Sunday, 22 February 2015

Musical Chairs and Other Things

February always sees us celebrating several birthdays in my family.  A recent one was my sister’s.
          ‘What would you like for your present?’ I asked Janice.
          Most ladies would suggest things like perfume, or chocolates, or a particular bit of make-up or a collection of nail polishes.  My sis eats only a certain type of chocolate, says perfume is bad for you, is fussy about her make-up, and hates nail polish.
          ‘What about some gift vouchers?’ I asked, playing it safe.  ‘And please don’t suggest Halfords.’  Last year Janice wanted a voucher for an inner tube, or something equally daft, for her bicycle.  ‘I want to buy you something gorgeous and feminine.’  Trouble is, when you take chocolates, perfume, make-up and nail polish out of the equation, things start to get trickier.
          ‘What about a nice pair of earrings?’ I suggested.
          ‘I have loads of earrings and don’t wear half of them as it is.  I could do with some new plastic food containers.  I think there’s a sale on at Lakeland.’
          ‘No!’ I said in exasperation.
          In the end she settled on me taking her out for a meal followed by a trip to the cinema.  Hurrah!  So early Friday evening, we met outside a well-known restaurant with a five star rating.
          ‘Come in,’ said a smiley-faced waitress.  ‘Sit down.’  She indicated a table for two next to their main staircase.  We had barely parked our bottoms when Janice put her head on one side, as if thinking about something.
          ‘What’s up?’ I asked.
          ‘It’s a bit public here, isn’t it?  With the staircase.  Everybody is traipsing past us.’
          ‘Okay.  We’ll ask if we can be moved.’
          So our smiley-faced waitress invited us to follow her to the other end of the restaurant, far away from the staircase.  Once again we re-arranged handbags, coats and bottoms.  I picked up the menu with a sigh of pleasure.  Food!  Feed me!  I was starving.  But…wait a moment.  I looked at my sister across the table.
          ‘Everything all right?’
          ‘Don’t you find these lights very bright?’
          ‘What…you mean the lamps dangling over the table?  I think they’re meant to give a sense of…you know…atmosphere.’
          ‘The only thing they’re giving me is a headache.  They’re right over my line of vision. Doesn’t it bother you?’
          I stared across the table at my sister.  The lights hadn’t been bothering me, but now she’d mentioned it, naturally I couldn’t stop seeing them bobbing about in my peripheral vision.  And she was right.  It was headache inducing.  Well, something was giving me a headache anyway.
          ‘Okay,’ I nodded.  ‘We’ll move tables again.’
          The smiley-faced waitress was summoned, this time looking a little surprised, but she beamed away and showed us to a third table.
          ‘Thank you,’ said my sister.  ‘I’m not a diva, honest.’
          ‘Ha ha,’ I laughed.
          ‘Ha ha, laughed the waitress.
          Once again we re-arranged ourselves and settled down with the menus.  And a whole thirty seconds passed before my sister once again put her head on one side.  But…oh dear…what now?   I looked over the menu at her.
          ‘Something wrong?’
          ‘Look above us.’ My sister pointed upwards.
          I followed her gaze and stared at a huge Bose speaker directly above our heads.
          ‘Well, it’s only playing soft music.  We’re perfectly able to hear ourselves talking.’
          As if on cue, somebody ramped up the volume.  It was wonderful music.  Took me right back to my teens.  White Cherry’s Play That Funky Music, Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky and Chic’s Le Freak.  By the time the last tune was playing I was torn between whether to order dinner or dance around my handbag.
          ‘DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD ASK TO BE MOVED? Janice shouted.
          ‘UP TO YOU.  IT’S GREAT MUSIC THOUGH, EH!’
          The smiley-faced waitress came over.  ‘ARE YOU READY TO ORDER?’
          ‘NO.  CAN YOU TURN THE MUSIC DOWN?’
          The smiley-faced waitress looked disconcerted, but nodded and disappeared.  Seconds later the volume went down.
          ‘Oh thank goodness,’ said Janice. ‘I couldn’t hear myself think.’  In that moment she sounded exactly like our mother.  ‘Oh dear, I sounded exactly like our mother.’
          ‘I know.’
          ‘Not good.’
          We both digested this horror.  Turning into our mother was something we’d always sworn never to do.  At least my sister was ahead of me.  And she’s four years younger!
          ‘What would you like to drink?’ asked the smiley-faced waitress.
          ‘Water,’ my sister replied.
          ‘Prosecco,’ I said.  ‘A large one.’
          ‘Am I driving you to drink?’ asked my sister.
          ‘Yes,’ I smiled sweetly.  Several table changes, a complaint about a staircase, lighting, speakers and volume of music.  We’d been there half an hour so far and achieved nothing other than a lot of other diners wondering if we were doing a Dom Joly and winding up the waitress.
          Finally we were ready to order.  Weren’t we?
          ‘I’m gluten free,’ said my sister.  ‘Do you do gluten free pasta?’
          ‘Yes,’ said the smiley-faced waitress looking slightly wary.
          ‘Me too,’ I nodded.
          ‘And vegetarian,’ said my sister.
          ‘Me too,’ I said again.
          You’d think that would be enough for the waitress to worry about, wouldn’t you?  But…wait…my sister was saying something else.
          ‘And I don’t eat garlic.  Or onions.  And ideally no dairy.’
          The smiley-faced waitress looked like she wanted to burst into tears.  ‘Um, I’m not sure what’s left on the menu.’
          ‘What about fish?’ I suggested.  ‘You eat fish.’
          ‘Hmmmm.  What sort of fish do you have?’
          The smiley-faced waitress looked relieved.  ‘We do a fabulous coley pasta with mussels and prawns.’
          ‘Ah, I’m allergic to mussels and prawns.  Can you do it with just the fish?’
          The smiley-faced waitress looked stricken.  ‘Oh dear.  No, it’s pre-prepared.’
          ‘What about a big salad?’ I prompted.
          ‘Yes, that could work.  What sort of leaves do you do?’
          The smiley-faced waitress was definitely starting to look traumatised.  I’m fairly sure she’d never been asked about salad leaves before.  ‘Well,’ she quavered, ‘we do a really nice rocket salad with parmesan shavings.’
          ‘Oh dear.  Of all the salad leaves there are, I hate rocket.  It’s so hot and peppery.’
          ‘Could you hurry up with that wine,’ I muttered to the smiley-faced waitress.  I think she could have done with a glass herself by this point.
          Anyway, to cut a long story short, my sister settled on a carbonara without garlic and minus the bacon, and took a chance that the dairy wouldn’t upset her sinuses.  The food was superb and the smiley-faced waitress didn’t burst into tears.  Afterwards we headed off to the cinema to watch Kingsman.
          ‘We need some chocolate to munch in the cinema,’ said my sister.
          ‘Good idea.’
          We headed into a nearby confectioner’s.
          ‘Can I help you?’ asked the assistant.
          ‘Yes,’ beamed my sister.  ‘I want some chocolate.’  But…wait.  What was she asking for?  ‘Organic…dairy-free…no gluten…and preferably no soya substitute…’
          Ever get that feeling of déjà vu?  Which reminds me.  A guy went to a fancy French restaurant called Déjà Vu.  The head waiter came over and said, ‘Don’t I know you…?’

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