Friday, 18 July 2008

Bloke breaks all records

I have no idea of my weight, but I think that my alcohol intake yesterday may have set a new record at 23.0 units, thereby exceeding in 24 hours the recommended maximum for a male over an entire week. I have a clear memory of the 7.0 units I consumed at lunchtime; the evening total depends on whether we got through three bottles of red wine between three of us on the cigar terrace after dinner, in addition to the glass of Prosecco and two bottles of red consumed in the restaurant. Unfortunately I seem unable to obtain verification from my companions, as they are suffering from either actual or diplomatic amnesia. I suppose the actual sort would be quite credible, in the circumstances.

A cigar terrace, I hear you say? Yes, by some miracle of influence with the Westminster planning department, the charismatic proprietor of Boisdale restaurant has been permitted to construct a perfectly comfortable, covered terrace for the continued inhalation of the Cuban cigars which are one of his establishment’s principal raisons d’être. The attitude of this branch of local government is certainly much more accommodating than that of their counterparts in Northumberland, where applications for modest smoking shelters are constantly being knocked back with the Puritan sneer, “Far too comfortable. The object of the law is to make them give up, you know.”

So after a fine Italian meal a couple of doors along with a former colleague and one of my lunch guests who popped along for “just a quick drink” and remained to dinner, as we always knew he would, we repaired to this welcoming refuge for a Monte Cristo and a further bucketful of wine. As we were sitting there leaning back in our chairs and smoking like young bucks out of Brideshead Revisited (in the classic John Mortimer TV adaptation, obviously, not the regrettable new film), three young (by my standards) women came to sit at the next table for the purpose of having a fag. I guess they were probably in their early 30s, though we flattered them by pretending that we thought they were in their late 20s. I shall call them the Glamorous Blonde, the Busty Thoroughbred and the Cuddly Hamster, mainly because I have no idea of their real names. What astonished me, after decades of half-hearted attempts to chat up women in bars which have almost invariably ended in the rapid receipt of firm instructions involving sex and travel, was the reaction when one of my companions addressed them. This bloke, who has always modelled himself on Evelyn Waugh’s “Boy” Mulcaster, came out with what I would have thought was quite possibly the worst chat-up line of all time: “Would you care to join us, ladies? Our partners are between 50 and 500 miles away.” And, blow me, they did. Though they did not blow me, as it happened. Or anyone else to the best of my knowledge. Nevertheless, we had a perfectly pleasant chat, which must have gone on for a couple of hours, I suppose. I just wish I could remember what any of it was about. What I can say with confidence is that the Cuddly Hamster who walked me back to my club was a male in his early 40s, and luckily he did not ask if he could come in with me.

It is remarkable how well I felt this morning, all things considered, tending to confirm the widespread belief that high quality cigars and decent wine do not give rise to unpleasant after-effects. Though it does seem much too good to be true.

I found myself with a bit of time to kill in Newcastle at lunchtime, as a result of missing my connecting train to Morpeth. The days when branch trains wait for their advertised mainline connection are, of course, long gone. Now their operators would be fined for unpunctuality if they did any such thing, so the local Pacer service chugs and rattles along in front of the inter-city service with which it was supposed to connect, thereby making the ironically named “Flying Scotsman” even later.

“I know,” I thought, “I’ll go and have lunch at my club.” So I went there on my own for the first time in my life, and sat at the club table with a couple of elderly gents, one of whom made a valiant attempt to engage me in their conversation, while his companion looked at me with what I took for some time as withering contempt, but which I finally re-interpreted as the total incomprehension which arises when one is almost completely stone deaf. Still, he did contribute a fine, blasphemous joke about the Pope and Bill Clinton, which I would reproduce but for my near certainty that it is already enjoying wide circulation. He lowered his voice for the punch line, which led me to miss it, but at least gave me a bit of mental exercise as I worked out what the hell it must have been. Though, of course, given the sewer-like state of my mind, it is quite possible that I have given an entirely filthy spin to a joke which, as uttered, was clean enough to be shared with nuns and the gentler sort of preparatory schoolchildren. Though the drain-like laugh uttered by the other old boy definitely suggested otherwise.

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