Time is the greatest luxury. But it’s pretty fucking hard to buy. No, that wasn’t quite it. Well, my thoughts were something like that, while I was dining away in a very pleasant brasserie, but sadly I didn’t take them down at the time (of course, I coulda wapped them, but it seemed a bit rude in the circumstances, and a bit silly given that my mobile battery would most likely have expired halfway through)
So how did I discover this? I missed the train. No, hang on, that wasn’t it…
I managed to leave work early, arrived at St Pancras just a few minutes too late to catch the 17.25, and went to buy my usual ticket. My usual ticket is a Saver Return. I buy it from London on a Friday night, rather than Sheffield on a Monday morning, because the wierd and wonderful rules of railway travel dictate that the 5.17am on Monday can be boarded by somebody with a Saver ticket only in it is the return portion, not the outward bound bit. So I do my outward bound from London, and then return from my home, Sheffield, at the beginning of the working week.
So anyway, I asked for my normal Saver Return. And the man behind the protective window says "7.25?" And I say "is that the earliest I can get? What about the 6.25?" and, of course, I can’t board that one with a saver ticket. It seems that somehow I’ve always managed to get a train either before 5.15 or 7.25 onwards, and avoided the expensive rush hour (other than, of course, the glory days when I rode first class and didn’t worry about all this shit). So anyway, I meekly agreed to buy the saver and wait nearly 2 hours until
the 19.25, and suddenly found that for less than zero I had managed to purchase that most valuable of luxuries, time.
So, how did I use that luxury? As ever when there is a large gap to fill, my mind turned to food. I wasn’t really that hungry (had had a very pleasant lunch of grilled black sea bream with green beans & cherry tomatoes) but still… and perhaps I could squeeze in a nice bottle of wine. Yeah, that’s it, sod the food. Well… include the food (seems a bit rude going into a restaurant and not eating) but make the wine the centre point. I wandered London – from St Pancras down towards Covent Garden – looking for somewhere quality looking but not too snobbish, where I wouldn’t mind eating alone. In the end I found a brasserie – shit, what was the name? My mind says Riverside Brasserie, but that seems odd, as it wasn’t near the river (it was between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road stations, just around the corner from the British Museum). It looked empty through the window, of both customers and staff. I felt a little shy, so moseyed around the block looking for somewhere else similar, but found nothing as inviting looking.
So I plucked up the courage to walk inside. And take a few more steps. And stroll up to the back of the restaurant… still alone. I felt like the only living person left on earth. Was about to lose my bottle and walk out again, cried a meek "hello" just to provide an alibi should somebody nab me before walking out the door again, when a waitress appeared in the stairway and congratulated me on being the first for the night. Then there was that
embarrasing moment… "table for one please"… "yes, sit wherever you like <giggle>"…
"oh <giggle>"… "yes, there is a lot of choice <smile>"… oh <smile>… perhaps too much choice". Anyway, I plumped for a place, and started browsing the menu.
This was around about the point when my appreciation of time kicked in. I was in a restaurant. OK, so I wasn’t the richest person in the world, but I had just saved nearly £50 on my train fare. And Gill had backed up my idea of spending the £50 on dinner. And I wanted some booze. And I wanted to let go.
I made the change of a lifetime – despite Kir Royal being on the specials summer drinks menu, I ordered a Ricard. Relaxed and mixed pastis and ice and water, and sipped, all the time enjoying time. I ordered a main course of roast fillet of king fish with shallots, and a large glass of Gewurtztraminer (ummed and ahed and ummed and ahed about getting a whole bottle… bit in the end that seemed just too wino, too alky). The bread arrived mere seconds before the fish, and I tucked in. A strange fish, very close to chicken, but more tender than the remembered chicken of my childhood. And so strange… at first it seemed perforated, there was so much air, and then I realised that it was wrapped in a spiral, layers of fish gradually separating out as I munched. And the shallots… well cooked, melt
in your mouth, roasted slivers of oniony joy, plus a dab of mayonnaise-hollandaise-goo and balsamic vinegar. I luxuriated in it, feeling like the king of the world, the conqueror of time.
Eventually, of course, it had to come to an end. I prolonged the moment by ordering tarte citrone with a single espresso. The tarte arrived without the promised citrone sauce, and looking a bit like yesterday’s sell-by, but it sufficed. After such a kingly feast, I couldn’t help ordering a cognac to polish it off. The plain Hennessy (no VS, VSOP, XO) stung a little, and was too cold as I had lost my patience and couldn’t swill it in the glass for the required time, but completed the meal in a satisfactory way. My train time was fast approaching, I had to get moving. So I paid up and left. Adjourned to the off-license around the corner. As I stumbled there, I knew that I had that smile on my face. The smile that makes you irresistible to anyone, man or woman alike, the smile
that says “I know what I want, where I am, where I’m going. Join me if you dare”.
By now I was well-nigh-tipsy. I couldn’t face the idea of an unembellished train journey after having wasted such wonderful time. In the offy I bought a bottle of good wine (£7.99) along with a corkscrew and plastic cup (after all, what else was I to make do with), a large Bolivar Habana cigar and a box of matches. The cigar I smoked while walking to the station. In my nonchalance, I arrived a few minutes late – the 19.25 was firing up to leave, and there was no time left for me to get on it. No concern. I sat in the waiting room and uncorked my wine (a little concerned at being viewed a wino, but not too much) and sipped away. There was an unexpected bonus, a 19.55 train, 30 minutes earlier than the one I had expected. I left it long enough to miss it if the train deemed this necessary, but managed to get on anyway. Walked with purpose through to the smoking carriage at the end of
the train, and plonked myself down.
My diversion had been a costly one (what with the brasserie, the wine, the cigar and accoutrements, more expensive than the £50 saved), but it taught me for the umpteenth time in my life the value of waiting, of letting pleasure come to you rather than seeking it out in a mutually-destructive manner. Will I sit up and remember tomorrow? Will I hell!