Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Table etiquette…

Not much going on at the moment. I’m waiting for stuff to happen. I could be doing lots of useful non-writing things like…I don’t know…building stuff. I could actually be writing – I’ve got stuff to write, but I’m being sort of half-hearted about it. Part of me is all like must write more, the rest of me is like haven’t you written enough this year? In pages I’ve written enough. In being showered with cheques I haven’t. Still, I’m just hanging around, waiting to see what happens when people get back from LA and hoping I’m not setting myself up for a disappointment. And distracting myself from that thought by writing about stuff that happened in real life.

So Friday we (that’s Andrea and me) went to the pub to meet some friends. The pub in question was packed but we’d chosen to go there because it’s next to a train station and some of our friends were coming by train. We were stuck there is what I’m saying. Point of no return and all that. So we get a drink and go looking for a table we can fit six people round and naturally there aren’t any. The only thing close is a really small table under and upon which are a number of bags of varying sizes. None of the large groups of people sitting at the surrounding tables seem particularly attached to these bags. This seems rather odd. We stare at the bags for a bit then decide sod it, if the bags belong to some people they’ll soon tell us when we sit down. So we hijack a couple of chairs and sit awkwardly either side of the table of bags. And no one says anything, or even glances across with an ‘they’re sitting round our bags’ look. So now I’m thinking maybe there’s a bomb in the bags.

We sit there for about ten minutes, still just the two of us, feeling very awkward and wondering if our lives are in danger from the potentially exploding bags. Meanwhile the table in front of us, currently occupied by six people starts to empty out. A couple of people go out for a smoke. Then a couple more join them. Then another guy leaves, meaning there’s just a girl left. She sits there alone on a huge table for a bit, then she gets up and leaves too. The table is empty!

We stare at the table a while. Some of the people are still outside smoking. But surely they wouldn’t leave the whole table unattended if they were going to come back. And surely risking a possible confrontation is better than death by exploding terror bags. We discuss this, watching the table intently, weighing up our options, then a waitress comes over and cleans the table! So now it’s not only an empty table, it’s a clean table, and it’s right there in front of us, its gleaming, polished surface just begging to be leaned upon – something we cannot do on the table piled high with exploding bags. We stare at it a moment more. Then we see another couple eyeing up the same table. We’re not having that. We move in and sit down triumphantly. Let someone else take the exploding bag table, we got the big one – room for all our friends and more!

That’s the problem. The table’s too big. Huge in fact. It looks ludicrous with just the two of us sitting there. I move across one seat and put my coat over an empty chair to make it look like my imaginary friend has gone to the loo. Andrea does the same, but it’s not very convincing. We’re hoping our friends turn up soon.

Then things start to go wrong. The last guy to leave comes back to the table – he’d just gone to the loo. He walks towards the table then does a double-take when he realises that neither of us are the girl he left there. This makes me wonder about that girl – she clearly isn’t coming back. I wonder if maybe she made the same mistake we did – sat down thinking the table was empty and was then trapped here, forced to make awkward conversation with five random men. She saw a chance to escape and she took it, leaving some other poor fools to fall into the same trap.

Luckily double-take dude doesn’t come any further and instead heads for the bar. I breathe a sigh of relief, thinking the ordeal over with. It’s far from over.

A second man comes in from outside. He is older and looks a bit like Alice Cooper in Prince of Darkness:

He walks over to the table, and also does a double-take when he realises his prisoner girl has escaped and the other bloke isn’t there either. Instead two randoms have taken their place! So he goes to the bar and complains. It’s too loud to hear, but we can see him ranting at the barmaid and pointing at us, getting more and more animated as he does so. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

‘Excuse me, good lady. It appears two young rascals have taken our seats.’

‘Oh yes, how terrible.’

‘Would you be so kind as to go over there and eject them for us?’

‘I’m afraid I couldn’t do that, sir, it’s not in my job description. Might I suggest an alternative? The table with the exploding bags perhaps?’

And so on…

So now we’re sitting there starting to fear for our lives again. Is being knifed by Alice Cooper and his mates worse than being blown up by terrorist bag bombs? I consider urinating on the table to mark our territory. Andrea helpfully points out we would then be sitting at a table covered in urine. Is this worse than death by explosion/stabbing? If only our friends would turn up. There is strength in numbers, and it would look slightly less ridiculous with six of us sitting round the table. Now Alice Cooper dude is outside talking to his friends – Burly/Beardy Red Cap bloke (Fred Durst crossed with Bluto?) and Severe Undercut guy (who doesn’t look like anyone but has a severe undercut). And Severe Undercut guy is giving us an evil look from outside. This is getting worse. I suggest moving back to the table with the bags – maybe death by explosion wouldn’t be so bad after all. But Andrea is ready to fight for the table, insisting we are in the right for taking what was clearly an empty table in a packed pub. Which we are, but they are bigger then us.

After much worrying on our part and looking at phones/watches for any sign of our friends, I look to the door hoping to see them walk in at that moment and instead see the table occupiers walking through the door instead. It’s too late for retreat now. They know we’re sitting at their table. They can see us. They’ve complained with no success. They’ve followed all legal avenues but justice has failed them. They would have to make their own justice now.

Thankfully, just as they’re about to head over to the table, a large group of people leaves, vacating a much nicer table around the same size. And this one has comfy sofas – a marked improvement over the one we now occupy. They sit there, happy with their new turf, us happy with ours. Some time later our friends arrive and we laugh about the whole thing, forgetting the terror of those horrifying twenty minutes when table etiquette nearly led to our deaths.

Okay, being an ex-smoker myself with occasional relapses I have complete sympathy with the plight of the post-ban smoker. But seriously, if the whole group smokes surely you go out in shifts, you don’t leave an empty table in a packed pub knowing you won’t be back for another 5-10 minutes. If you do, then you just might find me sitting there, possibly cowering, possibly weeing in your pint, but there I’ll be and your only alterative is the table with the exploding bags. Or something.

Also, I found this very funny on the way home from work, but perhaps only because of the Stoke-on-Trent reference. This is Joe Cornish re-working the theme from Antiques Roadshow:

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