The first three Shakespearean lunches take place at almost exactly monthly intervals in April, May and June. The first two more or less set the tone, but I’m still not entirely prepared for the third.
The first one happens at a beautiful Spanish Tapas place just by the entrance to Borough Market. It is – like all of the ones numbered one through three – scheduled for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, starting at one, but I don’t remember leaving before four, maybe four thirty. Still, there is much to talk about – writing, crowdfunding, and, of course, Shakespeare – and so my stupendous Writer Friend and I take our time and order another bottle of wine, but eventually we decide to have done, mainly really because the place, beautiful as it is, isn’t entirely cheap and both of us are effectively skint.
For the second one, the tapas place is full up and it’s raining off and on, so we head a few doors into the market to a really nice fish place which is all covered in glass and lends a view onto Southwark Cathedral. Much as on the first occasion, we talk about writing, a little less about crowdfunding, a little more about adventures with agents, and about Shakespeare, a lot. I have another drink to go to that evening, so reluctantly, somewhat painfully, I drag myself away shortly after six.
For our third Shakespearean Lunch we are fortunate in that a little outside table is available back at the tapas place on the corner and my excellent Writer Friend is already parked there by the time I arrive. I have written a play about Shakespeare, and he is researching a story about Shakespeare’s brother Edmund, so our conversation obviously focuses very much on Shakespeare. Not having strictly learnt my lessons from our lunches one and two, I have once again somewhat brazenly booked another drink on the South Bank at seven, but with a friend who has stood me up so many times and has so frequently been so unreliable that I think not too much of it when, around about seven, we just really have nowhere near exhausted our topic and order another bottle of wine.
At around this time, our luncheon turns epic. There is a fine line between an ordinary writerly lunch, which can easily last five or six hours, and a lunch that turns into something memorable, noteworthy. This is approximately the point at which that happens, because at approximately this point we have, between the two of us, had between four and five bottles of wine and the topic of conversation is likely to have drifted off somewhat. I don’t remember onto what. I am pretty certain my formidable Writer Friend doesn’t either, though I haven’t asked him. I feel somewhat reluctant to ask him what he remembers of our Third Shakespearean Lunch, because I would not for one moment wish to embarrass him or make him feel uncomfortable. Not that there really is any reason for either of us to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, save for the fact that we first pay our bill at five thirty but when we finally say goodnight to each other some time close to eleven another bill for wine has been clocked up and paid for and I have given up any attempt at catching up with my other friend, two or three increasingly incoherent text messages notwithstanding.
But there’s also a bottle of wine unaccounted for. At some point after the second bill we must have decided to have just one more and our brains at that late stage of our lunch are no longer capable of placing paying for it into the category ‘things to do before leaving’. It’s not as if we were doing a runner. When I phone the restaurant the next day, on my first attempt there is nobody there to take payment for the bottle, but they say they will phone me back. When they don’t phone me back I try again, and this time round a Maître’d who doesn’t seem in a particularly appreciative mood recalls: yes, you paid for the first ones and then you kept hugging the guy and then you were gone. He is still for some reason unable to take payment but promises to phone me back. For a second time, nobody phones me, so I accept that last bottle as a drink on the house and consider the matter dealt with: thank you, it was much appreciated.
When he says: ‘you were hugging the guy,’ he is, I think, being diplomatic. Or is the term euphemistic. I am fairly certain that by the time we finally staggered to our feet we were effectively snogging. This is slightly unusual and also unexpected behaviour from both of us because we’re just mates. Also, my affectionate Writer Friend as far as I know has never yet been gay. Then again, it doesn’t really matter whether or not anyone is and I don’t hold with the labels in the first place and so I really don’t have any concerns about this. Still, the image that I couldn’t have seen but that is now ingrained in my imagination cheers me: the two of us, men in our, erm, no longer quite forties, winding up our lunch at a Spanish Tapas place in Borough, cuddling and kissing with really, by that time, not a care in the world and still so much to talk about for, I would hope, many Shakespearean lunches to come, come spring again…