Just before Christmas last year me and my friend Fiona had finished our annual festive trawl around Borough Market and were looking for a table at one of the busy market pubs to rest our legs and drink our pints. We spied a corner table occupied by two pleasant looking guys, and as there appeared to be enough space for us we made a beeline for it. Fiona seemed to take quite a shine to the bloke sitting diagonally opposite me, and as I wandered off to find the loo I wondered if he was in fact familiar. Anyway when I returned the flirting had hit fever pitch as Fi had found part of a false nail in her beer, and after much shrieking, sped off to the bar to get the pint replaced.
But when I sat down a change appeared to have come over the two men. They no longer seemed chatty and were concentrating on their menus. The one who might have been familiar put on a hat, on even though it was mild, and as I listened to him in discussion with his mate over the menu, a nagging suspicion would not leave me be. Hat man had a poorly disguised Nottinghamshire accent, and when I looked at his hands, I knew. He had the most unappealing small, piggy hands I have ever seen, and I realised he had recognised me before I him, somehow signalled to his mate that he didn’t want to know, and as I was quite happy to go along with the charade I feigned ignorance and sipped my pint.
When Fi returned with a new drink I could tell she was somewhat disappointed that neither of the guys wanted to carry on their conversation with her, and even when their meals came and we both remarked how good the food looked, they didn’t want to know. Meanwhile I was trying to suppress visions of sitting on a sagging mattress in a filthy squat surrounded by bin bags, thinking I was having the time of my life with a spotty lad with tiny hands. I must say R’s skin had improved a lot in the intervening years; he had obviously cut down on smoking, started eating vegetables, and also shaved the worst of the nasal edge off his accent.
The four of us had very involved conversations with the friends opposite, about nothing in particular, and I was very relieved when Fi announced she had to leave to get to another rendezvous. On the way out, she said that she had quite liked that guy with the hat, who was initially really friendly, so then I had to explain.
I actually wouldn’t have minded bringing up the past, but I think perhaps R. was not too proud of the squalid Stepney Green squatting arrangements. Or maybe he just couldn’t be bothered. It made me smile anyway, and if I bump into him next Christmas, I’ll be prepared.