I have, over the course of the last few years, become ever more disillusioned with humanity as a whole. People are generally a bad idea. They are loud, boorish, ignorant, stupid show-offs and not the sort of thing that any right-minded individual would have anything to do with.
So it is that I've been cultivating a deep-seated mistrust of society, shunning human contact wherever possible and working hard on my ultimate dream which is to never have to deal with another human being for the rest of my natural life.
The events of this evening have done little to disabuse me of the above notions, nor dissuade me from my goal.
Let me explain. This is what should have happened this evening:
1) Leave work.
2) Go and have something pleasant to eat in town.
3) Meet my flick buddy (similar to a fuck buddy, except instead of sleeping together you go to the cinema) and see 'Moon' at the Odeon.
Even for a curmudgeonly, sour-faced bastard like me, an evening such as that would be something to look forward to and cherish.
Sadly, things never quite work out the way you want them to.
I left work at 7 and wandered into the high street. We are fortunate enough in Southend to have a cornucopia of restaurants and eateries to choose from, each serving a splendid array of cuisines. Gastronomically, we are blessed with an embarrassment of riches.
French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Moroccan, Sri Lankan - all of these are available in the Southend area.
It is with some shame then that I have to admit I went for the easy option. So I wouldn't sit in the cinema reeking of garlic or other delicious foodstuffs, I decided to go to Frankie and Benny's for something simple.
Now, the last time I went to Frankie and Benny's in Southend was about 2-3 years ago with my father and his partner. They ordered fish and chips, if memory serves, and I chose a steak. My specific order was "the steak, medium-rare, with a jacket potato and sour cream". Immediately, the disinterested waitress informed me that I couldn't have sour cream with the jacket potato. Instead, I would have to order the 'jacket potato with sour cream' from another part of the menu.
"Won't I then have two jacket potatoes though?", I asked, slightly bewildered.
"No," she replied, chewing gum, "I can write down 'no jacket' on your steak order."
I mulled this over.
"So," I ventured, "will the steak cost less because a major part of the dish is missing?"
She continued masticating her gum for a few seconds before fixing me with a steely glare that was, impossibly, both hate-filled and indifferent all at the same time.
"No. You'll still have to pay the full price."
By now, I was intrigued as to whether she might, at some point in the conversation, remember I was the customer and that a reasonably integral part of her job description was to give me what I wanted (within the bounds of reason) as my satisfaction was directly linked to the amount of gratuity she was likely to receive.
Suddenly, inspiration struck.
"How about," I carefully explained, "I order the steak, medium-rare, and the jacket potato, and you just give me a side-dish of sour cream which I can apply to the jacket potato myself, thus completely bypassing this apparently insurmountable complication?"
She stopped munching on her gum and eyed me suspiciously, as one might regard someone who has just offered you a boiled sweet, opened their trouser pocket wide, and invited you to reach in and help yourself.
A moment passed.
"Yeah, OK", she said, scribbled in her notepad, and was gone.
Pleased that we'd been able to discuss the matter like adults and reach a mutually beneficial solution, I sat back and waited for my delicious repast.
30 minutes later, the food arrived. My medium-rare steak had been cooked well-done, the field mushroom on my plate had, apparently, been slow-cooked in the deep-fat fryer and sucked up approximately a third of a litre of vegetable oil in the process, and the diaphanous paper cup balanced precariously next to my jacket potato contained a generous dollop of mayonnaise, not sour cream.
Barely containing my anger, I proceeded to try and gain the attention of a member of the waiting staff (and this is genuinely no exaggeration) for about 20 minutes, before finally giving up and staring balefully at the rapidly emptying plates of delicious fayre in front of my father and his other half.
I swore never to return.
So, tonight, I made the fatal mistake of assuming that things must have improved somewhat at Frankie and Benny's and perhaps I should give them another opportunity.
I ordered this:
Tender salmon, fresh red pepper and mozzarella cheese fishcakes.
Fresh rocket and Italian hard cheese garnish (Italian hard cheese? Is it possible to describe an item of food and make it sound less appetising?)
Your choice of herb potatoes, house fries or a jacket.
Tartare sauce on the side.
What I received was this:
Frozen, mass-produced fishcakes, fresh from the deep-fat fryer.
Wilted rocket leaves with no Italian hard cheese.
A dry jacket potato with no butter.
Tartare sauce in the ubiquitous paper cup.
The rocket leaves looked as if they'd been nuked in the microwave for 30 seconds and then drizzled with cooking oil - the last time I saw something so limp, greasy and unappealing was when I had the misfortune to mistakenly watch an episode of Supermarket Sweep - and the jacket potato was so dry that I was afraid to breathe on it in case the contents blew away like a puff of talcum powder from the bottom of a flatulent infant. The fishcakes, in all fairness, were actually edible.
After toying disconsolately with the potato for a few minutes, I decided, like Marlon Brando, that the judicial application of some butter might improve things. Thus, I spent the next 15 minutes trying to attract the attention of the waitress who seemed to be doing little more than passing between tables at the far end of the restaurant, eyes resolutely glued to the floor lest one of those pesky customers actually require something and drag her away from the infinitely more important task of chatting to the kitchen staff.
Eventually, I managed to collar the manageress and ask for some butter with which to introduce some much-needed moisture to my dessicated jacket potato. She disappeared for a moment and then brought back two sticks of butter in yet another of those damn paper cups. Unfortunately, the butter had been in the fridge and was so hard that I feared if I exerted too much pressure, the knife would shatter in my hand and propel shrapnel at my eyes.
Iced dairy products and cold talcum powder are not a good combination and, rather than a pleasing medley of yummy jacket potato and delicious melted butter, I was left with something that resembled the yellowing, curdled ejaculate of a elderly greyhound.
Finally, after another few minutes, I put down my scratched cutlery, grabbed my bag and walked up to the waitress asking for the bill.
I took care to explain that my meal was largely inedible and didn't contain the ingredients listed on the menu, so she called the manageress over and they had a brief, whispered discussion about what to do. After some frenzied tapping at the till from the manageress, she handed me the bill saying, "I've taken 50% off your meal."
"Well that's handy," I replied, "because I only ate 50% of it. It was one of the worst meals I've ever had."
She turned and walked away without another word and, weary from hunger, I pathetically handed over my debit card. Yes, yes, I should have insisted that the entire cost was taken off the bill, but I was fast approaching the point where, if I'd given vent to my anger, I may well have ended up doing something regrettable, and possibly illegal, involving an un-buttered corn on the cob and one of the manageress' orifices.
All I wanted was a nice meal. Instead, I received a heaping platter of bitter disappointment.
Welcome to Schmucksville, population: me.