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U3A Writing: Luncheon Left-overs

...Twitter peck - twitter peck. It got worse. As their appetites were appeased, twitter peck became twitter-twitter peck. Table after table around us had been cleared and tempting looking desserts were being carried past us. The serving staff were hovering, waiting to attend us, and the little birds chirruped on.

Finally a thunderous Heavy Jowls could contain himself no longer. ‘For God sake women will you shut up and eat.’ he exploded. Silently I blessed him for giving words to my own thoughts...


Patrick Hopton tells a lunch-time horror story.

Scarcely had my bottom hit the seat than I was regretting my decision to attend this U3A Christmas lunch.

A lone newcomer to the town, with only two attendances at the cosy little Philately Group to bolster me, it was inevitable that I would be surrounded at the lunch table by strangers. But I had hoped that they would at least be strangers to whom I could relate. Not a bit of it.

Conviviality abounded in the room at large, but at our table, detached in a corner (as though we had some contagious disease) my attempts to generate general conversation flagged. Thus my exchanges were restricted to my two immediate neighbours.

On my right was a mournful creature named Joan who spoke little. To my left was Nora, nutty Nora I soon named her, who spoke far too much – incessantly you might say - about one inconsequential subject after another, one never related to her previous utterance. You didn’t converse with Nora, you listened. Not that you wanted to: you had no choice.

Beyond Joan was a pair of tiny women, sisters by the look of them, who twittered one to the other like a couple of birds. Come to think of it they looked like birds too, with pinched features and little beaked noses. Beyond them, and directly opposite me, was a heavily jowled, thick-set man whose scowling attention was devoted entirely to the plate in front of him. Conversation with him across the table would have been impossible even if I had a mind to attempt it.

Next to him (moving back towards me) were two portly men. They were jovial enough, one to the other that is, but they didn’t extend their conversation to the right or left of them. Since it seemed to be devoted entirely to their activities on the golf course (Mashie and Niblick I christened the pair) I can’t say that I was sorry to be excluded from their discourse … except that it left me at the mercy of my immediate neighbours.

Nora rabbited on; Joan stared dolefully at the wall; soggy croutons spiralled in my cream of mushroom soup. I groaned inwardly. A long, long lunch time stretched in front of me.

A voice pierced my gloom. ‘Would anyone like to order drinks?’ A young woman was hovering, pencil poised. A badge pinned to her blouse proclaimed her to be Brenda. Mine was the only hand raised in response. I studied the wine list I was offered. The house wines didn’t appeal; instead I ordered a bottle of Chianti. Fifteen pounds! A bit steep - but what the heck, I needed consolation.

My neighbours had finished slurping their soup by the time the bottle was proffered for my approval.

‘Would you care to taste it sir?’

‘No thanks. I’m sure it’s fine.’

‘As you wish.’ Thereupon Brenda moved around the table pouring a generous measure of MY Chianti into the empty wine glass of each of the seated occupants. No one was offered the chance to decline. By the time she reached me she was only able to offer me a mere trickle, a dribble of liquid that barely covered the top of the glass’s stem.

‘Whoops, I miscalculated,’ she admitted cheerfully.

I tossed the wine off in one gulp to make a point. ‘Perhaps I’m entitled to a free glass in the circumstances,’ I prompted hopefully.

‘Sorry sir, at table we serve wine only by the bottle.’

I stifled an explosion. Instead I ordered a pint of bitter: that at least would be mine alone.

Niblick tore himself from the fourteenth hole at Wentworth and raised his glass to me instead. ’Thanks old boy,’ he said. ‘Damn fine wine this. A very distinctive bouquet – a touch almost of blackcurrant.’

I caught a glimpse at a distant table of Michael, the leader of our Philately Group and the only face I recognised in the room. It was he who had persuaded me to come to this meal. How I hated him at this moment. As if on cue he caught my glare. Blind to its venom he raised his wine glass in cheerful salutation; I raised my empty one in sullen reply. He turned to address a lady companion. His wife perhaps. Lucky Michael if so; the woman was attractive and, even at this distance, visibly intelligent. The pair laughed. I had a sneaky feeling it was at me.

My beer took so long to arrive that I thought it had been forgotten. The main course was being consumed by the time the cheerfully incompetent Brenda placed the glass before me.

‘That will be three pounds sixty, sir.’ Three pounds sixty for a pint of beer!

‘Oh yes and fifteen pounds for the wine if you wish to settle up now.’

I proffered a twenty-pound note.

‘Thank you sir, I’ll fetch your change.’ Brenda hovered expectantly.

I should have snarled at her; instead I said meekly, ‘Keep the change.’

The beer tasted good. It bloody-well ought to; it had cost me twenty quid.

Joan had been silent of speech while she was noisily masticating her sirloin steak. Now she leaned towards me. ‘You shouldn’t mix your drinks,’ she hissed in reprimand.

In fascination I followed the trajectory of a morsel of meat on its journey from her mouth to float in my beer. Pointedly I removed the foreign body with a spoon and enclosed it in my paper napkin. Somehow my pint didn’t seem as appetising after that.

Nutty Nora gabbled on uncaringly – non sequitur following non sequitur. Mashie and Niblick were now on the twelfth hole at Carnoustie.

By this time all at table, bar the little birds, had consumed their main courses. Oblivious to the patent impatience of their neighbours the sisters twittered on, intermittently pecking minute portions of food from their forks. The fare remaining on their plates dwindled imperceptibly.

Twitter peck - twitter peck. It got worse. As their appetites were appeased, twitter peck became twitter-twitter peck. Table after table around us had been cleared and tempting looking desserts were being carried past us. The serving staff were hovering, waiting to attend us, and the little birds chirruped on.

Finally a thunderous Heavy Jowls could contain himself no longer. ‘For God sake women will you shut up and eat.’ he exploded. Silently I blessed him for giving words to my own thoughts.

‘I don’t think we’re very hungry,’ one of the pair admitted with maddening innocence. Their plates were pushed aside and the waiting staff pounced.

‘I don’t think we can take any more wine either,’ said her sister. Their glasses of MY wine, both still three quarters full, were pushed aside too.

‘Would you like to see the dessert menu, sir?’ Brain-dead Brenda was back.

I studied the card she offered me. ‘Syrup sponge please.’

Joan leaned across again. Instinctively I placed a protective hand over my beer glass. ‘That’s full of calories you know,’ she reprimanded. This time her projectile landed on the back of my hand.

Seconds later Brenda returned. ‘Sorry sir, the syrup sponge is off.’

A deep sigh. ‘Well cherry tart then.’

‘That’s off too.’

I settled for cheese and biscuits.

Before the little birds had finished twittering through their lemon sorbets Michael was on his feet calling for silence, cutting off Nora’s inconsequential utterances on lawnmowers and the M25 in mid sentence.

His winding up speech was commendably brief. He thanked us for attending; he thanked and praised the attentive staff (hmph!) for looking after us. He reserved his final and most effusive thanks for ‘Sarah Chapman, our efficient and delightful social secretary for organising this splendid event.’ His attractive table companion lifted a hand in modest acknowledgement. Finally he looked forward to seeing us all at the Eastertide lunch at this same hotel in March.

Not a chance mate!

I skipped coffee, said my insincere goodbyes to my table companions, and made for the coat rack to retrieve my overcoat and umbrella. My coat had been cast to the floor by a previous rummager and my umbrella was nowhere to be found. Through the open door I could see rain tipping down outside. Oh great!

A hand clapped me on the shoulder. ‘Survived then?’ It was Michael with the efficient and delightful social secretary in tow.

‘Survived?’

‘Yes on the left-overs table.’

‘The left-overs table,’ I repeated crassly.

‘It’s where we allocate the people no one wants to sit with.’

‘Oh thanks,’ I exclaimed bitterly. So that was how people saw me.

‘Oh not you of course. But there was one place vacant; and as our newest member we elected you to fill it.’

Sarah bestowed a warm smile. ‘Consider it a sort of initiation rite,’ she said. ‘Was it too terrible?’

‘Not really,’ I lied. Well I had to, didn’t I?

She placed a hand on mine. ‘There’s a reward, though - assuming you consider it one.’

‘A reward?’ I echoed stupidly.

‘Yes, at the Easter meal I shall insist that you sit next to me.’

Instantly I changed my mind about attending the Eastertide Lunch. Well a chap’s entitled to isn’t he?


Patrick Hopton
Wells U3A

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