Monday 2 June 2008

Manners makyth man

Too fat; too drunk (10.5 units of alcohol yesterday); too doomed, not solely because of my predicted death in 1,342 days’ time; Hackney, probably (certainly one of those bits of London you should not visit except in an armoured taxi, ideally while wearing a stab vest).

Our host had painted such a horrific picture of the crowds we would encounter on the 7.16 to town that I shamefully decided not to accompany the LTCB on it as she headed back to work, but to go up later when the rush hour was over. Having seen how stressed I became as a result of my little non-run-in with our cab company yesterday, she asked whether I was like that when I worked in PR in London. I responded with characteristically foolhardy honesty that I had been in a similar state of inadequately repressed fury all the time, except perhaps when I was asleep. I do not think that she took this as a positive sign for our future together, in the admittedly unlikely event of us having one.

Ironically, after all the abuse I heaped on the cab company yesterday, including a detailed assurance that I would never use them again unless and until Hell froze over and Gordon Brown attained a 20 point lead in the opinion polls, I had to ring them to get myself to the station. Because none of the other major Brighton cab firms could be bothered to answer their phones within 20 rings, and even an outfit which screws up seems preferable to one that is so determinedly incommunicado. As it happened, I struck up a real rapport with my driver as he was a grey haired Bloke of about my own age who also had a much younger girlfriend. I don’t suppose he faces a lot of competition for that sort of thing in Brighton.

I upgraded my ticket to first class to guarantee another seat on which to place my suitcase, it being a typical triumph of Britain’s privatized railways to be serving the major south coast holiday resorts with new trains which make absolutely no provision for luggage, over and above the laptops and briefcases of commuters. I had the compartment to myself until East Croydon, where I was joined by a Sun reader with a brass neck. How I was itching for a ticket collector to pass through and turf him out. As well as the shortage of luggage space, the absence of emergency Lower Class Alert buttons to summon assistance for first class passengers is clearly a major design fault. Ejector seats would be good, too.

My taxi from Victoria to my club was halted for a few minutes outside Buckingham Palace while Her Majesty’s Guards marched across from Wellington Barracks to relieve the Gurkhas assembled in the forecourt. Given that my cabbie was a typical “send-em-back, string-em-up” Cockney patriot, I could not understand why this brief interruption occasioned such a paroxysm of fury. For my own part, I much enjoyed the spectacle.

I lunched at the Carlton Club with two men who followed the same path as mine through school and university. My host is exactly the sort of chap who would have resigned from the Carlton in disgust at its recent decision to admit women as full members, if only he had happened to be a member himself in the first place, rather than relying on the reciprocal rights it bestows on members of the Aberdeen and District Haggis Fanciers’ Club and Institute. He became much exercised by the fact that the staff had failed to appreciate that they were dealing with three Geordies, and that our rate of wine consumption therefore far outpaced their normal leisurely schedule for topping our glasses up. At one point my host was distinctly heard to say, “For God’s sake, woman, just pour the stuff out,” which seemed a little lacking in the deference that men of our class are accustomed to show towards servants, as I am sure that the staff of the Carlton Club are no longer called. Still, it did strike me that this might be profitably adopted as the new motto of our school in place of the now incomprehensible “Discendo duces” and the long-established unofficial one, “If at first you don’t succeed, give up.”

This evening I ventured to Wiltons Music Hall in the East End for a delightful musical evening centred on a very short Pergolesi opera called La Serva Padrona. I was much taken with the soprano playing the feisty serving wench, who proved on closer inspection (sadly only on paper) to have been the same Amy Freston who had made an equally positive impression playing Amore at Glyndebourne last night. We had an excellent dinner and far too much to drink, too. Best of all, my kind host from Brighton managed to get me into a taxi back to my club before I punched anyone in the face, with special reference to the deranged neighbour from Northumberland who began aggressively bellowing my surname as soon as I started heading towards the exit. I realized at that moment what it must be like to be a waitress in the Carlton Club, being addressed by a provincial Bloke with imperfect manners. And, to tell the truth, I did not like it one little bit.

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