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Harriet Walker: 'It's time to welcome in the spirit of spring'


Nothing beats that moment of transition from winter to spring: waking up to curtain-filtered sunshine and the first time you leave your coat behind. It's breathing in the smell of foliage and flowers rather than air so cold it sears the back of your nose. It's walking because you want to, not just when you have to. And it's eating rowdily and outside, enjoying the bacchanalia that good weather affords instead of slurping like hunched medieval kings in the day-long gloaming, wiping your hands on your dressing-gown.

There could be no better indication of the fact that we're over-ready for spring than the restaurant ruckus I was part of last week... until my party's bubblingly youthful, spring-like spirit was crushed under the weight of some winter meanies.

A friend's birthday spent in a well-to-do but not-at-all-snotty sort of place: the sort of place that serves spring things such as broad beans and halloumi. Our large party would have fitted into the jaunty little alcove space a treat, but there was another group already ensconced there, so we had to content ourselves with sharing it.

Let me reiterate at this point: this other group had specifically asked for the alcove, a walled-in area where people tend to be squashed into a confined space and can overhear one another's conversations. You can guess what may have happened with these frozen-hearted types who wanted to eat their meal in wintry quiet.

With one portion of our party sitting in the alcove and the other in the restaurant's main area, we were perfectly content simply to chat to those around us. Until, that is, the Meanies began calling over the waitress to complain about how noisy we were being.

Now, I have been to noisy dinners. I have watched public-schoolboys stand on tables and shout things in Latin. I have been pulled up for being a yob myself on occasion, I won't deny it. The time my headteacher made me stop singing in the dining-room, aged seven, was particularly galling. But this was not like that: we were just making conversation, in a space with challenging acoustics.

"It's Zack!" several people began to murmur. "It's his big, booming voice. It's got us into trouble before." Zack had the grace to look abashed.

So we hushed a bit, but even that wasn't enough. Well, you try asking for the salt in a whisper. Within minutes the waitress had been summoned back and we had to watch, in frosty silence, as she – rather expertly – dealt with these icy diners. Dealt with them by shipping us out of the alcove and back into the main-room of the restaurant. The ice trolls had won!

I'm not one to hold a grudge (incidentally, I hold a grudge like a knight's effigy clasps his sword until the end of time) but, in the spirit of this, The New Review's spring Food Issue, I'd like to point out exactly what was wrong in this scenario so that you equinoctial epicurians don't make the same mistake and turn spring food to ashes in everyone's mouths, as these buggers did.

First of all, don't ask for a specific area of a restaurant unless you can fill it. Otherwise, I'm afraid you will have to endure the company of other people, whose names you don't know, whose voices are more booming than yours, and who are having more fun than you.

Second, if you have a problem with people enjoying themselves (remember, there was no screaming, no nudity, no Bullingdon antics), you should probably eat at home all the time and drink tea out of an ironic mug that says, "Old Git".

And finally, always bear in mind Oscar Wilde's tale "The Selfish Giant", whose garden was wreathed in snow and winter fogs from the day he barred all the jolly spring-like children from playing in it.

As I waited at the end of the night for the others to come outside, I noticed some of the ice trolls, who had left a little earlier, returning to the restaurant. "Surely this place is open late," one said to the other. "I could really do with another drink."

The restaurant was not, in fact, open late: it was closing that minute, they didn't get their drinks and turned to go again, distinctly put out. Oh, how they must have wished they had cut loose earlier in the evening! Oh, that they had let their proverbial hair down as if they were in a shampoo ad rather than keeping it in a face-aching topknot all night! Oh, if only they welcomed the spirit of spring in, and had a bit of fun with their food. Let this be a warning.