Time Out’s award winning columnist Michael Hodges has been at it again. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 504: shake hands.
Steve is white-faced and reeling when he comes back from the toilet. ‘Horrible,’ he says. ‘Really. Horrible.’
‘What’s horrible, Steve?’ I ask, putting down a pint next to a packet of crisps. But Steve is not listening to me. His body may be next to mine at the spartan wooden service counter of a fashionably bleak and brick-lined bar in EC-something, but Steve’s mind is in some other, darker place, where I cannot reach him. ‘Horrid,’ he moans. ‘Horrid. Horrid. Horrid.’
‘Steve!’ I bark. ‘Come back to me. What’s happened?’ I pinch his arm. ‘Can you hear me? Was it something you did in the toilet?’ As Steve is 40, not four, this is not a question I have had to ask him before, but this pale and sickened man before me is visibly upset. ‘Tell me what you did!’
Steve’s eyes flicker and then focus. He is coming out of the mist. ‘Not me, a man!’ he protests.
‘What man, Steve?’
‘A man with big hair.’
‘What did the man with the big hair do, Steve?’
‘He came out of the cubicle.’
‘What’s wrong with that?’
‘He just did his hair in the mirror and left.’
‘He didn’t wash his hands.’
‘Maybe he just had a wee. I mean, if he didn’t actually wee on his fingers…’
‘No,’ says Steve. ‘It was a poo. I heard it plop.’
I’m considering this lapse in hygiene when I see Helen enter the bar. Unlike Steve, Helen is attractive and is under 40. I’m sure she doesn’t listen outside toilet cubicles to hear if there’s a plopping sound and, also unlike Steve, Helen is a happy person. Today, with her grin illuminated by the glare from the steel industrial lighting, she looks even happier than usual.
‘Hello Helen, you look happy,’ I say.
‘I am,’ she replies. ‘I’m meeting my new boyfriend, Tony. He’s gorgeous.’
This is not the best news for fans of Helen and it’s made worse when the man who must be Tony approaches wearing a grin that is even bigger than hers. Immediately Steve and I lose Helen’s attention, and she turns her gaze on this fantastically good-looking newcomer as he makes his way across the room. Helen runs her eyes over his torso, the sinewy lines of his neck, the perfect jaw, aquiline face and finally the shock of thick, dark hair that falls over his shapely brow. The shock of thick, dark, big hair.
I feel Steve’s panicked tug on my shirt sleeve. I know instantly that this is the man with poo on his hands.
‘Tony,’ says Helen. ‘Come and meet the guys.’
‘Hello!’ Tony beams. ‘Great to meet you both.’ He puts his hand out and instinctively Steve and I take a step backwards. ‘Drink, Tony?’ I gasp.
‘Great! Beer.’ I order four expensive and cloudy craft beers. Before I can intervene, Tony picks up the first one and hands it to Steve. Beads of sweat appear on Steve’s
forehead. Eons pass. Finally he speaks. ‘Sorry, I’m a choleric.’
‘What?’ asks Helen, ‘You’re too angry to drink?’
‘No. I just can’t eat or drink wheat products.’
‘He means “coeliac”,’ I say.
‘Yes, I’m a coeliac.’
‘Really?’ says Tony, with genuine sympathy for Steve’s made-upcondition.
‘Yes,’ says Steve. Tony picks the packet of crisps off the bar, puts a handful in his mouth and offers them round. ‘Still, crisps are okay.’
‘No thanks,’ says Steve. Tony looks at me. I shake my head. At Helen. Helen shakes her happy, attractive head. ‘They’re not ours,’ says Steve. ‘Someone left them on the bar.’ ‘Oh my God!’ says Tony. He spits the crisps into his hand.
Say hello to further urban appallingness and antisocial behaviour here.