I WAS seated at the dining room table when Mrs S spotted me clipping my fingernails. She went ballistic.
‘Don’t do that here! It’s disgusting!’ she exclaimed ballistically.
‘But I’ve opened my serviette to catch the flying bits,’ I reasoned.
‘You just have to be the centre of attention, don’t you,’ Mrs S hissed.
‘Not true,’ I lied, removing my socks in order to start on my toenails.
‘I must say I agree with your dining partner,’ commented the waiter who had approached to take our restaurant order.
‘I think I’ll have the steak,’ I said. ‘But please tell chef I want it burned to a crisp.’
The waiter wrote down my order. ‘One steak. Well-done,’ he commented.
‘Thank you very much,’ I responded. ‘I thought it was a good choice, too.’
‘French fries?’ he queried.
‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘I’ll have the chips. And a dollop of mushy peas, please. And to top it all off, might I have a mug of steaming hot tea.’
I wondered why the waiter was still hovering. And then Mrs S whispered in my ear: ‘What about me?’
I grabbed her hand and stared lovingly into her eyes. ‘I shall always adore you, my darling,’ I cooed. Turning to the still-waiting waiter, I said: ‘Women, eh? They need constant reassurance.’
‘You haven’t ordered a meal for ME!’ she whispered again — only this time a lot louder.
‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘But I thought you’d already eaten before we came out.’ I turned to the waiting waiter again. ‘What do you recommend for Mrs S?’ I asked.
‘For starters, a divorce,’ he said dryly.
All this happened one evening back in 1997. I can pinpoint the year because it was the last time Mrs S agreed to dine out with me.
Which reminds me. The most dramatic meal I ever had was a meat and potato pie I purchased one Saturday night in 1962, long before fate dragged Mrs S, kicking and screaming, into my life.
It had been a typical — for me — weekend shambles. After waiting two hours for my date not to turn up, I had walked wearily to the bus stop, pausing only to grab a bite from Mo’s Mobile Snack Stall.
I bit into the steaming pie crust and released the scalding juice from its pastry prison. The hot liquid dribbled like lava down my sensitive adolescent chin.
I let out a shriek and slumped to the pavement. Concerned passers-by milled around my collapsed form, someone dashed to the nearest phone box to call an ambulance, and an enterprising street urchin ran off with my pie.
Fast-forward 35 years back to 1997 as I waited for my steak, chips and mushy peas . . .
‘Why don’t you nip out and phone home to check with the babysitter,’ suggested Mrs S.
‘I already did while you were powdering your pretty nose,’ I said. ‘Apparently, the little one woke up whimpering and whining but the babysitter was most patient and she managed to rock him back to sleep again.’
‘I think we should go home,’ said Mrs S. ‘I won’t be able to relax until I can see his little tail wagging with contentment.’
‘Stop fussing,’ I said. ‘All animals miss their owners when the latter are out of the house — apart from lizards and goldfish, I suppose. And maybe cats as well, although moggies are probably out of the house, too, when their owners are . . . er . . . out of the house, too.’
‘Does your husband always waffle on like that?’ asked the waiter who had stopped waiting but who had now returned to our table to take Mrs S’s order.
Rewind 35 years back to 1962. My chin burn turned out to be a minor injury but, such was my emotional state, the casualty doctor had phoned my mother to come to the hospital.
‘Is she here yet?’ I asked, a bit trembly.
‘Your mother’s not coming,’ said the doc. ‘She said there was nowhere open this late to buy grapes and there was no point in arriving empty-handed.’
Fast-forward to 1997 and Mrs S was offering the waiter an explanation. ‘My husband likes to be the centre of attention because he had a somewhat lonely childhood. True, he grew up in the presence of a dog, a cat and a budgie, but he was the lowest in the pecking order.
‘And his father wasn’t around either during my husband’s formative period. It took his dad several years to get home after the war. He explained that he’d missed the last troopship back to Blighty but who really knows if he was telling the truth.’
‘So your husband acts daft for the attention,’ observed the waiter.
‘Oh, no,’ said Mrs S. ‘He’s NOT acting.’
It’s truly horrible when people are ignoring you. I looked around and my worst fears were confirmed. Mrs S was deep in conversation with the waiter and the other diners were talking to each other. But nobody was bothering with ME.
I legged it outside, rushed around the corner to Son of Mo’s Mobile Snack Stall and breathlessly ordered a scalding hot meat and potato pie.
‘Sorry, mate,’ said Mo Junior. ‘My father stopped selling exceedingly hot pies in 1962 after a customer collapsed on the pavement, writhing about and shrieking his head off. He was so loud that a crowd soon gathered.
‘Dad said that the guy was probably merely trying to make himself the centre of attention but, even so, he couldn’t risk any bad publicity.’
So no very hot pies for me then. Fortunately, I’d brought along my Indian clubs. I juggled with them until I attracted a crowd. Then I bowed to my appreciative audience and dashed back to the restaurant to finish my meal and to order Mrs S a takeaway.
Then we drove home to relieve the dogsitter.