It is impossible not to have banter at Nando's. Nando's is, very simply, a place of banter. Nobody's been broken up with in a Nando's, have they? But hundreds of thousands of people have been bantered there in some way: a chip thrown across a table, a slug of garlic sauce poured on the crotch of their jeans, someone’s Tinder account unlocked on their phone and passed around the table. Nando's is, as the Portuguese say, bantaré.
But then The Independent Group formed, and ruined it. In case you have not caught up: last week, seven Labour MPs resigned from the party and formed a sort of beige policy-less offshoot group with a website that kept crashing, and a few days later four Conservative MPs did the same and joined them.
Here they all are, look, at Nando's, trying to tiptoe around the fact that they don't have a leader and that Chuka Umunna, their de facto big boi so far, seems to be avoiding the position like a plague:
There is a lot to process here, but most importantly I see this as a violent affront to The People: Nando's is vital to us, and they are doing it wrong. If you broke British culture down now – dismantled the Queen and the corgis and the teapots and the RAF – and built it up again from the bones anew, it would be this: Nando's and Dairy Milk and having a complicated relationship with Cheryl Cole. Having a favourite series of Big Brother and sneaking Haribo into the cinema with all the adrenaline of a violent crime. Loving or hating the 2018 World Cup run with all the energy in your body. Mums in long dresses, complaining in Debenhams. And, for fuck's sake, it would be built on a cornerstone of peri-peri salt on your chips. Broadsheet galactic brains like to pretend they don’t get Nando’s, as if there is anything to get beyond this: it is spicy chicken that always tastes good at an affordable price point. It is literally never not a bad idea to offer everyone out to the Nando’s. It solves every argument about where to eat ever had. It is the only place vegans and half-a-chicken protein lads can eat elbow-to-elbow. It is Britain.
Despite that, our out-of-touch sort-of-politicians have conspired to create a complete dearth of banter in this photo, and that is an insult to the chicken restaurant we hold dear. It is a banter wasteland, an arid desert of merk. But we must calculate it somehow. We must calculate it, anyway, together.
FIRST QUESTION FIRST: WHO ORDERED WHAT?
You might not be familiar with the exact members of Britain's most underwhelming non-affiliated political group, so I’ve done you a labelled diagram here to keep you up:
If you ever get lost: Joan Ryan is the one who looks like an ill CRUFTS entrant at the back; Gavin Shuker is the one who looks like he won a school assembly public speaking competition so hard he immediately got transposed into the body of a middle-aged man at the front; Gapes is the pink one; Anna Soubry is the murderess who just killed a plate of chips here at the front.
So order-wise, R-to-L, you have this: Anna Soubry has gone for a plain salad with a bowl of plain chips which she has drenched in ketchup (we'll get to that); Chuka has gone for a churrasco burger with non-peri chips; Luciana Berger has a pitta with sweetcorn and chips; Mike Gapes' plate is both empty and has been pushed away from him, which leads me to think he’s consumed his food before everyone else even had the chance to pick at even one of their chips; Ann Coffey is too far at the back to tell properly, but she seems to have a leafy salad and, judging by the fact she is sawing with both pieces of cutlery, some sort of protein in the form of chicken or halloumi. I’m going to guess she’s gone for a single chicken breast, mild.
Then we have the other side: it’s impossible to tell what Chris Leslie has; Joan Ryan seems to have a beige plate in front of her, which – from the vague shapes and semi-yellow corn blob – makes me think she copied Luciana Berger’s order exactly; Wollaston has, as best I can tell, some plain chips; HEIDI ALLEN HAS AN ENTIRE FUCKING WING ROULETTE TO HERSELF; Angela Smith has clearly asked, "What’s the plainest one you do?" and is disappointed to find her salad and salted chicken breast are both too spicy; Shuker has the chicken thighs, chips, coleslaw. Nobody on this table has added peri-salt to their chips. To repeat that: nobody on this table has added peri-salt to their chips.
From that food order alone, I can make the following assertion with almost 99 percent confidence: only three of the 11 people at this table have ever been to Nando’s before (Umunna, Berger, Shuker), because only they have the semi-developed food order of someone who has been there previously. Mike Gapes had to have it slowly explained to him that he wasn’t going to a curry restaurant. Angela Smith is absolutely fuming it isn’t a Zizzi's. Heidi Allen pretended she’s been to Nando’s before, but then ordered an entire fucking wing roulette to herself, thus giving away that she has not, actually, been to Nando’s before.
A further assertion we can make from that information alone: this Nando’s trip was, therefore, a carefully calculated PR move-cum-attempt to relate to The People, and it has failed miserably because of the inhuman cues visible in the photo above. As a result, the banter of the photo has already taken a -5 hit before we’ve even begun.
QUESTION: WHAT THE RED FUCK HAS ANNA SOUBRY DONE TO HER CHIPS
Normally I wouldn’t really question someone’s ketchup-to-chip relationship – if you want to inelegantly smudge ketchup on the top of your bowl of chips so only the top five chips get an excessive amount of ketchup on them and none of the under-chips get any seasoning at all, then that’s fine, that’s on you, I’m not going to suggest you get a ramekin or plate and squirt the ketchup on there and dip each chip in individually; if you’re eight years old and not yet learned that that's the best way to ketchup a chip then I’m going to let you go on that journey alone – but the two things about Anna Soubry in this photo that are making me pause are:
- She’s eating these (plain) ketchup massacre chips alongside what appears to be plain salad, no chicken
- She’s looking at the camera like you just walked into the basement she just killed her lover in
So now I’m convinced the ketchup-on-chips move isn’t the berserk work of an out-of-touch MP who only has chips once every five years: it’s the active choice of a maniac and a killer, giving away their Zodiac-like clues that will lead us to the bodies if we can only decode them. By the sheer fact that Anna Soubry’s pathological chip-under-ketchup play makes me fear for my life: she has bought down the banter of this photo by one.
CONSIDER THE TEAM OF ASSISTANTS JUST OUT OF VIEW
No MP goes to Nando’s unaccompanied, and no MP goes to Nando’s without quietly checking with a small team of two-to-three underlings whether it’s "good optics" to go to Nando’s, and because there are no young weak-necked graduates-in-suits in view of this photo it is semi-safe to assume they are sat behind the camera of this, at an offshoot table, quietly eating as much medium chicken as their per diem can handle and all nervously shooting glances at Mike Gapes to make sure he doesn’t swallow a thigh bone and need a two-man Heimlich again.
Their nervous energy – not visible but palpable in the photo above – brings our banter score down by one.
DRINKING IN NANDO’S: AN ESSAY
Despite Nando’s being a class-levelling come-one-come-all chicken carnival with a fun-time atmosphere and the low-lighting to boot, it’s actually quite a strange place to have an alcoholic drink. Drinking in Nando’s is, I feel, a little like drinking on a plane: fun in theory but then, in practice, it just makes you feel odd and wrong and a little sordid. Plus: why would you drink a single £4 bottle of lager where, for a quid less, you can have unlimited access to Fanta? The logistics of it don’t make sense.
And you can tell here that it’s amateur hour from the drinking on show in the photo. Gavin Shuker has allowed himself the one beer he gets a month: fine. Angela Smith has the single large glass of white she uses as a sort of wet cork to stop her from shouting anything about funny tinges: also fine. Ann Coffey and Mike Gapes are splitting a bottle of red, which is a manic thing to do in a Nando’s, frankly. Allen, Wollaston, Ryan and Leslie all seem to have gone for the refillable soda, which is correct, but none of them will have the nuts to mix Fanta and Coke together in one glass like you’re supposed to. Then, at the front, Anna Soubry. I’m going to defer to my more eloquent colleague Alhan Gençay for this one:
This is the only bottle of water Nando’s has sold this calendar year. The woman has never been disappointed by the frozen yoghurt there in her life. Minus four banter.
HOW PSYCHOTIC AN ORDER IS AN ENTIRE WING ROULETTE TO YOURSELF ON THE SCALE OF ONE TO 'CHARLES THE MAD KING OF FRANCE'
I truly believe a wing roulette to yourself and absolutely nothing else is the most chilling Nando’s order you can possibly make, and Heidi Allen should be locked up for the good of the entire country. It does, weirdly, add 20 banter to the overall score though.
HOW LIKELY IS IT THAT THEY ALL ORDERED 'LEMON AND HERB' AND ANGELA SMITH ASKED FOR WHAT WAS BELOW 'PERI TAMER'?
1,000 percent. This does not affect the banter rating in any discernible way but: one hundred percent. One hundred-thousand percent.
HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT TOOK ANGELA SMITH TO GET HER HEAD ROUND THE FACT THAT THERE WAS NO TABLE SERVICE?
"So it’s what?" Angela Smith is saying. She’s been trying to get one of the black-polo waitresses over since she got here. Gavin Shuker typing everyone’s order out on his phone, hot hand full of the coins Mike Gapes insists on paying for everything he buys with, one rank fiver and a load of coppers. "You have to what? Go up and queue"
"It’s very simple, Angela," Shuker’s saying. He’s turning his head to the exact angle she’s holding her menu at to help. “So you pick what you want here—“ he points “— then you pick how spicy you want it here,” and he also points.
“No, I don’t want it spicy,” she says. No, again: the mild really is very mild. It’s basically just lemon and herb.
“And we go up?”
It’s been 20 minutes. Gapes did his clear-out shit as soon as they got through the door, and if this goes on any longer he’s going to have to do another. Everyone is tired of Angela Smith’s bollocks already and the party doesn’t even have a leader yet. They decide to just get her a pitta. Minus five.
CROSS PARTY BANTER CONFIGURATION: AN ANALYSIS OF WHO SITS WHERE
If you’ve ever been to a Work Christmas Party Meal – or a Work Friday Birthday Meal, the same vibe stretched across a different month – you will be aware of this already: every time you sit down at a long banquet-configured table with ten or more colleagues, you have a hesitant moment where you pull your chair out and realise, with a clunk of dread, you are sat opposite the driest and most unfamiliar member of staff in the office. Consider, for example, Chuka Umunna. In this example you are Chuka. Here are the relationships you are heading into when you sit down:
As you can see from the key, the yellow thread (Angela Smith) is his main interaction: this means he’s going to have a very tedious meal. The blue threads (Murderess, Luciana Berger) are secondary interactions: it’s possible for him to talk to them, but he has to turn awkwardly each time he wants to. Then the pink thread (Shuker, Heidi Allen’s Barmy Army) suggests he can possibly crowbar himself into any banter they might be having, but he has to overwhelm the we-cracked-this-tomb-open-inside-an-undiscovered-pyramid-and-Angela-Smith-was-inside fuming glare sitting opposite him.
Figure out the configuration of threads and you can figure out who is the most popular person at the table (Luciana Berger: it’s big behaviour to sit head-and-centre there, and Heidi Allen has clearly worked herself opposite her); who turned up last because someone was dawdling about locking their bike up or doing their second shit (Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes); and who is the least popular person at the table (Chris Leslie, out there on his own, an island unto himself, the 11th chair on a ten-chair table). If you had to ask me which the worst conversation to eavesdrop over the course of the night would be, I would have to say "Mike Gapes asking Sarah Wollaston if she has any holidays planned, hot through a mouthful of cheesecake". Negative 20 banter.
GROWN FUCKING ADULTS TAKING A SELFIE IN THE FIRST PLACE
You can tell this photo is Gavin Shuker’s idea, because the photo has clearly been taken on the phone of whoever was nearest to the parliament lackey who agreed to take it, and – out of him and Soubry – I’m not backing The Murderess to be down for a group shot. Much like "knowing how to order at Nando’s", "knowing what to do with your face during a group photo" is a young person’s game, and Shuker, Umunna and Berger are the only ones who really get through this (and the alternate angle where they’re literally all doing something mad with their hands) with any grace: Heidi Allen constantly seems to be in some state of university-netball-league-away-day collapse, Smith looks miserable to be alive, Soubry’s plotting who’s next, Gapes is planning his third shit, Wollaston and Ryan are both somehow the Year 5 teacher you heard had died until you saw them buying Pink Lady apples in Waitrose that time, Ann Coffey’s posing for a painting, Chris Leslie’s just glad he got invited. Once you go past 35 or get elected to Parliament or both, you’re banned from taking selfies, sorry. Three points of banter for the good faces, seven negative points for the bad.
I’m giving one additional banter point for the fact Mike Gapes, between the two photos taken on the night, goes slightly pinker when his food turns up, but overall the score is this: minus 19 banter, akin to your dog dying at your mum’s funeral. I wish The Independent Group luck, but I also respectfully ask they stick to the MP-only wine bars and eateries of Westminster. Nando’s is for the people, not for you. It’s not for you.