Eating alfresco is strictly for the natives

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Who are we trying to kid? We, the great British people, may be a lot of things - sensual, reckless, volatile, passionate (I said may) - but we are definitely not alfresco, and the sooner someone reminds the woman next door of this incontrovertible fact, the easier I shall sleep.

Who are we trying to kid? We, the great British people, may be a lot of things - sensual, reckless, volatile, passionate (I said may) - but we are definitely not alfresco, and the sooner someone reminds the woman next door of this incontrovertible fact, the easier I shall sleep.

Gentle reader, you see me in my by-line picture smiling, dapper, at one with the world. Do not be fooled. In reality I am drained, edgy and hollow-eyed, because every night for the last two weeks my neighbour, Miss Camilla Millington-Munroe, whose backyard abuts the rear of our block directly beneath my bedroom window, has been entertaining alfresco.

If she heard me describe it as a backyard, Miss M-M's eyebrows would lift incredulously, for a backyard is as alien to her way of life as a chat room to a Trappist monk. And yet, for all its sophisticated accoutrement, terracotta pots full of Fremontedendron californica (geraniums are so naff) statuary, teak loungers and scented candles in wrought-iron holders, it is essentially a backyard. Everyone else has washing lines and dustbins in theirs.

In the midst of this, Miss M-M's backyard is an elegant, perfumed oasis separated from the squalor of its neighbours by judiciously cased trellis covered with clematis. Alas, trellis is no sound barrier, and well into the small hours the giggles and guffaws of her guests waft up to my window.

We've had our share of torrential downpours and spectacular summer storms over the last fortnight, but hostesses like Miss M-M, bent on alfresco soirées, are not deterred by details like rain. Thank God for that, I thought malevolently when I heard the first rumble of thunder. That will soon put paid to their ribaldry. Fat chance. If anything they became even more boisterous as they wafted great striped golfing umbrellas and tap danced drunkenly on the tiles like Gene Kelly. "The sun's in my heart and I'm ready for love," roared one chinless wonder above the thunder claps.

I suppose it's because we see so little of the sun that when it does come out we go slightly mad. Every café along the Kings Road puts tables on the pavement when the sun shines. I had lunch with a friend the other day who insisted on eating alfresco. We could hardly hear ourselves speak for the traffic, the rock music blaring from the shoe shop next door, the pneumatic drill digging up the road for the gas board on our right and the pneumatic drill digging up the pavement for the water authority on our left. You could actually see the pollution settling on your food. My buffalo mozzarella was positively grey by the time I got it.

Aeons ago, when I was an au pair in Rome living with a family in Trastevere, we ate out every night, but that was different. No traffic, narrow cobbled streets, trattorias in ancient courtyards covered with vines. And the absolute certainty it wouldn't rain. That's the only way to dine alfresco.

I wonder if I take after my paternal grandfather, William Thomas McHarg, district first officer in the Shan States of Upper Burma circa 1910. Like most of the other Europeans he took up, as they say, with a local lass - my grandmother - but unlike the other Europeans he moved her into his official government residence, where she bore him five Anglo-Burmese children.

Every evening after work my grandfather knocked back a large stinger, put on his dinner jacket and left the house, passing my grandmother and her brood eating curry and rice on the veranda, to the formal panelled dining room of the European Club. Eating outside is strictly for the natives, I told my Polish friend Gabriela with whom I was eating dingy mozzarella in a King's Road traffic jam. So we went inside where all the best tables were empty and finished our lunch plus two bottles of chilled Sauvignon in peace.

I wonder if Miss M-M would appreciate one. I'll throw it down on her head this evening.

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