A while ago, after I had left one job and started a new job, I felt a little sad. There were problems in this new job, but there had been problems in the old job, too. So why were the new problems getting me down much more than the old ones? Basically, I realised, a lot it came down to lunch.
At my old job, my colleague and I would start emailing each other at approximately 12.35pm each afternoon. We would send a few options back and forth, discussing our particular cravings that day or any newly opened lunch destinations, before deciding on a venue. Then one person would send the email that said “Now?” and the other would stand up and ask out loud “Lunch?”, and then we would walk out of the office together.
Once out on the street, we would immediately launch into a detailed description of our respective mornings, discussing and analysing any work-related problems, before we began on family, relationships and miscellaneous subjects. When we arrived at the restaurant or cafe or market stall or whatever, we would turn our discussion to the specifics of our lunch order. We both took lunch seriously; we were similarly greedy and similarly discerning. We would happily queue for anything up to 15 minutes and pay anything up to £10. We always returned to the office to eat our lunch – not once in a year and a half did we have a sit-down lunch together – but that time away, 30 minutes or so, was enough. The freedom of the walk, the catharsis of the chat and the luxury of our fancy-ish lunch was what kept me happy in a job that wasn’t perfect. Occasionally, if things in the office felt rough, we would need to send an emergency “Cake?” email at around 4pm, but that happened rarely, perhaps once every two months.
I still see my old lunch buddy, of course, in the pub and at birthday parties – he’s still my good friend – but we haven’t gone for lunch in years. And too often, without him, I have been lazy about lunch. For a while, in the job I do now, I barely took lunch. There’s a Pret A Manger about 50 metres from the office and I relied on it for sustenance for most of 2015 and a lot of 2016. More recently though a couple of colleagues encouraged me into lunch-taking and I have had some very decent lunches with them. A lunch under the cherry blossoms in Regent’s Park, shoes thrown off, feet in grass, is always lovely. And to think – I get paid the same, whether I eat a ham and cheese baguette at my desk or sit reading a novel with the sun on my face.
It feels like you’re cheating at the day, somehow finding an extra hour that doesn’t belong to your employers or your family or your partner
Because that’s the thing about a good lunch – it feels like you’re cheating at the day, somehow finding an extra hour that doesn’t belong to your employers or your family or your partner. Lunch is the perfect meal for platonic dates; lunch is where lifelong friendships are forged.
The interview series “Lunch with the FT”, in which a Financial Times journalist interviews a well-known figure over lunch, is always fascinating. Of course the details are interesting, the restaurant chosen and the food ordered. But there is also something about a long lunch that allows for an intimacy between peers, for the chat to turn deep in a way it doesn’t at a rushed breakfast or a fun boozy dinner.
The other day, I met a friend for lunch, and we went to a restaurant near my office. The kind of place you need to book, the kind of place that will top a dish with a cooked egg yolk that’s been separated from the albumen. There was a table cloth and heavy cutlery and lemonade with mint leaves in it. We sat for an hour, eating food that someone had worked really hard to make, and we talked about everything. Being a daughter, being a mother, Donald Trump, the usual. It cost £20 so I had leftovers for the next couple of days to balance things out, but the joy of that lunch stayed with me all week.
Things are tough at the moment, any way you slice it, and the luxury of eating a nice lunch with a proper knife and fork can soothe in a way that a packaged sandwich and a perusal of Facebook never will.
So take a lunch break today. And take a pal with you.