… and all through the house, not a creature was stirring – because they’d all gone to Bank Street.
Well, not quite all, but the bits of Shell Centre visible from the walkway out of Waterloo Station looked bleak and empty. Having missed the last SOGs (yes, I know I organise them and pick the date – actually, those two things are pretty much the same thing – so I ought to have been able to manage it, but Cornish events intervened and I had to be in Wadebridge on the date I’d picked), I proposed a December lunch which as it turned out only a few people could get to. Alun and John M came, and newbie SOG Nigel V. plus SOG-in-training Mike, making a select five in all.
Excuses Reasons for not coming included visiting brother-in-law in hospital (hope he’s OK, Keith), making unexpected progress in a golf tournament (hope you had a successful day, Malcolm), a Citizens Advice Bureau party (hope you didn’t end up needing advice, Paul), being in Arizona (not as an illegal immigrant, I hope, Gary) or in Australia (mind the spiders, David), plus sundry other appointments.
There had been some discussion beforehand about the date perhaps clashing with the staff Christmas lunch. Enquiries among current staff revealed a total lack of information, and it wasn’t until Friday 9th that an announcement was made about it being on 13th. And a second sitting on the 14th. Table reservations required. It’s all going downhill. You’ll be telling me next that they’re closing the pension scheme to new entrants. What? They are? Good grief!
We checked in at Reception, having battled against the wind along Belvedere Street to reach the entrance, and made our way up to the second floor. I saw Suzanne in the lift lobby, but she didn’t have time for more than a quick hello as she was heading to meet someone. I forget how not everyone has time to stop and chat. In the restaurant, the game of ‘how close can I get to £6 without going over’ began. My moussaka with salad and a blueberry cheesecake fell 80p short – not really trying there – but it was a good moussaka and a very pleasant cheesecake, so I’m not too bothered.
Mike regaled us with tales of being the oldest one in his department, the font of corporate wisdom, to whom all the young people come to ask ‘Do you know about…’ The answer is typically yes, and when it isn’t, he knows someone who does. The assembled SOGs could be seen nodding in recognition, and were glad to be out of it. Mike has found himself in the unfortunate position of being indispensable, the only one who knows how a particular system really works. To an out-of-work youngster (by which I mean anyone up to the age of about 45), this might sound like heaven, guaranteed employment. To a SOG-in-training it is… different.
After lunch we adjourned the meeting to the Slug and Lettuce across the road. We came here once before, for lunch, and they didn’t have any draft beer. What do you know – they didn’t have any draft beer again. Nor Guinness. It was lagers all round. Maybe one day we’ll learn. No, that’s unfair. We go more often to other pubs where the beer is good, but the Slug has an advantage on a cold, windy day: it is very close.
At about twenty to four, I made a move, since I had only twenty minutes and probably only one train for which my super-cheap rail ticket remained valid. On Waterloo concourse, there were lots of people, too many. On Waterloo train indicator board, there were few trains indicated, too few. Despair gnawed at my stomach. There was one train for Woking, due to have departed already, so I made for it with all haste. It was full, with people standing up in the entrance areas and all seats occupied. Near the front, I got on and decided to go through into the carriage to stand up there. To my surprise and delight, there were some empty seats, so I sat down. People continued to get on for the next ten or fifteen minutes, loosely filling the gangways. The guard pleaded for people to move up inside the carriages and was stoically ignored by the British public. Eventually the train pulled out, only to stop at Clapham, ostensibly to allow more people on. The same pleas had the same lack of effect. At Woking, the train stopped for quite a time to allow the departing throng (me amongst them) to squeeze past the non-departing mass and get off. The reason for the disruption, sadly, was a person going under a train at New Malden. Once again I felt glad not to be doing that journey on a regular basis.