One of the best things so far has been spending Saturday with 3 of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other for 26 years. That’s quite a long time. Anyway, we decided that, rather than buying each other presents, we would go to The Sanctuary together for a day and then out for dinner. So far so good. We fixed the date before Christmas, with remarkably little faffing, and then spent the last week dealing with sick children (me and C), dogs with sore paws (me), a house move (L) and a work trip to Eastern Europe (V), knowing that at any moment, disaster (probably child-shaped) could strike at any moment to snatch to the prize of our day together away.Amazingly, by 10.45 we were all assembled in Pret a Manger in Covent Garden supping coffee and eating various pastries, ready for the day ahead. We were very restrained to start with – a bit of light swimming followed by a slightly strange ‘sleep therapy’ which involved lying in darkened dormitory imagining a walk in a garden and a sleep in a hammock while the beds we were lying on vibrated. It was very relaxing, but the ‘dormitory’ was suspended above the main lounging area and consequently the chatter filtered in to my ‘garden’ making it all a bit odd. We each had a treatment booked – I had a wonderful hot lava shell massage – and reconvened at 3.30. Time for some champagne. We had a glass as part of the day we had booked. Very delicious it was. V was pleased to note that it was proper champagne. Not so much as a hint of prosecco. I wouldn’t have known the difference to be honest – I was just so happy to be drinking champagne at 4 in the afternoon with some of my most favourite people, and knowing that I didn’t have to cook tea. We decided that we ought to have another drink – after all, there’s not many opportunities like this – so we ordered a bottle.
After that, a final swim seemed like a good idea, and we got the weak giggles as C tried to demonstrate how her kids were being taught butterfly in their swimming lessons. Time to leave. We’d eaten some (admittedly rather lovely) pitta bread and dips with our champagne so dinner was not particularly high on our agenda, but we felt that we ought to go to our restaurant of choice and make ourselves known.Jamie’s Italian restaurant was a short totter away. By 7 o’clock there was a huge queue out of the door. You can’t book at the weekend, and it didn’t look as if there was much space by the bar for anything like the kind of drink we wanted while we were waiting, so having ascertained that the queue usually dropped off around 9, we headed off to find a suitable watering hole.
Now, here is one of the apparent downsides of being nearly 40 – a complete inability to understand or appreciate that trendy restaurants in London now operate some kind of complicated non-reservation paging service. We had been under the impression that people were being seated on a first come first serve basis, with no strings attached. But no. It appears that we should have stayed in the queue to obtain a vague timeslot and be sent on our way with a pager. This we did not do, but happy in our ignorance, and thinking that a table would be ours for the taking at 9, we shimmied off and found a lovely bar in a hotel somewhere in the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden. I couldn’t tell you exactly where – by then I was doing my country bumpkin impression, ‘Look! Orla Kiely!’ (and other names I have only previously seen in my neighbour’s cast off copies of Country Living) but it provided us with the level of sophistication we desired, us being 40 and all, plus comfy seats and table service. They also did some very delicious smoked almonds. I do like a bar that provides nibbles.By about 8.30, food suddenly became very necessary (another slight downside to the advancing age – no longer able to make it through to the end of a night with nothing but a fishfinger sandwich to start with, and the promise of a doner kebab pizza with extra chilli sauce for sustenance on the way home), so we gathered our things and tottered back to Jamie’s. There was no queue. Hooray.
The teenager on the desk informed us that we could have a table in approximately 1 hr 20 minutes. She could give us a pager so we could go & have a drink elsewhere. But we didn’t need any more drinks – she was probably too young to realise that. We thought about throwing ourselves on her mercy. After all, we’ve been with Jamie since the very beginning – the Naked Chef and all that. We aspired to his trendy apartment with the glass bricks and the stairs you could slide down before hopping on to a scooter and whizzing off to pick up some fresh ingredients, all accompanied by the latest in Britpop... We felt let down. How could you do it to us, Jamie? Foiled by age, alcohol and an inability to understand complicated reservation system. The Mexican next door also offered us a pager.
And so that’s how we came to be in Pizza Express on St Martin’s Lane at 10 p.m. – 3 Fiorentinas (all with runny egg) and a Giardiniera, no olives, extra ham. And 4 diet cokes. The same thing we’ve been ordering for years. After all, there’s probably only so much excitement you can take, isn’t there? And by the time we’d got to dough balls and Nutella for pudding (yes, really – Dough Balls and Nutella – a match made in heaven) we were all ready for a night out clubbing, so we headed off into the fleshpots of Soho... oh no – that was our former selves. While our 20 year old selves went off for a night of drinking and dancing, our 40 year old selves were very happy to make the last train home. As I said, perfect!