Susan Morrison: Table wars by the roses as Botanics barney breaks out

THOSE of you familiar with the Terrace Café at the Botanic Garden will know that indoor space is at a premium, especially on a minging January Sunday.

As a result there are always a number of tray- toting people wandering about watching hopefully for people at tables to start pulling on gloves and hats and detach feeding babies, so they can do that apologetic shuffle in, and with a few words of thanks, settle down, whilst the aproned post-graduate in German medieval literature clears empty cups and scone crumbs away.

Sometimes, a non-tray-carrying advance party will be despatched to establish a beach-head. Similar rules apply. It’s all very civilised. After all, this is the Royal Botanic Garden.

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The table next to us emptied. A snowy-haired chap with the bearing of a man standing on the forward ramparts of battlements sat down. There was a brief moment of calm before another ram-rod straight-spined senior citizen with a moustache, the likes of which are seen rarely outside films where people refer to the dangers of flak and ack-ack fire, approached the table. He made a noise behind his moustache which loosely translated as ‘is anyone sitting at these chairs?’.

“Yes,” said our first chap. “They are in the queue.”

“No-one here right now,” grumbled the moustache. “And here’s my wife,” he continued. “Where’s yours?”

“Hong Kong,” came the slightly surprising answer, “but my sister is in the queue. With her gardener. So, you see, there is no space at this table.”

“Well,” said moustache man, “I think it only proper that we sit. My wife is here. Your party is further back in the queue.”

“Ridiculous,” fired back military man.

“Nonsense,” snorted moustache man.

There were indistinct noises from both parties. On the one hand, I think the moustache was having a muffling effect, and I suspect stiff upper lips prevent full-on snarling.

Military man rose to his feet. I could hardly continue my glee. A fight, oh yes. I was just about to offer to hold a jacket, when a female voice barked, “Rupert. For goodness sake. There’s a seat here.”

Moustache man, clearly put out by the memsahib kiboshing the action, unleashed a last weapons-grade glare at military man and retreated in good order to the bastion beside the children’s play area. Ok, so it wasn’t flying tumblers and smashed tables, but a battle over the Battenberg at the Botanics? Is this the end of civilisation?