Many and torturous have been the trials – the many trials – of the valiant Duncan and his equally spirited companion, sweet Gabrielle.
We rejoin them as they boldly stride through the massed effluence of the Great Goose – daring to turn neither left nor right, their slender figures blasted by the icy gales of Hatchford Brook Golf Club.
Scarcely able to put one foot before the next – yet resolute to the end – these courageous travellers finally alight at the threshold of their destination. Their sanctuary.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel.
O Crowne Plaza Hotel, how may we hymn thee? What laudations may we heap upon thy mighty Crowned brows? How may we extol thy Plaza'd delights? How to crowne that which is already Crowned?
[Excuse the repetition of the Crowne Plaza stuff. I can but hold out the small hope that this most elementary stab at SEO might magically catapult this page to the top of Google's 'Crowne Plaza Hotel' search results. Bwouhahahaha, &c.]
So, let's cut to the chase, shall we. Gabs and Dunc went into the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
The sight with which they were greeted would have made lesser mortals tremble (as it was, Duncan merely hiccuped quietly). O majestic sight! (&c &c): The Crowne Plaza Hotel Bar.
Now, so safely (and stylishly reflectively) cocooned, with what elixir – with what rejuvenating potion of health – might our weary heroes choose as an antidote to their fearful tribulations?
Gin and friggin' tonic, that's what.
GIN AND FRIGGIN' TONIC. You got that? In Super Mario Brothers, this'd be a mushroom; in Quake, it'd be Quad Damage; in Pacman, this'd be the thing that you eat and then makes the ghost things run away ...
GIN AND TONIC. Bwoooargh! POWER!
As you will imagine, then, ne'er had a beverage been so eagerly anticipated as was this pair of G&Ts. Well might the barman nervously clank the glasses, his hands aquiver. For the concoction of a G&T is a sacred ritual indeed.
It was at around about this point that things started to go a little bit wrong.
The first sign – like the sheet music fluttering to the floor from the music stand of the lead violin of the Berlin Philharmonic – was the glimpse of a lone bottle of Britvic Tonic through the frosted glass of the fridge.
Britvic Tonic is shit. It is to Schweppes what Panda Cola is to Coke (but without the nostalgic overtones of school trip packed lunches); what Zune is to iPod.
But whilst any G&T incorporating Britvic tonic is destined to rate no higher than a Mr Kipling on the scale of zero to perfection, all was not lost. (Mr Kipling's Country Slices, for instance, have been known on occasion to transcend mediocrity.)
You may – eagle-eyed reader that you are – have noted my earlier reference to a fridge door. From a modest cameo role, said aperture suddenly leaps, with unwelcome athleticism, to centre-stage.
It appears to be stuck.
Bartender #1 looking to be unequal to the task of fridge-wrestling, enter Bartender #2, stage right.
Straining like a pair of twin-yoked oxen at the head of a Somme-mired plough, these two strapping youngsters manage at last to tear open the stubborn fitment.
[At this point, if we're pursuing the Berlin Philharmonic analogy, I guess a member of the brass section has just keeled over, setting off a couple of domino flautists]
With due ceremony – which is to say, very little – the Britvic tonic is whisked from its icy confines and slammed (yes, slammed) upon the gleaming counter of the Crowne Plaza Bar. Two glasses are plucked, with the tenderness of an abattoir operative, from the shelf and receive their standard measure of Gordon's Gin – whereupon, they too are slammed (yes, slammed) next to their Britvicky compatriots.
Picture the scene, then, if you will.
We have two glasses of gin; two bottles of Britvic tonic.
Obviously a little shamefaced at the offering in front of him, Bartender #1 shuffles off and tweezers a worm of something that might once have been citrus fruit from a sad little dish. Into the gin it plops.
He repeats the process for the second glass.
Then, he makes eye contact.
In this eye contact is implicit the following message: 'My work here is done. Over to you.'
Timorously, Gabrielle dares to speak:
'Um ... Do you have any ice?'
Honestly. You'd've thought we'd asked for sodding liquid nitrogen.
["Hey! What do you mean 'We'?" you're saying.]
Bartender #1 casts about in the same way as might a recalcitrant secondary-school child when asked to hand in the homework he has failed to do.
'Oh ...' he says – as though the request for ice were something of an eccentric quirk – in the same tones as one might employ in kebab van were a punter to request a bowl of vichyssoise – '... I'm out of ice ...'
[Silence. Then, reluctantly:]
'... But we may have some in the back room.'
Cue exit to backstage.
Bartender #2 at this point takes up the transactional baton, as she rings up the total on the till.
This takes some time.
During the hiatus, distant hammering is heard from backstage. Some moments later, the mournful visage of Bartender #1 peers out through the window of the door through which he has fled.
Duncan and Gabrielle peer back.
He disappears again.
More banging is heard.
At length, Bartender #1 returns – with the air of a returning Shackleton – a tumbler of ice clutched in his frostbitten paw.
From this rare, glimmering trove of precious frozen aqua, he systematically removes (count 'em) one ... two ice cubes per glass.
[Pause ... Here comes the punchline ...]
'... That's £11.94, please.'