‘Pint of Doom Bar, please,’ I said to the black-clad bar woman at The Snuff Pincher.
‘Anything else?’ she said, glancing up from her mobile.
‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘Just the pint, when you’re ready – no hurry.’
Slipping the phone into her flares, she began drawing the classic Cornish brew. The men at the bar rested their pints and, like corn in a breeze, swayed in unison to the opening and closing of the young woman’s cleavage as she eased the pump to and fro.
The wrinkled man next to me, in a kind of Zebedee posture, bent knees counterbalancing shoulders rounded from years at the bar, pushed a ripped-open packet of broken Cheddars towards me.
‘Ooshie woosh ooshie,’ he said, bouncing lightly and holding out half a biscuit. The mustard-coloured strip through the middle of his grey moustache matched a yellowing patch round the centre parting of a lank, Billy Connolly frizz. On the ceiling, like rings in a tree, the ochre circle told how many years he’d stood on that spot before smoking was banned.
‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘I’ll be wooshie-ing later.’
Sat at a corner table, surrounded by Coldplay’s Fix You and with a tasty 4% entering my bloodstream, I quickly mellowed. Nearby, a gathering of youngsters, several of whom had clearly forgotten to check their baseball caps were facing the right way, alternated between sips of Stowfords Cider and going out for a roll-up. My appetite was whetted by the Sharp’s beer and the large portion of chips I watched them sharing.
‘Lamb shank with boiled potatoes, please,’ I said to a different woman, her raised hair canopying out like frayed Shredded Wheat.
‘Table number?’ she said.
‘Hang on,’ I said, dashing back to check the little disc.
‘Anything else?’ she said.
‘A pint of Doom Bar, please.’
‘Anything else?’ she said, her hand still hovering over the till.
‘The pint would be nice – when you’re ready,’ I said.
‘Help yourself to cutlery, sauces – and anything else,’ she said, pointing vaguely across the large room.
What appeared to be a chef ran out from the swing doors at the end of the bar and started nuzzling the woman from behind, like he was trying to take her waist measurement. I wondered if his hair was shiny from the fatty atmosphere or might itself be a source for the fryers.
‘It’s Christmas! Yea-a-h! Get it on, babe!’ he said, for all to hear.
‘Anything else?’ she asked in a distracted way, as she handed me the pint.
‘No,’ I said, ‘but should I perhaps come round and prepare the meal myself?’
‘That’s all right, love. We’ll do it for you.’
‘Very kind,’ I said.
‘How sweet it all is,’ I thought, as I collected the essentials and raised myself back onto table 24.
Relaxing into my second pint, I took out the pocket razor strop I use to sharpen my front teeth for opening packs of peanuts and condiments. Then, idly checking the label on my sachet of mint sauce, this is what I found:
Nuts, Peanuts, Sesame Seeds, Mustard, Celery, Wheat, Barley, Fish, Eggs, Soybeans, Milk, Sulphites and Cereals containing Gluten
Wait a minute! Fish? FISH? In my mint sauce? Call me old-fashioned, but I really don’t want fish in my mint sauce. Nor eggs. Nor milk. What’s going on?
I’d like mint though – but there’s no mention of that! I’d be happy with mint, water, vinegar, a touch of sugar, flavouring perhaps (I might even buy into the mustard and celery for that), and even the ubiquitous xanthan gum, popular since first allowed by the scriptures:
And these you shall regard as an abomination … they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; the little owl, the fisher owl, and the screech owl; the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture; the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat. But, yeah, xanthan gum would be all right. (Leviticus. 11. 13-18)
I was less surprised seeing “nuts and peanuts” on the label. Ever since the causal link between nuts and anaphylactic shock, all food manufacturers protect against litigation by stating nuts as a possible content. Bread – may contain nuts. Minced beef – may contain nuts. Lettuce – may contain nuts. Even a pack of KP Salted Nuts says: “This product may contain nuts”. Great!
But what about the other ingredients? Well, I’ve since found out they’re all down to cottage industry at a commune in Canon Frome, a mint sauce production plant in idyllic Herefordshire farmland; where the air is thick with wheat and barley pollen that settles in the mixing tank; and trout that frequent the nearby brook sometimes land in the vat when they mistime a mosquito jump; and chicken that roost in the rafters are heard yelling: ‘Couldn’t hold it any longer – think I just fired a double yolker into the mix!’; and where staff aren’t careful enough with their elevenses of tofu and milk (garnished with sesame seeds) – and to make it worse, high on the tofu, forget to add any mint.
The lamb shank was good, though I skipped the mint sauce. But the next day, curious about what I’d missed, I liquidised a small pack of Co-op mixed nuts, half a herring, a teaspoon of sesame seeds, a pinch of mustard powder, two Weetabix, a stick of celery, a barley sugar, three medium eggs, a pint of semi-skimmed and a dash of soy sauce. It was a bit on the fishy side and not quite as green as essential Waitrose Mint Sauce, but I froze some in my ice cube tray for “Guess what’s in it?” games when friends call.
Now to tomato ketchup.
My favourite brand contains: peanuts, grapefruit, Licorice Allsorts, Waldorf salad, raw prawns, McDonald’s nuggets, goat’s milk, tripe, xanthan gum and Fry’s Turkish Delight.
But maybe someone has a better recipe …
Paul Costello © January 2013
Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. Comical Bed and Breakfast memoir.
Out spring 2013. Publisher: Fineleaf Editions. www.fineleaf.co.uk