It is the cloudiest and greyest of Sundays, the sort that nobody ever wishes for. It’s okay if it rains, because you can do things inside. It’s great if it’s sunny, because the world’s your oyster! But a lot of cloud has come over London, picked up the deck of cards I was shuffling, and shouted in my ear “FIFTY TWO CARD PICK UP!” and sprayed an entire deck of misery over our otherwise fair capital. I certainly didn’t invite him with me; he must be a friend of the missus.
We are in London for two very specific reasons: primarily, there is an exhibition at the V&A about David Bowie which I am desperate to see, and inflict on my significant other. Secondly, but firstly, we are to oblige our reservation at a place called The Rum Kitchen, which is in West London. Just the thought of lunch in such a place makes my wallet shudder and remember days of old at University, where I would stuff my hand into it at an unholy rate, night after night. “Two vodka cokes please… Shit! I haven’t got any cash- do you accept cards?” The answer is never “no”. The result is never pleasant. Thankfully, those days are behind me. So I thought.
However, this seemed to be going really well. We have two cocktails, (it’s a very Rum-based thing, I assume you’re supposed to get that by the name of the place) and a very nice lunch for two. Actually, it’s an incredible lunch! Sumptuous! I’d be tempted to go back and smuggle the food into a lab, just to make sure I hadn’t actually stumbled across the cure for AIDS, it was that delicious. The bill comes, and it’s positively microscopic! This is incredible! I hadn’t seen numbers so small since I learned maths in primary school! There I was worried that IBM would have to invent a new word for the sum about to appear in front of me, and look at this! It’s tiny! I feel a huge rush of excitement. I could get this bill. It would be the first of its kind- a student broken from the expenses of University, only in work for 2 weeks, and paying for lunch! In London! For his working-full-time-girlfriend! I reach for my wallet, which is hiding in the corner of my pocket somewhere, breaking into a sweat.
As I coax it out a full minute later, I note a little addition at the bottom of the receipt.
“An optional 12.5% has been added to your bill.”
Hmm. Seems a bit much. Usually I give, (and as a waiter, would like to receive) 10%, which is pretty standard in the UK. And we really did only have one cocktail and one burger each. It’s not as if we’ve been demanding. I blink a couple of times, and stare at the receipt, perhaps hoping that the receipt would admit defeat and retract such an extortionate addition. Never mind, the receipt says it’s optional. I’ll just stick a fiver on (the bill was £40.50, for two drinks and two burgers, I can tell you it was worth it). But the maths geniuses among you, you will know that with 12.5% added on, it brings our total to £45.56. £45 is as close as one can get without having to get into the tricky matter of coins, and it’s only 56p missing. That’s 1% of the bill. I could make up the difference by looking underneath the cushions of my sofa! I hand over the money and sit there, delighted with our excellent meal, and our fantastic deal.
But just as we are about to finish our drinks, the waitress looks at the money,
looks at her computer, looks at the money again, and returns to our table, and stuns us all.
“Sorry, the bill says £45.56?”
My mind explodes. Was she asking a question?! If it is, it’s a ridiculously impertinent one! What is 56p to anyone? Maybe our fair waitress wanted this money so she could give it to the third world? 56p there is much more than 56p here. 56p in Africa could be the difference between life and death; here it’s the difference between a having Milkybar and not having a Milkybar, and that’s just here in the South West of England. In West London they could probably sell Freddos and Drumsticks for 56p and get away with it!
I catch my breath and murmur something about having to check whether I have any coins (I have £8.37 in all sorts of coins). I try to hide the contents of my wallet while asking the missus whether she could spare 56p. “Nope, sorry” she says. What a load of fucking help she is! I give her a look which says “Thanks for trying” but meant “Thanks for casting me out to the depths of the fucking ocean with nothing but a toothbrush and an empty jam jar! You, my dear, are USELESS.” I pull out a pound coin which I had all along and surrender it. She puts the money in the till, and then as she gestures to give me the change, I say “keep it”. Frankly, if she’s that bothered about 56p, she might as well keep the remaining 44p and I wish her all the prosperity in the world with it. The one thing I cannot stress enough from this incident is I am absolutely 100% bona fide definitely not bitter about the whole situation.
That would be wrong.
But that didn’t stop me trying to work out all the things I could have spent that 56p on. 2 blades of grass at Wembley? An Apple iPaperclip? I could take that 56p to the bank, open up a new account, and let the interest take care of itself! By 2086, could have as much as £1.67, and could probably buy a nice new cover for my iPhone 52S! I live in hope.
In times of austerity, it is perhaps beneficial to us all that we have people who are so concerned with the finer details. I have never seen somebody so determined to recover such a small amount of money, and as I walked out of the restaurant cursing her pettiness, I couldn’t help but admire her desire to obtain every last penny she could get her hands on, and she deserved the extra 44p to go with it. That’s the price of a hard day’s graft in 2013: 44p. I’ll never complain about a small tip again. It has to be earned.