The mission Maggie O'Farrell sets out to discover if there is such thing as a free lunch but has a very hairy experience ...
Saturday 29 August 1998
I am entering Quo Vadis, the Soho
restaurant backed by artist Damien Hirst. I reckon he can afford it. As I approach the desk, the two women behind it part their lips in what, in some circles, would pass as a smile. "Hello," I say, "I'd like to have lunch, please. For free." There is a pause. The smiles disappear. "Is that possible?" I ask. "No." They look at me as if I'm a bit of something that's fallen off one of Damien's art works. "No," they say again, just in case I didn't understand.
Nearby, at Sir Terence Conran's Mezzo, the man's reply strikes me as bizarre: "You're wearing trainers." We look down at my feet together. "Does that mean that if I wasn't wearing trainers I could get a free lunch?" "We're booked up," he says. "What, for free lunches?" "You're wearing trainers," he says again. The man's obviously on some strange autopilot, so I leave.
I try a few other places: the man in trendy Bar Italia pretends he's lost his grasp of the English language; and the nice Canadian boy who's stacking the fridges of the sandwich store Pret a Manger just looks frightened.
1pm: I loiter with intent outside the Groucho Club, the media hangout. A man in a suit gets out of a cab. "Hey!" I greet him, wondering why I suddenly sound American, "would you mind buying me lunch?" He stops, his fingers plucking nervously at his mobile-phone aerial, and makes the noise "Hhrrrrggh?" I repeat my request. "Do I know you?" he asks. "No," I reply, and he runs away, throwing himself through the Groucho's doors. My stomach emits a growl the type of which is usually heard only in the proximity of Longleat.
1.30pm: food is now a matter of urgency. I decide that crashing a corporate gathering is my only option. In what I am convinced is a matter of divine psychicness, the man on reception at the Sony building says, "Have you come for the lunch?" I sign for a security pass and float down the stairs wondering if I should marry him. But plans for our future are rudely interrupted when I see that the room is filled with men networking earnestly, holding glasses of mineral water, and the only edible things around are a few bowls of crisps. I scoff down as many as I can and ruminate over how similar the words "lunch" and "launch" sound. A woman cannot live by crisps alone. I leave, without a backward glance for the reception man.
Outside, Soho's Golden Square is filled with people eating sandwiches. I approach two women who are sunning the tops of their Wonderbra-enhanced chests. "Hi. Do you have any food you could give me?" They stop, mid-chew, and stare at me. Then they resume their conversation.
As a last resort, I sidle up to a lone man who has inexplicably rolled up the bottoms of his suit trousers. Success! He produces a sandwich - a fresh mozzarella and tomato nirvana of a free lunch. I am so close, I nearly have it in my hand when he says: "Only if I can touch your hair." I decide that a) he's a weirdo and b) hair-touching constitutes payment. Decline, and stalk off to the cashpoint
Life & Style blogs
Charlie Charlie Challenge: everyone on the internet thinks it’s a marketing stunt, but it probably isn’t
Not brushing your teeth can lead to dementia and heart disease
Insomnia could be cured with one simple therapy session, new study claims
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca reclaims top spot to be named world's best restaurant
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers
- 1 Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who ran away after argument with her parents
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 4 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
- 5 Fifa corruption: Qatar says investigations are racist, anti-Arab and show 'ugly face' of countries who lost 2022 World Cup bid
Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: Whats the opportunity? A pro-act...
Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: Whats the opportunity? The small...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...
£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...