Today was our company Christmas party. In fact, I suspect that, for some, it's still ongoing. But I am an old and tired and a bit decrepit, so I sloped out early.
It's been fun though. A couple of hours at the pleasingly grubby Bloomsbury Lanes; an exercise which proved who had the mis-spent youth, then a quick drink in a seedy pub, before going to the frightfully sophisticated Charlotte Street Hotel for an aperitif, then a fancy Soho restaurant for dinner.
It is in the Charlotte Street Hotel bar that my tale unfolds.
It was busy when we arrived, but the ten of us battled through to the bar and, once there, realised that it was as good a place as any to set up camp. Over the course of our first half an hour, we were shunted around by the natural push and shuffle, and ended up at the action end of the bar. The end that the immaculately dressed, and frightfully efficient waiters were serving from. Every time one of them darted past us with a tray of drinks for the lucky buggers with a table, they had to dodge around us, mumbling their, "excuse me madam, excuse me sir." Not once did any of these charming people ask us to move. They just glided around us.
Meanwhile, largely oblivious to the fact that we were clearly in the way we mingled and gossipped and laughed and drank.
In the course of the mingling, I wound up chatting to our newest recruit; a lovely young graduate trainee by the name of JW. (I'm not abbreviating his name in the interests of poetic licence. His name is actually JW. No ... I don't understand it either. Still, he is a lovely young man). Throughout our conversation, I was aware of JW's eyes darting over my shoulder. Something had his attention, but as I half turned to see what it was, his hand shot out and grabbed my arm. "Don't look!" he hissed. The impertinence of youth! Pah!
He leaned in, and gestured for me to do the same. "I think I know the bloke sitting behind you," he whispered, followed by another, "DON'T look," through gritted teeth. "I think I went to school with him. But I'm not entirely sure. I don't want to say hello in case it's not him and I'm just a tosser saying hello to strangers in a bar."
I was sympathetic, obviously. "Just say hello. We won't laugh if it's not him. Honest ..." JW didn't buy it.
Discretely, I made him switch places with me so that I could look at the bloke in question. Well. I say discretely. I was on my second gin cocktail, so who knows. The table now behind JW had three people sitting at it. Two were middle aged women, unmistakably sisters. The third was a lad about JW's age, and presumably the son of one of the two women. As I looked on, his eyes flicked our way a couple of times. He appeared to be working out whether he knew JW too. The two of them edged around one another, not quite making eye contact. But the mood at the table was frosty. The two women snipped a little at one another, and the lad was largely mute. Something had occurred, and the cool mood lingered.
The conversation in our group, meanwhile sprinted on, and turned to anecdotes about school friends, mistaken identity, Facebook, and more. We were just finishing our drinks when the boss caught my eye to say it was time to go.
Still talking as we pulled our coats on, none of us really noticed one of the super-slick waiter heading for the end of the bar. We didn't notice him slalom his way through our group. We didn't notice the tray of empty glasses that he carried.
Then two things happened at the same time. JW said, "it is him. I'm sure of it. I'm going to say hello." Simultaneously, I put my left arm into the sleeve of my coat, and stretched it out, and in doing so, swiped the underside of the passing waiter's tray. His dexterity being superior to my own, he managed to adjust his balance, and keep all the empty glasses upright. Only one glass ... the one full of water ... teetered. For a moment, it hung on the edge of the tray at a precarious angle, and then, in slow motion, tipped.
It fell down the back of the chair of one of the two middle aged women, upside down ,spilling the water down her back. Her white blouse was instantly transparent, and she was left sitting in a pool of water. The glass then bounced off the chair and onto the floor, smashing into a million tiny pieces.
There are occasions when you say sorry, and know that it doesn't come close. And on those occasions, the best thing to do is to leave. So that's what we did.
But not before JW went to say hello to his friend. In spite of the fact that his new colleague had just attempted to drown his mother, JW leaned over and said, "Ryan, hi! How's it going?"
And it turned out, it wasn't Ryan at all. It was a stranger. A total stranger. Boy did JW look like a tosser.
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