Francis Steed asks:

Surely the art of being a food critic is that you are treated the same way as everyone else, so why does John Lanchester expect special treatment? He was late at Purnell’s (18 December) – nearly 20 minutes late – yet they still served him. Isn’t that a positive recommendation?

Two very good questions! To answer them, we need to examine Lanchester’s issues with the restaurant in a little more detail. His problems were twofold:

  • He phoned the restaurant to let them know he was running late, and nobody answered.
  • When he arrived at 9:18, for a 9:00 booking, he was greeted with the words “I’ll just see if the kitchen is still serving”, rather than something more welcoming.

Francis’s first question, therefore, may be based on a false premise: Lanchester doesn’t seem to believe he should receive special treatment, but rather than normal treatment should have been to greet any 9:18-arriving customer more warmly. Of course, it’s possible his expectations of normal service have become skewed from the norm as a result of his work – he might be used to more cordial treatment, such that normal treatment now feels cold and unwelcoming – but that’s a rather different matter.

The answer to Francis’s second question (“isn’t that a positive recommendation?”), on the other hand, depends on the reader. For Francis, clearly it is a recommendation; for others, it will be neutral; and still other readers will share Lanchester’s view and find it a failing in the restaurant.

Chris Parkins asks:

I’m sure I’m not alone in being unable to tell which of the denim clothes in All Ages are cheap and which are expensive without looking at the text?

You’re certainly not! It can be difficult to tell cheap and expensive clothes apart at the best of times. When you have only photographs to judge by, it gets even harder – and in the case of denim, the advantages that expensive garments may have over their cheaper cousins are particularly difficult to discern at a glance:

  • Expensive jeans are often reported to have a better fit, especially for people whose bodies do not have the model-like shape that many clothes are designed for… but since the “All Ages” clothes are modelled by, well, models, this attribute doesn’t necessarily come across!
  • More expensive denim is said to be softer and more likely to mould to your body over time – again, attributes that don’t come out in a picture.
  • And finally, cheaper denim often loses its colour more quickly – but not until the clothes have been worn and washed repeatedly, so, again, something that is unlikely to come across in a photoshoot.

An additional difficulty comes from the fact that some cheap clothes are as good (whether in terms of design or construction) as some expensive clothes – which is encouraging news for shoppers, but discouraging news for anyone who wants to guess the cost of an item without looking at the price tag!