Friday 18 January 2008

Three comedies of manners and one total shambles

I truly dread to think; zero alcohol yesterday (which is something, I suppose, though the two-day average would still give the Chief Medical Officer palpitations); 1,477; Portland (again).

Fortunately I was able to while away the worst hours of yesterday’s monumental hangover traipsing around London’s fashionable West End, trying to obtain a new mains power adapter for my laptop. By the time I finally succeeded, I found that I was due at a trendy new restaurant by the Thames for a fizzy-water-fuelled lunch with the man I worked with for more than 20 years. He probably taught me everything I know about public relations, which is admittedly not saying all that much.

We exchanged a lot of amusing stories about the subsequent career histories of various people who had once employed us. For me, though, the undoubted highlight was stepping out of the restaurant and running into a short, squat, grey-haired, bespectacled Scotchman, accompanied by a much taller and far from unattractive blonde of about half his age. He and my lunch companion both eyed each other in the way that people do when they feel they ought to know each other. But it was the Scotchman who cracked and said “Hello, er …”, before making the epic mistake of gesturing to the blonde and saying “This is my niece, Olivia”. My friend and I fell about. At which the Scotchman began to protest, “No, no, she really is my niece.” My ex-colleague and I were by now giggling uncontrollably, like a pair of schoolboys. “My flat’s just along here …” We guffawed and slapped our sides. “… and she’s doing some work for me.” We begged him to stop. Thank God he didn’t use the word “job” rather than “work”, or I fear that I really would have ruptured myself.

Even better, a few hundred yards later, when I had finally recovered the power of speech, I asked “Who the hell is he, anyway?” and my friend replied “I’m not really sure.”

Marvellous. Though I did witness an even better bit of theatre in the evening, when I went to the National to see Simon Russell Beale in Much Ado About Nothing. I could be enthralled by watching him read extracts from the telephone directory, so had booked even though I have a powerful prejudice against his co-star, Zeo Amawanker, the well-known anagram. She is one of those actresses, like Judi Dench, whose huge popularity with absolutely everyone else totally mystifies me. So you can be sure that I am telling the truth when I say that not only did Russell Beale fulfil all my expectations, but Ms Wanabeanactress also proved extremely funny and surprisingly touching in the role of Beatrice.

And so to the day I am actually supposed to be writing about: Friday. Today, absurdly, I went for lunch at The Ivy with the very person I am supposed to be competing with in a charity weight loss challenge. I’d set it up so that I could introduce the top TV producer to my friend the depressed screenwriter. I reckoned that we all had something in common (we’re all from Newcastle, we all went to the same school, albeit not at exactly the same time … er, that’s it). Still, it wasn’t a total waste of time, as the producer was able to cast an eye over a contract with a TV company produced by the screenwriter, and point out that it promised him absolutely nothing and allowed the other party to pinch his idea and remove his kidneys and corneas for transplantation if it took their fancy. A pity, on the whole, that I didn’t arrange the lunch before he actually signed it.

Nevertheless, it must be accounted a successful occasion since at no point were punches exchanged; quite a result when three Geordie males are gathered together, and particularly when alcoholic beverages are being consumed.

After one of those gaps in consciousness that occur regularly to dedicated drinkers, I found myself on a train to Newcastle, sitting opposite a man with an implausibly large, bald head, covered in painful-looking sores. I refrained from asking whether he was playing Humpty Dumpty in a panto in which the slapstick was getting ever so slightly out of hand. However, it was a very close-run thing. National Express had bothered themselves to put out seat reservations on this occasion, but not to clean the lavatories since they took over the franchise, by the look and smell of things. Fortunately the need to visit them was much reduced by a distinct shortage of refreshments. There was a trolley service in first class, but the team providing it were clearly much more focused on their preparations for the 2012 Olympics. They achieved something close to warp speed as they hurtled through the carriage, carefully avoiding all eye contact. Under the new regime, the only sure way to obtain a cuppa will be to develop a technique like one of those frogs that sits unobserved for hours, then unrolls an immensely long tongue at quite incredible speed to capture any passing fly.

In fact, the only good thing about the journey was that I ran into an ex-client who is now, amazingly enough, a senior executive with National Express. I began to give him the executive summary of my views on the service but tragically he remembered that he had to get off at the next stop, Newark (the only town in Britain that is an anagram of “Wanker”). A bit after he left, the mantra “Attention train crew, disabled passenger alarm operated” began to issue from the tannoy at considerable volume. This tends to be activated by people who can’t tell the difference between a lever marked “Flush” and a bright red handle emblazoned “Emergency Alarm”. Someone bothered themselves to turn it off after a bit, but it started again and played continuously for the last quarter of the journey, as the inattentive and no doubt thoroughly demoralized train crew huddled together in the restaurant car, pretending that they could not hear it.

I’m glad to be home, and feel that it may well be a mistake ever to leave it again.

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