Class conscious

I am writing this in a north London branch of Caffe Uno. At the next table, two women have just placed their orders. The first of the two asked for a green salad, but with tomatoes in it - which, strictly speaking, is a red and green salad - and the waitress saw no difficulty with that.

The second woman then asked for a vegetarian lasagne, and when the waitress replied that, as far as she knew, no such option was being offered, the woman said she realised that, but surely the chef could rustle one up.

The waitress seemed doubtful of this, but came back with the suggestion of a vegetarian risotto, which is on the Caffe Uno menu, but this only plunged the customer into a long dilemma from which she emerged by asking, with an air of martyrdom, for "just some pasta with vegetables".

It seems to me that anyone who has the confidence to mix and match menu ingredients, or even to veer off the menu altogether, must be middle middle class, if not higher. I first noticed this habit when, in my late teens, I stayed at a hotel in London for a week and breakfasted next to a well-dressed and loud man who, every morning, demanded extra tomatoes with his full English - "It's good for the prostate!" he would boom.

I couldn't emulate him, being fearful of seeming pompous and haughty. For many years, if a barman asked me if I wanted ice and lemon with a Coke, I would just sort of shrug and mutter something like "It's up to you". I also used to ask for a medium-done steak because that would cause the least trouble for the chef (I reasoned that he could pass anything off as fitting that bill).

In one respect, however, I have become proactive: for years, I have been ordering coffee on trains, which comes to you in a tall plastic cup filled almost to the brim, leaving no room for milk. Well, a few months ago I snapped. "Would you mind pouring a little of the coffee away so I can put some milk in?" I asked the buffet attendant. To my amazement, he did so almost gladly, and I've been repeating the request with increasing confidence ever since.