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Just stuff (things on my mind that aren't to do with writing)

Putting on The Ritz

ritz dress

A long time ago, probably about the time dinosaurs roamed Hyde Park, way before the evolution of mobile phones and social media, I took my mates to The Ritz for dinner.   I was living in a slum at the time; a three-room flat on the first floor of a decaying house in Westbourne Grove. I was sharing it with a budding composer and a medical student. It was the kind of place where you had to go out of the front door to get to the bathroom (which was mostly unspeakable) or the kitchen (ditto).

slum1pict None of us had any money. So when, one day, I got a large cheque for some work I’d done, I decided to treat my four best friends to the greatest evening ever. These particular people had kept by me through the break up of a long-term relationship. They had listened, without complaining, to my tales of woe; had refrained from giving me any in-depth advice, had let me sleep on their sofas, and had given me free access to their fridges (not that there was ever anything much in them).

I planned therefore, that we would kick the evening off at the Savoy’s American bar, and then go to the Ritz for dinner. For once in our lives we were going to live High on The Hog. With this in mind, I bought myself a white taffeta cocktail dress with a boned bodice and and a fishtail skirt; it made me feel like a million dollars and, after ten minutes struggling with a pair of pliers, I managed to do up the zip.

The night came and off I went to the Savoy. And there were my friends, Beth, Cheryl, Margaret and Tony, all done up like dogs’ dinners too, all of us beaming fit to bust to be in such a place. Okay, so The Dress meant I had trouble sitting down, but I managed it without rupturing anything vital.

We ordered daiquiris because I’d seen them in a film; there was a pianist tinkling away in the background, and everything was all right with the world, when Beth put down her drink and handed me a parcel. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘We’ve bought you a clock. To mark your new life.’ I was slightly nonplussed by this. I don’t know why they thought I needed a clock. Especially a pink china one. But, hey, a present is a present, and I was touched. We ordered another round of daiquiris, and then off we went to the Ritz. That’s such a simple sentence, but to get in a black London cab on The Strand on a rainy evening, and say, ‘The Ritz, please,’ knowing you are going to have dinner there, gives you all kind of fizzy expectations.

The dining room at the Ritz was like something out of Versailles; the walls were lined with mirrors and the ceilings were painted in blue and gold and decorated with gilded knobbly bits, and there were chandeliers like upside down golden trees, and stiff white linen on the tables and crystal winking in the lamplight. If Louis XIV had strolled in at that moment with Mme de Pompadour on his arm he would have felt absolument tout at home. The only bum note for his majesty being us, the giggling serfs, struggling with their menus at a centre table.

We ordered everything that looked expensive, or sounded gorgeous. We confessed frankly to the waiters that we had no idea what to drink with what, and then ordered two of everything they suggested. Other diners were indulging in light chit-chat, and stretching out elegantly to each other as if they were auditioning for a Noel Coward play. I heard one woman say to the man she was with, ‘What he really wants, darling, is for me to divorce him and live with you in New York.’

There was a little band on the dance floor playing show tunes. The four of us grinned at each other, drank more champagne and then put our heads down, and ate. And ate. It was our first decent meal for months. Actually, decent doesn’t begin to describe it. It was heavenly.

None of us had ever experienced anything like it. Waiters didn’t bring the food, they seemed to shimmer in with it. They were like holograms. Silent, helpful,and mostly invisible. You just had to look slightly puzzled, and pffft! there was a bloke in a penguin suit and a cummerbund refilling your wine glass, before dissolving silently away.

The waiters wafted in unending succession to our table with plates loaded with oysters, and then pan-fried steaks (how else do you fry something, except in a pan?) and then sorbets, and poire belle Helene, and coffee and petits fours, and little minty chocolates. They cracked open the bottles of claret and champagne and brandy until we sat back, all of us, flushed, happy and full.

We danced on the little dance floor. We drank more champagne. Everything was mostly perfect, except for my dress. It was now life-threatingly tight, and I began to wonder, if I went for a pee, how I was, a, going to undo it, and then, b, do it up again. I had not brought my pliers with me. If it wasn’t done up all the way, it would fall down. Which was Not An Option.

However, it was now about midnight, and we were the only people left. It was time to go. Relief from the torture dress was in sight. And then I remembered the clock. I had left it at the Savoy. A waiter, sensing a minute disturbance in my neural pathways, materialised by my chair.

‘Madam?’ he murmured.

‘Do you have a telephone I could use? I’ve left my clock at the Savoy.’

Looking at me sympathetically he nodded. ‘I shall telephone to them immediately.’

And with a perfectly serious face, he added, ‘Are you resident at the Savoy?’

‘Not really,’ I said.

And off he went. This is what having servants meant, I realised. They do everything, but everything for you. A few moments later he rematerialised by my side.

‘I am afraid there has been a little difficulty, madam.’ He paused. ‘Was it a pink clock?’

‘Difficulty?’

He nodded. ‘Yes, the American bar was evacuated this evening when guests found a bag on the floor. The Scotland Yard bomb squad were called in. They were going to carry out a controlled explosion, I believe. And then they noticed a small pink clock, inside.’

There was silence around the table. ‘My God,’ croaked Beth. ‘We’ll all be arrested.’

But the waiter was unmoved. ‘If you would care to call at the Savoy on your way home, madam, I have instructed them to give you your clock.’

‘What, just like that?’ I asked. ‘And they’re all right about it? I mean, the police don’t want to… interview us, or anything?’ The idea of spending the night in the nick, after an evening at the Ritz, was appalling.

He looked affronted at the idea. ‘Certainly not, madam. I have explained everything to them.’ He paused. ‘Will that be all?’

‘There’s just one more thing, actually,’ I said.

‘Madam?’

‘You don’t happen to have a pair of pliers, do you?

The_Ritz_(6902790412)

Pictures via Creative Commons, courtesy of: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2227257

https://www.flickr.com/photos/torontohistory/

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki

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About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I like to; even when I can't think of much to say.

Discussion

53 thoughts on “Putting on The Ritz

  1. What a wonderful memory. And you looked stunning. The spontaneity of youth, splurge when you’ve got it. Wish I’d been there. 🙂

    Posted by scottishmomus | January 24, 2015, 7:08 pm
  2. That is a brilliant story so well told. Really enjoyed it, and you looked fantastic in that dress. It brings back similar memories of a time when I was fortunate and took some friends to Claridges and after a few drinks my cousin and his girlfriend stood up an started dancing by the table. A waiter shimmied up to the table and said in gentle but firm tones, “This is not a disco sir” Thanks for reviving that memory 🙂

    Posted by Peter Wells aka Countingducks | January 22, 2015, 12:24 pm
  3. What a gorgeous piece of writing. I love the waiters at the bidding of slight puzzlement. And Swit Swoo! You look absolutely splendid in that dress. It was worth bringing a full toolbox out for, so it really was remiss of you to forget the pliers.

    Actually, imagine if you did go out these days with a toolbox. If you were in the right place, there would be a street full of daft young rich people carrying toolboxes by the end of the week.

    I tell you what – when you and I are famous (after our sixth besquillion-dollar project is the subject of a violent bidding war), we’ll go somewhere vacuous and popular with wholly inappropriate accessories and see what happens. You can bring your clock if you like.

    Posted by Tara Sparling | January 22, 2015, 12:00 pm
    • Thank you! I shall bring the clock. It does seem to inspire somehow. But in order to start a besquillion bidding war, we have to have something to be bid for….

      PS I bet Tark and Mara have matching Louis Vuitton toolboxes.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 22, 2015, 12:08 pm
    • Psssh, that’s only a minor detail. We’ll have something written in no time. Just look at how fast you got Mr Muscle down! Ooh-er.

      You’re right about Tark & Mara. Although they do prefer their exclusive ex-British Museum Regency toolboxes, complete with dress pliers.

      Posted by Tara Sparling | January 22, 2015, 12:15 pm
    • V&A surely? Unless they’re mummy toolboxes, lined with William Morris…

      Posted by elainecanham | January 22, 2015, 1:14 pm
    • *gasps HOW DID YOU KNOW? They were only supposed to be marketed to the 1%…

      Posted by Tara Sparling | January 22, 2015, 3:25 pm
  4. It was like I was there all along! Such vivid descriptions; upside down golden trees, waiters like holograms! Absolutely loved it. And the magnificent writing aside, I feel this sudden urge to invest in a pink clock!

    Posted by Nida S. | January 22, 2015, 3:58 am
  5. Excellent story! Fab frock! You do look a million denarii and no mistake guvnor. It reminded me of the time when the IRA were blowing us up in Birmingham and everyone became very suspicious of unnattended articles. I was working in a rather nice boutique at the time and we discovered a brown paper bag on the floor of the changing room so we had to call the police. A very young constable turned up and went in to investigate while we were shivering outside. ‘Blimey,’ I thought, ‘He’s brave’. He shared round the chocolate eclairs, afterwards. We ate them all.

    Posted by Jools | January 22, 2015, 1:55 am
  6. Fabulous narrative wonderfully told! I have just found your wonderful blog. (I found it by following your like on “A Story a Day” blog which seems to have finished). Your blog is the Ritz; mine is the Pitz.

    Posted by tittletattletit | January 22, 2015, 1:16 am
    • Hah! Ritz Pitz. I’ll drop round and visit you. Bruce (who’s commented here) is having a sabbatical, I think. I keep looking at his blog to see if he’s relented.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 22, 2015, 9:19 am
    • No, Bruce hasn’t relented yet. He said he was going “anonymous”, so guess he’s around somewhere!

      Posted by tittletattletit | January 23, 2015, 12:10 am
  7. Ha! Ha! But, wow, you look amazing!

    Posted by First Night Design | January 22, 2015, 12:01 am
    • That’s so nice of you, thanks! Long time ago, mind. I’ve been going through my pictures. My daughter keeps saying, ‘Mum??? Is that you?’

      Posted by elainecanham | January 22, 2015, 12:07 am
  8. You look stunning !
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Posted by davidprosser | January 21, 2015, 11:52 pm
    • Hey David, isn’t that funny – I was just reading your post, while you were reading mine! Yes I love that picture. But I don’t look like that now…! x

      Posted by elainecanham | January 21, 2015, 11:57 pm
    • I agree. You look amazing in that fishtail skirt.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 21, 2015, 11:58 pm
    • Well, thanks. I’m very chuffed that you should think so. But it was the most painful thing I’ve ever worn. Victorian maidens in corsets have my full sympathy. I probably couldn’t fit it over one of my legs, now.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 22, 2015, 12:13 am
  9. Wonderful. Hilarious. Sobering. Fabulous memories. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 🙂

    Posted by Let's CUT the Crap! | January 21, 2015, 10:44 pm
  10. Ah, I love it. It reminds me of the times my brother and sister and I would put on our best tee shirts and jeans and head off, completely stoned, to the best restaurants in NYC. Now THAT is fine dining. Petit fours are munchies with attitude.
    We never tried to blow anything up with a pink clock, though.

    Posted by naptimethoughts | January 21, 2015, 9:48 pm
    • I’ll send you mine, if you like.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 21, 2015, 10:00 pm
    • And jeans and t shirts? How sensible is that? Much more room for food. I did love that dress, though. It ended its days in my kids’ dressing up box.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 21, 2015, 10:03 pm
    • Absolutely jeans and tee’s. It was quite obvious that we were all quite stoned, so why not look the part? I should be comfortable while I spend 500 dollars on one dinner. Wine, it was always the wine.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 21, 2015, 10:24 pm
    • They gave you back the clock? I would’ve thought they’d have taken it away and fined you for reckless use of a pink china click.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 21, 2015, 10:25 pm
    • Trouble is they wouldn’t let you in the Ritz, certainly then, in jeans. And anyway, sometimes you just have to dress up.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 21, 2015, 10:52 pm
    • Yes, but you had to use a shoe horn to get into your dress. Plus, we enjoyed the snyde looks we always got from the other, less comfortable patrons, especially when my bro would order a port wine, inspect it’s bouquet and flavor most carefully, and then say “That’ll do nicely, my good man”. Every time. It incensed the waiter at The Ryland Inn so much that he made another member of the wait staff wait on us. His loss– We are fantastic tippers. Waiting tables is not a hobby.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 21, 2015, 11:45 pm
    • Really fantastic first apartment, by the way. I’m pretty sure they moved that place into Manhattan after you moved out, cause I’m positive I lived there.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 21, 2015, 11:49 pm
    • Oh, port. I shudder when I think of the times I’ve drunk port – it’s nearly always ended shamefully. Once you’ve had one glass, that is it, you might as well blank off the rest of the day.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 21, 2015, 11:51 pm
    • I agree, and I hate the stuff on top of it. Too sweet. Port wine, the next generation of roofies.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 21, 2015, 11:54 pm
    • What’s a roofie?

      Posted by elainecanham | January 21, 2015, 11:58 pm
    • What’s a roofie? Hmmm… What’s a roofie. It’s a drug that when slipped into some hot girls drink, blacks her out for the rest of the night. Usually, a couple years later, she ends up on the Maury Povich show with one baby and sixteen possible fathers.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 22, 2015, 12:01 am
    • Have some madeira, m’dear. Right. Somehow I think I’m out of the danger zone now…

      Posted by elainecanham | January 22, 2015, 12:04 am
    • I only cook with madeira. An old Julia Child recipe– really good, though.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 23, 2015, 9:16 pm
    • We don’t have Julia Child here. We have Delia Smith. Same sort of thing, though, I think. I don’t mind madeira, but I do like sherry. I have come to it later in life, and now I am making up for lost time.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 23, 2015, 9:20 pm
    • No Julia? She lived in France for ages, I thought she’d be more famous there than here. Funny thing.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 24, 2015, 3:09 pm
    • never heard of her til I went to Canada. And your comment on magic sponges really had me confused. I thought you were talking about cake, and then I remembered that you have sponges with cleaning stuff in them. I’m not sure we do.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 24, 2015, 6:09 pm
    • Google Mr. Clean. It will explain everything.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 24, 2015, 6:15 pm
    • I seeee! Mr Muscle’s dad! Gosh, the stuff we are learning…

      Posted by elainecanham | January 24, 2015, 10:35 pm
    • Better yet– Mr clean Magic Eraser.

      Posted by naptimethoughts | January 24, 2015, 6:17 pm
  11. Fabulous! I’m sure the pink china clock is famous…:)

    Posted by olganm | January 21, 2015, 9:08 pm
  12. Wondrous! Now that had me fooled; I felt sure at the end you’d be out of cash. Yes! I knew where it was going! The non-exploding pink clock put an end to that!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | January 21, 2015, 9:04 pm
    • Aha! Gotcha! Glad to see you out and about, Bruce. Any stories in the pipeline? I’ve been thinking of you lately – I’ve been reading The 100-year-old man who jumped out of a window, and the writer’s style is so like yours. Excellent book.

      Posted by elainecanham | January 21, 2015, 9:08 pm
  13. That was a marvelous tale. What an experience.

    Posted by lbwoodgate | January 21, 2015, 8:56 pm
    • Thanks, Larry. And it is all true. I’ve got the clock on my window sill as I write. They were really nice at the Savoy, when we went back to get it. And they had every right to be miffed with us, with all their clientele shivering on the pavement. Eek!

      Posted by elainecanham | January 21, 2015, 9:06 pm
  14. Evenings like that are so few. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by SJ Foster | January 21, 2015, 7:49 pm

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