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19 March 2015updated 09 Sep 2021 2:25pm

This week, I get thrown out of the oldest restaurant in London on account of my naughty language

There's some joy to be taken in the long lunch - as long as someone else is paying.

By Nicholas Lezard

A publisher from another land got in touch with me recently and said, “How about lunch?” How about it indeed? I normally skip lunch, and tell my manservant to drink it instead.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you do not, unless some particularly nasty deadline is looming, have a fixed time when you have to get up in the morning. One immerses oneself in the day gradually, like a swimmer cautiously entering a cold body of water, and with only the very occasional necessity for an alarm clock, I have learned how to guess with quite extraordinary accuracy what time of day it is before I’ve even looked at my watch, rather as Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd could tell what time of night it was by looking at the positions of the stars.

I gauge it by the sound of the traffic going past my window; and if the sun is coming through the window in the direction opposite from where I normally experience it, then I know something has gone horribly wrong and it is dawn. (It’s most disconcerting, what happens to everyday objects both within and without my room: their shadows are all where they shouldn’t be, like something from an H P Lovecraft story.)

Anyway, on this occasion I timed things well, getting up at a civilised 10am or so and setting off for the restaurant about two and a half hours later, deliberately leaving the gut empty so that I could stuff myself when the grub arrived.

People seem to like buying me lunch. I recently got taken to lunch by Ian Martin, the celebrated scriptwriter who gave the nation, in the voice of Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, such phrases as … Ah, well, as you know, I prefer not to use rude words here; you know the phrases I mean. (I was going to google the phrase “marzipan dildo” to check that it was his invention but then I decided that some of the other things that Google might show me would be too unsettling to contemplate.)

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Martin had no particular reason to buy me lunch apart from a hunch – a lunch hunch, as it were – that we would get on well, and we did, even though I chanced it a bit by suggesting we go to Rules, the swanky restaurant in Covent Garden and, indeed, the capital’s oldest. It was one of those epic lunches, ending around five o’clock only after the maître d’ had come round and suggested, even after the other diners had left, that we – well, to be honest, I – moderate the language. (It is some feat to be the one told off for a potty mouth when in the company of a man who coined the phrase “****ity-bye”; but then, as my mother always says acidly on such occasions, there are various means of achieving distinction.)

I did not reply with – to return to the Hardy novel again – “the good old word of sin thrown in here and there at such times is a great relief to a merry soul”, but instead resolved to keep the peace in future, so it was a chastened but stuffed columnist who staggered out of the restaurant into the hordes of commuters on their way home.

The latest lunch was at St John, the place dedicated to offal and the bits of the animal that were wiped off the nation’s menus during the cultural revolution of the 1960s. My host, though American, and therefore from the nation which stopped putting kidneys on to plates and, unidentified, into sausages many years ago, is keen on his offaly bits; and is also a believer in what the late Christopher Hitchens said, when asked for a choice between red and white wine: “Wine. Is. Red.” This time we managed to leave the restaurant at a modest 4.30, but then I thought I’d show him the Three Kings in Clerkenwell, one of my favourite pubs, and I accept that the pint we had there might have been taking things a little far.

So why, in a magazine devoted to the progressive cause, and in a column that calls itself “Down and Out”, am I championing the three-hour boozy lunch? Mr Martin recently wrote a very good piece in the Guardian about how London is being shafted by property tycoons, but in the course of it I was baffled, and in fact a bit hurt, to see disparaging references to such lunches. Perhaps his own conscience was plaguing him. That would be forgivable, but what I want to promote is the notion that if you can find someone to pay for you – and this is a big “if”, I concede – the extended, boozy lunch is something that the left can enjoy, too.

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