This is another of Barry’s memoirs that beggars belief. But our true blue Valiant from ‘Downunder’ has often said that truth is far stranger than fiction.
We also enjoy dining-out in the company of friends, and this story, in part, is about one such occasion. But first, let me introduce my mate from Watford.
He came to Australia in his early twenties and carried on where he’d left off in the fire & rescue services. He had seen the worst and very worst of human carnage and devastation as an employee in the London Fire Brigades. But he would remind us time and again that he always wanted to a fire-fighter.
He is a big man with a big heart. And when you got to know him you quickly realised that behind his boisterous and gregarious disposition was a gentle giant. We were youth-leaders together working with teenage boys from a cross-section of society. Our main activities were hiking and climbing expeditions, with my mate often acting as quartermaster – amongst other responsibilities. On top of which, he is a good cook.
Teenage boys have huge appetites at the best of times. But when out and about in the backblocks of Australia appetites simply doubled. Therefore it was paramount that we got the mix of menus just right. This was where my mate’s knowledge of the best cuts of meat, plus boxes of fruit and vegetable and other sundry food and drink items at the cheapest prices came in handy. We used to say he could run his car on the smell of an oily cloth.
Although my mate kept a great campfire and tucker box (supply tent), getting from one place to another was usually left to yours truly. In fact, it was always prudent to take on board his suggestions for short-cuts with a pinch of salt. For instance, my mate’s idea of the shortest distance from Watford to Burslem would be by way of Wrexham.
It was during our time in youth work that my mate first met one of the lady youth leaders, a West Australian, whom he later married.
The ‘phone was ringing, outside it was pitch black, and my bedside clock told me it was 2 in the morning. It was April 1982. Not for the first time had my employers ‘phoned me in the middle of the night to request I attend the nearest hospital, police station or juvenile custodial facility to follow-up on various issues relating to children in care. But this time it was not my employer.
It was abundantly clear that my mate had enjoyed a jar or two of the local beer. Although his speech was a tad slurred, he was a very happy man who just couldn’t wait to tell me the good news. At first I wondered if there was to be a third child to the union. But no, he had just finished talking to his family in England and excitedly blurted out ‘Guess what?’ In essence it was a rhetorical question because I didn’t get the chance to offer even my wildest or silliest thought before my mate quickly added ‘Watford’s in Division One!’ and ‘What do you think of them apples?
He was like an excited kid on Christmas Eve waiting to open the one present he’d always yearned for. And don’t ask me why, but his sheer joy reminded me of that old children’s ditty which went:
Who only had tuppence to spend
But what could be nicer
Than a Pendleton’s twicer
With a lollipop on each end.
So there we were, sitting in a restaurant chosen by my mate that, according to him, had its own unique décor, cuisine and service. My mate, yours truly and our lovely wives were in a party of eight ostensibly coming together to mark the occasion of Watford’s entry to the top flight of English football. Mind you, we were forever going to restaurants together for good meals and top wines for one reason or another – birthdays, anniversaries, job promotions and so on. It was therefore considered a natural progression to include sporting successes – whether personal, family or otherwise.
The décor was bleak, to say the least, with its walls and ceiling painted black. The yellowing wall lights reduced visibility to approximately two metres square. The wooden topped tables had seen better days. And the metal chairs were rusty as opposed to the menus description of them forming part of a ‘rural rustic’ setting. Hmm, the décor was certainly ‘unique’.
All of which can be forgiven when served with good cuisine. So, let’s look at the menu.
My lovely wife does not eat red meat in any shape or form. However, for most restaurants this does not present a problem because there will always be a choice to include fish, poultry and vegetarian dishes. Sadly to say, on this particular ‘celebratory night’ the menu seemed not to have been changed since Walter Aveyard played for the ‘Vale. Not only was the menu limited in choice, but some of the main courses had been red-lined as being temporarily out of stock – including fish and poultry. As for vegetarian dishes, forget it.
Everyone’s order had been taken – with my wife asking for a salad and sorbet. At that point in time the young table assistant stated that the kitchen had a small spatchcock which, if madam agreed, could be split in two and lightly grilled. There being nothing else on the menu to tempt my wife’s appetite she agreed to grilled spatchcock, salad and sorbet.
Whilst waiting for our meal several carafes of house wines were ordered to help generate a healthy appetite. Did I say wines? Rocket fuel more like, used sump oil perhaps, battery acid maybe. But not something you would call good white wine. Our complaints fell on deaf ears. The head waiter’s response was one of their wines being okay because none of the other patrons had complained. With that we ordered several bottles of lemonade and, like Philistines at David’s table, mixed the two together to improve palatability. The décor, menu and wines were definitely ‘unique’.
That leaves the, hmm, so-called ‘unique’ service.
Each time we went to a restaurant or eatery we would rate separately, out of 10, the décor, cuisine and service before adding them together and dividing by 3 to achieve an average points score. So it was on that particular occasion. Sadly to say, between them the table assistant and head waiter were struggling to score 5 points. But wait, the service and cuisine went downhill – literally.
Our meals were brought to the table, with my wife being served last. Well, almost being served last. Just as the ‘assistant was about to place the serving of spatchcock and salad onto the table she stumbled, sending the grilled fowl to the ground. Without much ado she steadied herself, picked-up the now soiled bird from underneath the table, placed it back onto the plate, put it in front of my wife, wished us all bon appétit, then strode quickly back towards the kitchen. All of which left us completely gob-smacked.
By the time I had reached the entrance to the kitchen to head off the ‘assistant she had turned away to avoid me. But I was having none of that sort of behaviour and called after her in a strong and loud voice for her to return to our table. You know what? She couldn’t understand why we were complaining saying that the floor was clean and a little dirt doesn’t hurt anyone. By now my mate was fuming. After all, it was on his recommendation that we were in the restaurant in the first place. He stood and demanded a fresh meal at no cost, a hefty discount off the bill, and that his invited guests receive an apology. All said with a strong London accent that silenced the other patrons.
So it was that my wife was served with a fresh salad – minus the spatchcock – and sorbet, the meals and wines were heavily discounted, and apologies were offered all-round. They even said that they hoped we would go back again.
We never did.
See you later…
October 14, 2003