Monday 10 March 2008

Prepared for the worst

14st 5lb; zero alcohol; 1,425; in the eye of the hurricane.

So here it is: the day of “the worst storm of the whole winter”. True, there was a high wind and driving sleet when I left home, but I’ve actually encountered worse conditions in Northumberland on August Bank Holiday Monday, in line with the sweeping, traditional definition of our climate as nine months of winter and three months of bad weather. Although National Express kept apologizing for the fact that our train could only run at 80mph owing to the high winds, it somehow contrived to pull into King’s Cross a couple of minutes early. When I emerged from the tube at my final destination, I was greeted by a row of Evening Standard billboards, all screaming “STORMS CAUSE TRAVEL CHAOS”. Really? One couldn’t help feeling that they had them printed well in advance, like the ubiquitous and almost always highly misleading “FILM STAR DEAD”. The real truth of the matter seems to be that no-one wants to be the next Michael Fish. If in doubt, forecast the worst.

I’d made this 320-mile journey to attend the rehearsal of a presentation I wrote. Before it started, I popped out for a quick bite of lunch with an old friend, leaving strict instructions to summon me back as soon as they are ready to start. I walked back into the office as the company’s managing director was flicking to his last slide and saying, “So, in conclusion …” Marvellous.

Still, at least I’d had a pretty decent meal, though I wouldn’t have minded if they’d cooked my lamb for a bit longer. Or indeed at all.

That left me with only one arguably useful function to perform: going out to dinner with the management so that they had a handy butt for their jokes. Looking at me always seems to make people feel better about their own lives, and I suppose being the lonely, miserable Bloke that everyone else can laugh at has been at the centre of my career for the last 25 years. I’m sure there are many worse fates.

We’d booked ourselves into a restaurant which trades on its antiquity. This was a bit like eating in a museum, though luckily the food did not seem to have been stuck in a display case since the reign of George III. George VI, possibly.

For the first time in my life, I was excited to find Brown Windsor Soup on a menu and ordered it with keen anticipation. What arrived was French onion soup with what tasted like a dash of Worcester sauce. Far from unpleasant, but not the thick, beefy treat that a Google recipe search would have led me to expect. The middle-aged waiters were splendidly grumpy in the fine old English tradition, muttering about us under their breath when we were a bit slow to make our selections from the menu. Their accents were Continental, but I felt sure that they were the true heirs of a verbally transmitted tradition of rudeness, handed down through more than two centuries of regarding the customer as a bloody nuisance.

After a piece of chargrilled halibut that tasted only of the chargrill, and something involving Yorkshire rhubarb in quantities that suggested it had suddenly become a very rare and special delicacy, I wandered back to bed at my club at an extraordinarily early hour. There the full fury of the storm was finally unleashed, in the form of a persistent slap-slap-slap noise from the direction of Marlborough House. I guess it was caused by a halyard being blown against a flagpole, and tried to conjure up restful images of being lulled to sleep by the same sort of noise emanating from yachts riding gently at anchor on the Beaulieu River. Such is the state of my mind, though, that I couldn’t help thinking that it bore an even stronger resemblance to the soundtrack of the more basic sort of porn film. Hardly the mental image I want to hold onto as I finally managed to drift into blessed unconsciousness. I prefer my porn to be rather classier than that.


Oofy said...

Do you know what mulligatawny soup is? I've often wondered (though never enough to find out) and you seem like the sort of chap who might know.

Keith Hann said...

Watered-down beef curry, I believe, old chap. Heinz still make something along those lines.