The old man had clearly seen enough. He walked past all twelve food outlets in the food hall, examined each menu and then moved on to the next without ordering. When he reached the plastic sofa area he sat down, tucked his cardigan around him, put his hands in his lap and fell asleep. I would have liked to do the same but I have a deep-rooted fear of falling asleep in public. I have this notion that my mouth will fall open and strangers will fill it with gum wrappers and cigarette butts. Crazy, I know, but that’s the way it is. I used to catch a 05:30 train from Hastings to London once a week and would normally have been up all night finishing the work I was due to present in London the following day. So I would curl up in an empty carriage, button my greatcoat around my head to keep the light out of my eyes and fall asleep. About an hour later we would arrive at Tunbridge Wells, land of absurdly confident people, and I would be woken suddenly by a rush of eager workers fresh out of gyms and Jacuzzis who crowded onto the train with really important documents held in front of their faces. I would wake up, undo the buttons and see raw fear on the faces of the people around me as they saw my sleep-deprived, dribbling, open-mouthed face emerge from the folds of an Oxfam coat.
So I made sure I didn’t fall asleep yesterday when I had to kill some time in the food hall of our local shopping centre. But it was tough. The old man had the right idea. Zone out and pretend none of it was happening. Every food hall I have spent time in has been a masterpiece of underachievement, a vast area of white formica, hard chairs and music designed to sedate you just long enough to ignore the fact that your exotic oriental dish tastes exactly the same as the burger you could have bought from the outlet next door. Places like this encourage me to drink heavily and have dark thoughts about the future of humanity. I have an idea for food halls. Forget the food. Rent beds. Some of us need them more than the stuff they call food.