It’s a favourite game of mine: people-watching. Stick me in a café, on a station platform, in a gallery, and I’ll while away hours, just watching people go past. Being blessed with an overactive imagination means that by the time I’ve finished my latte, or got off the tube, the person opposite has been given an entire back-story, friends, relationships and sometimes the potential to win a Pulitzer. And, if I get to watch two people out and about together and get to play a round of guess-the-date, so much the better.
It’s a game I’m clearly not alone in my fondness for.
Longer ago than I care to believe is true, Speckled Lad and I were on one of our regular Friday night non-date dates. We’d polished off a bottle of Claret in our favourite bar, and then headed to the place we’d come to know as ‘our Italian’ - a tiny little Bloomsbury trattoria we could always rely to keep a table set aside for us, whether we’d booked or not, at 8pm on a Friday night.
In deeply unEnglish fashion, we’d ended up chatting with an older couple on a table next to us.
“You two are such a lovely couple,” she had said as they’d got up to leave. “Have a lovely life together.”
Given that we were not only not a couple, but staunchly defensive about that fact whenever we were accused of being such, it made for a slight awkwardness over the (gratis) limoncello that night (that we went back to his and, as usual, screwed each other’s brains out? Neither here nor there). Of course, given our particular situation, she’d jumped to an entirely plausible conclusion and was to be forgiven.
Things were slightly different when a similar thing happened more recently…
In a city filled to the suburbs with gastronomic delights, I - as a pesky veggie - somehow managed to find myself in one of New York’s French steak restaurants recently, discussing the finer (and not so fine) points of the British class system with my new Antipodean boss. Obviously.
In that delightfully friendly way that Americans have (or maybe I just have One of Those Faces. I dunno), we got chatting to the two chaps sat at an adjacent table.
Having first been mistaken for Australian, New Boss and I then got into a lengthy discussion with them about what he and I were doing in the city.
“Drinking, mainly,” I said, determined that - just once - I’d meet someone able to distinguish sincerity from my chronic flippancy.
“So, how long have you two been together?”
“Huh?!” New Boss and I looked at each other.
“Oh, GOD, no!” I now fear I may have been a little more emphatic at this point than was entirely flattering. “No, no, no - he’s my boss!”
“Oh. OH! And you two are…?!” He gave us a jovial “I get whatcha doin’” kind of a look.
“NO! No, really - we just work together. Or, actually, we don’t even do that yet. I don’t start for another few weeks. Nope - strictly professional.”
“But drunken?” Irritatingly Overfamiliar Stranger said.
“Yeah, pretty much,” replied New Boss.
“Well, then you had better have this.” IOS’ dining companion said, passing us a ¾ full bottle of Cabernet. “We’re not going to drink the rest of it. And you know…” He tailed off. I choose to believe there wasn’t an imperceptible wink.
“It’d be rude not to,” New Boss said, re-filling my glass once they’d paid up and left, before entirely ignoring the conversational elephant now sitting with us at the table. “So, there’s this bar I thought we try later…”
Take the girl out of London, but give her a bottle of red and she’ll still know just where she is. What she’s doing, though, is another matter entirely.
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