Simon and I had intended to meet up before Christmas, but as December hove into view, we both felt that a get together might work better after the seasonal holiday, rather than before.
Simon suggested the Old Suffolk Punch in Hammersmith, which seemed a suitable enough venue to me, so that element was agreed and Simon said that he would book it.
What I didn’t realise, until the day itself, was that Simon had committed us to a very particular activity for the evening. Here is part of Simon’s message on the day confirming the details:
…cute online booking form that requests to know what the occasion is… it gives options to choose like: ‘family gathering’, ‘to watch the rugby’, ‘TGIF’, ‘just because’ – but I opted for ‘good old chinwag’. I guess they’ll be watching to make sure that’s what we do…
This had me worried for the rest of the day. I thought we were meeting up, “just because” and I had been looking forward that.
I tried to do some chin-wagging training at the gym that morning and indeed at the office that afternoon, but frankly I didn’t do very well at it during the day and wasn’t at all sure whether I would be up to the task that evening.
I did gently reproach Simon in my reply to his message:
I’m not sure you were authorised to make a decision on that scale, Simon, but I forgive you this once…
I then had an awkward journey to Hammersmith. Despite the tube announcers constantly telling me that there was a good service on the lines, it took 40 minutes for me to get the four stops from Notting Hill Gate to Hammersmith. As Simon said when I arrived, “thank goodness that was a good service”.
But there was far worse to come.
We got our food order in quickly. While we waited for our food, we made a start on the rather tasty bottle of Rioja we had chosen. Within a couple of minutes, Brexit was on the chinwag agenda; indeed before I had even taken off my coat Simon named a particularly venal Brexiteer; a recent Work and Pensions Minister who years ago had briefly been leader of the Tory party.
Simon didn’t merely say his trademark initials or “…Whatsit” (as the Daniel Blake character refers to him in the movie I, Daniel Blake. Yes, Simon uttered the full name. Without so much as a trigger warning.
On hearing THAT name (IDS, not I Daniel Blake), I immediately realised how extremely hot I felt in my coat and how much I wanted to wash my hands, especially before eating, having been on a crowded tube. So I rapidly took off my coat, made my excuses and dashed to the washroom.
By the time I returned, Simon had realised his mistake; indeed he thought he might have triggered a more profound reaction than mere hand washing.
But the truly extraordinary thing about our gathering was that, despite those desperate depths in the run up and start to the evening, in the end we had a most enjoyable time.
The food was very good, in a “good ingredients cooked quite simply, but well” sense. The bottle of Rioja did a grand job. The evening flew by and we weren’t chastised by the staff for inadequate levels of chin-wagging even once. Indeed it is quite possible that we were in fact chin-wagging rather well.
We haven’t yet been invited back to chinwag competitively for the Old Suffolk Punch, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we got the call.
And I’d be even less surprised if we find a suitable opportunity in the not too distant future to meet up again.
I even had a stellar tube journey back from Hammersmith to Notting Hill Gate, at a near-record speed of 20 minutes or so door-to-door, without so much as a single announcer telling me that the service was good.