THE MAN WITH THE FAT FACE
An emergent heat rises from the base of my spine, pebbling the skin as it travels up. The heat dissipates at the neck and my cheeks flush and I hear what I hope to be an internal groan of the bowel, but then, I hear a definite audible howl of my stomach. My back is soaked. My brow is greasy. I look and feel ill.
I am at Recipease, Jamie Oliver's new restaurant/bakery/mini-market/school waiting on pancakes that I hope will resolve a hangover. Here, everything happens all at once and on top itself. You sit amongst various appliances and jarred foods, so that as you wait on pancakes hands whip and lash about and around your head, arms reach for products and quizzical comments and lists of ingredients are read aloud. None of this helps my present situation.
There is a weird and prevailing air of controlled laissez-faire fun being cultivated. Staffed by one subliminal guy, who is in charge - he's bossy and wearing his own clothes instead of a uniform - and a multitude of identical young bubbly girlish women, all with ponytails and the same terrifyingly enthusiastic smile. In the middle of the room is a giant island kitchen unit in which culinary demonstrations take place. When eating you sit on tables around this island separated by a walkway. This turns into a roller-skate-disco-rink kind of thing as the waitresses are constantly circuiting the island at speed. This makes it harder still to discern a particular waitress as they blur in motion.
I've noticed the waitresses all have one stock mannerism that must be some sort of malevolent company mandate. Whenever a customer finishes a sentence they appear to be about to laugh and give you a playful push on the shoulder as if your wit is just too much, but they visibly repress this urge, because, I can only assume that the idea is that they need to convey that this is a place that is fun, but yes you're a cool guy that a girl like me could get on real well with on the outside world but I'm being paid right now so I'll repress my true feelings for the sake of professionalism. It's a clever ruse that works so well on the current clientele - the 'I really want to fuck you but I'm at work right now and later I'm busy but if I wasn't we'd definitely be doing it' fake ego boost tactic. It's odd, you notice it.
The divide in class between the customers is apparent immediately. A lot of people wander around the place as if they've just discovered the Lost World - 'how did I go on living so long without you' look. Posh people are impressed by nothing.
Suddenly I realise how incongruently dressed I am. I wear black head to toe, except for a pair of bright orange socks. I cannot remember why or how I own them. Everyone else is dressed affluently casual: as if after eating a great yacht is going to dock right outside the front door and whisk them off to Dubai. Men actually have jumpers draped across their backs with the arms tied in knot across their chest in the way mystical warriors wore lion skin pelts.
Also incongruent is a rogue golden carousel horse, freestanding as some sort of wacky decor, still impaled by a candy-striped pole. The horse has that weird rictus pained snarling face and is lavish in a really confusing way. Tragically, on his back someone (I still can't work out if was a staff member or a customer) has placed a solitary product - a mind-boggling device that could only have been ripped from the finely furtive, taut and honed mind of Jamie Oliver himself. It's like a hollow Barbie sized and shaped coffin in which you put ingredients, such as rock salt etc, and then add a rubber ball and shake to pulverise said rock salt into powder. Jamie Oliver has invented the cocktail mixer for salt and pepper. I still cannot think of one practical or useful task this device helps with. This device exists and is real and has a name but I never wish to know it.
At the edge of my vision on the table opposite sits a woman flicking through the Daily Mail. Somehow, I can feel her stare and turn to look at her. She looks agelessly old age, has the manner of a perennial matriarch (she has asked 3 different waitresses in under a minute where her 'bacon butty' is, even though she had only ordered as I sat down under 10 minutes ago, she speaks to the waitresses with almighty condensation, she is used to being right, her use of the word 'butty' is extremely irksome). She is fat, her clothes are as bland and practical as Harrods can offer, her hair is fifty shades of grey and she has a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey pinned down by an elbow. I do not like her. We are enemies.
I have three drinks. Coffee for sobriety, water for hydration, a smoothie for a treat. My stomach is rumbling like an avalanche. My throat is tight and I am not confident that I will be able to keep my pancakes down when they arrive. They arrive. I manage fine. I am asked at least four times by maybe four different waitresses how they taste, I stop answering after the third inquiry. I finish all three drinks and I give in to my stomach.
In the gents toilet there is a storage cupboard disguised as cubicle door that would have been confusing if it wasn't for a tiny woman (I assume an employee) on all four scratching around for something in there. She turns and looks at me not with surprise or apology but with shock and disgust (a look so filthy it said to my mind that: 'this lady looks like she thinks that I'm going to piss on her'). Her look make me think that I am either in the ladies toilet by mistake or I have unconsciously unzipped and exposed myself. I have done neither. The lady apologises after a pause and leaves.
Alone now, I make for a cubicle and wait. Noise is my main concern - I want the whole thing over quick. Then, the door squeals open in that precise way toilet doors squeal, foot-steps slap the floor and that fucking store cupboard is opened followed by the sound of rustling. I am convinced it is that woman. I am still emitting the sounds of shameful humanity - I feel my dignity drain. Is she doing this on purpose? When I am finished, I take a long while cleaning up and sit listening to a manic hand rooting around for god knows what two doors down. I can't wait forever. I just want to get the hell out of there.
It's not the lady but a man. Whatever's in there must be really important for this guy to get in here so quick. Then it occurs to me, why wasn't he in here in the first place? His smile is less harsh. Not once does he remove his roving hand from the cupboard. I wash my hands. The hand dryer is located about a foot directly above the man's head. Its expensive, it shoots out a powerful blast and droplets of water are rocketed off of my hands and on the man below. His hair is windswept. My hands are completely dry thirty seconds before I remove them from the machine. Over the dying motor I mouth sorry and the man smiles through gritted teeth. I'm feeling better.
In the roller-disco lane a man with a vicious limp struggles along causing a pile-up, my nemesis has vanished but a man, the spitting image of William Burroughs including suit, hat, cane and dark shades sits in her place. He has a tube the size of a garden-variety worm running from an oxygen tank sitting in the chair next to him all the way up his nose. A villain for a villain, I think. I feel facial features lift - I may even be laughing at this point. Ponytails and smiles are five deep, compacted behind the man with a limp. They are clearly pissed off at the hold up and now have formed an angry and aggressive mob of shrill voices fighting to 'help' a man struggling to retain his dignity and humility in a way that is more blindly visible than the struggle he is having with his limp.
My bill arrived while I was in the toilet like a gift. I pay in cash. I leave no tip. The pancakes were good.
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- everything depends upon how near you stand to me...
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