THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
An English New Year's Eve tradition, but not in England
The Government can

2010 kicks off

Last night Mrs P., her mother and I were celebrating New Year’s Eve at a Cheshire restaurant. In the small crowd, one couple stood out. They were sitting at the next table. She was at least thirty years older than the man she was with; mutton dressed as a twinkle in a ram’s eye. He was in fancy dress as an implausibly stereotypical black pimp. Every finger had a gaudy ring. His wrist bore a “Rolex” too vulgar to have seen Switzerland, almost lost among chunky gold bracelets. We speculated, amused. Was he a footballer from nearby Manchester with a penchant for older women? A gigolo? Were they undercover Channel 4 journalists, looking to examine attitudes to race in Britain? Almost any theory was more plausible than that they were a couple.

As the drinks flowed, he became as loud as his bling, but was mostly jolly. He bantered with the singer wandering between the tables. All seemed well. Then, suddenly he stormed off, casting an obscenity in his lady friend's direction. Then he came back and what appeared to be “a domestic” kicked off. Something made no sense though, as we tried not to listen.

“I am not ****ing having that. If they’ve got something to say about me, they should ****ing say it to my ****ing face… They are no ****ing higher than what I am.”

Then he appeared to call his companion “a fat tw*t.” We froze, because this did not compute. She was thin to the point of fragility. In fact, she looked like her elderly bones might break in the gale of his wrath. It wasn’t a lovers’ quarrel after all. We studied the other tables, looking for a more plausible target for the insult. Heavy as I am, I said to Mrs P., half-joking, “Perhaps he’s talking about me.” She didn’t laugh.

It looked as if they were going to leave. Over by the bar, he bent a waiter’s ear for half an hour. She stood in the offing. She appeared to offer a credit card. He took it and held it, but did not venture to pay. Their characters were so badly-acted that we wondered if it was all a scam to get a free meal. Then they returned to their table and he continued to swear loudly. Whatever “it” was, he was still “not ****ing having it.” But he was incoherent. All the surrounding tables were tense. The couple behind us left their table. I decided that, once dessert had been served, we would adjourn to the bar. Mrs P couldn’t wait however. She was angry. She was resentful that we were avoiding the lout’s gaze and pretending nothing was happening. A young waiter came over and stage-whispered in his ear. Mrs P heard him demand in no uncertain terms that he should stop “f-ing and blinding” or he would have to leave. It seemed to work, but the tension was still palpable. Mrs P asked the waiter to move us to the bar.

As we took our new seats, the couple who had left their table earlier smiled in greeting. The husband said “I hope you are not going to have a fight.” The tension broken, we laughed. We ordered some Sauternes to accompany our desserts. The live music ended and a disco began. Mrs P the Elder is an enthusiastic dancer and took to the floor. The bane of the evening was at the centre of the dancing, seemingly oblivious. Midnight past, the New Year toasted, I set off to settle the bill. As I stood waiting, he came over. “I am surprised you are leaving now,” he said, with incomprehensible emphasis. I looked at him, surprised, then turned away. He walked off. We left. It was just after 1 in the morning.

What was it all about? I have no idea. The waiter had said it was “just a domestic” but we knew better. The host hoped nervously (we are regular customers) that our evening had not been spoiled. We assured him not, but we lied. The man was just a foul-mouthed lout and his colour was irrelevant. It was very much the content of his character that was the problem. But his claim of victimhood put us - and the management - at a disadvantage. If we had behaved like that, I am confident we would have been asked to leave. We would quite rightly not have been allowed to spoil the evening for all around us. Yet the staff had listened patiently to this gentleman's grievances. We had even examined our own behaviour, wondering if something we had said or done had been misunderstood. It was all very disturbing.

Not the best start to 2010, but much to think about.

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