absolutely everything we did together – even if it was a “you day”, a rare opportunity where I got to suggest what we did on a date. (I always said “the pub.”)

He would insist on a “you day” as he didn’t “like to do all the thinking”, yet beyond telling me how much he hated my date ideas, he didn’t think very much at all.

If I booked a restaurant, he would immediately say he’d heard it wasn’t good or that he thought it was inconvenient to get to. Getting served was a trial, because Matthew liked to be the one doing the ordering. If I hadn’t decided what I wanted and told Matthew my choices before the waiter came to the table, he sent him away again.

Any dates he’d suggest would be prefaced with a text, an hour or two in advance, asking what I was wearing and, on being told, a series of further texts, ‘advising’ me on what might be better.

I began to feel downtrodden, like all my spirit was draining from me. I would arrive home from our dates not exhilarated at the potential relationship, but exhausted, weak with the effort of treading on eggshells lest Matthew got into a mood, which he did more often than not.

Friends asked how the dating was going and I wouldn’t know what to say. I pretended I hadn’t met anyone interesting yet. I knew I didn’t want a relationship with Matthew, but going out on endless dates and meeting Mr Wrong was starting to take its toll. I didn’t want boozy nights out or awkward walks in the park with a series of strangers – I wanted to hear a familiar voice and have sex with a body I knew and hands that knew mine. And while it was very good, it wasn’t good enough to make me want to hold on to Matthew.

There has to be a last straw and it came, as I guess I always knew it would, in a restaurant. It was bank holiday Monday and we hadn’t made any reservations so couldn’t find a table at most places we tried. We ended up going to a place that was more of a bar, packed with people getting drunk on the second cheapest bottle of wine on the list.

Matthew was in a bad mood because I’d worn shorts and he hadn’t thought to, so he was too warm. He hated the table we were seated at and thought the guy who’d shown us to it was rude. When I couldn’t decide what to have, he tutted loudly and kept reminding me how hungry he was. When another waiter came to take our order, he was astonishingly good-looking, and all of a sudden I became invisible, while Matthew lavished upon on our delighted server the charm I hadn’t seen since our second date.

It was a grotesque show; I was embarrassed for them both. Matthew, clearly too chicken-shit to dump me, was letting me know there would always be someone else round the corner lapping up those looks and amiable patter.

If this were a movie, I’d have stood up and made a dramatic, empowering speech, before upending the table and striding out of the restaurant. But movies are movies and this was a bank holiday in central London, not LA, so I sat and ate in near silence while Matthew grumbled about everything – the food, the fact I hadn’t thought to remind him to book anywhere, how I was too casually dressed. Me me me, basically – and for all the wrong reasons.

I had forgotten how difficult it is to swallow food when you’re trying so hard not to cry.

When the bill came, he quibbled over something on it and called the waiter – a different one, thank God – over. He was embarrassing himself yet again, slurring from the two glasses of plonk he’d hoovered up in about 25 minutes.

As Matthew was doing such a bad job at explaining the issue, I interjected and clarified in the hope I could bring an end to it. As the waiter accepted what I said and went off to correct the bill, Matthew snarled: “Don’t do that.”


“When I’m talking to the waiter, don’t interrupt. It’s nothing to do with you.”

I swallowed hard. “I was only trying to help.”

He raised his voice. “I don’t need your help. Mind your own fucking business.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You were showing yourself up, Matthew, much like you are now. I just wanted to get it sorted so we could get out of here.”

It was then that Matthew tried his very own Hollywood move. He swilled the few remaining drops of wine round his glass before flicking the glass at me. The wine missed me – there wasn’t much of it – but I knew this would be just the beginning if I let it.

“Look,” I said in a calming voice. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I’ll pay for this. Why don’t you go wait outside and get some air?”

Matthew shrugged and slumped out of the door. I saw him outside through the window, skulking with the blackest of looks on his face. The night of the long knives was ahead me and I was in no hurry for it to start.

I paid the bill, leaving no tip, and, gently pushing my chair back, headed to the fire exit I’d noticed as we came in.

I quickly pushed the lever to open the door and, with the door’s alarm ringing in my ears, I ran and ran and ran until I could neither hear the siren nor breathe to run any faster. I turned my phone off, my music up and I never again saw Matthew’s cruel, beautiful face.

For a while afterward, I would arrive at dates and surreptitiously check to see where the nearest alternative way out was, just in case.

I can’t tell you how happy I am not to need those emergency exits any more.

Image: brookemackay on Flickr

The Plus One

The Plus One

“I’m going to a friend’s for dinner on Friday. Come.”

I should say “No thank you, Toby; it’s only our second date”. I don’t.

“Is there anything you don’t eat?”

I should tell him about my phobia of celeriac and meringues. I don’t.

When I ask “What shall I bring?” and he replies “Nothing, just yourself!” I should listen, but I don’t.

When Toby spies the prosecco I’m clutching to my chest as we arrive and tells me “You can’t bring that; they’re teetotal and Polly won’t have it in the house” I should hang on to it, but I don’t. I leave it by the doorstep.

Polly answers the door and eyes me with the same suspicion a white carpet would afford a dog with diarrhoea. I should scowl back. I don’t.

When Polly’s boyfriend Max sloshes elderflower cordial into my wine glass, I shouldn’t quip that it’s a waste of a perfectly good glass, but I do. Max shouldn’t laugh and wink conspiratorially. But he does.

As Polly serves up every food I’ve ever hated in my life, with the icy glare of a serial killer, I should politely decline the offer of pudding, despite eating nothing of the main course. But I don’t.

When Polly goes on and on about Toby’s previous boyfriends, all of them beautiful demigods who adored Polly and would probably have turned straight for had she asked, I should defend myself, or step up my patter in an attempt to impress her. But I don’t care what she thinks, so I nod politely and play with my napkin.

As I laugh uproariously at one of Max’s jokes and see, out of the corner of my eye, Toby’s face fall, I should tone it down and pay more attention to the date who’s barely said a word to me all night. But I can’t. Why get out of Max’s sleek limousine of a conversation only to clamber into Toby and Polly’s knackered old Nissan Micra chit-chat?

When Max and I are stacking the dishwasher and he confesses to me he’s bored rigid living with Polly, I should act surprised and encourage them to stay together. But I’m not, so I don’t.

Usually when a man tells you his problems, he’s hoping you’ll solve them, so perhaps I should pretend we’re in a film and put my hand on his leg and stroke my mouth suggestively. But I don’t want to turn a horrendous evening into an apocalyptic one, so my hands stay where they are.

When I walk back into the lounge, it is obvious I have been getting an absolute skewering from Polly, as her and Toby redden immediately. I can see Toby running back to one of those holy exes within a month – Polly wouldn’t have it any other way.

When it’s time to leave and Max says he’s looking forward to seeing Toby and me again really soon, I should tell him that’s extremely unlikely, but I don’t.

When Toby makes it clear he’s going straight home and says he’ll call me, I should feel sorry and protest a little, but I don’t. Instead I proffer my cheek and he pecks it politely, begrudgingly, finally.

Perhaps I should feel sad that I’ll never see Toby again, but I do not – I feel a rush of relief or elation. The regret may come later, but it will be brief and I’ll have probably have somebody else close to hand to take my mind off it.

I shouldn’t pick up that abandoned bottle of prosecco from the doorstep and drink it on the bus on the way home. But I do. And that turns out to be the best part of the evening.

Stats: 32, 5’9″, auburn/blue, Newcastle
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating: 3.5/10 – that score’s for me, really, isn’t it?

A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly dating column I used to do in Gay Times magazine. I now answer GT readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

The breakup: Mark and the herpes simplex complex

The breakup: Mark and the herpes simplex complex

Oh, Mark. Mark and I had started off so well, with a humorously disastrous date in a museum followed by one too many drinks in a boozer laughing over how bad it had been. That first night ended with a drunken kiss, and half-hearted torso fumbling before we parted at a bus stop, sparks of sexual energy fizzing out of every pore as I watched his bus pull away.

As time passed by, I could just about cope with him insisting on trying to put all his fingers in my mouth during a passionate embrace and I was willing to overlook his taste in socks – always black, always ill-fitting and bobbly. I even cast aside any doubts I had when he insisted on smoking out of my kitchen window and putting his fags out in half-finished cups of tea. The breaking point came when nature intervened and, about three weeks into our courtship, I got a cold sore.

It wasn’t unusual for me to get a cold sore when kissing someone new – indeed I soon came to view it as a ‘sign’ that the relationship was probably destined for failure. Lusty mouths carry God knows what inside them, and I could often be found submerged in Bonjela and Corosdyl, my mouth a gaping scarlet letter – its shame for all to see. And of course, when I had one, it pretty much meant I was ‘off limits’ for anything too exciting. Cockblocked by my own kisser – what a life.

One day, as my new cold sore throbbed, Mark texted asking me to go round to his. This was new; I hadn’t been to his house before, but soon I was weaving around the streets glued to Google Maps until I finally arrived at his front door.

Mark opened the door in a dressing gown and, as far as I could see, nothing underneath. He beckoned me in and asked if I’d like some wine. His voice sounded deeper, seductive. Or at least I assumed that’s what he was going for.

Instead of taking me through to the kitchen, he whisked me straight up the stairs, shoving me into his room – tidy, fairly sparse, very brown – and gestured for me to sit on the bed, handing me a glass. So far we had only ever rolled innocently around my sheets in our underwear; it became quickly clear Mark was ready for phase two.

I perched on the edge of the bed and looked meekly around the room at familiar movie posters, boring knick-knacks and family snapshots while Mark reclined. When I eventually let my gaze fall upon him, I saw Mark had arranged his gown to be as alluring as possible: a nipple there, an exposed thigh there, plus, although he probably didn’t plan this as it wasn’t particularly sexy, one of his testicles in full view.

Mark looked me up and down. “You look nice today,” he said.
I searched for a return compliment. A long pause. Until finally: “One of your knackers is hanging out.”

Mark looked down at his crotch and rearranged himself quickly, laughing.

“Obviously I’m too excited.”

Then, before I knew what was happening, he lunged at me, his hand in my lap, sending my glass of wine flying.

“I’ve dropped my wine,” I said awkwardly, like someone might say “My tea is a bit cold” during an earthquake.

“Fuck the wine,” he breathed in my ear, finally turning his face to mine, his lips poised.

“Oh, errr, you’d better not,” I squeaked.


I explained. He sprang back, panting, before leaning forward to peer at my mouth.

“What is it?” he asked, eyes wide. “How do you get them? Are they contagious?”

“We won’t be able to kiss until it’s gone.”

“And how long will that take?”

“Erm,” I sigh. “Maybe a week.” A lie. It’s almost always two.

“Can you get rid of it?”


“Well what are we supposed to do?” he groaned.

“We just wait.”

“But I, but I…” he started, gesturing to his dressing gown, before opening it to reveal we were not alone.
I did as much as I could with what was available to me, before claiming I had to get up early in the morning and needed to go.

“I’d ask you to stay,” he said as his breathing began to return to normal, “but y’know… that.” He pointed at the cold sore.
I left.

Mark texted often over the next few days, mainly to ask how my cold sore was getting on. Still there. I put him off saying I had work commitments until I could fib no more.

On Saturday, we met for dinner at a local Italian, usually a prelude to coming back to mine. Mark’s face fell as soon as he saw the cold sore patches on my stricken mouth. Yes, I had more. He ate his pizza in near silence while I gently forked pasta into my mouth, every bite total agony.

“I’ve been Googling cold sores,” he said, suddenly. “They are herpes. You have herpes. ”

I rolled my eyes. I’d heard all this before. “Yes, I know, but…”

“So does that mean you got it from shagging someone with herpes?”

My head felt very heavy. “No, Mark. They are related, but you don’t really get cold sores that way.”

“But, I’d get herpes if you…” he faked a cough, hopefully choking with embarrassment at what he was saying.

“If I sucked your pecker?” I said brightly, pushing my plate away. “It’s a risk.”

“So…?” he waved his hands around, willing me to finish his sentence.

“So, I won’t be doing it until the cold sore is gone,” I said, thinking “if ever”.

Mark did come back to mine but didn’t lunge at me again. He finally went home at midnight, grinding against me like a go-go boy as I said goodbye at the door, his eyes flicking sadly to my very own flaming lips.

He texted on the way home: “Can’t wait for your mouth to be back in action!”

I considered sending him details of where he could buy a fleshlight or a sex doll, but thought better of it, glad to be sleeping alone.

He got in touch again later in the week checking on my mouth’s progress once more, and, upon my reply of “Still a thing!!”, only silence. Finally, a few days later, the text I knew was coming finally arrived.

There were the usual clichés like “momentum” and “compatible” and “not ready for anything serious” but we both knew why it was all over.

As I read it, I licked my now cold sore-free lip and – for the first and last time – thanked the patron saint of herpes simplex for helping me dodge a Mark-shaped bullet.

Image: Josh Janssen on Flickr

Why I’m not buying Jonah Hill’s homophobia apology

Spare a thought, everyone, for Jonah Hill – the character actor caught on tape this week telling an irritating, confrontational paparazzo to suck his dick, signing off with the beautiful “faggot”.

No sooner had the first bored internet user finished listening to the second syllable of “faggot” spill from Hill’s mouth than the Wolf Of Wall Street star was hastily beating a retreat, apologising profusely, his Hollywood bankability draining before his very eyes like an iPhone battery at a festival.

Hill has flung not one but two apologies out into the ether since the unfortunate incident over the weekend. First up was radio DJ Howard Stern’s show, in which Hill conceded the remark was “disgusting” and then again on Jimmy Fallon’s late night talk show. Oh, this is just a coincidence, I’m sure, but Jonah Hill has a new film out.

In his most recent apology, which is at times emotional – but this is an actor we’re talking about here, so big deal – Jonah claims the photographer had been following him all day and making personal attacks against his family. So far, so unordinary.

Jonah goes on to explain he wanted to hurt the photographer back and so used “the most hurtful word I could think of at that moment”. Although Hill assures the audience he didn’t mean the word in a homophobic way, the fact this word was his first port of call when he wanted to hurl the most horrific insult he could think of is very telling. “Faggot” is the worst he could think of? Really?

Rather than ask himself why that might be, Hill goes on to pull out his best “Some of my best friends are gay” shtick by claiming he has “been supportive of the LGTBQ community my whole life”. Watch out everyone! The killer is calling from inside the house!

Jonah Hill may think that dutifully doling out red ribbons for World AIDS Day and clapping politely at a same-sex wedding means he has no more work to do, but he couldn’t be more wrong.

By choosing to use a defamatory word as “faggot” to degrade another man, he is exposing prejudices that no amount of rainbow-flag waving can wash away – it’s that last creaky floorboard you just can’t fix, no matter how hard you try.

That accusing a man of being gay and inviting him to suck you off is the worst weapon in his arsenal puts Jonah back in with the big nasty boys at school, who’d shrink away from each other, towel-whipping in the changing rooms and screaming “No homo!!!” at the top of their lungs.

Surely during his time in the battery farm of insecurities that is the American high school system an overweight teenage Hill heard, and was called, much worse. But thanks to Hollywood, Hill has managed to scale the fence out of the loser pen and electrify it behind him.

The worst thing is not the fact Hill said the word – we have all told loved ones to go blow themselves or die in a fire – but his refusal to think about why that was his go-to insult, the thought processes that took him there, that is the biggest concern. When his celebrity status is in silent mode, and he doesn’t have a sequel to flog or a chat show chair to perch on, what is Jonah Hill really thinking?

I’m sure you’re sorry, you certainly look it, but it’s never too late to educate yourself, Jonah. Get yourself to a school and ask children what it’s like to be called a faggot, and then try to understand. The concept of words associated with homosexuality now being bandied about as almost acceptable insults is a grotesque one – it doesn’t need any Hollywood champions, no matter how brief their turn in the spotlight may be.

If you need a new insult to hand next time you encounter an aggressive snapper, why not try “arsehole”? That way, if you need reminding of it, you can head to the nearest mirror.

Where not to meet your next boyfriend: The supermarket

Where not to meet your next boyfriend: The supermarket

The supermarket can be a boring and depressing place at the best of times, let alone if you’re single.

Couples snogging in front of the very shelf you’re trying to reach – lasagne for ONE – or, much more likely, arguing about being organic in front of the tenderstem broccoli. It’s a nonstop misery-fest, from the very moment you pick up your basket – complete with someone else’s scrunched up receipts in the bottom of it, the bastard – to the awkward hunt for your loyalty card as your cans of beer clang in straining carrier bags.

One way to brighten up your journey to the supermarket is, of course, to have a crush on almost everybody in there. You tell yourself you’ll never do it again, after that guy with the rippling muscles and the faux-geeky specs caught you salivating over him by the cottage cheese, but you can’t help yourself. Supermarkets are boring and hate you – you need something to look at.

And, oh look, there’s one now. His hair is just the right side of imperfect, his skin shines beautifully under the stark “prisoner loose at Alcatraz” supermarket lighting and he is sashaying down the aisles with a heady mixture of grace and vigour. He is Gigi and these tin-stacked corridors are his Champs-Elysées.

Let’s get one thing clear: following people around supermarkets checking out their arse is a bad idea, and you know this. But just this once won’t hurt, you tell yourself. I’ll keep a safe distance this time, you reason. It’s only really stalking if they see you, you decide. You are wrong on all counts, but there’s no stopping you now is there?

You do a quick glance up and down the aisle to see a) whether anybody has noticed your eyes are glued to the nape of this poor unsuspecting gentleman’s delicious neck and b) whether there’s a better option. There’s nothing. On you go.

What’s in his basket?
You sidle up to near where the object of your affection is standing. In your head, you do this nonchalantly, almost on casters. In reality, you loiter far too near to where he is, breathing heavily, and demonstrate the worst subtle side-eye since Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston last shared the red carpet.

You peer into the basket to see what he’s got. Hmmm, plenty of vegetables. Kale, even. How modern. Broccoli. OK. Mange tout. Right. Spinach. OK, that’s a lot of greenery. You picture, in the future when you live together, wandering into the bathroom after him – then backing away with your man-bag over your nose.

What else has he got? Fresh fish and chicken. No beef. You worry. Can you really feel a deep, sexual connection for a man who doesn’t chow down on burgers? Oh well, you shrug, you can always go to Byron on date night.

Who’s he with?
Hot people rarely go anywhere alone, because other people tend to want to be around hot people. You check for any flatmates, boyfriends, girlfriends, mothers – anybody who might spoil your dark, twisted fantasy by the deep freeze.

That he’s got no trolley is a good sign he’s flying solo – unless he’s a tight-arse who shops with his other half/flatmate but doesn’t split the bill.

Is he checking out anything other than his own basket?
Oh my God, you think, did he just look at me? The answer: yes, he did. The reason: he thinks it’s weird how you have been on every aisle he’s been on.

In your fantasy, he comes up to you and asks for your advice on the product he has in his hands (just pray it isn’t tripe). In the real world, however, he frowns at you quizzically before scratching his head and scurrying off to the checkouts. You follow, even though your basket contains only a tin of chickpeas, an iceberg lettuce and, inexplicably, some haemorrhoid cream.

Will you be the unexpected item in his bagging area?
He has gone to the self-checkout. This can be a dealbreaker  – so many fall at this final hurdle. You should never date a man who can’t hold his own at a self-checkout.

If he gets more than one shrill “Please remove last item, unexplained item in bagging area”, you should probably run for the hills. If he’s that useless at a self-checkout when all you have to do is scan, imagine him fumbling his way round your very own bag for life.

You scan your items, trying to catch his eye. Now is the wrong time to be flirting, you need to concentrate on what you’re doing. Uh-oh, those dreaded words. “Please place the item in the bag.” While you’re sorting out with the assistant why your haemorrhoid cream isn’t going through properly, your crush shoots you a swift glance and sails on through, sauntering out to the car park. You shoo away the checkout guy and race after him, frantically searching the horizon before he disappears over it.

You can’t see him anywhere. Dolefully you turn back into the store, only to find your crush there, his shopping bags in his hand and a smile on his face.

“How about a drink?” he asks, a glint in his sexy eyes.

You gulp. “Sure… I’d love to!”

“Great, come on then,” he says, putting his arm round you. “Oh, and by the way,” he whispers, “can we have medical assistance on aisle 3, please?”

You look at him, puzzled. “Sorry, what?”

“Medical assistance on aisle 3,” he barks in startling monotone. “We have a customer emergency.”

And suddenly your head hurts and the arm round your shoulder is an in-store cleaner asking you if you’re OK – and all around you are tins of chickpeas. Further up the aisle, your crush peeks at the carnage before him, before he’s joined by a hotter, taller, blonder guy who playfully squeezes his arse and pecks him on the cheek.

“Come on, babe,” he says. “Let’s leave them to it. I can sure they can help the poor old bugger.”

Oh well, at least the haemorrhoid cream was a dream, eh?

Oh. Oh.

Image:  Flickr

Todd and his toothbrush

The bitter end: Todd and his toothbrush

With Todd, the signs were always there, I guess – on our first date he spent rather too much time ogling a famous popstar across the bar. On leaving the place, I took him back to mine to teach him a lesson he’d never forget and, perhaps to both our surprise, it turned into something.

Little things would crop up every now and again to make me wonder. Todd’s insistence that he sit facing a window when we went out to eat, or going to a barbecue and eating only what he had cooked himself – a trial because he incinerated absolutely everything – or his annoying habit of refusing to accept I didn’t like red wine that much.

“White wine is for beginners,” he would say, impatiently, as I slipped a bottle of prosecco in the shopping basket. “And prosecco is for girls.”

“If prosecco is for beginners then I don’t ever want to be intermediate,” I’d reply trying not to roll my eyes. “And I’ll happily wear a dress if it means I get to drink cheap fizz.”

“White wine is for beginners,” he’d say, impatiently. “And prosecco is for girls.”

His main shtick – and the loudest of all the alarm bells – was trying to make me feel uncultured and shallow. He would get on to politics far earlier in the day than was acceptable, and call me out on “wishy-washy Guardianista received opinion” then bore me to death with his musings on the economy which I suppose I could’ve read myself had I not been laughing too long at a deliciously bitchy Marina Hyde column.

And yet, incredibly, he fancied me rotten. He would tell me so, very often. Over lunch, on the train, in the supermarket – usually mere moments after skewering me over my choice of wine. Looking back now, I suppose he thought he could get away with acting permanently exasperated at my faults if he told me I was pretty, like an old lady cooing at her budgerigar or a stable hand patting his thoroughbred’s thigh. Being single can be quite a fragile state at times, and I suppose being told I was hot by someone was a rare pleasure, it made me feel nice, albeit briefly, and it can be quite the aphrodisiac.

The final straw, however, was the most ridiculous of all. I had endured six weeks or so of this odd mix of him telling me I was irritating then being unable to keep his hands out of my shorts, but what finally did it for me was a toothbrush. Yes, a toothbrush.

I stayed over at his flat for the first – and, as it turned out, final – time. I woke first and ran my tongue over my teeth.

To placate him the night before, I had gamely joined him for a few glasses of red wine. My breath was pure vinegar and my teeth felt like tombstones.

I padded through to the bathroom, praying I wouldn’t bump into any of his housemates. He lived with two girls, but I never saw them, only their miserable bootcut jeans hanging to dry on a clothes-airer in his conservatory.

In the bathroom mirror, I surveyed the damage. Purple-stained lips? Check. Grey, wine-ravaged teeth? Check. General feeling of gut rot, extreme nausea and cottonmouth? Check in triplicate.

I glanced around, looking for something to fix my malodorous mouth. No Listerine in sight. I sighed heavily. No floss, either. I tried to remember what Todd’s teeth were like, realised I couldn’t, and thought that in itself was a pretty bad sign.

In a beaker by the sink stood four toothbrushes. One was red. One was pink. One was purple. And one was green. I considered them all. Three people lived in the house. Sticking to gender stereotypes, I reasoned the pink one would belong to one of the girls. I couldn’t see Todd going for a red toothbrush, and it looked quite grotty, so I assumed they used that one to clean the grouting. Purple or green would be Todd’s then. I thought of maybe just leaving it, but… oh my mouth. It felt awful, like it was screaming at me “Who did you let in here last night?!” I had to get rid of this feeling.

I grabbed the green toothbrush, smeared some Colgate on it, winced, and started to lightly brush my teeth, the bristles barely touching enamel.

“Why would you do that without asking?” he railed. “That’s my PERSONAL toothbrush!”

At that precise moment, of course, Todd walked in, scratching his arse through his boxer shorts. He stopped dead when he caught sight of me, his eyes darting from the beaker to my mouth, then back to the beaker, before resting on my mouth and widening in horror.

“Heeeeey,” I garbled through a mouthful of fluoride and foam.

“What are you doing?” he asked, his eyes like saucers and his lip trembling in a way I had seen once before but for a very different reason.

“I’m guzzhing my keergh,” I mumbled, before giving in and spitting out any toothpaste that had managed to stay in my gob.

“Where did you get that toothbrush?” His voice was almost a whisper, but with a hardness that I assumed was dissatisfaction. My lord and master wasn’t happy.

I gestured toward the beaker. “Right there.”

He pointed now to the brush still in my hand. “That’s mine.”

I made a face a bit like a pug trying to get chewing gum out of its back teeth. “Yes. Well, I don’t have one here. I thought I might as well.”

He started to go red. At first, I thought he was embarrassed at making such a fuss, but it soon became clear he was angry. Furious, even.

“Why would you do that without asking?” he railed. “That’s my PERSONAL toothbrush” – I can only imagine what his business toothbrush was like – “and I don’t like you just coming in here using it.”

I carefully placed the sainted toothbrush back in the beaker. “I wasn’t keen either,” I admitted. “But… I don’t really understand why this is a big deal.”

He snorted. “Come ON. It’s gross. It’s not hygienic.” He scrunched his face up in disgust.

“Are you for real?” I spat. “Your tongue’s been on just about every tooth of mine it can reach, and you had my… my pecker in your mouth a few short hours ago.” I cringed at the memory. “But dragging your toothbrush around my gob is a hanging offence?”

He looked puzzled and ran his fingers over his own teeth. “I don’t know where you’ve…” he stopped himself. “Um, you might have gum disease.”

I rubbed my eyes. Suddenly I was very tired and very hungover and very much hoping for teleportation to be invented within the next 15 seconds.

“I’m just a bit funny about what I put in my mouth.”

I slid past him and went back into the bedroom and started to get dressed. He followed, but the sun was in my eyes so I couldn’t see his expression. When he finally spoke, he sounded sheepish.

“I’m just a bit funny about what I put in my mouth.”

I pulled on my trainers in excessively energetic frustration. So many one-liners swirled around my head; a hundred possible put-downs and sparkling double-entendres willed me to pick them.

Instead, as I slipped on my jacket, I settled for “Fuck off, Todd” and left the room, his flat, his street and jumped on a bus to start my favourite journey of that year so far – the one that took me away from Todd for ever.

Image:  pcapemax2007 on Flickr


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