And so we welcome 2012, not only being the year after 2011 (and the one before 2013, thanks to a strange numerical quirk brought about by the world recession and sub-prime politicians), but also notable for the forthcoming Olympic Games in London, which start in around 200 days. (Mostly consecutive, with a few Wednesdays thrown in). Can’t quite see what the Games fans are excited about myself (the Olympics are all Greek to me), or understand why London ended up with the bloody things in the first place – which is the solitary first place England is likely to achieve, as we all know.
That’s me and a mystified Jacques Chirac by-the-way, who – the day before the Olympic Committee was due to select the host city – proclaimed that the only thing the British have done for Europe’s agriculture is mad cow disease, and the only worse food than British food is Finnish. (Is that why we Brits can’t motivate ourselves to get to the Finnish line?)
Anyway, London. Place of my birth. Founded a couple of millenia ago by the Romans, who went out of business in the 5th Century. (‘I came, I saw, I got conkered’). London; home to the world’s busiest airport, 43 universities, nearly 8 million people and Boris Johnson. (He’s not a person is he??? Did they do new tests???) London, which has survived plague, a Great Fire, bombing during the Blitz, assorted terrorist activity and bendy buses. So it must have something going for it. Mustn’t it?
The other day I had an early evening engagement in town. Cordelia living centrally, we arranged to meet for lunch, which meant I could kill two birds with one stone. Which almost resulted in the killing of two
birds er, sophisticated women with one Italian…
…well, it was almost a Thai , but Italy won in the end. Or rather, lost.
What am I talking about? Read on…
Cordelia has been wanting to take me to a particular Thai restaurant for ages. The last time we rolled up it was closed. This time it was open, so we chose a table, took off our coats and sat down. Started to shiver, put our coats back on, went across the road to what looked like an up-market Italian. (Why don’t British restaurants put the heating on in the winter? I lived in the South of France, they not only heat the insides, they heat the outsides, too. And in summer they spray you with a fine, cooling mist of water. Which means you’re entirely content to sit there for hours while the waiters are being appallingly rude to you).
But I digress. Back to the Italian. Nice decor, everything well-painted and shiny, warm radiators. Nice woman meeter and greeter, who handed us assorted menus (a la carte and lunch) and asked for our drinks order. Cordelia wanted a Kir. Italian meeter and greeter said ‘I’m sorry?’ Cordelia said ‘A Kir, please’. Meeter and greeter looked puzzled. Then the penny dropped and she said ‘Ah! Kir Royale!’ ‘No’, said Cordelia, ‘An ordinary Kir. With wine, not champagne’. Back came the furled brow. ‘White wine with a splash of creme de cassis’, Cordelia helpfully er, helped out. (Does Cordelia like cordials because of her name? If that’s the case, I should like Nice biscuits. Which I do, because they’re tasty.) ((What did you think I was going to say???)).
Anyway, minutes of our lives ticked away until the meet and greet’s brain powered up once more (cheap batteries are a false economy, signora, take it from the Duracell Bunny). At which point she turned to me. What would I like to drink? I wanted something equally as complicated, namely a still water (and make it run deep). ‘Duh’? she uttered convincingly, only in Italian. A water, not sparkling, just still. Still (ha!) the perplexed expression. ‘And I’d like it with a splash of water, too’, I didn’t say.
Drinks (eventually) arrived. Hurrah. Now for the food. (It’s OK, we had a spare few hours to pass).
Cordelia ordered a made-on-the-premises burger, to be cooked medium. I fancied the grilled chicken. (Don’t get out much. And can’t remember what a man is, to be honest). After a while a plate of chicken arrived. It was oven-roasted, and covered in mushroom sauce. I called over the hapless meet and greet character, and pointed to my plate. She stared at it and said ‘Oh! The chef’s done the chicken from the evening menu!’ (Which was twice the price of the chicken on the lunch menu). She took the chicken back to the kitchen to be reintroduced to the chef.
And then Cordelia’s burger arrived. It almost walked to the table on its own, it was so rare. (Which would have been fine for me – remember that scene in Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow stares into the butcher’s window and salivates at the raw meat? I could have played that part – but Cordelia’s palate is a little less ‘cowboy’ than mine). Burger duly returned to the kitchen to keep the mushroom-smoothered chicken company.
La la laa. Time passed, half-past one turned into Friday.
My grilled chicken finally arrived. I checked it thoroughly for any pink bits that might kill me and started, at last, to eat.
Cordelia’s plate made an appearance. This time the burger had been barbecued for so long, it came with a side order of two firemen. (Waiter! I’ll have what she’s having!) Cordelia sighed resignedly. She put a piece of the meat into her mouth, and then spat it out. ‘It doesn’t taste right’, she said. I tasted a bit. No, it didn’t taste right.
The meet and greet woman (she plainly wasn’t a meat and greet woman) took Cordelia’s plate back to the kitchen. (She knew the way by this time). Cordelia, in the end, settled for a chicken Caesar salad. Which, she tells me, was horrible.
The place had become quite full. We’d had plenty of time to appreciate the scenery, and looking at the three men sitting to the left of us had noticed that two of them were eating, whilst the other was talking to a waiter, sending back his salmon because it was so undercooked.
We ordered coffee. When the woman came over with the drinks she told us they were on the house, and on paying, she gave us a £10 voucher. (Optimism is a wonderful thing). How nice. Except it can only be used if the next bill comes to 40 quid. (What is the going rate for stomach-pumping these days?)
Cordelia and I parted company. I walked to Baron’s Court underground station with plenty of time in hand to catch a tube to Piccadilly Circus for my engagement. As luck would have it, there was a train already on the platform. I stepped onto it. The guard’s voice came onto the train’s tannoy: Due to a signal failure on this section of the line, the eastbound service of the Piccadilly Line is suspended. Please get off this train.
Well, luck wasn’t having it after all, was it?
We all disembarked, around 200 people. (It was rush hour). My only option was to take the District Line, which serves the same station, and make a roundabout route to where I needed to go. Only, there weren’t any District Line trains to take.
More people came onto the platform. Yet more Piccadilly Line trains backed up behind the one I had made a brief acquaintance with. A voice came onto the station tannoy saying that the Piccadilly line was fucked (I paraphrase), but assuring us that all other lines had a very good service. (Perhaps having no trains in service is actually a good thing for the District Line).
After 15 minutes a District Line train did finally crawl along the platform. Though of course, it was jammed pack full of sorry travellers, and nobody could get onto it. The same thing happened with the next 4 trains. But eventually I managed to squeeze myself into a carriage and go the long way round to my engagement. I was an hour late.
The London Underground, opening in 1863, is the oldest subway system in the world. And, from experience, it plainly operates the original signalling system. Which would appear to be exactly the same age of the beef in Cordelia’s burger (a signal failure in a restaurant meal if ever I saw one).
In a way, I’m looking forward to the Olympics. I don’t live anywhere near the main sports venues, I don’t have to drive around central London and, currently, I don’t take the tube very often. I’ll be able to sit at home, smugly watching on TV the chaos of it all, with millions of tourists and competitors and sports officials scratching their heads, trying to work out just what finished off the Romans in London all those centuries ago. Was it the burgers? Or was it terminal frustration at not being able to get around one of the major capital cities in the world, even on a good day?
Thanks, Olympic Committee, for choosing this city.
Quisque comodeus est.