Well, there go the good times. In the end I had two cracking meals: one at the Casa Becci, as promised, and the other a very boozy Monday lunch at the Delaunay, where my friend Tom the Hat (he wears a hat, and did so, as Brian O'Nolan would have put it, long before it was fashionable or profitable to do so) is head barman. This kind of high-end crap is not always my cup of tea, but sometimes it is instructive to see how the other half, or perhaps 1 per cent, lives, and if you can't spunk a hundred quid on your beloved once in a blue moon, then what, frankly, is the point?
It is extraordinary, looking around at the faces of the rich. Ruth Rogers was swanning around as if she owned the place (she does not); and there were people whose faces were creviced with evil influence and the influence of evil. The people who do own the place are blameless in this, I suppose, although I found myself perplexed at the waiters who kept trying to top up our glasses. Why do they do this? No sooner had I told one that this was unnecessary, than another one popped up, Hydra-like, and tried to do the same thing.
Here are my objections to the practice:
1) I drink faster than anyone else, so I get topped up more often and that's just not fair; and 2) I don't ask them to cut my effing food up for me, do I? Or is that what happens at even fancier restaurants? And do they, at really, really fancy restaurants, actually steer the food into patrons' mouths, in the manner of parents trying to get their infants to eat their pap? ("Look, here's the private jet, coming in to land . . . whoooshh"). And then an editor who used to commission me to write confused essays for the Sunday Times poked me in the arm as she was strolling past and said hello. We commented on the jittery times being faced by News International employees . . . but I couldn't help noticing she was eating at the Delaunay. Nor, in all fairness, would it have escaped her attention that so was I.
So I'm outta there, and happy to go back to saving my eating-out experiences for the full English breakfast at the local caff (best enjoyed with a bit of a hangover). It leaves the evening free to do improving things. And I have discovered something very improving: a wonderful little magazine called Parking News. I first heard about this after I got a message from its editor, Sarah Juggins, saying she couldn't lend me the £100 I was begging for in a past column, but if I wanted to write something for her magazine . . .
Well, this wouldn't be the first time I'd written about parking. It would, in fact, have been at least the third.
The first time, when I compared looking for a parking space to Dante's Purgatory, I ended up in Pseuds' Corner. (To date, the only time I've appeared by name there. Over a quarter of a century of professional writing and only one PC entry - it's pathetic, like I'm not even trying.) So I have form.
And now a couple of issues have been sent to me, c/o the Statesman. The September issue I have devoured carefully, savouring each morsel, like a meal at the Delaunay. I love the standfirst by the editorial comment on page seven: in which the editor "has a eureka moment as she realises something the profession has known for a while - the world revolves around parking issues". And you thought it was either something soppy like love, or something nasty like money, didn't you? Well, that's you told.
Through the prism offered by the magazine's 56 well-produced pages, you get the impression that this is not far from the truth.
Although it becomes quickly clear that much of the editorial work has devolved on Ms Juggins alone, there is still much to learn and this is not a place where scant material has been stretched painfully thin. I learn only now that there will be new 5p and 10p coins coming into circulation this April, and that if you'd gone to the British Parking Association's dinner at Drapers' Hall last November, you would have been treated to jokes from Barry Cryer while you sloshed the last of your claret around the glass.
My favourite part, though, is the crossword, a properly symmetrical cryptic one with every clue parking-related. "Cowardly? Check before you park on such lines (6)." Or this one, which after much brow-furrowing the Beloved and I managed to get: "eg R-E-S-E-R-V-E-D--P-A-R-K-I-N-G makes it gentler (9)". Answers on a postcard, please and no cheating by looking in the October issue. As for writing for them - well, I'm not sure that I'm worthy, but if the offer is still there, I'm game. I need that money again, I'm afraid.