ONCE upon a time a demented woman who ruled a faraway land convinced her subjects that greed was good, that trade unions were bad and that an unbridled market economy and privatisation would benefit all.
Many – as easily played for imbeciles then as those who voted almost 40 years on for Brexit– fell hook, line and sinker for the Iron Lady’s garbage and gave the crackpot capitalist two more terms to wage war on social cohesion and make the well-off far richer than they already were.
The result was the unleashing of a short-lived era of conspicuous consumption. Obscene amounts of cash were lavished on extravagant events hosted by stockbrokers, bankers and wealthy individuals in hotels and restaurants across the country.
These attracted battalions of liggers – individuals who attend parties, openings, and social gatherings solely intent on obtaining free food and drink. Some even came equipped with Tupperware tubs and outsize bags into which they would shamelessly tip whole trays of comestibles. (A Benidorm couple recently gained a measure of notoriety when they gate-crashed a private birthday party and made off with an entire cheese board!)
Others – like Joe, the first ligger I’d ever come across – were far classier. We met back in the 1980s at a Conservative Party fundraiser in London hotel. Guest speaker was soon-to-be-jailed –for-perjury Lord Jeffrey Archer, and I’d been sent by a local newspaper to report on the function.
The evening got off to a surreal start when I arrived in full biker’s leathers (I had my tuxedo and accoutrements in a pannier.) “Oh,” said the concierge “you must be delivering the gear for the party.” Clocking my puzzled expression, he held a nostril shut, made a snorting sound and winked.
Just then the pukka drug courier arrived and I legged it to the gents, where I quickly transformed myself from Hell’s Angel into a dapper dinner-jacketed gent.
As I entered the function room, a suave, elegantly-dressed individual oiled his way to my side, and asked whether I was an official guest. When I said yes he giggled somewhat drunkenly and confessed that he wasn’t. I invited him to explain, and he said that, being jobless and broke he’d hit on a method of eating and drinking free seven days a week.
“All you need,” Joe confided, “is a good suit. And a business card. Then you trawl the hotels and restaurants for top-notch functions and stroll in as though you own the place.”
I stored this information for future use in the event of finding myself out of work and penniless as millions did during the ghastly Thatcher era. Two weeks later I met Joe again at a function at the Café Royal in London. Once more he was impeccably dressed, but much drunker than he was when we first met. Then it all went horribly wrong when a pianist, tinkling away at the keyboard, started playing a Cole Porter number.
Joe drew a barstool up to the piano, and began to bellow the words of “Let’s Do It”. Then he slipped off the stool and fell to the floor. At that point the organisers realised that he wasn’t the journalist he claimed to be. His ligging came to an ignominious end when he was escorted off the premises and told never to show his face there again.
What reminded me of Joe was a delightful festive season luncheon I attended at Restaurante Ongo Etorri in Benidorm a week or so ago. Eighteen of us gathered for the occasion, and, as one might expect, most opted for turkey. What no one expected was that TWO giant birds would be presented to 14 diners, and four legs of lamb to the rest.
As we wrapped up a mountain of leftovers to take home for our loved ones – our dogs – I thought that Joe would have been in his element if he had had the opportunity to share in what was a truly fabulous five-course meal.