I am sitting at a table dominated by a tight bunch of fat cream roses that I inhale until I feel light-headed. The wooden floors have been buffed to gleaming, the tables are cloaked in white and the glassware has been polished to perfection (with vinegar, I suspect from my years of waitressing as a teenager). Uniformed staff hover in double-breasted blazers and shiny black shoes. I run my fingers over the beautifully laid table and grin uncontrollably. Admitting my fondness for white linen napkins and butter knives makes me feel about as rock and roll as Sue Barker but there you have it. I’m 30 and I get off on Radio 4 and tea from china cups.
“Would Madam like to order something while she waits for her guest?”
It’s been 25 minutes, I rationalise. They probably need me to order something. I can just share it when my ‘guest’ arrives. I try calling the number I’ve been given again but there’s no answer. And so, selflessly, I submit to my waiter’s recommendations.
I eat pinwheel sandwiches on cocktail sticks with an olive on the end and chase melon balls around a plate with my fork. I sip Lapsang Souchong and feel that satisfying burn as the tannin hits the sides of my tongue. I bite into something new and get an explosion of flavours. I identify chopped nuts, honey, cinnamon, and possibly bits of apple wrapped in a delicate filo pastry. I get slightly tingly all over at the egg-free praline chocolate slice (as if it’s the egg that’s going to make my thighs swell) and then eat a scone topped in half a centimetre of icing sugar. The sugar goes up my nose. I sneeze and drop the scone, sending a cloud of powder over my face. I begin to choke. I’m making such a racket that the lounge pianist pauses his rendition of Dido’s ‘Thank You’ (which amazingly still sounds crap even in crooner style) and sends over a waiter with some water. Spluttering, mortified, pink, but grateful, I sip at it. Suitably chastened and sobered-up from my sugar-high, I decide that perhaps conducting interviews over afternoon tea isn’t such a good idea. It’s far too distracting. After another 10 minutes, I resolve to leave. And no, my ‘guest’ never turns up.