Friday 19 September 2008

You live and learn

14st 4lb; 4.2 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,235; Motorway Hell.

I had lunch today with my IT guru who has, amazingly, managed to retrieve all the e-mails I thought I had lost forever when my desktop computer departed this life in a controlled explosion last month. Even more remarkably, he has managed to do so himself, after a specialist data retrieval company indicated that they would expect an unfeasibly large amount of money to take on the job. Whether this is ultimately in my best interests is, of course, highly debatable. Owing to an extreme reluctance to throw anything away, I am already hopelessly overburdened with possessions – from furniture to clothing, books to pictures, letters to photographs, press cuttings and other widely assorted ephemera. In the circumstances, it might well have been better just to “let it go”.

Still, it is done now and it seemed that the least I could do was to buy him some lunch to facilitate the hand-back of my knackered hard drive and the DVD to which he has transferred my temporarily missing files. So I did this at a pub of his choice, albeit one selected from a shortlist I had submitted earlier, evidently without applying sufficient forethought. In my defence, I had not set foot in the place for more than 20 years, when through one of those rare juxtapositions of bad and good luck my Land Rover died one evening as I was driving it north on the A1, at precisely the point where I could coast to a halt outside the front door of this very boozer, go in to use their public telephone (this was before the days of mobile phones, except for the likes of top investment bankers) and consume two fine pints of real ale while waiting for the AA to turn up. They fixed the car in about 30 seconds, too.

Unfortunately the only “improvement” made to the pub during the intervening two decades proved to be removing the real ale pumps from the bar. But at least this made me less resentful as I ordered two bottles of non-alcoholic lager to reflect the fact that I have grown a bit more serious about not drinking and driving since 1986. My choice of beverage caused the two unsettlingly short-haired blokes lurking menacingly at the bar to regard me with malevolent suspicion, and I hoped against hope that they were not going to interpret my meeting as some sort of gay assignation. I was much relieved when my guest walked in and ordered a manly pint of John Smith’s. In fact I would have been tempted to kiss him, if it would not have conveyed just the impression I was striving to avoid.

They had not updated the menu since the 80s, or even bothered to give it a wipe, since like everything else in the place it seemed to be covered in a thin layer of grease. Plus a rather unsettling tattoo, in the case of the barmaid. My hopes rose when our food took a while to arrive, since that is usually a sign of it being cooked to order, but in this case I suspect they had just forgotten to bring it through as it was distinctly on the cold side. Still, my scampi and chips was perfectly edible and my guest said the same of his beef and ale pie. We drank indifferent coffee from spectacularly chipped white cups in an attempt to keep me awake through my drive to Chester, and I set off at 2 o’clock on what should have been a three and a half hour journey, according to my sat nav, but in fact occupied five very tedious hours. Traffic was very heavy throughout and the sat nav recommended a number of bizarre diversions to avoid hold-ups, one of which took me right through the centre of Leeds at the height of the rush hour. The important conclusion I drew from all this was that it was probably not a particularly bright idea to travel across the north of England on a Friday afternoon.

Just imagine being my age and still attaining fresh insights of that quality.

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