The bus wasn't moving. I know, you're wondering what I was doing on the bus instead of in a taxi, or balanced on the shoulders of some homeless person I was whipping to run faster; something less common denominator. I wish there were some selfless, even altruistic, reason for it, but the simple fact is that my editor had peered over the top of her affected pince-nez glasses a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I'd consider giving up my expense account for Lent. Naturally I laughed.
"Seriously," she said, lifting the glasses off and rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Look at this, you've expensed a Louis Vuitton handbag and a... a replica Charlie Chaplin bowler hat for the last story alone. Yes," she held a hand up in front of my face, "I know they were both referenced in the piece. But you're a restaurant critic. Your expenses should consist of transport and food."
"Er, there should be some transport expenses in there," I said.
"We're not paying for your flight to New York."
"So, if you won't give up expenses for Lent, how about using public transport for it instead? And before you ask, taxis don't count. Buses, trains, and whatever madness the Mayor of London has up his sleeve for the next quarter. Hmmm?"
I acquiesced, partly from lack of choice and partly so I could use the word acquiesce in my next column when telling you all about this. This explains, at least, why I was on the bus, but not why the bus wasn't moving.
Somewhere ahead of us a fat woman with numerous Tesco's carrier bags had shed her load; eggs and milk were mingling in the gutter, the cheapest, whitest economy loaf possible was floating downstream and a rogue melon, which I can only assume she intended to wear as a hat, was racing for Waterloo Bridge. And instead of getting out of the way of the traffic and bewailing her fate like a hired mourner on the pavement she was bending over, clutching ineffectually at a hand of bananas green enough to be mistaken for celery and waving her free hand behind her as though to prevent us from mowing her down.
"In my day," said the driver who appeared to be sixteen, "we'd have run her down."
"This is my day," I said. "We still can."
I exited the bus with ill-grace, resisted the temptation to hire some students as sedan-chair bearers, and forced myself to walk to the restaurant. The blonde was already there, stood outside with a martini glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other, looking irritated. I took both, finished both, and we went in.
The restaurant was ill-lit and appeared to have been furnished by Helen Keller's parents; wide avenues between narrow tables that were bolted to the floor; corners rounded off and provided with little rubber cushions and chairs that appeared to be predominantly macrame.
"Let's just pretend we ate here," said the Blonde surveilling the room. She put her sunglasses back on. "And then never tell anyone."
The waiter was helpful and the menu was very focused. The first eight dishes all made use of celery; the same stick of celery as far as I could tell. Parts of it were braised in ox blood, other parts were juiced and condensed and served as a micro-soup; the leaves were dipped in sodium alginate and congealed inside a wine-glass that then had a hemi-demi-semi-snifter of Pernod dripped inside.
"I'll have the fish," I said, finally spotting something that resembled a main course.
"I'll have the celery," said the Blonde.
"Which one?" the waiter asked politely.
"All of it."
The main courses were just as fussy, and when we'd sent the medaillons of veal with essence of mirepoix and London Haze back three times because it was cold the waiter told us that the microwave appeared to be on the blink and would we like something else. I elected for dessert, for which there was apparently no choice.
"What's this?" The blonde poked at the mound of crumbs on the plate the waiter had reverently set in the middle of the table.
"Powdered cupcake," he said. "This way you get frosting and cake in every mouthful."
"And how do I take a mouthful?" she enquired. There were neither forks nor spoons provided.
"Ah, lick your fingers...." The waiter withdrew a step or two as he saw the dark look form on her face.
"I think," I said quickly, "I'd like to see the bill now. And I expect there'll be as little of it as there's been edible food this evening."