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26 April 2017

In the takeaway, a woman utters the worst sentence in the English language

Yes, even worse that "I don’t love you the way you want me to".

By Nicholas Lezard

To the restaurant over the road. I have found an unexpected tenner in a pocket, and this very nicely covers the cost of a tasty portion of king prawn spicy noodles. Some of you may argue that I should be saving my pennies, not to mention my tenners, for less frivolous things, but after last week’s nerve-jangling encounter with the enormous wasp, I am in need of comfort. My hand is still shaking too violently to wield a saucepan, my dears.

I go straight up to the counter, as is my custom, for I know what I want and do not need to consult a menu. There is a flustered look on the face of the waitress there, as if some transgression has taken place. I look down to check my flies. No, they’re fine. (This has sometimes not been the case.) I place my order. She runs away.

Well, that’s a new one.

I have noticed over the years that Thai restaurants make a point, as do all restaurants with a certain cuisine, of only hiring staff from the country of that cuisine’s origin. I gather this is a big problem for curry houses, as the government clearly thinks there are enough dark-skinned people in this country. We don’t seem to have the same problem with Thais. But anyway, despite coming from a culture where those who serve do so with a smile, this waitress does a bolt.

Another takes her place.

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“Can I have king prawn spicy noodles to take away? Not too spicy, please.” (The chilli can be wielded with a heavy hand, and the morning after is uncomfortable, to say the least.)

“We don’t do takeaways any more.”

There’s a celebrity quiz in the weekend magazine of a well-known newspaper which asks, “What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?” One always answers these questions for oneself and, in my case, my sure-fire answer would be “I don’t want you to live here any more”, or “I got that job in Sweden”, or “I don’t love you the way you want me to” – but now we have a new contender.

Dear sweet heaven, this is terrible news. I’d sit down, if there was a chair by the counter. As it happens, I very nearly fall in a faint to the floor. My speech comes spasmodically.

“Wh . . . why?” (I never thought people actually said “wh . . . why” but it turns out at least one does.)

Through the roaring sound of blood rushing through my brain, I gather something about preferring to concentrate on the diners on the premises. I suppose they have a point; but they used to do deliveries, too, on mopeds. It must have been a nice little earner.

“You can always sit in restaurant,” the waitress says.

“Can I?” I ask. I make a gesture, intended to indicate my attire, which is scruffy and could do with a wash. “Do you really want me sitting down here with . . .” With all the nice, clean people? I imply.

“We do your takeaway one last time, for you.”

I sob with gratitude, and the staff give me an extra after-dinner mint chocolate, which is really going it some, and I retire to the Hovel, and eat my king prawn spicy noodles, seasoned with columnist’s tears.

I’m worried about this neighbourhood. This is only the latest. I told you about the Sue Ryder shop closing down; well, it’s been re-let, and the person infesting it now is a very, very bad artist called Le Fil, who has put up some piss-poor, half-finished drawings of nudes, as well as some of cocks only, to show how groundbreaking he is.

A poster in the window contains the usual rubbish about challenging us to rethink our desires. Black crêpe paper, with eyeholes cut in it, has gone up in the windows, so we don’t have to look at his crappy art inadvertently as we pass. It really is terrible: I’m not exaggerating. The only explanation I’ve heard which makes any sense is that the whole operation might be a money-laundering enterprise by Russian gangsters – and the only interesting question raised there would be whether Le Fil was in on the joke or not.

So the neighbourhood decays. First Trump, then Brexit, now this. And now the Baker Street Sports Direct closing-down sale turns out, despite having lasted four years, really to have been a closing-down sale after all. I used to buy my cricket balls there, my white socks for my annual game with the Rain Men. Once again, the thought of moving to America beckons, if only as a beguiling fantasy. We’re screwed for decades, but Trump will last only four years, if that. 

This article appears in the 19 Apr 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble