Last week was our third wedding anniversary. In three years, we have accrued two cats and one baby, so mathematics tells me that if we can make it to 30 years we will have 20 cats and ten babies.
We celebrated by going out for dinner at a posh restaurant – thanks to our recent date at Buckingham Palace, I can no longer get away with Pret a Manger (though there is now a branch in London that serves dinner, with wine, so I might try). It was the first Tuesday after Easter and as tired new parents we’d booked a table for 7.30pm, so I wasn’t anticipating that the place would be heaving. But I was quite surprised to find we were the only customers. I assumed people might start arriving at 8 or 8.30pm but the door remained closed. It seemed we were going to be having a private dining experience.
As cool as it was to have our own waiting staff and chef, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were all annoyed that we were there. They could have had a night off. Also why was no one else here? Had the place been responsible for a case of mass food poisoning? Were we the only ones who didn’t know this was the restaurant the film Ratatouille was based on and our food was being prepared by vermin?
At 9pm some other patrons finally arrived. It was a young couple who were somewhat worse for wear, dressed in expensive casual clothes and both on their mobiles. This was the kind of place we might dress up to go to once a year as a treat but I suspected from their blasé indifference that they were so rich that this was their equivalent to popping into Pizza Express.
I was glad they were there though, not only because it made me feel less guilty, but because they provided some unexpected drama. They started snogging as soon as they sat down. On another night this might have shocked the other customers so much that it would have made their monocles fall into their soup, but we found it funny.
Then they started watching YouTube videos on their phones with the volume up high. The maître d’ rapidly approached and shushed them with his hands. They turned down the volume slightly.
I wondered if they might have been employed by the restaurant, in an upmarket version of those people who dress up as characters from Fawlty Towers and throw food at you. Though in this case the script was definitely by Mike Leigh. Because next the couple had what they thought was a hushed conversation and the guy rasped: ‘You should have a pregnancy test!’
The words echoed round the empty room.
‘Did you hear that?’ I whispered to my wife. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘Do you think they heard you saying: “Did you hear that?”’
‘I don’t know,’ I whispered, ‘but they might have heard you saying: “Do you think they heard you saying: ‘Did you hear that?”’
If they did hear any of it, they didn’t react. They quickly ate their expensive food and left, leaving me wondering about their lives and the fate of the child that might or might not be gestating.
The restaurant was eerily quiet again and the staff vanished. Perhaps they’d all been ghosts and this was the setting of the real-life The Shining.