I was in the depths of duller than dull domestic chores when the text message arrived:
How does posh Indian in Mayfair sound for dinner tonight?
It sounds like heaven, I reply.
My astonishing friend Dee, whom I have known for nigh on twenty years, is waiting for me at Victoria Station. I fall into her arms and surprise us both by bursting into tears when she says she thought we might begin the evening - which is on her - with drinks at the Ritz.
If you knew how far that idea is from anything in my life right now... I splutter. She doesn't need me to explain. We go way back.
All dressed up for Christmas, London feels sexy and exciting. It's like being around an ex-lover you haven't seen for a while. It makes me feel a little more exciting, too.
Chatting madly, we catch the Tube to Green Park and I catch the buzz. What would have driven me crazy on a routine rush-hour journey when I lived in this city, now appears both desirable and impossible. Why would anyone live like this? I catch myself thinking, coupled with an enormous yearning to jump right back in.
The Ritz is another world. A liveried doorman bids us 'good evening' as we climb the red-carpeted stairs. Everywhere we turn there are sweet-smelling Christmas trees dripping with silver and gold. White twinkly fairy-lights stud the walls.
First off, we take a trip to the Ladies, as much to try out the lotions and potions as to relieve ourselves. It's all pink pastels and cherubs. There is a sofa down there, too, in a roccoccoed resting area of which Watteau would be proud. Frosted glass bottles of chilled water marked simply 'Ritz of London' sit on a little table in the corner, awaiting the dainty patronage of a fainting maiden, as do the various glossy magazines strewn on the coffee table - Tatler, The Spectator and one or two upmarket travel brochures for Africa. Of course: what better to do in a pause from the beautiful upstairs than plan one's next safari?
Thrilled and refreshed we find the bar, only to be taken through a curiously elaborate game of Will There, Won't There (Be a Table) by the dashing Italian Maitre d'.
'Oh, ladies, you haven't booked? I'm so sorry, the bar it is fully booked... Perhaps in twenty minuti? Ah, wait! For you, I will find a little niche, signore, a little sofa, perhaps, if you don't mind sharing for now..?'
We couldn't be happier to share. The sofa he offers us is, after all, half a wall long. And it is in the long hallway through which the hotel clientele must pass to reach their rooms. Since Dee and I share an eye for the absurd, we are in people-watching heaven. I am especially blessed, as my voluptuous armchair is tilted towards the wall, which is a long panel of paned mirrors, so I am able to stare to my heart's content at the various tableaux played out behind me.
A mother and father pass through with their three daughters of varying ages, each sporting long blonde hair and identical pink coats. We identify at least one gorgeous callgirl, and several unhappy rich wives. We squeal with delight that we are here, together, calling ourselves on a life we wouldn't want to live fulltime but which is irresistible to visit every now and again...
We each drink one slim glass of champagne before heading off for our meal. Our conversation, the velvet ambience, our palpable love for each other - all these work over the golden hour to soften life's recent rough edges.
Oh, the salve of friendship.