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Daily Archives: 21/03/2012

The Price Of A Free Meal


When I’m not churning out witty bon mots here at Pretty Feet, Pop toe, I have a real life job with a wage and a boss and a desk (I know, it’s hard for you to believe that I don’t spend all my waking hours crafting these witterings especially for you). My real life job involves a fair amount of gadding about the place with clients and suppliers and as such, there are “free” lunches and dinners. You may be thinking that there’s nothing so delightful as a “free” lunch or dinner but it’s true what they say you know, there really is no such thing. Mind you, I haven’t once been handed the bill for one of these things, but you end up paying one way or another. Trust me, you really do.

“Wow, you’re so lucky. I bet you love all this wining and dining. That’s, like, so glamorous!” These are words that were spoken to me by the pimple faced desk jockey filling in my loan application at the bank recently (why is that your financial fate is always left in the hands of someone whose mum still sews name tags into his undercrackers?). I would have tossed him a pithy reply or a withering glance but I was struggling to keep my eyeballs from falling out of their sockets and my liver from handing in its resignation, so I just breathed fumes of stale Sauvignon at him and prayed he would pass out. He didn’t. Nor did he seem convinced that my life is anything but one huge star studded party.

Now, those of you who are in the same camp as my acne-faced financial friend, and seeming champion of the business outing, may want to consider a few of the hardships that we poor lambs have to endure in the name of client/supplier relations (and in the name of getting fed in the week before pay day).

Granted, from the outside it looks like a jolly old game of schmoozing, fuelled by sparkling Champagne, scrumptious food and witty repartee in seductively fabulous locations, but ask around dear reader, ask the very next person you see in Starbucks, downing their fourth coffee in a row at 07:36, why they have a slightly haunted look about them and why they have on mismatched shoes and an air of suffering. The answer, unless they have a smug grin that matches that of a similarly bedraggled companion (dirty stop-outs) is that they are on the wrong side of too many of these “free” meals.

The Champagne quaffing part is generally true I grant you and yes, there will often be rich edibles, but think of this, when you go home tonight and tuck in to your delicious hearty home-cooked meal, out there somewhere will be someone like me trying to make the most of a canapé. Yes, a solitary canapé. Have you ever tried to make an entire alcohol-absorbing, hunger pang-appeasing meal out of a small piece of puff pastry filled with some kind of a savoury mousse? It’s a skill, I can tell you (and as the kebab shop near the train station will testify, not always succesful). 

When they’re not trying to starve you at these functions, they’re doing their damnedest to give you such a stuffing that even a foie gras farmed goose would say things had gone just a bit too far. Imagine a week of being forced to eat and drink three course finery from around the world, dusk till dawn and sometimes beyond. You may be wearing skinny jeans now but they were palazzo trousers when you left the shop, and the jaundiced tinge around your eyes? It’s going to be a permanent feature so get used to it. Oh, and if you even think for a moment that you’re going to bed before either a) all the booze has been drunk, b) the host has passed out, c) 04:00am (whichever of the three comes mercifully soonest), you are sorely mistaken. Sleep does NOT pay your wage.

Now then, let’s address this alleged witty repartee we’re all supposed to be soaking up. Comrades in social networking, have you ever noticed that at dinner you’re always stuck next to the host? I don’t mean the cool one at the other end of the table who’s dishing out charm and VIP tickets, dropping jokes like humour bombs left right and centre and keeping everyone’s glasses skilfully filled to the tippy-top at all times, no, I mean the one with breath like a badger’s undercarriage, hairy facial warts and whose favourite topics of conversation are their divorce, vacuum cleaning and why drinking is bad for you (what’s bad for you, sunshine, is getting between me and the wine bottle while I have to tolerate a monologue on the evolution of the bagless cleaner). Suddenly “the other end of the table” seems like a far away mythical land only accessed through the back of a wardrobe, while a slow and painful death-by-small talk for you seems certain.

Fabulous locations? Sure, I’ve eaten in some of the fanciest pantsiest places in the world. I have also been “treated” to dinner under a major UK airport flight path. No matter how sought after the venue, I can tell you now that sometimes the only place you’d really like to be is at home, on your own slouchy sofa with a plate of steamed broccoli and a hot mug of chamomile tea, and no amount of furious heel clicking in those shiny red stilettos of yours will get you there before midnight, when all the trains turn into pumpkins and there’s nothing but a wage guzzling taxi or a long walk to get you there.

Ah, the glamour. You start your week feeling like Elle Macpherson skipping round a health farm and end it feeling like the groom on an Oliver Reed themed stag do, so when people ask how you are and the only coherent word of your response that they’re able to make out is “polluted”, you know you’re a very, very long way from “glamour”.

The next time an envious bank manager asks me why I’ve turned down an amaaaazing all expenses-paid jolly to a Michelin star restaurant or the showcase of the hottest new event in town, the ensuing reply, with expletives removed, will be that I’ve had it in my diary for over a month that I’m eating beans on toast and washing my smalls that night. Although, having said that, what harm can one more glass of free Champagne do?

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