Friday 27 June 2008

The gangster's triumphal progress

13st 10lb, 2.8 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,318; Cyprus (UK Sovereign Base Areas).

Ever since I wrote a newspaper column about the sad deterioration of the East Coast Main Line rail service under the auspices of National Express, my own experience has been absolutely faultless. Today was no exception, with the 7.19 from Morpeth departing bang on time and reaching King’s Cross a few minutes ahead of schedule. I then wasted almost ten hours pottering around in London as I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Less Tall Cheshire Brunette on her train from the North West at 8.26 this evening. Which, despite the best efforts of Sir Richard Branson’s train operating company, also arrived on time.

She had e-mailed me in the meantime to announce that she had just enjoyed “a big curry” for lunch, which irked me a bit since it did not seem to be the action of a person who was hoping to spend any significant part of the evening engaged in osculation. But I took it commendably calmly, and brought the subject up no more than a dozen times between her arrival and bedtime (or some 110 times in the course of the whole weekend, in her recollection).

We travelled from Euston to my club in Pall Mall by taxi, rather against the wishes of the elderly driver, who was not at all sure that we would make it. He solemnly warned us that our journey was likely to be considerably delayed by the knock-on effects of the Nelson Mandela 90th birthday concert in Hyde Park, and when we arrived in record time, after speeding through a series of unusually quiet streets, he warned us to “watch ourselves” if we went out later, because of the huge crowds that would be unleashed when it all finished. I wondered whether he thought that the concert was being attended solely by “freedom fighters” armed with spears and AK-47s.

Despite the fact that the old boy was patently talking total bollocks, he had succeeded in turning me against my original idea of taking the LTCB to a Lebanese restaurant which lay in the Hyde Park direction. I therefore invoked Plan B and led her eastwards instead, to an apparently Greek restaurant that had long intrigued me. I say “apparently” Greek, because the fascia certainly conveys the impression that that is what it is, but the menu in fact turned out to be a mixture of British and Greek dishes, with the former predominating.

The first thing that struck me was the waitresses, clearly chosen by someone with a discerning eye for beauty. They were counterbalanced by an elderly “character” waiter, who was keen to crack on towards closing time, and made this clear by snatching the LTCB’s plate away while she was still eating her starter. The Greek dishes we chose were all right, though I’m not sure they would have won particularly high marks for authenticity, while the white wine from Santorini proved perfectly drinkable, at any rate by an old soak like myself.

We had been seated in a quiet corner next to an equally quiet, older couple, who seemed to be some sort of academic and his wife. He turned out to be a medic, which seemed appropriate given that he was colossally overweight. They did not talk much, as they were tightly focused on shovelling vast quantities of food into their mouths, but towards the end of their meal a menacing old bloke turned up, plonked himself down in a spare chair at their table and engaged them in conversation. He had close-cropped grey hair around a large bald patch, a blue suit and what looked like a regimental tie, and he introduced himself as the owner of the restaurant, and the similarly dressed young man he had in tow as his son and heir. His accent was much more Sarf London than Cyclades, but I gathered that he had spent some time in Cyprus before acquiring the restaurant. A real family business, at least, in these days of chains.

The owner and his son then made a triumphal, proprietorial progress around the place, attaching themselves to each table in turn and dispensing drinks on the house. This seemed to more than offset any resentment at the intrusion into diners’ privacy. I would have accepted with alacrity myself, but for some reason they by-passed us, either because first time visitors did not qualify for this privilege or because I was yet again transmitting my curmudgeonly death ray, which does so much to deter social contact. The LTCB kindly paid the bill and I walked back to my club with the insouciant air of a man who has eaten two whole chilli peppers to trump his partner’s lunchtime curry. But when I tried to kiss her goodnight, I found that she had lapsed into the sort of deep unconsciousness normally associated with induced comas after the most severe of bodily traumas. Nothing to do with me, guv. Honest.

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