Thursday 19 June 2008

Friends and how to recognize them

13st 12lb (Yippee! Lost five pounds yesterday despite the bacon double cheeseburger I had for lunch at Scotch Corner services, though I suppose it might have more to do with reverting to my usual bathroom scales); zero alcohol; 1,325 days left; Covent Garden.

My journey on the 09.00 from Newcastle to London was marred only by a remarkably loud and determined bearded cougher who boarded the train at Darlington and took up position on the opposite side of the carriage. He was clearly in advanced training for the phlegm clearance gold medal at the forthcoming Olympics, though this struck me as a bit of a forlorn hope given the strength of the native opposition in China. I was disturbed not just by the volume, which far exceeded that of the music playing over my laptop’s headphones, but by the memory of sitting opposite a similar champion cougher a few years ago, and ending up spending several days in bed with a bad dose of whatever he had got. I scouted around the train for an alternative seat and was just weighing up whether I could face the pain of relocating my huge suitcase when he and his female companion unexpectedly gathered up their papers and got off at York. They were replaced by two young women, one a dark haired girl of such outstanding beauty that it was a real struggle not simply to stare at her open-mouthed all the way to King’s Cross. So life isn’t all bad, really.

This evening I took a friend who looks very well, but is in fact very ill, to see Ariadne auf Naxos at Covent Garden. Would it be better to be very well and look very ill? Almost certainly, on any number of levels. We met a former colleague of mine who revealed at the interval that he had dipped his toe back in the water of the restaurant where he practically used to live, but concluded that it really has “gone a bit naff” and was now a celebrity-free zone, though he did admit that the service was excellent and that the staff’s memory of his quirky tastes had been most impressive.

Having gone on a bit about the “much classier” places where he now felt “more at home”, he repeated an earlier assertion that he was nevertheless going to join the private club being opened above his old haunt, albeit only for one year initially in case it turned out to be “just Essex upstairs.”

This goaded me into asking him whether he was absolutely sure that it was going to be as exclusive as he had been led to believe.

He looked at me in genuine surprise, then gave a rather convincing impression of a goldfish. Eventually he spluttered “They haven’t invited you to join, have they?”

“Yes,” I said. “In fact, I HAVE joined.”

“Then they must be REALLY desperate! The whole point about the place was that it was supposed to be for friends, by invitation only, not some sort of mailing list operation.”

Lovely. I am so glad that this man is my friend, and not my enemy. Though how would I tell? He did cheer up a bit when I told him that I had paid a joining fee, which was apparently waived for very special invitees such as himself.

The good thing is that I can write about him with total impunity, as at his firm’s cocktail party on 3 June I participated in a three-way conversation with him and the greatest fan of this blog (at the time). My fan said how much pleasure he got out of it reading it, and assumed that my ex-colleague did the same, to which he replied, “No, I NEVER read it.”

“Really. Why’s that?”

“Because I have got a LIFE.”

It has to be said that my greatest fan sent me a sad text 48 hours later reporting that the bank which employed him had converted him into a synergy. There may be an important lesson here for anyone else who is accessing this site several times a day during office hours. Following the confiscation of his BlackBerry, my ex-fan has reverted to more traditional means of communication and sent me a greetings card the other day in which he said that he had been cured of his addiction now that he had to read this rubbish in his own time. So at least his redundancy was not completely pointless, then.

As for the opera, the set for the first act was wonderful, as was the music in the second, which I enjoyed much more in any case as I did not have one of the world’s tallest men sitting bang in front of me, totally obstructing my view. And the fat lady finally sang. Deborah Voigt, famously barred from playing Ariadne in the original performances of this production on the grounds of her obesity, had since lost a staggering 135lb following surgery, or so the press reported. Even so, l still would not want to get between her and a branch of Greggs when a tray of hot, fresh pies has just come out of the oven. And I don’t think any male in the audience would have climbed over Gillian Keith, the skiinny little Canadian blonde who simply exuded sex appeal in the role of Zerbinetta, in order to get closer to the star of the show.

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