Sunday 18 April 2010

Thrown out after all these years

No idea, 19.5 units. No, that is not a misprint. Yesterday Mrs H and I enjoyed a decent lunch in London with a glass of champagne each and a bottle of red Burgundy to celebrate my partial recovery from alleged pneumonia (which is the main reason for my silence of recent days); I sharpened myself up with a couple of cocktails before the opera/ballet in the evening; and I then consumed most of a bottle of Rioja with our light post-theatre supper. It soon mounts up, to the sort of number that comes perilously close to one’s recommended alcohol intake for an entire week. Thank God Patricia Hewitt is no longer charged with monitoring this sort of thing on behalf of the Government. I dread to think of the lecture that might have ensued.

My aforementioned recovery is only partial because, despite being zapped with double the usual dose of strong antibiotics, the Cough of Doom came creeping back more or less as soon as I finished my course of drugs on Friday morning. I really don’t feel at all well.

To make things worse I also got thrown out of a restaurant today, for the first time in my life. I was absolutely mortified, and everyone else in the room stared in a smug sort of way, though not as hard as they would have stared if I had followed my first instinct and created a scene such as might have featured in Coronation Street, involving extensive verbal abuse and perhaps a little bit of carefully choreographed physical violence.

You can no doubt imagine how it happened. Me drunk as a lord, offending nearby diners with my liberal use of the F- and C-words in what passes for witty repartee.

Only it wasn’t like that at all. It was at breakfast, and I was as sober as a judge who had drunk his week’s alcohol ration in the previous 24 hours, but whose liver was bearing up remarkably well under the strain.

In fact it wasn’t really me who was thrown out of the restaurant at all, but the saintly Mrs H. We had actually been shown to our table and were in the process of sitting down when the young chap with the menus glanced at Mrs H from the waist down and announced that he was terribly sorry, but the wearing of jeans in the dining room of my club was not permitted at any time. Mrs H said she was equally sorry, but she did not have anything else to wear (not strictly true, but she would have cut a pretty strange figure at breakfast in the striking pink cocktail dress that she had worn at the opera last night, which was indeed the only alternative). Could she perhaps have her breakfast and promise never to do it again? Sadly not, said the young man, because “someone might object”.

This was where I began to feel the Weatherfield red mist rising, though even at the time I recognized that our maitre d’ was the blameless agent of some blimpish higher authority which had – and here comes the annoying bit – changed its bloody mind about the club’s dress code without ever bothering to tell the members it had done so.

The young man said that it had always been the rule. And maybe it had. Certainly I assumed so when I first brought Mrs H (as she then wasn’t) to stay with me at my usual London base getting on for two years ago now. I sternly instructed her that she could not wear jeans in the clubhouse and she gently pointed out to me, when we went down to breakfast on the first morning, that several people in the room were wearing them. As indeed they were. So from that moment on, it has been her regular custom to wear jeans for breakfast. She even wore them for lunch at the weekends, and no-one batted an eyelid. Shockingly, because until I met Mrs H I had not owned a pair of jeans for at least 20 years, I occasionally even wore them myself.

Until quite recently the club had a perfectly coherent set of rules which simply specified that gentlemen must wear a jacket and tie at all times, and that ladies must dress with “commensurate formality”. There were the usual exceptions for service and national dress, so that Chief Mwaka of the Uggichooma tribe could eat his dinner dressed in a lion skin if he so elected, without an international incident breaking out.

I had no problem with this. As an old-fashioned sort of chap, I positively approved of it.

Then the committee did something always regrettable. They “liberalised” the rules and decided that “smart informal” dress would be acceptable before 11 a.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. at weekends. I studied the rules in a mood of some irritation this morning and found that they clearly specified “Jeans are not permitted” AFTER 11 or 6, which I do not think you have to be a particularly uppity barrack room lawyer to interpret as meaning that they ARE permitted before then. Added to which there is a helpful list of garments which are considered “inappropriate … at any time: shorts, t-shirts, training shoes, and similar casual wear.” No mention of jeans there, then.

All a bit odd, I must say, particularly as when I returned to the dining room to pay my room bill I found the buffet table surrounded by people dressed as though for a kick-about by an amateur football side called something like Tramps United. Though not, God forbid, in denim.

However, once I had got over being angry we went for a considerably superior, if vastly more expensive, breakfast at an achingly fashionable hotel where I strongly suspect that I was the only customer not wearing jeans. Over her eggs benedict with smoked salmon, and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Mrs H belatedly came up with the perfect solution, which would have been simply to remove her jeans and sit down to breakfast in her underwear. It had the beautiful simplicity of the story I heard in the 1980s about some hairy-arsed old housebuilder who had gone to attend an industry conference at the Gleneagles Hotel. Making his way to the spa, he left his bedroom with just a towel wrapped around his waist and immediately encountered an elderly military type and his lady wife in the corridor.

“Good God!” the man exclaimed, “Chaps walking around in towels! I can’t think what this hotel is coming to!”

“I’m terribly sorry,” replied the builder. “I had no idea it was against the rules.”

Whereupon he removed his towel, draped it over his shoulder and continued down the corridor otherwise bollock naked.

As I may well have remarked before, it’s a rum old world. Maybe I need to find myself a slightly less stuffy club, though it will be a wrench given that the current one is the place where I made my life-changing marriage proposal. All proposals (of London club membership, not marriage) will be most gratefully received.

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