Thursday, September 8, 2011

More Alan Bennett: Inverary, Ely, and Coventry

Alan Bennett again (he kept me entertained all day long yesterday, through one plane change after another, with these and other hilarities), from his Untold Stories (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005):

24 March 2001, Inverary: “Sophistication hasn’t reached this corner of Scotland.  At Inverary, a pretty, and, I imagine, fairly tourist-ridden place, we go into one of the half-dozen or so of cafés.  Gourmets should not make a beeline for the Paddle Wheel where there is a blackboard advertising the menu, which includes toast and (a separate item) baked beans.  I ask for baked beans on toast.  ‘We don’t do baked beans on toast,’ says the unsmiling girl.  ‘But you do baked beans.’  ‘Yes.’  ‘But not baked beans on toast?’  ‘No.’  I can’t help laughing but she doesn’t see this as a joke.  There are two courses open . . . to order toast and baked beans and combine them under one’s own steam, as it were, or to take our custom elsewhere, which we do, ending up in an equally dispiriting establishment trying to eat a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich.  ‘Could I have it on brown bread?’  ‘No brown bread.  All white.’  So much for Inverary” (p. 289).

4 October 2003, [Ely cathedral and its gift shop]: “The shop is doing a brisk business in tea towels, table mats and all the merchandise that were I Jesus I’d be overturning” (p. 336).

26 May 2004: “Do a question-and-answer session at Warwick Arts Centre.  The talk is preceded by a book signing at which, having had her book signed, a woman leans low over the table to confide in me: ‘I’d like to be buried in a little grave right next to yours.’

When I say I hope this won’t be quite yet she says, ‘Well, I’m the same age as you,’ as if this somehow made our posthumous propinquity more of a likelihood” (p. 348).

Bennett’s Inverary story brings memories of a time in which my brother Philip, our cousin Greg, and I went to a restaurant in North Little Rock to order barbecue.  This was the kind of establishment at which you place your order at the cash register and then wait for your number to be called, at which point you pick up a tray with your food.

Philip wanted an extra order of cole slaw and baked beans with his barbecue dinner.  But when he ordered them, the young woman taking orders informed him wistfully though firmly that those were take-out items and he couldn’t order and eat them in the restaurant itself.  Philip asked her, baffled, “You mean I can’t order them and then eat them with my meal in the restaurant?”  “No, sir.  They’re take-out orders.  You would have to eat them outside.”

He didn’t order the take-out items, and the restaurant lost that bit of revenue.  But it kept its take-out principles virginally intact in the process.   

On the same occasion, when we tried to order soft drinks with the meal, we’d place an order only to have the order-taker shake her head and say, “Don’t got no X drink.”  There was no list anywhere of what they did have, by way of drinks, so the only option was to stab in the dark.  We'd then take a stab at another drink, only to be told, “Don’t got no Y drink.”  X and Y were things like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper.

After we’d gone through a long list of possible soft drinks, we finally asked if they could please tell us what they did have, and the sales lady reeled off a list of strange off-brand drink names we wouldn’t have lit on in a thousand years, left to our own devices.

And then, though we were the only people in the restaurant, we were given one of those placards with an order number on it to take to our table.  And all of this struck us as even more hilarious because the owners of the restaurant were Lindseys and it was named Lindsey’s Barbecue Restaurant.

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