Donuts and Toilets

On a recent trip to Stroud I spotted a postie delivering letters to the Wy Wong takeaway, and since my mind works in mysterious ways I imagined that the white envelopes scattered across the mat were from dissatisfied customers answering that very question.

2014-08-30 13.56.43‘Because it wasn’t the weightwatchers version I asked for,’ might be one reply, or ‘because as always I was still hungry after eating it.’ Or simply, ‘because you forgot to put in the prawn crackers.’ That sort of thing.

Naturally, I jotted these thoughts in the Moleskine writer’s notebook that follows me around, its pages rich with wacky catering snippets – a source of writing inspiration only surpassed by people’s moronic mismanagement of mobiles in public.

A lot of material has come from Indian Restaurants – probably because I’m in them so often. The chicken madras in the Rice ’n Spice at Haywards Heath according to the menu contained ‘avid black pepper’. In the Bengal Lancer at Llanelli you could get a ‘potion of chips’ (spooky).The Bilash at Rugeley offered ‘King Prawn Roshuni – a pleasant dish of king prawns made by our chef,’ which sounded, well, really pleasant. When I hurried the order along at the Jalsagor in Hereford the manager said he’d ‘hasten the papadums in a minute.’ And in the Taste of India at Leominster the menu described chicken tikka as ‘tender pieces of lamb cooked in …’. I wondered if it might have been ‘torn’ chicken – torn, that is, between whether it was a chicken or a lamb. It got eaten, so we can’t ask it now.

Elsewhere, a sign in Tesco exhorted me to buy puddings: ‘Life’s Short – Eat Dessert First’. In the same store a man asked the shelf filler if they had any Camp coffee. ‘Ooooo, I’m not sure. Now let me see-ee.’ And in a lovely cafe called Quinns in Worcester the menu offered ‘a lovely large bowl of home-made soup, lovely salads, lovely old-fashioned puddings and orange squash served in a lovely plastic cup with a straw’. Lovely. I was, however, appalled to see 30p for a glass of tap water with ice and lemon at Nice Things cafe in Ledbury, a charge sensibly removed by new owners.

Further afield, I liked the English blackboard menu outside the Hotel Verol Restaurant, which included chicken breast with chips, chicken wings with chips – and chicken tights with chips, presumably a thirty denier Las Palmas speciality.

I'm sure there's a chimp in here somewhere.

I’m sure there’s a chimp in here somewhere

And during a three-night stay in Bangkok I took a shine to a nearby fish restaurant – Kuang Seafood – which had numerous fish tanks fronting the street. Families and business people filled the room each evening, waiters brandishing huge trays of mouth-watering delicacies and chefs periodically lowering their nets into the bubbling homes of red snappers and catfish. In Thailand what we know as prawns are called shrimps; and tucked among the long list of shrimp dishes I found ‘Baked Chimp with salt’. I didn’t fancy the salt and opted instead for crab curry and fried rice with fish.

On the move, I particularly enjoyed the jolly Welsh trolley man on Arriva trains between Manchester and Cardiff. Happy in his work and determined to offer travellers a new experience, his operatic rendition of ‘Just One Cornetto’ lightened the atmosphere of a crowded carriage, as did his later promotion of sea serpents and snake venom in as deadpan a way as one might sell Walkers crisps or KitKats.

And on a bus near Gloucester I overheard a woman telling fellow travellers they should try a cafe in Herne Bay, Kent which sold ‘the best garlic bread in the world’. Okay – tomorrow perhaps.

I’m used to restaurants glossing their menus; outrageous descriptions are now so commonplace that I rarely bother noting them. A roadside Brewers Fayre listed ‘fresh, hand-battered, pole-and-line caught Cornish cod, served on a bed of chef’s chunky, crispy-dipped potato strips and topped with a jus of caper-infused mayo rich in mountain tarragon’. To you and me, fish and chips with tartar sauce. Even M&S gets in on the act with ‘handcrafted, British pork sausage rolls’. And I found a fine example at the Seven Stars pub in Ledbury: ‘complex, muscular yet graceful, with fine length and lovely maturity’. Not as I had imagined some sort of sex service, but a bottle of Bolinger for fifty quid. A stark contrast with the pundit on a TV wine tasting who glugged some red and got ‘a WVS clothing store’.

2014-11-04 11.04.31

Only last week I found that a Weston-super-Mare seafront cafe had thoughtfully placed its menu on the outside wall.

Only two choices. But which first, that’s the exciting thing?

Eenie, meenie, miney …

 

 

Copyright © Paul Costello November 2014

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. A hilarious Bed and Breakfast memoir set in deepest Shropshire. Order through bookshops or direct from http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

Website: www.paulcostello.me                 Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Out of my Way! I’m Old!

Like a hatching chickI break out from my curled-up comfort. My head emerges first, before I unfurl my back, straighten limbs and tumble from the protective duvet. Like a dishevelled fledgling, I then take the first tentative steps.

There the likeness collapses. The baby bird will soon be hopping its Duracell way through the day, whereas I tackle my tottering with a line of tabs, each colour shoring up a different part of the body.

It’s a wonder

I ever come out of

the foetal position.

I sleep eight to ten hours a night, topped up with daytime naps. Friends worry; they think I should see a doctor. Some suggest it’s a waste of life. But this can’t be true if it’s something I really like doing. I’ve enjoyed this amount of sleep since I was a lad. I mean ENJOYED! I love the act of falling asleep – a surgeon’s ideal patient!

I’ve always asserted that sleeping and what some see as ‘doing nothing’ are life’s entitlements. Sitting on a park bench people-watching, or just thinking and snoozing are stimulating and rewarding pastimes, as is daytime television. Legitimate and deliciously self-indulgent.

When I recently retired, the most annoying question was:

‘What will you do now?’

Oh, COME ON! Spare the cliché. Okay, when I’m not doing nothing I’m obviously going to sleep more! In fact my avowed aim is gradually to sleep a greater proportion of each twenty four hours so that by the time my body finally pegs out I probably won’t notice. Seriously, that is a crass question. Although many retirees don’t have a plan, it’s never long before their hectic life spawns the other cliché:

‘I don’t know where I found the time before.’

For me, retirement means more of what I love – exploring, writing, singing, drinking tea, going to the pub, seeing friends and yes, sleeping and doing nothing. Perhaps doing something charitable. Definitely having a nice run out on the bus (free) or train (third-off), knowing that on the train I can now gloat when I see sweaty executives slaving over tablets and laptops and taking and making numerous calls about  sustaining and maintaining and finding a window, being needlessly noisy about bottom-line prices and blue-sky b****y thinking.

A friend of mine approaching 60 says he’ll never retire – loves his work too much. His wife who is retired is as driven as him. I get exhausted watching them overstretch themselves, and wonder if they’re really fulfilled. But that is no more my business than it is for others to comment on my idleness. Everyone is different. This is not a blueprint for retirement or growing old; it’s simply my take on it.

Being idle is great!

Every day, as I squeeze out of my foetal wrap, I think:

‘What shall I do today?’

Starting with:

‘When shall I get up?’

And later, in my dressing gown:

‘Is it worth getting dressed now that it’s dark?’

Such luxury! I’ve spent forty-five years earning my modest pensions, thirty as an employed slave, fifteen grafting for myself. I now have freedom to decide.

I shall do anything and nothing.

Because I can.

Given that I’m into the last third of my life, I have thirty or so years still to indulge this passion for freedom – that’s assuming I don’t go early. I’ve never been afraid of dying. Que sera, sera. Okay, I might have ideas about good or bad ways of going, but since it’s a hundred percent certain that I will, I’ve never felt inclined to spend my waking life worrying about it. That’s for others to do, and I offer you my condolences in advance – you’re all fab, and do sell this article to fund the celebrations! Hey, I really am a surgeon’s best friend – I not only love going to sleep, but if I happen to die on him it’s no great shakes! Perhaps I should make that clear on the disclaimer. What a way to go – gently into eternal sleep.

I doubt I’ll age with dignity.

My dad did, bless him. To his dying day he was the cee aitch in charm. Yet he wasn’t beyond a trick or two. I remember him saying how, when he wanted to cross the road, he’d wave his walking stick (which was for comfort not necessity) high in the air, and the traffic would grind to a halt with drivers acknowledging his oh so innocent smile.

My mum, mid-90s, is more ‘say it as you see it’. I heard somewhere that the first brain cells to die are those that help you respect social norms. Inhibitor cells, perhaps? Without these, in a room full of pink-haired people you’re allowed angrily to declare:

‘I don’t like pink hair!’

Or in a TV lounge, yell:

‘Why are all the Arsenal players black?’

What a great excuse! No-one can possibly take offence.

‘It’s just my inhibitor cells!’

If you can’t speak your mind at that age, when can you? See it as alternative humour; there’s far more offensive material on the comedy circuit.

I have these joys to come.

I too shall raise a stick to traffic. I too shall greet people with, ‘How lovely to see you again’, even though I can’t remember who the hell they are. I too shall berate the lawn man who doesn’t trim my edges neatly. And I too shall growl, ‘Out of my way!’ to innocent pedestrians as I mow them down on my mobility scooter before freewheeling home down the centre of the road with my legs in the air.

I shall say ‘pah’ to Michael Parkinson for asking me to fork out my funeral expenses up front when people could perfectly well club together after I’ve gone. ‘Yah boo’ to the stooges on McCarthy and Stone hoardings who promise ‘A Greater Life in Later Life’ if you buy one of their apartments. (Yeah right). ‘Grrr’ to Saga Magazine for overusing both Angela Rippon’s smile and the term ‘Golden Years’. And I shall yawn openly at bronzed elderlies who mechanically recite their tick list – Australia, New Zealand, Tibet, Argentina, Brazil, China and Borneo ‘done’ so far – or bang on about Glucosamine Sulphate and Condroitin, or have dinner at exactly 6.30 every day and lunch at 12.

Each day I shall decide what I’d like to do. If anything. Because I can. For the next thirty years I’ll feel as free as that young chick – as I slowly shrink, and stoop, and bend, back towards the foetal position where it all began.

Copyright © Paul Costello May 2014  www.paulcostello.me

Related blogs:  A Last BananaThe Commandments for Older People – Thou shalt …Warfarin Junkie;  Programme Notes from Les Miserables.

Related material: Chapter titled: Caught Napping, in my Bed and Breakfast memoir Utterly Undiscovered. www.fineleaf.co.uk

Latest Project:  Terms and Conditions Apply – a play by Paul Costello. A sharp-witted comedy about a 5-year coalition government, seen through the eyes of ordinary, suburban households and, in stark contrast, the rose-tinted spectacles of politicians. Director Bob Maynard. Ledbury Market Theatre 31st July to 2nd August.  www.themarkettheatre.com

 

Note:  Any promotional material that appears below this article has been placed independently and is unrelated. I have no views on its content.

 

 

 

 

Postcardd ffrom Llanelli

Hiya Holly!

Guess what – I’m in Doctor Who territory! Having trundled along from Cardiff, my Arriva two-coacher dropped me off at Llanelli and disappeared round the bend towards Camarthen, hooting happily like Gordon the Big Blue Engine. And under a perfect holiday sky, I headed for the sea.

Ood

Ood

‘But, hm, where is it?’ I thought, following signs for ‘the beach’. 100_2438Sand and mud stretched for miles, and barren mud gullies, dressed with Asda trollies and bike tyres, reached towards the town like the tentacles of an Ood.

I had to wait till teatime for water briefly to invade the flats – before nothingness returned. And apart from the ubiquitous seagulls, there was little evidence of estuary birds. It’s as if water and waders took one look and decided: ‘Hm – perhaps some other time.’

Alongside the railway and mudflats runs the tundra-like Millennium Coastal Park, its Tarmac trails and rough-cropped grass affording little shade and few benches on which to sit and ponder the mud. A solitary ship-shaped building, the Coastal Park Discovery Centre, offers basic comforts, including a smart cafe and balcony with elevated views of perhaps an extra mile of mud. In the shop, you can buy fluffy green and red dragons, plastic green and red rugby balls with dragons on, and knitted green and red tea cosies (dragons optional), all from a trestle table laid out first thing and cleared away at 4 o’clock sharp. Outside, an overflowing litter bin is clearly popular for burger boxes and nappies.

But what may pass for a lack of imagination is more than made up for by friendly people. And they speak English. In the cafe, I overheard a woman with a strong Welsh accent explaining to her friend how nothing was more annoying than people talking Welsh as you entered the room. I nodded across, smiling!

The Welsh language is distinctive. Lots of ddouble lletters – hard if you have a stutter, llethal with ffalse teeth! And there’s a ‘y’ in every other word, and ‘w’ insteadd of ‘u’, like bws (bus) or Millenniwm (Millennium). The strangest I’ve heardd is a place name on Anglesey starting Fanfare something and endding God God God. Perhaps it’s a religious thing – you know, a call to God? I mean, they do have llots of chapels here.

I’m staying at the Coastal Grill with Accommodation. It seems the ffashion to call places: ‘Bistro with Accommodation’ or ‘Restaurant with Rooms’. Posh soundding – until you step inside and ffind they’re just orddinary B&Bs!

100_2454

Tardis shower

The shower in my room (Nwmber 15) is llike the control console of the Tardis. There are no instrwctions, and the llist on the outside wall talks more of llifestyle than knob control:100_2458

–  Immediately shower after strenuous exercise inadvisable.

–  Leave at once if feel uncomfortable when                                                taking steambath.

Llike David Tennant, I push at the bank of bwttons andd pull at chrome llevers wntil smoke and steam gwshes from every spout and the capsule shwdders as transportation begins. This morning I found myself being llathered ddown by Miss Llanelli 1957 – how I llove that abillity to ddrop in anywhere, anytime!  But it was a sharp awakening as the air cleared to a washbasin with no pllwg, a benddy, plastic toilet seat that ddoesn’t stay wp, and a wardrobe door that swings open when people go in and out of Nwmber 16 – handy when I want a clean shirt.

Each morning, the llandlord, who is also cook, greets people and takes their breakffast ordder. His ddaily pleasure is itemising the Ffull Welsh – never the same two ddays rwnning.

‘Today’s Full Welsh is bacon, sausage, fried egg, half a grilled tomato, baked beans, button mushrooms and a hash brown,’ he said enthusiastically on my ffirst morning.

On the secondd morning, I eagerly awaited the new menu.

‘Today’s Full Welsh is bacon, sausage, fried egg, baked beans, button mushrooms, hash brown, and this morning,’ he added prouddly with ddramatic pause, ‘it’s tinned tomato.’

Tinned tomato! Mmm!

The third dday was like the ffirst bwt with halff a fflat mwshroom insteadd of bwttons. Then, somewhat bizarrely, he added, ‘Or kippers with butter,’ which seemed as incongruous as the Tardis in the beddroom and as unlikely as ffindding ffreshly picked, pimento-stufffed olives in Lidl.

100_2481

Theatre Elli

100_2498

Council garddens

In empathy with its mwddy estuary, Llanelli town has an iddentity crisis. The main shops have moved out, the theatre (Theatr Elli) has closed andd the cinema converted to a Wetherspoons. Home Bargain Stores, Cash Generators and charity shops dominate the centre. Bwt in the middst of this plainness, set out serenely behindd the imposing Victorian Town Hall, lie the beautiffully manicured Council garddens, with colourfful beds, comffortable benches and a grand banddstand lladen with plwsh hanging baskets.

And the llong rows of terraced houses, tidily painted in neat pastels, with satellite ddishes 100_2486pointing symetrically to the heavens llistening for the Doctor’s return, are testimony to the undderlying vibrance of the community. Street names llike Great Western Crescent (Gilgant Great Western), Railway Terrace (Teras y Rheilfordd) andd Railway Place (Fford y Wagen) hint at the extensive railway network servicing the coal, steel andd tin inddustries in Llanelli’s heydday. Only the pretty, toytown coastal lline remains.

Time ffor reffreshment. The delightfful llandllady of the one surviving tradditional town centre pwb, the Double Dragon, ddeffies ddesigner bars like Stamps andd The Met – offering great beer, andd ddarts matches five ddays a week. Andd twcked between the kebab take-aways and overbearing Asda, the Bengal Lancer serves a cracking Prawn Methi andd Aloo Sag. A handdwritten notice promotes ‘Potion of Chips’ for £2.50. But no need for strange brews – ffive pints of Felinfoel and a curry brings on slleep soon enough!

Any llwck with a job yet? I know it’s not easy for gradduates these ddays …

Llove Paul

Paul Costello © August 2013

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello

cropped-paul-and-book-7-13-3.jpg

Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

www.fineleaf.co.uk/titles/utterlyundiscove.html

A fabulous holiday read!

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Postcard from Torquay

Dear Uncle Harry.

I’m on a short break in the English Riviera – a grand name embracing the likes of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.

And what better way to spend my first day than a boat trip from Torquay? With the weather set fair, mackerel fishing seemed a good idea, and from the fierce competition for a two-hour trip I picked a vessel called Wave Rider – rather romantic I thought.

A mile out, my suspicions were aroused when the captain – called Ahab according to the name emblazoned across his stained tee shirt – began layering up with woolly sweaters and oilskins and removing the component parts of what looked like harpoon equipment from a box near the bow.

‘Are we looking for giant octopus too?’ I asked, feigning interest.

‘No-o mate,’ he said, with gnarly know-how. ‘Whales – if we can find the migration path.’

‘Oh,’ I said, going along with a joke that was clearly part of his patter, especially for soft southern targets like me. ‘That’s all right then.’

I looked around at the twenty or so other passengers. Worryingly, half of them were now also kitted out with cold weather gear and heavy duty waterproofs, while the rest of us were in flimsy summer clothes, skin gleaming with Factor 50 Nivea Sun Lotion to protect against the strong midday sun and brisk sea air.

‘How about some coloured feathers to catch the mackerel?’ I said, uncertain of my ground and aware that my short shorts and white Matalan tee shirt with “COOL AT 65” on the back might be inadequate for whaling on the high seas.

‘Aa-rr, this is all you need,’ said Ahab, tapping the harpoon affectionately. ‘People don’t read the small print, you see. It’s Silver Flash for mackerel. This is Wave Rider – we’re whaling.’

Other mackerel fishers overheard our conversation, some vigorously contesting the legality of the small print, others cowering on their slatted seats, muttering about never seeing their loved-ones again.

‘Don’t worry,’ Ahab said, after keeping us on tenterhooks another hour. ‘A mackerel relief boat will be along later.’

By the time the mackerel transfer arrived, Wave Rider was plunging into the troughs and surging to the peaks of a strong Atlantic swell. Land had long since disappeared and Ahab’s assistant, Ishmael, was in a raised basket on top of the cabin looking out to sea with a brass telescope.

From time to time he’d cry, ‘Thar she blows!’ making us rush to one side before he invariably added, ‘Sorry, just an iceberg,’ or, ‘Only kidding,’ staring at us madly with what we later found out was a glass eye – which being the one he used for the telescope didn’t bode well for serious whale catching at the business end of the trip.

Back on the quayside, having finally tamed a few mackerel, I was ready for supper and a pint of Doombar. Set on the harbour front, Wetherspoons seemed a good bet. Outside, all seemed well as I passed the cordoned area where people were tucking into spicy chicken wings and breaded Camembert bites washed down with, perhaps, San Miguel or spritzer.

Inside was different. Unlike the usual dominant clusters of men with thinning hair and agitated stammering, I found the entire seating and bar areas occupied by stocky, bearded gentlemen in yellow oilskins and black sou’westers.

‘Aa-rr, DOOMbaa-rr!’ went the call down the length of a bar where staff must have had the dickens of a job remembering who they were serving.

‘Aa-rr, DOOmbaa-rr!’ echoed the seated many, as they clinked pints to celebrate another day at sea. ‘Aa-rr DOOMbaa-rr!’

Having bought a pint of the pub’s favourite beer and ordered a Right Whale Fillet with Seaweed Sauce I sat in the corner, feeling underdressed yet fascinated by what I saw unfolding. Several yellow people stood up alongside each other forming a line with outstretched arms resting on their neighbours’ shoulders. Others joined in, pushing back chairs to make space, and eventually there were forty in the row, with the men at the two extremities stretching out their free arm in an exaggerated fashion. Then at a given signal, in unison, the forty shouted:

‘And it was THIS long!’

No wonder Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin, ever the man to spot a perfect tag, had called this former trading exchange The Giant Sperm!

Now, back in the B&B, I’m planning the rest of my stay. I might try Paignton Pier tomorrow. According to the leaflet, this was once popular with anglers, but with local Councils seeking to increase revenue, fishing was banned and the staging at the end adapted for carrying out sentences imposed by local magistrates. Apparently, for minor offences a lesser sentence of being strapped to the stanchions at low tide and freed when the sea reaches neck height is common; whilst for more serious cases there are boards that extend over the sea electronically at high tide, with individuals ‘walking the plank’ or, for gang crimes, several villains jumping at the same time – a sort of synchronised sentencing. Hopefully there are still tickets on sale for the ten o’clock (high tide) sitting. I’m told the two grandstands fill quite quickly.

And on Friday I shall check out the Golden Hind in Brixham harbour. Whereas this replica of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon was once at a fixed mooring for day trippers to pore over, it now offers full day excursions to the French coastline, where passengers in period costume can fire live ammo from the ship’s refurbished cannons, and give the residents of Brest and St Malo something to think about. I really fancy this! It sounds so much more hands-on (and probably warmer!) than the whaling trip I got caught up in.

Uncle, I’m SO impressed by the locals’ willingness to diversify, and make use of the rich maritime resources that endow this area. It’s the kind of initiative the Tory government would be proud of in these troubled times. But sadly, I fear it won’t live up to some of your tales about the merchant navy!

Best wishes – Paul

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello

Utterly front cover - final 30.5.13

Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

www.fineleaf.co.uk/titles/utterlyundiscove.html

A fabulous holiday read!

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Mint Sauce – The Truth

‘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:

Mint sauce

May Contain:

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

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Postcard from Gloucester

Dear Auntie Evelyn

I love the bus station cafe. There’s something homely about a woman mopping with disinfectant as I nibble at my Bakewell tart and make a spoon stand in the tea.

Been to Gloucester – to save a few bob and catch a movie. There’s a bleak feel to the centre. Chain stores like Next and Currys have moved to retail parks, or like Woolworths gone out of business, and many premises stay empty. Town clocks have stopped in sympathy – at twenty to four, the ‘sad’ smiley.

But other shops like Greggs and McDonalds do well when there’s little money about. And in Northgate, Wilkinsons sells cheap essentials from a bright and well-stocked store with vague checkout assistants. Mine, fresh out of school, said they only sold second class stamps in twelves, but then asked if I wanted six or twelve, all the while looking over my shoulder as if fixated by Don’t Tell the Bride on a wall-mounted TV.

‘But you only do twelves,’ I said.

‘Six or twelve?’ she repeated.

‘You told me you only do twelves,’ I said.

‘Okay, twelve,’ she said, not seeing the funny side of it.

Trade is briskest in Southgate. Four years ago Poundland grabbed all the budget customers with a £1 store, before a 99p Store set up opposite, stealing much of Poundland’s trade. An enterprising local then opened a 98p Store next to Poundland, and it was no surprise when a 97p Store took up residence in an old Bradford and Bingley premises next to the 99p store. The pattern continued down the street, even prices one side, odd the other, and it’s now got as far as a 17p Store, with 13 to 16 opening shortly.

I must say, auntie, this is a boon for everyone. In the last year I’ve refurbished my entire living room and kitchen for two pounds, thirty three pence. I know much of it doesn’t match and isn’t Lakeland quality, but it’s better on the pocket. Even this postcard was discounted to 1p in the 21p Store – sorry there’s no picture!

I had lunch in the docks (a Fatty Melt™ from Greggs and a Twix reduced to 7p in the 18p Store), surrounded by beautifully preserved but largely unoccupied warehouse conversions and glossy restaurants with few customers. Meanwhile, some folk are being forced to live in semi-derelict houseboats. One barge called Hope had a revolving dryer on deck, holding trousers, a shirt and a pair of knickers. When a woman came through the shutter doors to collect them, I saw how far things had gone; down to one set of clothes and having to hang them out with nothing on! It’s really sad, auntie, that things have come to such a pretty pass.

Yet, off Westgate, the fine 15th century tower of Gloucester cathedral, an inspirational setting for Harry Potter and Shakespeare productions, rises proudly through the deprivation. Other gems sit amongst the post-war drabness, like the decorative frontage of the Imperial Inn and the fascinating clock figures above Bakers the jewellers, fighting a lonely battle with the bland fascias of Southgate’s discount stores.

And I’m impressed by the high spirit in these tough times. With a large student population there’s a youthful vibrancy to the streets, fashion-conscious youngsters thriving on cheap deals from Primark and burgeoning charity shops. Other generations have followed. I saw groups of men chatting and laughing outside Wetherspoons in handsome retro shell suits, and on Eastgate, lively, ruddy-faced people had gathered on town benches to chat and share a drink. A man stepped in front of me and asked,

‘Have you got any money, mate?’

I hadn’t thought I looked in need, and assured him I had enough, but I was overwhelmed by the locals’ generosity, when they too must be feeling the pinch.

Near their meeting place is a barely discernible doorway leading to a different world. A grand staircase rises to the galleried corridors and panelled rooms that make The Guildhall a perfect escape from the Gloucester chill. For a giveaway £5.50, tea and lemon drizzle cake are included in a Screen Tea Matinee at the delightful art house cinema. I’ve just seen an excellent VW Polo advertisement, followed by a thought-provoking, if slow-moving Argentinian film about cattle rustling. Before the red velvet curtains opened, I sat sipping Earl Grey at my beaten-copper side table, swapping literary banter with other World Cinema enthusiasts, watched over by handsome characters in rich oil paintings above the frieze of what must once have been a thriving boardroom.

Well, my bus is due, so must dash. I’m expecting another hairy Stagecoach journey. On the way, the driver cornered the double-decker so fast that the top deck bounced off the hedges each side. I thought he was just showing off with that captain’s hat – but he clearly pictured himself banking to land.

Bye for now, Auntie Evelyn. Hope the ulcer is better. Absorbent gauze is so expensive, but it’s definitely the best thing for weeping sores.

Love Paul

Paul Costello  ©  November 2012

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News

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Fineleaf Editions

Philip Gray

The first Fineleaf title in 2013 will be a new book by Paul Costello – Utterly Undiscovered. The author sets the scene:

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?

http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

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