There is little worse than the sound of squeaking from London SW3. Sloane Ranger Land where Daddy's forgotten the allowance again, or Humbert's Yellow Cords are still in the dry cleaners and we're going to Hertfordshire for the Weekend - what ARE we going to DO?? It's a pleasant enough area, if you like £3m cottages, Chelsea tractors and Hermes scarves.
The spiritual centre, if not the geographic, is Sloane Square, which has Peter Jones Department Store on one side and The Royal Court on the other. At one corner is Oriel, a kind of vaguely french looking brasserie which has been there for years but isn't frequented by Lucinda and Jeremy, more by Hansel and Gretel; it looks posh and Parisian but actually it's a cheap catering operation in a 9 bob suit. I've never really gone there out of choice because the food's always terrible, the drinks are overpriced, it's a tourist crowd and the service is always, always atrocious because the staff come and go with some frequency. However we had to meet somewhere, Sloane Square was there, we just wanted a drink, so.....what could possibly go wrong?
8.50pm Sit outside and order 2 glasses of wine. Ask several times. Waiters come, waiters go. We ask. We joke about being ignored.
9.10pm We give in and go inside to the bar, queue, and buy for cash two glasses of wine. Success. Chat. Gossip etc etc.
9.45pm. Try to order 2 glasses of wine. From waiter. Ignored. Try again and again. Ignored ignored. They're busy. With customers. Like us. No wine
10.05pm Go inside, can't attract barman's attention (he's not busy). Give in and ask manageress if we can have 2 glasses of wine (can't get any service from bar) and indicate that we've been asking waiters etc etc. She nods.
10.10pm Manageress appears outside and is clearing tables. We ask for our wine. She looks blank. Then goes inside
10.20pm waiter appears with two glasses of wine. We pay cash. Thankyou.
10.45pm Waiter is clearing and wiping our table so because he's there, we order another two. deciding just to have "one more" as you do. . He can't ignore us. We tell him what we want three times, pointing at glasses, indicating colour etc.
11.00pm Still no wine. Told by same waiter we cannot order as they are closed. Remonstrate. Ask if he remembers taking our order 15 minutes ago. He says no, he's busy. People at the next table are complaining loudly that they've been charged for drinks they didn't have. The waiter is distracted, unpleasant.
11.05pm Wine arrives. Pay cash to sullen, annoyed waiter.
11.06pm Sullen, annoyed waiter returns and presents us with £20 bill "for wine". We ask him what he's talking about. This is the man who has studiously ignored us all evening. He gets aggressive and demands money. I tell him I've already paid him. Cash. Comes back and demands £10 instead. Then demands that I "step inside". People at next table are demanding too. They want attention. Waiter studiously ignores them.
11.10pm. I go inside, slightly furious (exact words to staff - "I was irritated, now I'm angry, what is going on here?")
A second waiter grabs me by the arm and marches me to the till. Shows me other waiter's bill and says I owe him money. Original waiter is angry, failing to communicate through his frustration, and is v excitable. I explain that I don't owe anybody any money and am heartily pissed off at being ignored all night and now even more pissed off at being accused of not paying some bill I've never seen before. A third, then a fourth waiter gather round. This is actually getting quite intimidating. "Our" waiter is beginning to blow his top and I can see he's agitated about losing ten pounds even though I've no idea where he's made the mistake. The second waiter is in my face telling me that the money I owe is going to be taken out the waiter's wages. He is not a pleasant man. I hand over £10 and demand to see manager.
11.20 The manager does not arrive. I ask again. And again. The waiters are clearing up now, studiously ignoring me. I ask again and again. He eventually arrives and we complain, demanding my £10 back that I never owed. He is cool towards us and inwardly assumes he's got some closing time troublemakers (he has!) He tries to explain that it has been busy (yes it had been earlier) that someone had done a runner for £60 which apparently comes out the waiter's wages (What??) and that.... too late, my guest (visiting for the night from South Africa) tells him to shut up, that she never seen service like it, and that the whole joke about the £10 was not the slightest bit funny.
"Why aren't you apologising?" she demands, "What is this? We're customers! What kind of ludicrous place are you running here?"
The people at the next table give up and leave, loudly telling to no-one in particular that they're never coming back.
11.30pm Manager refunds £10 and apologises. Then adds, rather unhelpfully in the circumstances, that "the waiters don't take orders outside". We point out that it's a little late to tell us this. On reflection, we realise he's talking rubbish. Anyway, we leave.
As the Chelsea Fans say on the terraces of nearby Stamford Bridge:
"You're s*** and you know you are".