The Song of Lunch (2010) - full transcript

An existential parable of a wistful journey to ones heady youth with the excitement and bitterness of that time trapped in the mind. A former romance is re-evaluated by the rose coloured filter of time but confronted by the present. Time has moved on but the past has trapped the author.

The_Song_of_Lunch_(2010_TV) ,WEB_MKV_H264(Masterpiece,Eng) 1920x1076

He leaves a message -
a yellow sticky -

on the dead black
of his computer screen.

'Gone to lunch.
I may be some time.'

His colleagues won't be seeing
him for the rest of the afternoon.

Rare joy of truancy, of bold escape
from the trap of work.

That heap of typescript

can be left to dwell on its thousand
offences against grammar and good sense.

His trusty blue pen
can snooze with its cap on.

Nobody will notice.

He shuts the door on the sleeping dog
of his own departure.

Hurries, not too fast,

along the corridor,
taps the lift button, and waits.

To meet even one person at this delicate
juncture would sully the whole enterprise.

But he's in luck.
The lift yawns emptily.

He steps in...

is enclosed...

and carried downwards to sunlight

and London's approximation of fresh air.

With one bound...

he is free!

It's a district of literary ghosts
that walk in broad daylight.

Keep your imagination peeled
and see Virginia Woolf

loping off to the library
with a trug full of books.

And there goes TS Eliot,
bound for his first Martini of the day,

with his gig-lamps
and his immaculate sheen.

Bloomsbury and its blue plaques.
The squares and stucco terraces,

where the little industrious publishers
still like to hide their offices.

Leafy literary-land,
that by some dispensation

has been left to stand amid the road drills
and high, swivelling cranes.

In his 50s, he favours a younger man's
impatient pace,

skipping round dawdling or
stupidly halted pedestrians.

You're not properly living in London
if you don't use the dodges, the short cuts.

Yet it's 20 minutes' walk from work
to this lunchtime date with an old flame.

Gaggles of tourists straggle
more provocatively than ever.

Never mind, he's making good time -
note the active verb -

and he expects she'll be late.

The restaurant is an old haunt,
though he hasn't been there for years.

Zanzotti's -
unreformed Soho Italian.

Chianti in a basket, breadsticks you snap
with a sneeze of dust,

red gingham cloths, overlaid on the diagonal
with plain green paper ones.

Finger smears at the neck
of the water carafe,

and Massimo himself touring
the tables with his fake bonhomie.

But Soho has changed.

The speciality food shops
pushed out of business,

tarts chased off the streets,
and a new kind of trashiness moving in.

Cultureless, fly-by-night.

But hey presto.

Zanzotti's edges into view,
exactly as memory has preserved it.


When he suddenly recollects...

What, precisely?

Deja vu?
Some artistic analogy?

Too bad. Let it go.

On the threshold,

on the edge of a shadow-world
that is yet to welcome him,

he stands and waits.

Waits for a waiter.

First disappointing thing -

no sign of Massimo,
nor of his old staff.

Massimo's pirate crew,
as he privately thought of them,

some of whose names he knew

whilst knowing nothing
of their lives beyond the act -

grave, flirtatious, resentful,
brisk, droll -

each brought to the table.

Instead, young men and women -

roughly half and half -
and not all looking especially Italian.

How long has it been?
Five years?

Six years?


God help us all.

Though time's winged chariot
with the brakes off

and in full downhill hurtle must be
inaudible, unheard-of, rather,

to these sprightly boys and girls.

He is noticed, but not recognised,
by a waiter he does not recognise,

but who catches his name in his right ear,
then bows clerically

over the ledger
that bulges from all the names,

the months and years of names,
written in it,

and that sits open on a slope
like a church-lectern Bible.

The Book of Reservations.

As ever, that pause of anxiety
and mute appeal.

But there, happily, it is.

Scriptural confirmation.

Without a smile, without a word,
he is eyebrowed and nodded to follow.

Thank you.

And the wine list, please?

On the back.

I see.

So things are different after all
under new mismanagement.

Might have known it.
Did know it, perhaps.

The very table linen
has lost its patriotism.

Plain white. We surrender.

And this menu -
this twanging laminated card -

big as a riot policeman's shield.

Hmm. At first glance,
pizzas by the yard.

More pizzas than there should be.

And too much designer pizzazz.

Choose the right wine and have it ready
breathing for when she arrives.

There's a mid-price Chianti, which
won't come plump in tight straw swaddling,

but will do for auld lang syne.

Old times' sake being the precarious
purpose of this tete-a-tete,

and possibly a great big mistake.

We said we wouldn't look back.

Why did she e-mail him

No, HE did.

He commands - nice word -
a clear view of the entrance,

lit contre-jour so that each new arrival,
new candidate for his notice,

appears to step from brightness
to bathos with a tacit apology.

'Sorry, I'm not...'

But if not, what?

What will she look like?


The cork leaves the bottle and his quick nose
wants to pick up the escaping bouquet.

Will it be all right?

The waiter pours out
the statutory measure -

one imperial glug - which he lifts
and breathes over thinkingly.

Not corked.

That's fine, thank you.
Leave it there.

He'll do the pouring.

It's quite sharp
but should broaden out.

He takes his tumbler of water,
overweight bubbles mobbing up to greet him,

sips that and feels the chill fizz
smash against his palate.

Thirstier than he thought,

he drinks till the ice rests
on his upper lip.


She's here.
How did that happen?

Had he taken his eyes
off the door for so long?

Flustered, self-reprimanding, he is still
able to start to rise from his seat...

I didn't see...

And be met halfway with a soft peck,
smack in the middle of his mouth.

Familiar collision
of pout against pout.

Though there's something different, too.
A new... what? Fragrance? Aura?

Hint of carefree expenditure?
Waft of wealth?

How lovely.

I hope I'm not late.

You're not late at all.

So, the human paradox.
The same and changed.

All that he remembers,
vivid in the differences.

Is she thinner?

Somehow there's a sharper outline
which is not just smart tailoring,

and her hair looks better behaved.

She hangs her bag,
pampered scarlet leather,

over the back of her chair
and skips into the seat.

'Now,' that movement says.
Quick, eager, a touch needy,

as if she were beginning a lesson
in a subject she's good at.

It puts him on his mettle.



Lips, eyes, eyebrows
and the new lines in her forehead

fill out the harmony.

Have some wine.

I'm afraid it... hasn't really had time.

He pours into the two glasses,

measuring by ear identical notes.

This is a disappointment.
Remember the old flasks?

Kitsch, I know, but didn't you
have a soft spot?

Snug in their raffia
like fat cuckoos in small nests.

Still, nothing lasts.

- What's the toast?
- Happy days?

"Happy days" it is.

Rims meet and clink,
swaying the cradled liquid.

Dark, sluggish ink.
And they drink.

Becoming palatable.

- You haven't changed.
- Oh, I have.

Witness this morning's
bathroom mirror.

The grey, the flab, the stoop,
the frown,

and in the deliberating,
disbelieving eyes,

something like... terror.

Not to notice.

Was that one of the problems,
he wonders,

her blithe rebuffing of such facts
as didn't match an optimistic outlook?

He could argue but the waiter
intervenes with a second menu,

which slices into the infant conversation
like a sweetly swung axe.

- The menu, senora.
- Thank you.

It's almost all pizzas.

I'm afraid the place has gone to
the dogs.

Don't be absurd - it's fine.
In fact, at first glance, it's improved.

You know, when you suggested this,
I wasn't so sure.

Almost any other venue.

All that surly waiter business
was much more your kick than mine.

But when I came in the door,
I thought, 'Well, OK.'

And I'm quite glad to see a menu
that doesn't make a fetish

of stracciatella and pollo sorpreso.



If you say so.

Did he play the wrong card?
Could things be turning nasty?

Retreating to cover,
he concentrates hard on the antipasti.

Come on. No sulks.
Be nice. Sois sage.

Cajoling English
and caressing French.

How long has it been?
Ten years?



No, it can't be that.
Let's settle for twelve.

And we've only got lunch
in which to tell each other everything, so...


For a moment, he withholds,
mouth full of pause...

which he can either spit out
or swallow.

What's the use?


His glass is drained,
hers is barely touched.

Judiciously, he brings the levels level.

So... who's to start?



I'll tell you everything I can.
There's little to relate.

It was an aged, aged man.

- Stop!
- What?

If you can't be serious, we'll talk
about something else or nothing at all.

I was about to do that.
That's my whole story.

- Signora, signore. We haven't...
- Yes, thank you.

Impeccable timing.

But I'd like some advice.

She doesn't need it, but it's her style
to entrust herself in unimportant matters,

pose questions that are easy to answer,
and indeed it makes the waiter smile when,

tapping the menu decisively,

she requests the pumpkin ravioli
because he has recommended it,

with sea bass to follow.


His turn.


And in the absence of... pollo whatsit,

pizza Napoletana, extra anchovies.

No-one smiles at that,
because he is not nice.

What say we start again?
Wind back the years?

Minutes. You know what I mean.

Ah, my autobiography.
No change there.

Confessions of A Copy Editor,
Chapter 93.

It's an ordinary day in a publishing house
of ill repute.

Another moronic manuscript
comes crashing down the chute

to be turned into art.

This morning it was Wayne Wanker's
latest dog's dinner of sex,

teenage philosophy
and writing-course prose.

Abracadabra, kick it up the arse
and out it goes to be Book Of The Week

or some other bollocks.

What a fraud. What a farce.
And tomorrow, which of our geniuses

will escape from the zoo
and head straight for us

with a new masterpiece
lifeless in his jaws?

That's about the size of it.
What about you?

Business as usual, then.


Business... as usual.

After such a rant, he finds it difficult
to look her in the eye,

which is bright, amused,
searching, pitiless,

but he has to try.

A sip may help.

When he notices
for the first time the faint,

faint nimbus of the lens
circling the gold-shot azure of each iris.

Well, of course.
'Oracle eyes' he used to call them.

The harder you looked, the more sublime
and unreadable they became.

But have they lost their old force?

The heretical question
strengthen his own stare.

Gaze meets gaze, revealing, as ever,
everything and nothing there.

Flyaway thought. Back to life.

And you?

Oh! The good wife and loving mother.

That keeps me occupied.
I've no complaints.

And Paris is a fabulous city.
You really should visit.

He has,

but is it the moment to mention
that crazed escapade?

Skulking at dusk in her prim grey square,
address folded in his raincoat pocket,

with no real intention of ringing
the doorbell, yet unable to depart.

Until the horrible shock of the pigeons,

an entire flock rising at some scare
into the diminished light

like a thousand umbrellas
simultaneously opening

and telling him to go.

No, he thinks. No.

She seems not to have noticed,
averted from him,

twisting in her seat,
chin raised, eyes reconnoitring.

He'd like to kiss her long neck.

Nibble it.

Nuzzle her jawbone with his nose.

Which one is our waiter?
We could do with some more water.

- That's... That's him over there.
- Are you sure?

You can't have forgotten - you were
practically seducing him a minute ago.

It's nice to know
you're still madly jealous.

Oh, yes, he's rotten with jealousy.

Absolutely I am not.

And now we're on the subject,
how is the old pseud?

He means her husband,
the celebrated novelist.

The ubiquitous jacket photo,
the wintry smirk that stole her from him.

She throws out a laugh.


A single syllable.

Flourishing, thank you.

How could she have been so gullible?

There's a new book of stories
out in the autumn

and right now,
he's hard at work on some lectures

that Harvard have asked him to do,

so... everything's perfect.

And how could he have been
so abject as to let it happen?

Once more she is distracted,
catching the eye of the waiter

with a demure flutter
of restaurant semaphore

and asking for more water.

And we'll need another bottle of this.

Right. So, er, does he,
does he know that we're...?

Having lunch?

Yes. Of course. I told him.

And he instructed me to pass on
his warmest regards,

which I've no intention of doing,
as he well knows.

That's very kind!

Of both of you, I suppose.

He watches,

and his companion
watches him watch,

the flexing of supple back
and sturdy haunches

as the waitress raises and twists
the head of the wooden phallus,

scattering seed.

- Buon appetito.
- Thank you.

First mouthfuls are discussed
and pronounced delicious.

Then, as of old, forks trade
between dishes

and swaps are analysed.

Mmm. You chose well.

Nutmeg, I think.
Or could it be mace?

Sweet accord of comparisons
and compliments,

recalling a time before the souring.

Beef's beautifully lean, and the
capers are not too overpowering.

I suppose this is nothing
to what you're used to.

Paris ?

You know, we never eat out.

The boys have appetites
but absolutely no taste.

It's like feeding large dogs.

Smart restaurants, haute cuisine,
would be a total waste.

So this, even Zanzotti's,
is a rare treat.

Despite the qualification,
satisfying to hear.

He has killed a bottle
almost single-handed.

When he seizes the new one
and nods it in her direction,

her flattened hand places an interdiction
on the half-full glass

that would be half-empty to him.

Slender fingers, once so intimate
and versatile and tender.

Whirls of wrinkles sealing
the knuckles deeper now,

though the lacquerless nails
remain buffed and neat.

Admitting defeat,
the bottle withdraws backwards.

Still bowing like a courtier,
turns to his own glass and...

'A word in your ear' blurts out
its sorrows in a splashy gabble.

With the blade of her fork
she presses down, punctures,

gashes, saws, seesaws, slices into a plump,
glistening pasta packet,

then scoops and carries half to her mouth.


Chews, he observes, with less
conspicuous relish than she used to.

Have all her appetites
turned less lusty?

Mind your own business.

But isn't it his business
to remember certain times?

Old times, bedtimes,
between-times, any-times,

of a startling impromptu
innocent lasciviousness

that he'll never know again?

Sleep-musky kisses that roused him
in the small hours,

peremptory custody of light, firm limbs,

the polyrhythmic riding
he'll never know again.

Caught a fish and let it go.

Woe, woe,
woe, woe...

Found a treasure and threw it away.

Hey, hey.

Drop it now.

Figure of folly and pathos.

Figure of folly and pathos.
Voyeur of the past, and of the present.

He steals a peep.

Every movement has elegance and economy,
is swift and deft.

The jut of her wristbone, marvel
of engineering, holds the secret,

and as a connoisseur,

he yearns to inspect it at closer quarters,
by eye and by touch.

But how can he catch it?

Like a butterfly hunter,
he ponders the problem.


I hate to say it, but you're leering.

My God. You're right. I'm sorry.
It's the old male gaze.

Through alcoholic haze.

You can say that again.

I think I've fallen in love
with your wrist.

I think I've become a wrist fetishist.

You're an everything fetishist,
always have been.


You know, it's one thing
to ogle a waitress's bum,

but this is the wrist of a married woman.

Private property. Look.

I'm sure you can see
the mark of the manacles, so...

kindly desist.

Now, where are the toilets?

Half-empty. But that can wait.

How's the bottle?

He thinks. Thinks about drink,
about his drinking.

The taste of his last mouthful
lies like rust on his tongue.

and yet his tongue craves more.

At rest in the glass,
the wine is rusted purple.

So there exists an affinity, a strong
mutual pull between wine and tongue.

They are complementary.
They are in love.

The silent tongue calls out,
and the wine,

though inanimate,
will heed the call.

Well, it's a theory.

Lent support when the glass rises
and, this time,

not stopping short,
delivers one lover to the other.

They kiss.

There's a little death, an insufficient
bliss, but repeatable later.

But he's interrupted by mention of a book
he's actually written.

His own. His only.

I read your book.
Are you working on any more?


Not a squeak.

True. The Muse of Misery,

so lavish in her attentions
for a year or two, has not revisited,

and that modest volume of 36 wounded
and weeping lyrics remains unique.

The book conceived in tears
will be born drowned.

That's a great shame.

I wasn't your most objective reader,

but I thought the poems had real power.

Some of the mythic stuff was over the top,
but I could see your...

Our... Stop right there!

What do you mean, "mythic stuff"?

The mythic stuff
was the whole fucking point.

Well, for a start, I'm not actually
in thrall to the King of Death,

or whoever he's meant to be.

Yes, you are. Don't you see?

And you're totally Orpheus?

- Right.
- And I'm...?

You're my wife, you're dead,

and it's my business to bring you back to
life, which I very nearly succeed in doing.

But you don't. No way.
Because I like being dead.

And that's where the metaphor,
the analogy,

the whole preposterous contrivance
falls apart.

- So you loathed it.
- I had my quibbles.

- You loathed it.
- No.

It's the little dark agile waitress,

the athlete-ballerina with her
deadpan demeanour,

who serves them both.

Refusal to smile explains her style.
That and heavy black eyebrows.

- Sea bass for the signora.
- Thank you.

And for him...

a wheel of gloop-smothered dough,
singed at the rim.

No swaps this time.

Conversation on hold,

the scuffle and clack of her cutlery send
out signals not difficult to interpret.

But he's soothed by the ambient blah,

the big white noise of a room that's full
of anonymously feeding humans.

Even the too-near table of boisterous
boys contributes to its euphony,

its equilibrium.

There is peace at the heart of the din,
concord in babel.

Then a kick on the shin.

This is ground control.
Can you hear me?

- Loud and clear.
- I seem to have hurt your feelings.

Not at all. I've had my feelings
surgically removed.

They can't be touched by anyone now.

Oh, my dear.

He cannot not feel her middle finger
lightly and with calm, rotatory strokes

massage behind his knuckles,

then her thumb shove into his fist
and nuzzle against his palm.

Just what he doesn't want -

the untimely stirring of what could become
by not so slow degrees a major bonk.

Not now, please...

It's like an old tired, foolishly
friendly, mostly forgotten dog

that's chosen an awkward moment
to rouse

and shake itself from its basket
and demand a romp.

Down, boy, down.
Thank you, Robert Graves.

'Down,' I said.

And he can't be sure
if it's willpower or the wine,

but the dog reluctantly behaves,

retreating to its lonesome,
malodorous nest for another long nap.

Good chap.
Good chap.


- Sorry?
- Your thoughts.

No. I wasn't thinking, exactly.

More probing a mental dimension
beyond time and space.


You can't even pay attention
for the few minutes we have.

I've come all this way, dropped my family
at not the most convenient moment,

hopped on the shuttle,
taken the taxi ride from hell,

convinced at every traffic light
I'd be late, and here I am,

all tuned up for our little reunion,
only to find your physical,

guzzling, tippling self
recognisably present,

but your mind appears
to have flitted off on holiday.

You're out to lunch
at your own lunch.

That's nicely put
and no doubt true as well.

The sort of thing they used to say
on my school report,

along with 'un-teachable'
and 'half-witted'.

'Guzzling' is unfair, though.

I really can't manage the rest of this.
'Tippling', however...

"I take it...

Antidote to all life's ills.

- Are there so many?
- Ha! Funny!

I wasn't trying to be.

I suppose, in number, not many.

That's reassuring.

Just one great, big drink to me only!

Seems to help.

I appear to have lost
my appetite as well.

You'll leave a fishy.
Half a fishy.

Sad waste.

Borrow a taste?

Better not.

This hasn't gone
quite as I expected.

How did you expect it to go?

Oh, I don't know.
More of the old... whatever we had.

Which wasn't too bad, was it?

# We did have fun.#

Didn't we?
We did.

# Da-da-da
# And no harm done.#

Till the King of Death
arrived on the scene.

Or should I say "the King of Prose"?

Or should you say nothing.

- Have you finished?
- One minute!

Yes, thank you, and I believe
my friend has finished with his.

- Any desserts? Coffee?
- No, thank you.

HER no to both.
Dully he concurs, till an idea glows.

Glows and grows
in the murk of his brain.

Fine, fiery, feisty candle flame.

But I think I could handle
a little grappa.

Una grappina. Si, signore.

And away he zooms on waiter business,
waiter among waiters,

zapping and arabesquing from table
to table like bees between blooms.

Business and buzziness.

Now, that busy waitress, the bee ballerina -
is she sting or is she sweetness?

Nowhere to be seen.

Where are you this time?

- God, I'm sorry.
- Sorry indeed.

I hadn't expected you to have gone
to seed with quite such abandon.

Or is this some sort of...

cock-eyed performance you're putting on
for my special benefit?

I think I need to think about that one.

Right. Well, while you're doing that,
I'll tell you what I think.

For which we need to go back to your poems.

It strikes me you don't understand them
yourself. They're not about me.

I wasn't the kidnap victim - it was you
who were snatched and carried away

to some region of darkness by...

Oh, Let's call her the Queen of the Fairies.
Don't interrupt.

I'm finding the words as I go
but when I've stopped,

we'll see if the theory's up to scrutiny.

Now, according to my logic,
the Eurydice

that you're trying to rescue
with your brave little song

must be yourself,
your inner self, your soul.

But you've not been in touch
with that in your entire life.

Which puts you in a hole,
strategically speaking.

And who was it dumped you there
in the first place?

The kidnapper I was talking about,
whom I can now reveal

to be the Lyric Muse,
who should have left you alone

to work out your problems
in some healthier fashion,

and not led you on, not made you
confuse poetry with therapy.

And who's also to blame
for your present state of emotional arrest,

infantile truculence
and drunken flippancy.

It's not just that you're stuck in the past.
You're stuck in your poems.

Which have their merits.

They're nicely written,
they're clever and so on.

But they're misconceived, false,
hollow, wrong.

You should never have gone there.
Yet you did.

That... That's the catastrophe.
That's the disaster.

You're going to have to repeat that.
I want to write it down,

especially the bit about flippulant...

Yes... What?
I'm perfectly serious.

The Oracle Eyes appear
to have tears in them.

But too proud to fall.

Ever the escape artist,
ever the clown.

Nip of grappa,
distillation of grape pips,

sits on the tongue a moment,

transmitting warmth
to the outer limbs,

then slips to its doom.

No, I'm sure you're right.

My little book
was a great big bag of shite,

when I thought I was writing hymns
to your sublime beauty

and our lost love.
Thank you for the elucidation.

Now, if you'll excuse me,

I need to find my way to the little girls'
- sorry, not funny - little boys' room.

The big noisy boys are getting up to leave,
so he chooses a round-about route,

taking care from a safe, but visible,
distance to throw them a killer glare.

One of them catches it, baffled.

The gents' -
he doesn't need the arrow -

is along the passage and down
some narrow steps that tip him in...

faster than calculated.

But he's made it.

Knows at once the old chemical fragrance,
which only partially smothers

the jabbing kidney reek
that proclaims all men brothers.

And there's the familiar porcelain goblet

with its ancient stains
and crazed glaze.

It is while he is standing
watching his yellow stream

slither sluggishly away along the gully
that he conceives his scheme.

To find the dark-browed waitress.
To find her and ask her to marry him.

Once out the door and up the short
flight past the ladies',

then left again down the doorless
corridor with, at the end,

a longer flight to a windowed half-landing,
view of brickwork and drainpipes.

Turn about and aided by
a shaky handrail up to the first floor.

Two doors, both rattled, both locked.

Then up, up, up by steeper steps
and odder odours... the very top.

He sits.

An erupting pigeon briefly interrupts.
Otherwise, silence.


Now he can't decide
whether to weep... or sleep.

He is woken up by somebody waking
up inside him, abruptly and roughly.

After some seconds' ugly tussle,
he identifies his assailant...

as himself.

They reach an agreement - encourage
each other to consciousness and become one.

What is he doing
crouched on this high shelf?

The brick view illuminates nothing,

but a wheedling smell - mixture of
kitchen wafts and structural mildew -

helps him to recall.



Nicely judged lurches propel him
down to the ground floor.

And a more stately progress,
just once cannoning off the wall,

brings him back to the restaurant,
now almost deserted.

That's his table over there.

Less than an hour has passed,

but he might have died
and be returning as a ghost.

The lady, she go. You no come back.

No, no, no, no. She pay.

Airy hesitation.
He tucks his wallet away.


Was she angry?

Big shrug. Big shake of head.
Comical, big-mouthed grimace.

Wouldn't care to say,
same as enough said.

Look! They've looked after
his shoulder bag.

Now he is saddled
and ready to depart.

But first,
a last goodbye to the old place.

Nothing more empty than
a room full of tables,

laid... but without occupants.

No, wait.

There's someone seated by the window.
A very old man.

Parchment face, sparse white hairs
combed in strict parallels,

blind, staring eyes, black tie, black suit,

rigid as a cadaver
from some Sicilian catacomb.

Husk of life.
Without sap, without savour.

Nudge him, he'll crumble.

As he turns to go,
the recognition... pierces him.