Utterly Undiscovered – My Basil and the Pigs

Been punching the air this week, ever since Fineleaf Editions said it wants to publish my first book, Utterly Undiscovered – a Fawlty-inspired relocation memoir set in deepest Shropshire.

Here’s the gist:

Council workers Paul and Debbie leave the Brighton rat race to open a Bed and Breakfast so close to the edge of civilisation that a rotting signpost at the crossroads says Shroosbury in one direction and Utterly Undiscovered in the other three. Dubbed My Basil by long-suffering Debbie, Paul fights off furry invaders, fat Americans and teenagers who hang around half-naked. How is it that neighbour Jack finds him crawling across the car park at dawn in his dressing gown? Why does he loiter in a listed Victorian urinal? And how can he discourage the visitors he most fears – winos and noisy parrots?

This extract introduces My Basil:

Four fat Americans, accustomed to fawning service in swanky New York dineries, have dinner in a twee cottage run by a country oik – who can fawn for England if he chooses.

‘Get me some water.’

‘Say please.’

‘We’re finished here – these plates can go.’

‘That’s why I’ve come to collect them, jerk.’  

No pleases, thank yous or appreciation of fine food. I am simply a conveyor belt. Back in the kitchen, self-medicated vin rouge between trips to the dining room and a good deal of ranting help me cope.

‘Bloody Americans! Who the hell do they think they are, arrogant b ––’

‘Ha ha! It’s My Basil!’ Debbie shrieks with delight, little knowing how the label would stick.

There’s no let-up at breakfast.

‘Can I get a poached egg in a cup?’ says one of the Americans.

‘You could try. I’ll hold the cup and you keep throwing the eggs.’

 ‘Your kipper fillets, are they in cans?’ asks another.

‘No, on plates, but I might have an old can in the waste bin I could use.’

The whole notion of kippers is British and slightly eccentric. An acquired taste – which like Marmite you either like or you don’t – the traditional time for eating kippers is at breakfast when you might least expect their strong flavour to be palatable. In Fawlty Towers a whole episode was devoted to the subject, linked to a guest found dead in bed. My experience with the Americans was more short-lived.

‘No, they’re fresh,’ I tell him. ‘Strong tasting, smoky flavour. You either like them or you don’t – one of those things.’

I fetch a sample from the freezer and dangle it before him. The fish brushes the tip of his nose.

‘Terribly sorry, I tried holding it steady,’ My Basil assures him.

He opts for a cupped egg instead.

And like cucumber or garlic, kippers do linger. I never actually met the man I felt most sorry for. His wife-to-be, flattering us by staying at the cottage with her friends for a few days before the wedding, studies the breakfast menu on the morning of the big day. Everything must be just as she wants it.

‘I’ll have the kippers please.’

‘You may now kiss the bride,’ says My Basil to the absent bridegroom.

‘How do you make your cauliflower cheese?’ asks a woman one morning, pointing at the chicken blackboard.

‘Er, with cauliflower – and cheese?’

My Basil is coming along nicely, especially at mealtimes. The fixed three course dinner menu is displayed at breakfast so that guests can book for the evening. Contractors generally prefer a pub meal, but as we start to attract a wider range of customers, dinner at Cricklewood becomes more popular. It’s good income but hard work.

‘Oh, the traditional way.’ I tell the woman. ‘Country herbs and spices.’

I put “country” before everything now. It sounds great! Country cottage, country views, spicy country muesli, the country hedgerow jam I make and sell. Country rats, country septic tank …

‘What? No bacon?’ she says.

‘Telling me how to cook in my own home?’ says My Basil. ‘Outrageous!’

The customer is right of course. They always are. But I have to say no or it would be unfair on others who’ve already opted for my “country” cauliflower cheese.

‘If there’s no bacon, I won’t bother,’ she says.

‘Please yourself.’

‘Have a lovely day,’ I say – with a country smile.

Paul Costello © November 2012

Utterly Undiscovered. Out spring 2013. ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

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