As we stood to depart, Dad swooped wildly at the cake box, which flew open and propelled the contents several feet into the air.
I scanned the dining room. Amazingly, no one had witnessed the great pâtisserie escape. By golly. We were going to get away with it.
“Leave it. Leave the cake. Walk away. Walk a-way,” I said under my breath, like a father talking to an errant son.
At which point, Dad, holding the empty box flapping in his hand, turned and started ferreting under the table, clawing at the table linen.
He was after the cake. Oh my God! The thoughts raced through my head: they are going to think he is simple, and they know he’s to do with me, that he’s my dad, and they know me here, and I’ve got a reputation to protect.
“Dad! Leave it!” I hissed. “Just walk away, as if nothing has happened. Just walk. It doesn’t matter.”
By now, a child-like grin had broken out across his reddening face, exacerbated by the largesse of the sommelier and the additional shots of Armagnac on the baba.
Dad looked like he wouldn’t be able to contain an outburst of schoolboy giggles. He was going to blow. The baba had sent papa gaga. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say: “What do I do?”
“Just follow me,” I said. “It’s OK.”
And he did, still carrying the empty box, like a comfort blanket, its disgorged contents destined to be sucked up a vacuum-cleaner.
What a way to treat one of Hélène Darroze’s cakes. Two Michelin stars she’s got. And my dad propels her baking into the air.
Of course it is Father’s Day this weekend. I’ve never really thought about the signifcance of the day. I’m a father myself now and I wouldn’t want to think my children owe me anything, although some basic decency wouldn’t go amiss.
Less still would I want my two girls to look at me as a role model. Larkin is generally believed to be correct in his observation that “They f*** you up, your mum and dad.” They do. All parents go through life tainted by this unavoidable guilt.
So if there is one thing I would like to thank my own dad for on Father’s Day it is this: that despite the passing of 25 years, and the blurring of familial roles, he still has the ability to join me for lunch at The Connaught and make me cringe and weep with laughter in fairly equal measure.
If I can do the same to my own children, it won’t have been a bad innings.