I worked at the Costa in Highgate village this morning and found myself, as usual, surrounded by an eccentric assortment of village types. There was one of those angry women in there. The ones who are so horrible to their husbands that you wonder why they're still alive. Everything he said to her was met with extreme sarcasm, a roll of the eyes or an embarrassing dig. Just loud enough, one assumes, so the rest of the cafe would hear, and realise how awful it must be for her to have to live in a love-less marriage to a man who's plainly hopeless. She spent a good hour with her facial muscles firmly to planted in the "lips to lemon, eyes to half" position. Poor bloke.
It must have been a day for it, because moments later, a man arrived, who rather rudely asked me to remove my bag, before sitting down at the table next to me opposite his son, who was probably 11. The son was very quietly playing a game on his mobile phone. Periodically, he'd put the phone down and try to engage his father in conversation. His attempts were systematically shot down in flames by the father, who would click loudly to indicate to the son that he was too busy looking at his own phone to listen, or shush him loudly with the irritating word "weesht". The son took it in his stride. Every rebuff was met with a little sigh and a return to his mobile phone. At one point, the lad lent on the table, and it tipped up slightly. Nothing was spilt, and it was plainly an accident, but the dad went ape: "you have to be more careful. How many times do I have to tell you this?" There was real menace in his voice. Almost as though, at any moment, the threat would be followed by some sort of wallop. It was horrible. And instead of saying "now look here, Dad, that was plainly not deliberate," the lad merely apologised and returned to his mobile phone, looking sad. It was horrible.
Behind them both, a woman was over-sharing on the telephone: "I told him he could smack me on the arse and I wouldn't tell him off..." The mind boggles!
I came into town this afternoon, essentially to buy myself a pair of walking shoes. I hadn't factored Black Friday into the equation, reached Oxford Street and immediately flew into a panic. I was sort of sucked into one shoe shop, like an iron filing to a magnet, and, due to the large amount of people in there, was unable to escape again. Bewildered looking sales staff holding piles of shoe boxes were blocking every conceivable exit like the worst sort of game of Pacman. I have had the wind put up me by people saying I need walking boots for my journey along the Nene, but I have to keep telling myself that the most important thing is that I simply get a pair of comfortable shoes. I don't need to spend hundreds of pounds on specific walking shoes. I'm not climbing mountains. I'm sauntering along a pathway by the side of a river in some of the flattest terrain known to man - and, because it's a river, it's all going to be down hill. I'm a big walker. I walk everywhere. I know it's going to be hard work, but I've never been one of those people who needs all the fancy gear simply to feel like I'm doing something properly. I'm far more worried about chafing. Too much information? I apologise...
I met Nathan for lunch. He was relieved I'd decided not to buy shoes because the poor lamb is still feeling really rough. I've generously given the cold to Abbie as well, whom I saw yesterday at a quiz.
Harrison met us, and, after Nathan had gone back to work, we had tea and cake. Harrison is conducting a concert version of Brass in Birmingham on Monday 20th February. If any Midlanders are reading this blog, I urge you to put the date in your diaries. It ought to be a wonderful evening of entertainment.
Yesterday, after the quiz, I met Nathan and our American friend Adam for a "Thanksgiving Meal." It's such an important day for Americans, but it's not something the Brits have ever really got into marking. I'm really not sure what the purpose of Thanksgiving is. It's bound to be something a bit murky with shades of anti-Britishness, but it felt really important to find Adam a turkey to chow down on, and a plate of pumpkin pie, which, of course, only the Yanks haven't realised actually tastes of farts. I would have thought a few pubs in London might have taken the initiative and thrown on a special meal for our American friends who are flocking over here to take advantage of the worthless pound. Sadly not. We were in Victoria, and marched from pub to pub, looking for something which fitted the bill, but weirdly all the pubs had exactly the same menu. And when I say exactly, I mean down to the photos of the dishes and the font used. Of course all this implies that the food in all of those pubs is coming out of the same little centrally-packaged, chemically-preserved frozen bags of non-food joy. I was devastated. Where's Betty Turpin's Hot Pot when you need it?