There is a rather good restaurant upstairs at the National Portrait Gallery. It has sophisticated food, slick service and a reasonable wine list – but the main attraction has to be its location, high above Trafalgar Square, where diners have a panoramic view of London to the south. At least, they do if they are not facing the back wall, as I was when I had lunch there last week. The restaurant has been going for many years and, during all that time, there must have been thousands of occasions when waiters have noticed the disappointment on customers’ faces as they ushered them to seats with their backs to the window. Did it never occur to the management that they could easily, and cheaply, stick mirrors onto that wall? In any case, view or no view, it is long-established practice to install mirrors in restaurants so that wall-facing diners can observe their fellows. Dining out is, after all, a form of social interaction. I pointed all this out to my companions without, I hope, labouring the point. Nevertheless, it niggled me throughout the lunch that so obvious an oversight – and one so easily remedied – should remain uncorrected.
There is a question lurking at the back of this observation: am I being too particular? Do I emphasise the negative at the expense of appreciating the positive and, if so, is this an inclination in danger of becoming an obsession? I would like to think not. After all, just yesterday, the lady behind the counter in the Spar shop complimented me on my cheery demeanour and polite consideration for her position. Mind you, the transaction had gone well: the item I wanted was in stock, there was no queue and my contactless card worked first time. Satisfaction produces good vibes. Things might have gone very differently, as indeed they did on another occasion when I was so brusque to a waiter in a cafe that my partner insisted I present my apologies, as well as a generous tip, when it came time to pay. (The waiter had tried to persuade me to try an exotic blend of tea instead of the cappuccino I wanted and was keen to get to grips with: otherwise, everything was perfect.)
I have seen two films this week, Logan and Elle, both of which have been highly praised by critics and both of which, in my experience, were disappointingly flawed. In the case of Logan, even though I’m not a particular fan of the Marvel Comics phenomenon, the fantasy sustained my interest pretty well – until the end, that is, when a huge dollop of Hollywood schmaltz spoilt the whole thing and left me wishing I hadn’t bothered. Elle, on the other hand, is so not Hollywood that the parameters of its appeal are quite different and Isabel Huppert’s performance, in itself, is a good enough reason to buy a ticket. Yet there are some unconvincing plotlines which, although temporarily sustained by the drama, do ultimately unravel, thereby spoiling the overall experience – for me, at least.
I am conscious that niggles such as these must be kept in proportion so as not to overshadow one’s enjoyment and, to this end, I try always to keep an open mind, as I did last week when we went with friends to Wilton’s Music Hall for dinner and a performance of Frankenstein. Everything was set for a good night out: great company, lovely food, an appropriately historic venue and an innovative show. But even the most positive among us could not ignore the fact that the actor playing Frankenstein had a voice that was too highly-pitched for the part and that the assistant-cum-props-person who followed him around the set was wearing a pair of distractingly squeaky shoes. And those, I’m afraid, are my abiding memories of the show.