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The idea of the spontaneous night out is one that appeals on so many levels. If the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley, then why make them in the first place? There lies the theory at least. It is one steeped in misty-eyed nostalgia too. I’m prepared to bet that some of your best nights out at university involved going to the pub and, you know, just going with the flow, man. It was a great mantra, I mean what could possibly go wrong?

Alas, that was the carefree student environment… In the real grown-up world, the answer appears to be a lot. For starters, there is absolutely nowhere, and I mean nowhere, in London that isn’t booked up.

Good luck popping down the pub to watch the big game, every table has RESERVED scrawled in chalk across it, with the bemusing result that you end up scrunched into a miniscule standing area while an opulent few adorn the sparsely-populated tables in front of you.

Fancy going to a club afterwards? Seems like a good idea until you face the officiously rude woman with a clipboard who, upon learning that you are not guest-listed, ushers you dismissively in the direction of the frozen sub-classes on the other side of the door. You know, in the queue that never moves.

Not on the list? Then simply cross the road, catch the 423 bus, stay on for four stops and join the back of the queue...

Not on the list? Then simply cross the road, catch the 423 bus, stay on for four stops and join the back of the queue…

At the cinema, should you get in, you’ll end up dispersed to a number of individual seats amongst tonsil-guzzling pikeys and that guy who rustles his fucking sweet bag for the entire film.

Anyhow, I have come to accept this as part of modern life. This is why I now fastidiously book everything I do in advance. Along those lines, I’d always thought that restaurants had eschewed the pretence of spontaneity a long time ago. The system of booking tables was one that worked well. You knew where you stood as a customer with a set time to eat, while the restaurant was able to manage the flow of orders placed to its kitchen. It was a good system. It was one that worked. All of which makes the recent trend for booking-proof eateries more baffling. Trendy places like Meat Liquor have decided in their infinite wisdom to tear up the rulebook and stick it to the man. Death to formality! Viva la Revolución!

Which is all fine and good… Except that it’s utter, utter bollocks.

Last week my girlfriend and I decided to go out for dinner. Having the whole evening ahead of us and leaving from work, we veered from the beaten track and headed to Bermondsey. The plan was to go to a Spanish restaurant there called Pizarro, that I’ve heard is very nice. It looked like the sort of nice, earthy place that served decent tapas and inevitably some form of “pulled pork” (this year’s must-have, unavoidable, bullshit gastronomy buzzword). Sadly, the closest we got was the front door.

According to their website, there were “No reservations on regular tables for dinner in the evening and on weekends. Just walk in………” which would have been nice, were it physically possibly to get in the building at all. The place was literally awash with people. God knows how long they were waiting for a table, but I personally wouldn’t have waited that amount of time for manna with an ambrosia (note, not custard, no matter how creamy Devon makes it) garnish. So elsewhere we headed, except that by now every other normal restaurant in the area was fully booked. Brilliant. Evening ruined.

It’s curious, but the only category of people I would recommend these “plan free” food joints to are those who aren’t in the least bit hungry, anyone else will have eaten their shoe/arm/partner long before a waitress goes anywhere near them. I’m sorry hippies, but the man has won this battle. You can make me wait for many things (I mean, who doesn’t love theme parks?), but dinner isn’t one of them. Grow up and let me book a sodding table.

Fortified by my passionate dislike of the above, I had a think about other circumstances where the concept is much nicer than the reality… Fully in the realisation that I sound like a grumpy old fart, here are the first that sprang to mind:

Formula 1

The theory: The most glamorous sport in the world. Fast cars, exotic locations, glitzy celebs, hot girls… It practically reads like a check-list of life interests for Sun readers.

The reality: The most over-rated sport in the world. The mild interest of qualifying peters out into a Sunday-consuming 3 hours of monotonous tedium. Races consist of about 20 seconds of genuine excitement with the remainder spent eulogising over how someone has gone 1/1,000,000 of a second faster than a rival. They are also, more often than not, decided by a refuelling error or a technical failure, meaning that they might as well give all the cars an MOT every weekend and hand out points depending on how few faults they had. The drivers’ interviews are monumentally boring as well… They are, lest we forget, essentially high-speed truckers.

Things like this happen about once every 2,386 hours. Roughly.

Things like this happen about once every 2,386 hours. Roughly.

Gigs

The theory: You get to see your favourite bands play live in front of you.

The reality: You get charged an absolute fortune to schlep down to Greenwich or Camden and have the privilege of getting shoved around by some over-excited teenagers. Then some berk throws a full pint of beer forward as a demonstration of how much he is enjoying himself. The gig is invariably on a Monday night, a night when you would sell all your worldly possessions to be in bed on time, so arriving home at midnight and 5 pints down ruins your entire week. And I’m someone who really likes music.

Camping

The theory: You can spend the night at one with nature, the stars above you, in peaceful tranquillity.

The reality: Your accommodation swings infuriatingly from freezer to oven as the sun rises, you need to see a chiropractor the moment you get back to civilisation, while going to the loo is so harrowing that it leaves you requiring months of therapy to get over the ordeal. Then you have to dismantle the damn thing afterwards and put it into a bag that is about half the size it needs to be.

Client entertainment

The theory: You get paid to drink, attend sporting events, etc. And it’s all free! What could be better?

The reality: You don’t really get paid to do it, as it’s always outside office hours. Whatever event you attended is ruined by the fact you have to talk about work for half of it. Worse still, due to the fact that most people do things with their real friends on Thursday & Friday nights, you inevitably end up going out on an undesirable night, leaving you hungover the following day without even the light of the weekend at the end of the tunnel.

Communism

The theory: Everyone is middle class. Share and share alike, comrades. The world looks on enviously.

The reality: Everyone is below the poverty line. Or dead.

Starting a blog… No, I jest, I jest…

by Harry Harland

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