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

Advertisements

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

***********************************************************************************

News

***********************************************************************************

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

**********************************************************************************

Soaps? Never watch ’em, but …

It must be, ooh, fifty years since I saw any soaps.

But on Friday, channel-hopping before the showdown between Chinese, My Kun Chi Plei and North Korean, So Dark Dung in the Leeds International Piano Competition, I happened across Hollyoaks on Channel 4/7+1 OD.

I stuck with it to see what I’d been missing. Over the next half hour a gay trio, Brendan, Eoghan and Ste, exchanged longing looks and bitchy threats, and cafe owner Tony was extremely nice to customers as fiancée Cindy, to whom he’d been married before, was having it away in the cafe toilet with Rhys, whose girlfriend Jacqui McQueen was upstairs having her sixth baby in two years alongside sister Theresa having her fifth.

When that was all over, the entire cast attended the funeral of Lynsey (who’d been murdered earlier), except for Mercedes, who was in care and watched the hearse go by from an upstairs window in the psychiatric unit, cackling as she saw the funeral cortege blocked in the narrow street by a broken down car being beaten over the bonnet by its driver with a dead branch.

The whole episode was overlaid by a James Blunt loop, though I’m not sure if this was to match the mood or because the programme had been reinvented as Hollyoaks – the Musical since I was away.

Toying with the remote again, I found an episode of Emmerdale just starting on ITV2+1+8=11Plus. For a rural community there was a disappointing absence of livestock, but I decided to see it through. In the ten minutes before the ads Cain Dingle put a crowbar to every glass in the Woolpack, Georgia demonstrated why it’s never a good idea having mother to stay, and Debbie Dingle squared up to four other women saying,

‘You think I’m upset? You ain’t seen nothing yet.’

In the second half things warmed up. Flat-nosed Jimmy King rushed into the glassless Woolpack to say three bodies had been found in the landfill, followed by a stranger in a beanie hat claiming he’d struck gold in the sheepless hills at the edge of the village. Half the customers dashed off to the landfill, and the rest to the gold mine where they found a makeshift notice from David Cameron saying it had already been sequestered for the Big Society, but that they were welcome to look around. While they were up there, Sainsbury’s built a new superstore where the shop had been, Lisa Dingle browsed through the Bible to choose a name for her fifteenth child, due at 7.22, while Zak, who was standing at the window nonchalantly reading a letter saying the Dingles had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, screamed helplessly as a school bus tore past, clearly out of control, and embedded itself in the entrance to the gold mine, exploding on impact and trapping the would-be prospectors inside – a bold move by the producers since the episode was going out live to mark the programme’s hundred and twenty fifth year.

This was thirsty work. But making a cuppa before the Piano Competition was a mistake, if only because I didn’t switch to BBC4+SkyPlus+3 (where x=y) before I left the room. Instead, I found ITV2+1+8=11Plus had already tripped into Coronation Street, or Corrie as everyone now calls it, and I was teased into following for the next twenty five minutes.

In that time, Norris, dressed as a waitress, served Greek food at a theme night in Roy’s Rolls Cafe, and in the Rovers Return Tracy Barlow told seven different men that she was pregnant by them, whereupon they all gladly proposed only to have their worlds fall apart when she told them she was joking, while Ken and Deirdre sat looking old, and Lewis (typecast Nigel Havers) chatted up three Mancunian bar assistants with the telling line, ‘Does every woman in Manchester have an orange face?’ before going back to Audrey’s and taking her on the kitchen table.

The hiatus after the ads – when a group of old ladies with mauve hair and pacamacs on a Granada Studios Tour failed to hear the guide’s instruction to pretend they were extras, and not point umbrellas or make faces at the camera – was soon overcome by a camp guy in the factory ‘oohing and aahing’ like Kenny Everett, and Steve and Michelle dumping each other twice, leading to Steve taking out Sophie Webster for an evening that was going swimmingly until the infatuated girl stepped in front of a passing car, unaware that her garage-owning dad Kevin was at that very moment sat in a customer’s 4×4 ending it all and had only been saved when a Boeing 737 mistook the railway track for Manchester Airport runway and demolished the viaduct, the resonance from which dislodged the hose leading to his exhaust.

A nice extra touch to celebrate ninety nine years of the programme was having the cast and mauve-haired ladies seen at all times enjoying a Mr Whippy 99; no surprise that Cadbury’s were sponsoring the episode, which was being streamed live.

At last I was ready to relax with whatever was left of some quality piano playing. But just as I was switching over to BBC4+Skyplus+3 (where x=y) my front door flew open and Phil Mitchell barged in with a production team and six cast from East Enders.

‘Sorted,’ he said, blatantly dropping his ‘t’. ‘Nah shut it – right!’

‘Right,’ I whispered, closing the door as asked.

It seemed that to celebrate two hundred years of the programme, all week they’d been transmitting the East Enders Roadshow live on RedButtonDave+2, and my house had been randomly selected to host Friday’s episode. Once they’d covered my Ikea furnishings with grey tarpaulin, Phil threw Sharon across a small formica-top table in the centre of the living room with such force that, through a handily placed mike, you could hear the air rushing out of her like a collapsing balloon.

‘Is this what yer want, is it? Is this what yer want?’ he yelled.

‘No, Phil, no,’ she squealed.

‘Yer dad’d turn in his grave, yer slut,’ he said, polishing the table with her tangled, yellow hair.

I wasn’t sure exactly what she’d done, but it must have been bad to get such harsh treatment.

The staircase was a good vantage point for all three sets. In my kitchen, which had been darkened to camouflage the orange Le Creuset Ovenware, I could see Max Branning counting money at a second formica table.

‘Look, son,’ he said to protégé, Joey. ‘A monkey. Lemon squeezy. That’s how yer do it. Keep yer eyes open, son. Take yer chances.’

I couldn’t see a monkey, but there was a lot of money. A few days later I discovered that as soon as he arrived, Max had sold a motor with a bad oil leak and no MOT to the elderly lady at number 5.

Meanwhile, in the small, spotlit gravel garden at the back, they’d thrown green netting over my choice pots, and forced the six Polish neighbours to hang around as unpaid extras.

‘You sure you got the right immigration papers, son?’ the producer had said when a skinny Pole objected. ‘It’d only take one phone call, yer know.’

As the cameras rolled, Ian Beale emerged from the shadows and head-butted Alfie Moon who was having a quiet fag.

‘Think it’s funny, do yer? Think it’s funny?’ he said, landing a blinding blow at the top of Alfie’s nose, with the Poles muttering away in the background.

‘Nah, but this is,’ said Alfie, pulling an eight inch blade from his back pocket and taking Ian out with two swift thrusts. ‘You ’ad it coming to yer,’ he said, as the camera zoomed in on him hiding the crimson-stained knife in my pink hollyhocks.

I was frightened by the chasm between their unsmiling world and my happy one. Only five minutes in, and my home was a battlefield. Powerless to respond to victims or perpetrators, and sensing the enormity of the social issues facing Walford, I felt myself being dragged lower and lower …

*

I was kept under observation in Hereford Hospital, but tests showed I’d not ingested enough paracetamol and dihydrocodeine to cause lasting damage. I thought it a bit harsh that they discharged me on the condition I never tried watching East Enders again. I mean, I hadn’t invited them in, and it was Max Branning who’d kindly called the ambulance when he spotted me swigging from the pill bottle. And after all, I had landed myself a cameo role in a live broadcast.

A few days later I watched So Dark Dung steal the show with a moody rendition of Tchaikovsy’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in a repeat showing of the Competition on Dave Really+1+7HD I Player Ja Vu. All the while my finger was twitching over the ITV1+5 button to check how many passers-by Cain Dingle had given a good seeing-to since my last visit. I resisted. But I can always go back in fifty years to catch up.

Paul Costello © October 2012

Web:        www.paulcostello.me

Twitter:    @PaulCostello8

Postcard from Albufeira

Dear Uncle Ian

‘Feelings, wo-o-o feelings,
Wo-o-o, feel you – again in my arms.’

When I first heard pan pipes echoing through the tunnel from the beach I thought,

‘Shit, shit – not that – please! Birmingham, Cheltenham or even Ledbury sometimes – but not Albufeira. And no, I don’t want a CD for 10 Euros.’

‘… feelings – like I’ve never lost you …’

Peruvian guy in coloured gear and headdress – been here all week. Presumably from Mashu Poteetu since that’s the only place ever talked about.

But yesterday it took an interesting turn. A coachload of white-hairs on a Saga day trip from along the coast, who’d stopped for tea and tiramisu at the Esplanado do Tunel Restaurant, were nodding and miming along happily when an overweight man with pebble glasses got up and started jigging around.

At first I thought, ‘Why bring ‘em here? Tiresome git!’, and that it would only be a matter of time before he started that hissy whistle-speak Saga language, like,

‘Come on lads-s-s and lass-s-s-es. Let’s-s-s danc-c-e!’

I needn’t have worried, because at what seemed a pre-arranged signal the music changed, dramatically. The Peruvian boosted the bass and started puffing out a rap beat, no mean feat on pan pipes. Meanwhile the fat geezer donned a pair of giant, sponge hands like you see at soccer matches, and with perfect enunciation and a great deal of emotion started banging out his own lyrics, synthetic fingers pointing down to the ‘feelings’ he wanted to share with one of the old girls drinking tea. The chorus went something like:

‘You ain’t never gonna leave me ’cause 

believe me, I ain’t waitin’ while

you playin’ wid my mind, this time

it’s me who calls the shots, and what’s

the point in hanging round, you’ll drop

before you leave me gal, I’ll see

to that, you know I will.

Just like that Buster Rhymes I told you about. It was really emotional, Uncle Ian. The message got nasty at times, but a sweet old lady who spoke just with her lower lip reassured me,

‘Nothing to be frightened of, dear. He does it wherever he goes – in the name of performance, so he says.’

And get this! The shape of the sponge fingers perfectly matched that of the pan pipes – a clever touch I thought.

*

I nearly didn’t get here. Two hundred of us were sat an hour on this Air Explore jet at Birmingham, welded together across each row with chunky North Face jackets atop ten layers of pocket-laden clothing to keep hand luggage below the prescribed ten kilos, when the head steward announced,

‘Unfortunately, due to operational difficulties we must ask you to de-load.’

We gathered from a man near the front that the person appointed to fly us safely to Portugal, a Captain Icarus, had failed a breathalyser, which explained the police presence as we transferred to a Monarch plane; I thought the guns were a bit over the top, but I suppose the crew were Slovakian. Even then we waited another hour while they transferred luggage, then unloaded the hold again to find the medicine of a passenger who’d been taken poorly – I mean, for God’s sake, I bet she put it in the hold to keep her hand luggage underweight!  Selfish.

I can tell you I was ready for those Bombay Sapphire and tonics, although it was hard pouring them with eleven layers of clothing and tray tables that wouldn’t fold down properly with only ten inches between rows. The fat Saga bloke would have stood no chance drinking or eating – which I suppose would have been a good thing. As for getting in the brace position …

*

Apart from the first night, I’ve had some fabulous food. Local specialities include rabbit stew and cataplan, a medley of seafood, chicken or vegetables. I’ve been eating slowly. This is partly for my Mindfulness regime, where chewing every grain of food for several minutes absorbs spiritual as well as nutritional goodness, but also because of a hammering the Euro is taking on financial markets. Making a meal last four or five hours instead of an hour saves me 5 to 10 Cents with Santander by the time they convert my Visa payment. An hour and a half of mouse-like nibbles at an almond tart alone gains me 3 cents. Of course hot dishes can go cold, but to mitigate this I keep telling the waiter,

‘I’m not quite ready to order. Can I have a few more minutes, please?’

Or I choose something like sardines and say,

‘Tell the chef to take his time, oh and with the sardines, could he pop out and catch some absolutely fresh ones, please.’

But on the first night I had to eat down The Strip. This is where hen and stag parties hang out and Glaswegian drunks want to be your friend – a narrow street with restaurants and bars blasting out music that drowns the football commentary on giant TVs which neither the women in matching pink fluffy antlers, nor the men with cowboy hats and tattoos who clap appreciatively each time a woman goes past, are watching anyway.

Competition between bars is intense, and pretty girls try to hook you in at each doorway. It’s hard enough fighting off hookers who are waving a menu in your face, but that’s not what trapped me. Unimpressed with the eating choices, I made to leave at the far end of the street only to find a massive trawling net thrown around me from an upper floor, much like they catch a sick giraffe on the African savanna in Wild at Heart.  I managed to extricate myself and head back to the other end of the street, whereupon the same thing happened.

Following a decline in the local fishing industry, enterprising Pescadores, as they’re called, have diversified into tourist-related activity using whatever resources are to hand and clubbing together with Bar owners to form a captive market. Once in the street, you have to show a meal receipt before the net is raised to let you out. With the limited menus tailored to typical Strip visitors, and not fancying kebab and chips, I had to make do with a rather late Full English Breakfast. I can tell you, Uncle, I’ve not been down there again at night!

‘Teardrops – rolling down on my face,
Trying to forget my – feelings of love.’

I’d better go. The Peruvian’s back and another Saga coach is pulling up. Anything could happen! Hope you’re not missing Auntie Fifi too much.

Love Paul

Web:        www.paulcostello.me

Twitter:    @PaulCostello8