Dear Readers, you know me well enough to know that I am always slow to judge and quick to see the best in people. But today I have to make an exception
“Hello, I am Julian” he says “and this is my wife, Julian”
Pause for effect
“But we call her Jewels to avoid confusion, and besides she is the jewel of our family”
“We are from Liverpool”
OK, three strikes and you are out.
And anything less like a jewel is hard to imagine. Gravity had taken its toll. She is well under 5ft, vertically challenged but not horizontally. She resembles a large overstuffed pouf. I long to pull up an easy chair and put my feet up on her. But she sees her purpose in life is to correct everything Julian says. She wears her superiority like she wears her clothes, way too clinging. She dresses in nothing but black. Someone has told her that it makes you look thinner, but there is only so much one color can do. She accompanies each outfit with a pair of running shoes, lthough it is perfectly obvious she is never going to run anywhere.
Julian is taller and slimmer (everyone is) with a receding hairline. His glasses continually slip down his nose and he swats them back like a teacher dealing with a naughty child. He never stops talking but has little to say.
They are always to be found at the bar, he leaning nonchalantly against it and talking to anyone who will listen, she resting her chin on it and correcting him.
We have avoided them for 5 days but here they are waiting with us outside the secret room with a locked black door. The invitation for the chefs table said 7pm and there are 10 of us waiting expectantly.
The Maitre D having lost the battle to keep his shirt tucked neatly inside his trousers, arrives with a flourish and a key. He ushers us in as elegantly as he can, which is not very elegant. A rather drab little Australian couple elbow the rest of us out of the way and rush in to get the best seats. It is a small room, with an oblong table beautifully set for 10. The seats all look the same but the Australians have gleefully grabbed the seats they wanted and sit there with a pleased smile on their faces.
We of course are polite and let the others in first. A lesson learned. We are left with the two seats opposite the Australians. At least it is not the two Julians, although after a while we almost wish it was.
He is all liver spots and wattles with the demeanour of someone who desperately wants to be invited to join in the fun but knows he never will be. He has six hairs on the top of his head which he has carefully nurtured for years. He is a little stooped from years of obsequiousness and from living with his wife. His name is Melvin, and for some reason he finds it necessary to tell me that in Gaelic it means gentle chieftain. It is hard not to laugh. I have no idea if he is gentle but I do know he aint no chief! After the introduction he says very little. He leaves the talking to his wife, which suits them, but not the rest of the table. He, meanwhile stares into the distance, presumably dreaming of a better wife.
His wife looks like the classic spinster church lady. Her face has a permanent scowl of disapproval, touched with a hint of bitterness. She has made no effort to dress for the evening, wearing a colourless little sweater and skirt, with no adornments of any kind other than a wedding ring which she constantly rotates on her finger, presumably trying to dispense with it. She is not happy with her lot, her lot being Melvin. She never tells me her name which is fine by me. I have no need of it.
She complains bitterly throughout the meal that it is all so unnecessary. And yet here she is. We should be aware of others less fortunate, she say, oblivious to the fact that she has just spent many thousands of dollars getting her disapproving self to this very table. They look and sound as if they are on the wrong cruise ship. A nice inside cabin on a Princess cruise would suit them admirably. Everyone tries to ignore them, but she doesn’t make it easy. Perhaps realising the image she projects in her drab little outfit, she quickly addresses the entire table and informs us that they are having to build a larger dock for their new yacht. It is terribly inconvenient as they usually barbecue on the dock, but now they have had to put a second barbecue on the upstairs deck. “We are now a two barbecue family” she says, attempting her first joke of the evening. She never attempts a second, for which we are thankful.
The room itself is all black with the exception of two glass walls which look onto the kitchen. One looks down a long alley of a kitchen full of worker bees rushing to fill orders. I have always assumed that this is for our entertainment. But in this case it seems to be for the staff’s entertainment. The worker bees pay more attention to us than we do to them. Waiters come and go all the time, picking up orders, but stopping to check out which passengers have been invited to the chefs table. Some knock on the glass and wave. It is like feeding time at the zoo, and it is a little uncomfortable.
The other glass wall looks on to a small kitchen with shelves of elegant dinnerware reaching up to the ceiling, each shelf holding a different design. There are just 6 chefs working in this space and they are about to serve us with a very elegant 12 course degustation menu, each coming with a separate wine pairing.
It is exciting – or would be if it weren’t for the other 8 people.