Yesterday evening I had nothing better on, so I went round to some friends’ for a catch-up. Nothing too fancy, just a kitchen supper with some old muckers. Phipps the footman – no doubt a professional alias – met me at the front door of the flat and put me through the in-house baggage scanner before escorting me straight into the kitchen. It was the usual scene familiar from descriptions of London labouring-class homes. Plasma screen the length of the Bayeux Tapestry, blaring away over the Aga. Fair-trade bush-meat in the Smeg. Enamelled jerrycans brimful with bio-diesel.
‘Yo, Glen, my main man,’ my host said. He did the knuckles thing.
‘My friend Dave,’ I said, ‘good to be here.’
Dave motioned to a whey-faced stripling who was sitting by the Smallbone tallboy. ‘This is Jules.’
‘Julian,’ said the youth, not looking up from his tablet.
There was no sign of any food, or indeed any culinary activity. ‘Dave, what’s going on?’ I asked. ‘I thought we were having supper together.’
‘We are, man, we are. We’ve outsourced to the private sector. It’ll be biked over by courier in a few minutes.’
Conversation flagged. I mentioned the little local difficulty over the tanker-drivers’ strike. Hadn’t Dave and his flunkeys, ah, fuelled the panic?
‘We’re doing our bit to boost the retail sector by triggering panic-buying. Halfords’ sales are booming. Not to mention the forecourts. It’s going to be a bigger money-spinner than deregulating Sunday trading for the Olympics. This week petrol. Next week we’ll announce we’re rationing health-care.’
‘We’ve already done that,’ said Julian.
Sam cut in. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll be OK. There’s a fuel dump in the SIS ziggurat over at Vauxhall Cross for ministerial use, and we run the Hummer off our wind turbine.’
The entryphone tootled. Security personnel were dispatched. Phipps came in bearing a platter, covered by a sterling silver dome.
Phipps lifted the dome with a flourish. On the salver stood a lone beige purselet of dough.
‘We’ve already dined,’ Dave put in. I looked again at the glutinous brown envelope before me. A grease-stained blue-and-orange paper bag lay alongside it. I must confess I lost my rag. It was the bag that did it.
‘I pay two hundred and fifty large and you serve me a fucking Cornish pasty.’
‘Didn’t Peter tell him?’ Sam began, and shot a nervous glance at her husband. ‘Actually…’
‘Actually,’ Dave went on, ‘it’s going to be the two hundred and fifty grand plus VAT at twenty per cent. So three hundred. Nice round figure.’
‘I’d have brought my own beer and sandwiches if I’d known,’ I said. I poked the pasty. The tip of my finger broke through the crust to the goo within. ‘And it’s cold.’
‘It’s meant to be served at ambient temperature,’ Dave said.
‘And if you think,’ said Julian, turning to me, ‘that’ll get you off paying the extra fifty grand, you can think again.’
Phipps had materialised at my elbow with a PDQ machine. I inserted my card and punched in my PIN.
‘That’ll be all, Nick,’ Dave said.
The midnight hour was upon us. This Week had started on the plasma screen. Brillo was reporting that Galloway was set to win the by-election by a country mile.
‘Man, you’re shitting me,’ Dave said to the telly.
Sam said peevishly: ‘I told you Gideon should have kept the zero-rating for halal pasties.’
‘Like we care,’ jeered Julian, languidly dipping an asparagus spear into a ramekin of foie gras. ‘Everyone knows Bradford’s a Ba’ath party stronghold.’
‘They don’t sell halal pasties in Mevagissey. Come to think of it, I never knew Leeds was in West Cornwall,’ Dave remarked dreamily. ‘Or is that Bradford?’
I sensed he was losing it and made my excuses. Still, supping at the seat of power is worth three hundred K of anyone’s cash. I won’t use the word ‘bromance’. But I like to think that for Dave, it’s not really about the dosh.