As the winter evenings draw in, our little family long to sit by the fire and watch something wonderful on the TV after a hard day, but it’s not possible. Why? First of all it isn’t cold enough to light a fire, second of all there isn’t anything good on the TV. So we decided to look for a video, and out came last year’s Christmas present, a boxed set of all the Harry Potter films. And so we sat down to watch ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and were completely charmed all over again, not least of all by all the bewitching storyline and enchantments, including the invisibility cloak, in all its glory.
Afterwards, tucked up in bed, I thought, “hang on a sec, you don’t need an invisibility cloak to be invisible… all you need is to be female, over 60, shortish grey haired and instantly – abracadabra – you too can be invisible!” And it can be quite an adventure being invisible, as Harry Potter discovered. Here is a very recent and exciting example. A great friend and I went to the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square a few days ago to see the re-hung Laughing Cavalier and his cronies in the Great Hall … We decided to splash out and go to the restaurant that belongs to the Wallace Collection, which is housed in one of the most beautiful spaces in London.
It’s in the courtyard of Hertford House (which houses the collection) with a glass roof and some lovely greenhouse-like trees thrown in – a thing of beauty. Quite honestly, if you stuck the most disgusting stinky chip bar in there it would still seem sophisticated, because this is one of the most elegant spaces in London. As it is, this place is a Peyton and Byrne restaurant, and I know these of old. This double act has already screwed up in the Brighton Pavilion, and having eaten in the Wallace Restaurant before, I already had an idea of what was to come, but decided to do what was easy at the time… the unexpected arrival of the invisibility cloak, however, added an extra dimension to the proceedings. Mary and I arrived for lunch and stood in front of the desk, and a young man asked us if we had a reservation and all that stuff, and the maître d’, a smart middle aged person with lots of makeup said ‘Good Morning’ and the waiter waited (as he was supposed to do) for the maître d’ to show us to our table… But she didn’t, because she was talking to some geezer in an Armani suit and a signed scarf, for we (Mary and I that is) had suddenly disappeared from the maître d’s line of vision, masked by our invisibility cloak. The waiting waiter was aghast. This was because he could see us, but the maître d’ could not. Clearly the spell had not worked so well on him, and muttering confused words of untranslatable drivel he guided us to our table, completely fazed by what he had just witnessed. For Mary and I this was not something new.
The food was completely unmemorable, apart from the bill, but the service seemed OK, and the company was perfect, and the conversation enlightening. At the end of the meal we paid and went, having removed the invisibility cloak. It was the removal of the invisibility cloak that did it. The maître d’, who had never seen us before, spotted two people on their way out of the restaurant, and looming towards us, in full war paint and very high stiletto heels (with just a touch of the Cruella Deville) made the cardinal mistake of asking us if we had enjoyed our meal, whereupon the fabulously demure Rev Mary Gavin fired back with both barrels. I wish I could remember what she said but it was along the lines of ‘the meal was all about style over substance, and one shouldn’t serve up mediocre food in a restaurant with such pretensions, food that could be produced by any half-competent cook, also that the Scottish pheasant was tough, and the price did not reflect what was actually served which was pretty run-of-the mill’, and I think she may have also pointed out that if it ‘wasn’t for convenience of the place we wouldn’t be there at all’. The maître d’ stepped back aghast. After all… she had never seen us before, and in horror and surprise she spluttered something about telling the new chef and how these observations would be acted on. As we departed Mary said, “I bet she regretted asking us that one!