07 June 2008


I must be in confessional mood. I still feel the chill.

Tonight in the Melodies bar, some poor bugger was caught stealing a paltry tip from the other table - €5? They hauled him away and called the police. Butterfly on the wheel.

Back around 1972, I was living in Swiss Cottage, London NW, and at the height of my guitar bore mode. I took it everywhere, usually because I would go straight from busking Baker Street or some party, meet my date du soir, and cab it up to wherever we were eating.

This one bistro in West Hampstead had an Italian chef who was a crazy git but he knew his cuisinerie and would now and then emerge with his guitar and sing to us.

We met when he came out to take the plaudits, saw my axe and asked if i played it. Despite managements urging against, I did.

I played the usuals - La Paloma, Santa Lucia, all the crooneriad - and he burst into song and the customers didnt dare not love it, know what I mean, squire?

I became a fixture and it was THE place to take a new date - quiet modest chat, out comes Dino and big embraces, the usual urgings to play and my usual modest denials against.

"Give-a this beyootiful lady a grappa ... and this whoreson spawn of a Neapolitan dung heap what-a he want ..."

The night in question, we were dining up by the window, furthest from the staff and next to us (out of vision of my lady) a fresh-faced lad and his escort.

When they paid and left I noticed that he'd left a 25 quid tip: two tens and a fiver.

I could not stop staring at it. I was like Gollum, obsessed.

Finally, I extracted a cigarette, patted my pocket as if for a lighter and excused myself as I rose to lean over light my cig from the candle on the other table, palming the 10s.

Why not from the candle on *our* table?

Aha, M'sieur Poirot - good point.

I was petrified. 20 quid was beeg lucre in them days, still is to a mendicant comme moi.

I eased my shoe off and slid the notes under my foot.

Dino must have come out about then so out came the guitar and into the songs.

Re-Enter the boy and his girl and went to reclaim his tip for something more sensible. (They took their time clearing the tables in those days)

Up came the waiter, something wrong signor? From what he saw, the tip seemed perfectly reasonable.

But he had left much more. No signor, we have not cleared the table.

"He took it." Pointing at me. There, upfront. Good challenge.

Who me?

Who, this-a gemmun?

Dino did not like his brief chanson window interrupted. How dare-a you accuse this gemmun? He is a regular. We know him, blah blah. Even my lady expressed indignation.

"Fucking well search him!"

Commotion, other diners all looking round.

I rose with a placatory hand raised: "No no. He's right." Off with my jacket and handed it to the waiter, allowed myself to be frisked.

So sorry so sorry, Mister Chris

But they were good: the weasel-faced waiter went down my legs and in around my socks - where I almost stashed the notes - and then stood up: "Is no."

The poor boy's face was white at losing all that dosh.

Dino, finally getting the chord: "La mer, qu'on voit danser ... mister, we believe you ... maybe is fall outside ..."

Everyone outside. I sit down and shrug at the assembled diners. Nods and murmurs, eyebrows raised.

Eleanor the maitresse d' with two cognacs, so sorry so sorry. No charge. In my place, too! So shame.

"Eleanor, dont be silly. Of course the bill. Dino, there's a major change there - La MER ..."

As we walked down to the tube she asked quietly, "Did you take it?"

What do you - how could I have taken it?

"I don't know. Don't be angry. Did you take it?"

"If I'd spotted it, I would have been sorely tempted."

I could feel the inconvenient Princess-and-Pea lump of the notes underfoot. If it had been a Maupassant story, the crackle of the notes would have swelled in a crescendo.

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