COLUMN: September 27, 2012

MONDAY was one of those days. It started off badly, rolled down a hill, stopped by the side of a bottomless ravine, stood up and said, “Phew,” then was hit on the back of the head by a plank carried by a passing short-sighted handyman and tumbled headlong into the black crevice.

It began at Lime Street station. I arrived just in time to grab a drink and catch my train to Birmingham. You don’t need to know why I was heading back to the Home of the Square Burger, just accept that I had to be there.

I dashed into WH Smith, got the first drink I could see, and, well, I won’t go into detail but they had installed an automated express checkout and it went very badly and I arrived at the platform to see my train gently drifting away.

I did get to Birmingham eventually, but then was unable to do most of the work I was meant to do in Birmingham because I had apparently displeased S’tevjobs, the Aztec god of IT, presumably by not doing a back-up, or taking a memory stick out of my laptop without “dismounting.”

A taxi driver dropped me at Birmingham New Street station and I was so ready to go home that I was hallucinating my shoes were slippers. I sighed, quite heavily, when I saw on the board that my train had been cancelled. In retrospect, I had peaked too early with regard to sighing. My day was going to get much worse.

I decided to get some food and wandered the streets and malls of Birmingham searching for a meal, in the end finding a Nando’s. I need to say here that I quite like Nando’s, as I enjoy eating food so spicy that I feel as if I have received a punch in the mouth and then had my lips stapled.

A waitress greeted me at the door and showed me to my seat. She asked me if I had been to a Nando’s before and I answered in the affirmative. I felt a little bit like James Bond walking into a casino, totally at ease with his surroundings.

I walked over to the ordering area and noted a group of four men loitering. I was about to ask one of the men if he was in the queue, and got as far as “Excuse me, mate…” when the waitress told me to stand further away, on the other side of the men. “Typical,” I thought. “I have two choices of ends and I pick the wrong one.”

A till became free and I looked along the line. The man at the head of the queue did not move. He looked at me. Oh, I thought. These men are waiting for a takeaway. I am next in line. I stepped forward. “Can I have…?”

A waiter also stepped forward. “Excuse me, sir, this man is next.” He pointed to the man I had been standing next to. “You need to stand there.” He pointed to the end of the queue I had originally chosen. The four men glared at me as I took up my position.

Thankfully, I already looked awkward as I was a 40-year-old man dining alone in Nando’s, so nobody noticed my extra discomfort.

I ordered my meal, picked up more napkins than one would think necessary and filled up my glass with Coke at the dispenser. I liked that bit, even though I am a 40-year-old man, and sat down at my table. I adjusted myself and put my foot inadvertently on the table’s pedestal. It turned out it was a very wobbly table.

I mopped up the Coke with the extra napkins and gratefully received my food. While it was perfectly pleasant, it became quickly apparent that chicken on the bone is not something that solo diners can eat un-selfconsciously. I was seated between two pairs of women and occasionally they would glance at me, appalled.

It was extremely spicy chicken and I had spilled half my drink anyway, so I decided to get a refill. Then I was distracted – one of the women was talking about a baby shower, and I was thinking about how dangerous that sounded – and I leant on the table edge in order to stand up.

And that is how I ended up sitting on the floor in a Birmingham Nando’s. I decided not to bother with the refill and left for the station, where I caught my train.

And that is the point at which, staring down at the ravine, I said, “Phew!”

To be continued…

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