Do you remember my mate Kostas?
Kostas is the owner of the Dionysus Grill in Herne, a cheap and cheerful Greek eatery that stands between the railway station and my home. If I’ve been working late then the smell wafting through the door calls to me like a siren — and more often than not I deal with temptation in the only sensible way. Kostas and I have become good friends as a result.
I haven’t seen him for a while. Kostas normally shuts up shop for the whole of August and heads over to Crete with the family. Now he’s back and, as Wednesday was a tough one, I decided to call in and see him.
He’s well, thank you. I ask about the holiday, he asks about mine. I ask for the bill and it comes with a complimentary glass of Ouzo. As I settle up, I ask about his cousin Evangelos. Kostas pauses for a moment in thought and excuses himself. A moment later he reappears with a second glass and the bottle.
Evangelos, you may remember, lives in England and was the proud owner of the Flying Greek in London’s White City. I use the past tense because, of course, former British prime minister David Cameron accidentally managed to burn the place to the ground following an accident with a loose tabletop and a plate of souvlaki.
Anyway, Evangelos is well. The Flying Greek is no more but the insurance money has come through and so he now has a nice new Mercedes. He’s used the rest of the money to open up a new place round the corner.
Unlike the Flying Greek, the Gates Of Hades, as the new place is called, isn’t on the main street. It’s off to the side in a little alleyway between a sex shop and a massage parlour. Evangelos saves a fortune on rent, even if he does prefer to leave his car in the main street opposite the police station.
The food is as it always was. The only stars you’re likely to see are on a brandy bottle, jokes Kostas. He cracks open the Ouzo as he chuckles.
Having secured new premises, Evangelos found a couple of pictures of Prince Philip at a car boot sale and picked up some cardboard columns on Ebay. The local supermarket was throwing out a load of plastic grapes from the cheese counter and he got in quick. The place looks alright provided the lights are dimmed. They usually are, because Evangelos can never find enough 50p pieces for the meter.
You might think that the dim lighting and the secluded location would be bad for business but Kostas assures me that the opposite is true. David Cameron was in for the opening night to apologise but quickly realised that the place has potential if only it attracts the right clientelle.
He’s done right by Evangelos has Dave. He put the word round to his old mates in the Conservative Party that he’d found a place where you could get a good meal well away from the prying eyes of journalists and news reporters. Business has been brisk as a result.
Boris Johnson comes in on the days when the courts have granted him access to his illegitimate daughter. You remember, the one whose existence he tried to keep a secret from the press by taking out an injunction. He wants to “protect her from the glare of the media” he says — and so he brings her here.
Evangelos has had to start giving the customers receipts, something he never did at the Flying Greek. Because the new punters need them for their expense accounts he no longer operates on a strictly “cash only” basis.
The VAT man was initially surprised when his takings rose by over 500% in the first month after reopening but following a few tips from Philip Hammond on the subject of tax avoidance Evangelos’ finances have never been rosier. He’d like to go to the Isle of Man one day he says, now that he’s got so much cash invested there.
“Sounds like he’s hit on a winner”, I say. “Does Theresa ever drop in?”
“Funny you should mention that”, Kostas replies, pouring us another Ouzo each as he does. “Are you sitting comfortably?”, I think to myself. Then Kostas will begin…
Thursday night is always the slowest night of the week. Apart from the Inland Revenue and the health inspector Evangelos has one solitary guest. Stellios, the waiter showed her to her table and she’s been sat there for a couple of hours now, glass of Retsina in hand, her face obscured by a copy of Vogue.
She seems happy enough and so Stellios, Evangelos and his wife Destina are sitting front of house, playing pontoon and watching Strictly Come Dancing on the TV. As soon as the Vogue lady has paid, Evangelos wants to shut up shop.
Anyway, at about ten to nine the peace is shattered when the door flies open and a figure dressed in a long coat and a black face mask bursts into the restaurant. Nobody reacts unduly because this happens at least once a month. The Vogue lady brings her magazine a couple of inches closer to her face.
“Hello David!” exclaims Evangelos. “Kalmeira! How are you? Come in and take a seat.”
The intruder takes of his mask. No, it’s not David Cameron if that’s what you were thinking. It’s actually David Davis, the Brexit secretary. He used to be an SAS commando don’t you know — that’s where he picked up the headgear.
He looks around the restaurant, sees that it is empty apart from the lady hiding behind the cover of Vogue, moves over to the window and gives what looks to be a prearranged signal. A moment later, his wife Doreen appears by his side and Evangelos shows them to their table.
Evangelos likes to handle the Brexit secretary himself. Stellios is still a young lad and occasionally he can be very immature. The official explanation for the SAS balaclava is that it’s top protect his privacy but Stellios has another theory. “Medusa” is what he calls him.
I ask Kostas if David Davis is really as ugly as he looks on the TV. Kostas tells me that the camera never lies. Luckily, the lighting in the Gates Of Hades is flatteringly gloomy.
Stellios can be particularly unkind. The last time he served the Brexit secretary, he took the whole order without looking him in the eye once. In fact he only looked at him through the reflection in the silver drinks tray. Destina docked his wages as a result.
Anyway, David’s had a bad week. He’s been in Brussels for the Brexit negotiations and it’s been tough going. Like talking to the walls of Troy he says. Why can’t these people be more flexible? Three months ago, he and Michel Barnier were agreed that no progress had been made. Now they can’t even agree on that.
“That’s too bad”, says Destina, handing the couple the menu cards. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
Doreen orders a slimline tonic. Destina turns to David.
“I’m not paying anything!” he says.
Both women sigh. We’ve been here before with him.
He isn’t prepared to enter into any discussion about what he’d like to order while he feels that he’s being held to ransom over the bill. Under the table, Doreen’s stiletto heel digs sharply into his foot. He agrees to order a whisky and soda but insists that he won’t part with a penny.
While Evangelos brings the drinks, Doreen studies the menu card. David theatrically shoves his copy to the other end of the table and sits, hands clasped in front of him, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“Aren’t you going to look at it dear?” asks Doreen. She knows the answer already. David replies that he is looking for something which is unique and specially crafted for his individual needs. Her heel digs once more into his shoe leather.
Evangelos brings the drinks on a silver tray. Out of the minister’s sight, Stellios pretends to swipe at a gorgon’s head. Destina digs her elbow into his ribs and tells him to see if the Vogue lady would like another drink.
“What would you like to eat?” Evangelos enquires of the pair.
“I’ll have the souvlaki” says Doreen. “David Cameron says it’s very good.”
“And for sir?”
“I’ll have the crispy duck in hoisin sauce with fried rice.”
Doreen, Destina and Evangelos all sigh. We’ve been here before with him. Every month it’s the same ritual. The Chinese place down the road has barred him because he keeps trying to order Greek food.
Evangelos explains that this is a Greek restaurant and they only sell the food listed on the menu. David explains that he is this restaurant’s biggest customer and that Evangelos has to show more flexibility if he wants to keep the Davises as clients.
Evangelos counters that it’s twenty to ten now and that everywhere else except the Star Of Bengal will be closing shortly. The clock is ticking. Would David like some more time to think about it? The Brexit Secretary feels a heel bearing down on his big toe.
David agrees that some sort of transitional phase will be required but reminds Evangelos that “no meal is better than a bad meal”.
Doreen looks at Evangelos. As their eyes meet he is reminded that he has to feed the two King Charles Spaniel puppies he’s got out the back. Reasoning that the poor woman has to go through this charade every mealtime, he gestures to Destina to put the souvlaki on the grill.
David can no more resist the smell of chip fat and grilled chicken than I can but it’s the principle that counts. He’s not giving in on this one. Again.
When Doreen’s food comes he announces that he has improved his order. If Evangelos possesses a modicum of imagination and flexibility he says, then they will be able to come to an arrangement. He wants crispy duck in hoisin sauce with chips. Can we now talk about dessert?
Doreen is too preoccupied with the souvlaki to maim his foot. Evangelos reiterates that this is a Greek restaurant and that he only sells Greek food. David turns to Doreen and explains that the negotiations have faltered on one or two technical issues but that all in all they are going well.
He suggests some sort of transitional phase, pulls on his coat and balaclava and announces that he will return at midnight. As he leaves the restaurant Stellios strikes an “I have been turned to stone” pose behind his back. Destina digs her heel into his shoe.
“I thought he’d never leave” says Doreen. “Here love, you couldn’t get me a glass of Retsina could you? I’ll get the taxi home. He’ll be sitting in that bloody car till all hours.”
Destina comes back with a bottle and four glasses. Evangelos tells Stellios to get the Vogue lady a refill. It’s on the house.
Doreen orders dessert and settles the bill. Over in the corner, Stellios cashes up from the solitary figure in the corner. Doreen says her goodbyes and Evangelos switches the lights off behind the bar. Destina changes the TV channel over to Channel Four. Another day almost over. But then something strange happens.
The Vogue lady slaps down her magazine and pushes her chair back angrily. Without saying a word she picks up her coat and storms out of the restaurant. You can probably guess who she is. Destina looks angrily at Stellios.
“What did you say to her?!!”
“Nothing. Look, she left me a twenty quid tip.”
The three look at each other blankly for a couple of minutes before Evangelos nods his head at the direction of the TV.
“That’ll likely be the cause of it”, he says.
“What do you mean?”, says Destina.
“Well what?” I ask Kostas. “What was so awful about the TV?”
“Not the TV”, says Kostas “The channel. You’ll never guess what they were showing.”
I don’t guess, and neither will you — so I’ll tell you.
Channel Four were showing a rerun of the quiz show Deal Or No Deal.