Tuesday 26 February 2008

One tragedy after another

I’ve no idea what I weigh, though I did have one more meal than usual yesterday, and about eight units of alcohol (in total, not on each eating occasion); 1,438; Lost.

I had a curious lunch today in a rather good Italian restaurant in St James’s with a couple of friends. Curious partly because the food was authentically Italian in taking a long time to appear and being utterly delicious when it did so, while the staff looked and sounded authentically Italian, too; yet when I asked for a glass of Prosecco as an aperitif, our waitress responded “still or sparkling?” and clearly imagined it to be a type of mineral water.

It was also curious for my host’s comprehensive disregard of English conventions. When our second friend arrived and asked him “How are you?” he replied “I’m having a breakdown”. Acceptable behaviour on an American daytime chat show, perhaps, but not what one expects in the land of the stiff upper lip. I e-mailed him afterwards to point out that this was the equivalent of blurting out “I’ve got terminal cancer” in a country where even “I’m a little bit poorly” is considered thoroughly over the top, the approved form of words being “Mustn’t grumble”.

I acknowledge that I’m not the best person to comment on this, as in my London PR career I often spotted colleagues frantically signalling to clients that they should not ask me how I was, as I’d more than likely give them a full and detailed answer. Still, at least I am able to bore for Britain on the subject of depression, after more than 30 years’ experience of it. Whatever today’s “major study” may have concluded, I believe that anti-depressant drugs do work, though the preferable solutions are working out what is making you depressed (if there is indeed an external cause – there rarely was for me) and doing something about it (if you can, which is not always possible).

More generally, the answers are to get up early, keep busy, take plenty of exercise, cut down on food and drink, keep socialising with real friends and constantly remind yourself that the feeling of despair won’t last forever. Writing is excellent therapy, too, which is why I won’t be stopping this blog however much sarcasm about self-obsession it may attract. It’s as good as cognitive behavioural therapy, and only wastes the time of half as many people. Surely this can only be a good thing?

This evening I took a London PR lady to the opera. I was frankly amazed when she turned up on the dot of 7p.m, as arranged, and only mildly surprised that she did so at the Royal Opera House, despite the fact that I had dropped a series of hints to the contrary in successive e-mails, including repeated use of the words "English National Opera", "the Coliseum" and "St Martin's Lane". I was rather more taken aback when she rang me at 7.15 to report that she was "lost", and proved to be walking purposefully along the Strand away from Trafalgar Square. Total ignorance of the location of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields and its associated Lane might be forgivable in one visiting from Alnwick or Mars for the first time, but seemed a little bit odd in a long-term resident of the capital.

My guest finally panted into the Coliseum as the last bell was ringing, and paid rapt attention throughout Anthony Minghella’s ravishing production of Madam Butterfly. This was certainly preferable to the behaviour of one young man in the row in front of us, who was so bored that he started flicking through the e-mails on his BlackBerry during one of the most heart-rending arias in the whole of grand opera.

Afterwards we went for a late supper at The Ivy, where our waiter patiently explained every dish on the menu, and I patiently explained why many people would consider steak tartare for a starter, followed by steak as a main course, to be a slightly eccentric choice. I also gently made it clear that the Channel 4 presenter on a nearby table would probably prefer to remain in ignorance of the fact that she was a great admirer of his work. She kindly paid the bill and headed off to a distant part of west London in one of the fleet of limousines stationed outside the door, even though I knew for a fact that she had no means of paying for it. Not with cash, at any rate. But then top London PR ladies are renowned for their resourcefulness and negotiating skills, so I expect that the words “that will do nicely” were exchanged on the back seat later as he slid …

… her credit card into his terminal. Obviously.

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