We had lunch with friends last week. I can't say where because of that there slightly unsettling picture of me: if I name the gaff in question, every eaterie within the pulsing environs of the M25 is going to want a slice of my expense account. If I had one. Which I genuinely don't. No luncheon vouchers for me. I don't even get a luncheon break. And because of these time constraints, I'm having to write this week's scarlet letter on the bus, hence thefreqqunt spollin mstkes. Hold on while I give this passenger his change...
So, back to the restaurant. In lieu of a name, let's just say this wasn't a fancy-schmancy place. The tartare-esque sauce for my girlfriend's faux-scampi nuggettes de mer came in sachets and the waiter was texting his mate while he was taking our order. There was a laminated menu involved. Get the picture? We did.
The couple with whom we were lunching (she: lasagne and chips... he: steak pie and some other chips) were over from Australia for Christmas. But they were far from Australian. He grew up "somewhere near Manchester" and she was from my neck of the woods, as you no doubt guessed, given her decision to double up on the carbs (her main course could only have been more carby if she had had baked potato with a mashed potato filling. And chips).
All during lunch, they were trying to persuade us to do what they had done and move to Australia. He said he had a 45-minute phone interview for a job and got it. He asked me what I did. I told him I worked for this newspaper. His face fell a little. "Oh. Pity you weren't a carpenter or a plumber or something manual. You know ... like a real trade?" I looked at my pale, soft, rather wee hands, suddenly feeling like a cross between Niles Crane and a gingham summer dress.
In spite of this professional self-loathing, I must admit the idea of moving to Australia grabbed me somewhat, so I skipped home afterwards and Googled property costs down there. Once I had converted the £976,000 I currently pay in monthly rent into Australian dollars, I experienced something of an epiphany. You would not believe the kind of place I could afford. Some of them were like actual palaces.
Swimming pools, muesli dispensers, fold-down wallpaper and walk-in front doors. "Think of it," I said to my girlfriend, as we gazed towards the horizon. "We could be lounging by our own pool; eating grapes out of a shoe. It could be heaven." "If only you were a carpenter," she sneered. And we laughed and laughed. Like at the end of Family Fortunes, when they all laugh and wave at the camera.