The deal was supposed to be £39 per head. Details were a bit vague. Some food. Entertainment. Fireworks, maybe. No need to book, just turn up. So we just turned up.
This place, which I won’t name, consists of one room downstairs, two up, walls and ceiling festooned throughout with hangings, faded sepia photos, brass trinkets, assorted unidentifiable hippyish knick-knacks, altogether charming but not necessarily inspiring confidence. A family were seated round the only table downstairs, looking defiantly glum. Voices could be heard from upstairs, this was encouraging, it wasn’t just the six of us. Our host, dressed in baggy silk greenish loon or harem pants, a black spangly waistcoat over a floral blouse, some kind of turban or fez, greeted us effusively.
“You’d better have the sofa. Anything to drink?” Our expressions must have provided the answer, as he immediately went on: “Prosecco, red, white, lager, local real ale… I forget what else…” We settled for two Proseccos. “Two Proseccos, then. On the house.” He bustled away. We exchanged a glance. So the drinks were extra.
A calm-looking cat was occupying much of the sofa. My relationship with cats is ambivalent – they either love me or hate me, I tend towards a kind of wary respect – but this one moved out of the way with no fuss, and we sat down. Wafty new-age musical sounds were seeping out of speakers somewhere behind me, slightly too loud. The drinks arrived and we toasted the occasion and ourselves. The cat came back, checked us out, and crept onto my lap. I didn’t argue.
Two big mugs of soup and some crusty bread were delivered by the teenage Portuguese waitress. “Can I get you anything else?” she asked. This was the first hint.
The conjuror arrived. I don’t normally like conjuring, because it annoys me that I can never work out how it’s done, but this guy was good, so I’ll tell you his name – Dee Riley. Whilst we were enjoying our very tasty soups, he worked the by now three groups of downstairs dwellers, three card tricks each. I liked this very much, because when he moved on from us to the next group, I got a sideways view and so was actually able to spot how he pulled the card out of someone’s ear. Once you’ve seen through one trick, it gives you a different slant on the skill of the performance.
We went upstairs to watch – participate in – Dee’s stand-up show, which was brilliant, not to mention hilarious. I sussed one more trick, which made me feel even better, though I was desperately hungry by now, recognising that no more food was going to forthcome and wondering whether this was really a good way of spending £39 plus.
Just before midnight we were called back down and out into the courtyard to set off Chinese lanterns. (Bee and I declined, as we both hate the things.) We got another ample glass of Prosecco. My watch told me it was 2015, but nobody sang Auld Lang Syne, nobody pranced around like you’re supposed to do: everybody smiled weakly and just drifted off in their own separate directions. No fireworks.
I went in to pay the bill, ready to make a mild fuss. The boy behind the counter checked. “Not sure we kept a tab for the sofa,” he said. “But I reckon four glasses of red?” I nodded. “So that’ll be £13.60 then.”
I gave him fifteen quid and we scarpered for the taxi.
The 2 a.m. midnight feast back home was delicious.