SOGs on Belvedere

 [With apologies to Damon Runyon]

Well, it is a while since the SOGs get together for lunch, around six months, which is more than somewhat longer than usual, on account of I spend September thinking I should email the guys about getting together for SOGs in October, and October thinking I should email the guys about getting together for SOGs in November, and in November finally sending out an email about getting together for SOGs in December. Even then I announce the date as Friday 15th December and it is a good job I mention ‘Friday’ as 15th December is a Saturday, which is by no means a good day for SOGs to meet. But SOGs have more than a few brain cells and are not confused by this and assume I mean 14th anyway.

About half the guys and exactly half the dolls say they can come and the others say they cannot, except the couple of guys who do not care to reply, and Ian the Adder who is in a superposition of quantum states, being uncertain whether he can come or not. The half of the dolls who can come is Rosemary (SOGs is a tad short on dolls) and this will be her first time.

So a couple of days before the lunch I am expecting nine and a half guys and dolls, which is a good number for lunch, and I send out a reminder. Then the second round of apologies come in. Hands-on Adam has a lot of stuff to do. Rosemary cannot make it after all, so it is only guys again. Keith the Spear’s ever-loving partner is knocked over at a gas station by some dizzy driver reversing around the pumps and fractures her wrist severely so naturally Keith the Spear has to stay with her. Safari Paul has a cough which makes itself known in restaurants and other such places of public amusement and he declines to share it with the rest of us. This is just as well for Safari Paul as if he gives all the SOGs a cough just in time for Christmas we might get to considering this unfriendly and place him in a sack and drop him off Waterloo Bridge. Then Justice Peter says he can come after all. We also hear from Travelling Dave who tells us how hot and humid it is in Singapore just now and there is much muttering about placing him in a sack also.

We assemble at a quarter to twelve at Shell Centre and by twelve the uncertainty about Ian the Adder collapses when he does not turn up. So there are six of us: Athlete Alun, Morbid John, Keith the Bear, Flying Nigel, Justice Peter and me. The guy on the door lets us in and we make our way up to the restaurant on the 2nd floor. The lunch tickets allow us £6 for lunch and as ever it is the challenge to get as close as possible to this price without having to take a yoghurt off the tray at the till. I take the fried fish and chips with mushy peas and a slice of key lime pie and have 75p left. I discover that a fresh orange juice costs 75p. The doll at the till looks at my tray and says like this: “You know you can only spend £6, don’t you?”

I nod and say how it should be OK. She rings up the prices and the total indeed comes to £6.00. “How do you do that?” she says. I smile and walk away with my lunch.

Towards the end of lunch we get to talking about which bar we go to next. I say I do not care to walk very far, as I have an injection in my foot the day before. It is the kind of injection, says the doc, which makes the foot feel worse before it gets better, and he is not wrong about the feel worse part, at any rate. Athlete Alun says he knows this place, and this place is the bar in the Marriott Hotel in the old County Hall. Keith the Bear says he meets us there after he calls in on friends still in Shell Centre.

So we cross the street to the old County Hall and Athlete Alun leads us into the hotel and along the corridors to the bar. I say to him: “I guess it helps if you call Keith the Bear and tell him this is the Premier Inn, not the Marriott.” I for one am pleased that it is the Premier Inn and not the Marriott as it is not so far to walk and I will give plenty of seven to four that the drinks are cheaper. The bar is not one for real ale fans as all the beer is jet propelled, but the Guinness tastes good enough, at that. It is also easy to hold a conversation as the background music has the day off, which makes it a better place than the Allbarone on the corner.

Four of the guys (not including Morbid John and me) have a share in a dog and a great deal of the conversation is about this dog. It seems this dog wins more than a few races and the guys are onto a good thing, but sometimes the dog ambles out of the trap and takes the scenic route round the track and no one knows why. I am thinking maybe the trainer slips the dog a Mickey Finn, but of course I do not say this. And the four guys buy another dog, which is too young to run yet.

Around four it is getting dark outside and I start to feel I drink enough Guinness for one day, and the other guys feel the same, although they are not drinking Guinness. So we all say merry Christmas and happy new year, and I head for the train, which is full of guys and dolls, and go home.