One of the minor tragedies in life is to be an individual doing a job ill-suited to one’s temperament. I learnt this lesson early in life having been engaged as a paper lad by the local newsagent. Each morning I would rise in the early hours, trundle to the shop on Darlington Road and pick up my sack. I had a list of addresses in a grubby little red notebook, next to each of which was the name of the newspaper to be delivered. In the bag was the exact number of newspapers required, arranged in the sequence in which they were to be delivered. I’d switch on my Sony Walkman and toddle off to the post-War housing estate to do my round.
And virtually every day I would return with newspapers. Except on the days when, overcome with shame, I would deliver the surplus to random lucky householders, who would get a gratis copy of the Daily Mirror (we were a Labour town) courtesy of my incompetence. Mr. Garside would sigh, and occasionally harangue. Christmas tips were very few. Our relationship was complicated by the fact that I’d displaced his son at left wing in the school football team (Dean Bank – double winners in 1985). This went on for a year or two and then he fired me and I had to seek my crust elsewhere. In hindsight I have to ask myself, What took him so long?
So when our waiter at The Green Room not only failed to bring us our olives but seemed to have forgotten that he’d ever written down the order I was disappointed but also sympathetic. Here was a fellow creature who was in the wrong job. And such people tend to be terminated.
I was in TGR to meet a friend recently turned veggie; having done some chores in town I was a bit early. The room was empty save for a couple of couples and a big family group. I was led by the manager to a table for two by the window, nicely distanced from anyone else. But wait a minute, no that wasn’t the right table for some reason, so I was led half way round the room to be given a table next to the family party. Mystifying, but if they wanted to liven up that side of the room with the addition of a couple of middle-aged shags then who was I to argue?
I got out the crossword then looked hopefully towards the waiter, thinking I might have a drink while I was waiting. He made eye contact then, seemingly startled by this moment of human interaction, busied himself with arranging some shit over the way. I turned to the crossword, maybe he was the kind of waiter who needed to be tickled into giving a toss about earning his employer some money. But it seemed neither engagement nor indifference was the way to get him to bring me a drink. It could be that our friend was determined to take down capitalism from the inside but then I realised that what I really had on my hands here was a bad waiter.
John arrived and this prompted a burst of action. Up close I realised his fundamental problem. This was a man who oozed the impression that he was too good for the job. That he was good looking enough in a superficial way (my own type being raddled beauties like Burton or Phoenix) explained why he had this feeling. He preened, he had good posture; but he didn’t listen. The joint being run by the National Theatre prompted me to think that he was a struggling actor (though God knows I’ve seen too many of those ON STAGE at the NT recently) but on reflection the fact that he couldn’t even pretend to be a waiter made me think that he’d probably failed the audition for RADA and therefore was just struggling.
We ordered our drinks and asked for a round of olives before choosing our mains. He wrote down this order diligently and went away. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the olives would be delivered with the drinks. The drinks arrived via a different waiter. Olives? No. Not to worry, we ordered our mains. We waited for the olives. In vain.
Our original waiter brought the mains.
‘We ordered some olives …’
‘ … ‘
‘But we don’t want them now.’
‘Yes, the olives, we don’t want them now.’
‘Yes, take them off the bill.’
‘You ordered olives?’
‘Yes, you wrote it down.’
His confusion was mixed with suspicion as he left the table. When had this mysterious event taken place? Had some döppelganger infilitrated the restaurant in his absence? Some döppelganger with the ability to take orders but who had then exited the building? This would explain the strange burst of efficiency but seemed unlikely.
The food was excellent; crisp-skinned salmon with an outstanding barley and pea risotto for me and a chick’n burger across the way that was demolished tout de suite. The chef, whoever she may be, was not at fault.
At least I’d brought my own newspaper.
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).