I’ve been pretty quiet for a while. In non-virtual life there are generally only three reasons for this: I’m eating something; I’ve reached a level of hunger-based anger that has rendered me incapable of speech; or I’m asleep. (I like food.)
In cyber-space however my only excuse is that I haven’t done anything especially embarrassing of late. I mean, sure, I did accidentally shout “I can’t drink, I don’t smoke, I’m single: SUGAR’S ALL I HAVE!” across the office. And I did recently move a meeting to a stairwell so I could – mid Fortnum & Mason food hall induced hot flush – hang my head out of the window like a dog. Aaaand due to thinking I’d dropped a chunk of cookie down my top whilst in the vicinity of an evil genius with a camera, there’s a photo of me on the Twittersphere checking out my own boobs. (I like food.)
But y’know. Nothing really embarrassing.
These days I’m apparently too busy doing grown-up things like buying crockery or worrying if I’m investing enough money in my pension to make too much of a fool out of myself. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world, so I thought I’d tell you about a run-in I had with a couple of guys who hadn’t remembered to bring their dignity with them when they turned up at The Black Dog one sunny Wednesday a few weeks ago.
I was there with one of my favourite eating buddies, the lovely Liv, lamenting the shortage of hollandaise sauce, and wishing the soup of the day was their legendary cauliflower cheese. (I should mention that The Black Dog is my absolute favourite brunch/lunch spot in Vauxhall; that up until that day I had never noticed a dearth of hollandaise on the premises; and that the cauliflower cheese soup is THE BEST soup I’ve ever eaten. One day I will get the recipe and then I will die happy. Fat and happy… Or maybe just fat.) We were sat outside munching away merrily, and catching up on months of gossip, when the Dignity Schmignity Duo arrived, and asked if they could put their drinks on our table while they went back inside for a moment.
Of course they could, we chimed, and carried on our conversation. Then, in the twinkling of a lack of manners, they joined their drinks at our table, and sat down next to us. Being British and polite, we opted for an awkward acceptance of the situation. They then started trying to force a conversation with us, which is probably going to be burned into my memory forever.
It transpires that the barman had been “rude” to them, which the drunker of the two (who from here-on-in shall be referred to as Slurry) maintained was because “I’m not white”. If I’d thought for a second that Slurry was being discriminated against based on the colour of his skin I’d have abandoned my salad to give the barman a big ol’ chunk of my mind. But I know this place. The staff are lovely. And I was willing to bet my salad that if the barstaff had a problem with Slurry it was because he was far more inebriated than it’s normal to be at 1pm on a Wednesday. Slurry kept swearing about the situation, which his companion – who I’m going to call Sleazy, for soon-to-be-obvious reasons) kept chastising him for, as Sleazy had assumed we would be offended, having correctly observed that Liv and I are each in possession of a uterus. (Sigh. I can’t even. I’m just going to roll my eyes.)
In between telling off Slurry for swearing, Sleazy lost no time in telling Liv she was gorgeous; chimed in “You!” in response to me asking Liv “What do you fancy?” for dessert; and enquired as to whether we were single. (Sigh.) Slurry was meanwhile telling us how much he hates his baby’s mother, and how she doesn’t know what’s good for their daughter. He then looked quite mournful and said he wouldn’t want his little girl to see him drunk. This all made for some fairly awkward small talk, but nothing particularly earth-shattering.
But then, while Liv and I were debating whether to share a pudding, Sleazy opened his mouth and, interrupting us, asked a question that I have never been asked before, and that shall haunt me when I browse dessert menus for many moons to come.
He gazed into my eyes and said, as though he were asking nothing more extraordinary than what the weather forecast was, “Are you pregnant?”
Time slowed down. I saw Liv’s face crumble into sheer disbelief, as Slurry’s eyes widened in horror, and a bitter taste of adrenaline chased away the memory of my pear and Stilton salad. Sleazy was gazing at me attentively, as though nothing out of social-norms were taking place. In a voice a few semi-tones higher than usual I dispelled his belief that ladies don’t swear, while Liv spluttered and Slurry slurred my defence, insisting that I don’t look pregnant, with Slurry apologising profusely for his friend’s behaviour. (Thank you, Slurry. I love you.) When I’d stopped repeating “What the…?!” like a particularly indignant parrot, Sleazy had the sheer audacity to tell me I was getting upset over nothing.
He attempted to convince us that it was a perfectly reasonable and not at all rude question to ask.
Of my many faults, being over-weight is not one of them. I’m reasonably confident that I look pregnant only once a year – after I’ve just eaten Christmas dinner. I was wearing full length dungarees, but they’re pretty tight and frankly rather fabulous, so when he tried to blame it on them I was even more deeply unimpressed.
Eventually Sleazy realised that apologising was the best course of action, and the conversation moved on. I was pretty much ready to forget the whole thing – although I was wondering if the dungarees should be consigned to the back of my wardrobe – by the time the hot chocolate fudge brownie with salted caramel ice cream (pause here to lick your lips) that Liv and I had ordered to share arrived in all its gooey melty glory.
Sleazy looked at this piece of dessert heaven, smiled the kind of smile that one would imagine to see on the face of the devil himself, if you were ever unfortunate enough to bump into him over a lunch date, and said; pointedly; maliciously; looking straight at me – “Just think about how many calories are in that!”
I felt hatred pouring into my heart like icy cold quick drying cement. This man had taken it a step too far. Flirt with me against my wishes, ask rude questions all you will, but don’t you dare make me think about calories before I’ve taken my first spoonful of dessert.
I wish I hadn’t stopped after asking him if he was trying to ruin my lunch. I wish I’d carried on ranting after I’d pointed out that it felt like he was actively trying to make me feel fat. I could have thrown in pressure from the media; the horrors of photo-shopped models; the fact that most women I know are on a near-permanent diet; and that I’m a size 6 yet I have a recurring nightmare where I eat too much pizza in one go.
None of those things are his fault, but I wish I’d stood up, climbed on the table in my dungarees (I had heels on so this would have been an especially impressive spectacle), and given a rousing speech – much like Hugh Grant’s character in Love Actually does about David Beckham’s right foot – about the injustice of a world in which, from where I’m standing anyway, the female form is more scrutinised and under more pressure to conform to a type than the male counterpart.
As it was, my deeply frustrating tendency to get tongue-tied and my hatred of confrontation meant that the inevitable outcome was that, after my initial outburst, I returned to civility; no scenes caused.
As I glared at him over my (absolutely bloody delicious, thank you very much) brownie, with a stream of gender equality angst running through my head, Sleazy gazed back at me, utterly unfazed, and said cheerfully “You have lovely eyes.”
If looks could kill, my lovely eyes would have finished him.
(… Finished him faster than we polished off that brownie, too.)