Wednesday 27 February 2008

The daughter who never was

Weight: who cares? I’ve consumed more than enough alcohol in the last 24 hours to stop me, or for that matter a charging bull elephant, from caring about anything much; 1,437; West End.

I’ve always believed that the key thing with restaurants is to keep going back to the same place. Eventually the maitre d’ will start greeting you as an old friend, which always goes down well with your more impressionable guests, while your familiarity with the menu and wine list will significantly reduce the amount of time you need to waste making difficult decisions.

Thirty years ago I encountered a pair of rich old spinster sisters who had applied the same principle to holidays. They were the landlords of a flat in Cambridge which I hoped to share with an already resident postgraduate student, and he took me around to their house for a nice cup of tea so that they could assess my suitability as a tenant. They could talk of little else but their annual break in Switzerland, from which they had just returned. “We always stay in the same hotel,” one purred as she stirred her Earl Grey. “We’ve been going there for so many years that it’s just like being at home.” Fortunately my friend had the presence of mind to wrestle me to the ground when I was only two words into my more or less inevitable response, “Why the bloody hell don’t you just stay at home, then?” Thanks to his timely action, I duly passed their Tenant Suitability Test.

However, I was moved to question my philosophy this lunchtime when I returned to the scene of last night’s supper, and our waiter addressed me quizzically. “Weren’t you in last night, sir? Sitting over there with your daughter?” True, in certain parts of the North East I would make a positively ancient parent for my PR lady friend. But in middle class circles, where late breeding is the norm, it seems positively insulting. It’s lucky for him that I got rather drunk by the time I left (just for a change, you understand) or I might have been tempted to knock the 12.5% service charge off the bill. As it was, I explained rather coldly that she was neither my daughter nor my girlfriend. I added that I knew he had made a very positive impression on her, and offered him her phone number. For some reason he ran screaming towards the kitchens.

Today’s lunch was with two Blokes who were friends at both school and university. One of them tried to order a main course as a starter, while the other had to have it pointed out to him that eggs followed by eggs for starter and main might be considered an odd choice, in an eerie echo of last night’s attempted steak extravaganza. I reckon it must be something in the air. He made a spirited comeback, though, by ordering Scotch woodcock for afters: a dish consisting of scrambled eggs and anchovies, his selection of which became all the odder when one realized that he didn’t actually like anchovies.

I seem to be surrounding myself with the adult equivalents of those tiresome children one encounters in the papers from time to time, who have attained celebrity status by eating absolutely nothing but chips or eggy bread since they were weaned. I think they need a good slap, and I don’t just mean the kids.

We were sitting next to a corner table occupied by three ladies who were clearly celebrating a significant birthday for one of their number. I scored maximum brownie points by raising a glass in their direction and saying that I well remembered what fun I had when I turned 25. They became quite matey under the influence of alcohol, insisting that we share their chocolates with our coffee. I wonder how things might have turned out if the one of our number pretending to be a high-powered lawyer hadn’t responded to the call of his BlackBerry and returned to the office.

I’ve always wanted to participate in an impromptu orgy with a group of ladies who lunch – though only, of course, in theory. Whenever any practical possibility of that sort has arisen, I’ve invariably made an excuse and left, in the finest traditions of the News of the World. I suppose the last opportunity was when I was in a bar in Newcastle with a well-lubricated (in the sense of drunk) bisexual woman who was pestering me to accompany her to the city’s most notorious gay pub, with a view to picking up some stray female for a spot of threesome action. I bribed a taxi driver to take her home instead.

On a much earlier occasion, a colleague and I conducted a job interview with a most attractive young lady, which extended over a spectacularly drunken dinner. In the course of this, she made it graphically clear that she would be prepared to do absolutely anything to secure a job. I suddenly remembered how late it was, and went home alone. The real mystery here is that we did not employ her, particularly given the calibre of some of the people who did make it onto payroll.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and with the benefit of rather a lot of it I can’t help thinking that my bank of deathbed reminiscences would have been considerably enhanced I have had gone along with these and the regrettably small number of similar proposals that have come my way over the years. Perhaps I have had too delicate a conscience about sparing the clearly barking mad from the consequences of their actions.

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