Above The Call

A waiter slops asparagus soup over my mum’s posh top, spits on my steak tartare and asks my dad if that’s a wig he’s wearing – which it isn’t. He now presents the bill for around £80 and asks dad if everything has been to his liking.

‘Splendid, thank you,’ says dad, making out a cheque for £90.

I witnessed this scenario hundreds of times during dad’s life. A routine addition of about ten per cent, rounded up, regardless of the experience.

‘It’s for the service,’ he would explain.

‘But what if that’s not very good?’ I’d say, trying to fathom it out. ‘And isn’t cooking the food and bringing it to the table what you’re already paying for?’

waiterThere seemed a touch of master-servant about the whole thing, a leftover from Victorian times – doffing the hat and placing a penny in the palm.

Dad’s benevolence especially showed at Christmas. People you never normally saw would knock at the door. The dustman (as he was then affectionately known) touched his forelock and dad handed him a small brown envelope; the milkman would find something similar in an empty milk bottle; and it was the only time the postman actually took an envelope away with him.

Tipping in taxis was also de rigueur. Failure to do so might mean the driver retracing his route a mile before letting dad out. Ten per cent to the hairdresser prevented an unwanted bald patch. And generosity towards chambermaids and bar staff during a hotel stay guaranteed clean beds and proper whisky measures.

While all this was going on, the doctor’s receptionist, sales assistant, bus conductor, deck chair attendant, train driver, signalman, street sweeper, telesales operator, left luggage handler, airline pilot, local government officer, hospital porter, travelling salesman, car mechanic, farmer, footballer, formula one driver, lifeguard, gardener, soldier, gravedigger and balloonist, and many, many others simply had to get by on basic wages, since their services were clearly of less importance.

Class distinctions are increasingly blurred. Christmas door-knocking is no longer fashionable. But tipping in the traditional trades continues, more under the guise of mock friendship than master-servant, but with scant regard for what it really means. Clearly, it’s not in the interest of those sectors to disavow people of the custom.

When I was younger I found myself following dad’s ‘easy route’, expressing gratitude and adding percentages regardless of the circumstances – a comfortable way out, making me feel kind of important and stupid at the same time. Annual Christmas cards from the Indian Restaurant (address written at their request on an Excel sheet during a November visit) reassured me that a lasting friendship had indeed been forged.

But as social rebellion kicked in I steeled myself to experiment with paying the asking price only. I was terrified that abandoning tips would mean losing these friendships. I expected the chef to come running from the kitchen with a machete, or the manager to ban me from his establishment. I waited for the taxi man to warn other drivers by radio. I feared a Sweeney Todd incident at the barbers.

barber Instead I was offered a loyalty card by the barber, placed on the priority list by the taxi firm and welcomed back to the curry house with open arms. I realised it was my continuing custom and that of my entourage they wanted, not the small change in my pocket. We remained friends.So, although tipping is still widely practised, in my world the random and pointless custom ended years ago. But I still feel bad about all those who remain tipless while the same old people cream off the ten-percentages. And I’m trying to do something about it.

At Greggs yesterday a woman passed me my 85p sausage roll, asking if I wanted anything else and wishing me a nice rest of the day.

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘I must say this is the most exquisitely wrapped sausage roll I’ve ever had. You presented it with utter professionalism and a beautiful smile – more than I could possibly have asked for. Here’s a pound, and I want you to keep the change.’

As I left the bakers, trying not to catch the eye of the homeless people blocking my exit, it was ample reward hearing the woman enthusiastically recount our conversation to the girl on doughnuts.

Back at home, concluding a telephone conversation with the MakerMint Water Company, I said to the assistant, Trudy:

‘Frankly, I’ve never known someone handle a direct debit application with such grace and aplomb, offering me all the information I could possibly want, and making the experience so enjoyable. Trudy, you have performed over and above the call of duty. Please give me your BACS details immediately and I shall place £5 in your bank account.’

And on the London train today, when I’d felt compelled to mention the state of the toilet to the train manager, and he’d apologised profusely before single-handedly restoring the cubicle to its pristine condition, I said as he called me to inspect his work:

‘Young man. I know you didn’t make this mess yourself, but you stepped up to the bowl and took full responsibility. Watching you don those Marigolds and plunge wholeheartedly into the matter of the moment has restored my faith in young people and in the entire railway industry. I paid £29 for this journey. Here – take this additional £2.90 to spend as you wish.’

So far, so good. And three new friends already!

Next week: Part 2. Fly Tipping – What To Give Bluebottles.

Copyright © Paul Costello January 2017

http://www.paulcostello.me

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

Marmite and Anchovies

Ask a hundred people, ‘Do you like Marmite, yes or no?’ and there’d be near enough fifty in each camp. Marmite is the old favourite – the one that comes to mind. Ask another hundred, ‘Which product do you most associate with loving or loathing?’ they’d all say Marmite. Clever marketing by Unilever, I’d say.

And it offers a spirited avenue for social exchange. In a room full of strained conversation, Marmitetry yelling:

‘Listen everyone! Hands up those who like Marmite.’

Half the people raise a hand and the mood lightens. The ‘Not been a bad day’ gambit is gone, and conversations move swiftly on.

But Marmite doesn’t have it all its own way. There are plenty of other contenders.

‘Do you like anchovies?’ would not be the greatest chat-up line on a blind date. Personally I love the salty little creatures, especially to spice up a pizza topping. Change the question to black pudding (or lard – same thing) and you might get a good slap. But I’d wager the outcome for both on a wider headcount would be 50-50.

And it’s not just food where opinion is polarised. Social media is a good candidate. From its original idea of connecting people socially, Facebook has developed into a must-have tool for commercial organisations and those espousing causes like ‘Save the Thin-Skinned Wombat’ or ‘Buy My Hand-Crafted Lemon Curd.’ I should know – I use it to promote my book, Utterly Undiscovered.

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

There – I’ve just done it again! But to use Facebook and Twitter effectively, you have to trawl through a mountain of other stuff, and I hate that. I’ll bet a joint survey of users and non-users would confirm split interest.

Staying with electronics, the Kindle is a contender. Yes, usage grows apace and book sales have shrunk, but pros and cons for each format surely leave equal numbers enjoying both.

Book ReaderThe same applies to predictive text (PT). I’ve had mobiles where PT works perfectly and others where the text comes out weird or rude. For everyone who swears by PT, I know as many people, some far techier than me, who loathe it – though qwerty keypads have to an extent sidelined its use.

Back to food, and how about kippers? Traditionally a breakfast dish, yet arguably one of the sharpest, most lingering tastes you could offer a palate dried up by eight hours of rushing air. In Utterly Undiscovered, My Basil loves telling guests about the bride-to-be who stayed the night before her wedding and chose kippers for breakfast. Definitely an acquired taste – you love ’em or hate ’em.

Olives evoke a similar response. Personally I like green olives, de-pipped and stuffed with pimento, anchovy or cream cheese. But I’m less keen on unpipped, unstuffed olives, especially black ones, where the sourness of the olive prevails. There are those who won’t touch them and those who demolish a whole bowl, waiting for the chicken to come off the barbecue.

On the move, I love public transport. Always have done – bus, train, boat, plane. It’s escapism and adventure – away from routine and responsibility. Must be the nerd in me – from train-spotting days on the Southern Region. And these days, as a writer, it offers a rich source of material, not just about places I go but people’s behaviour. But there are as many who use public transport only as a last resort, preferring the security and control of their own car.

The train may take me to a National Trust property, where I’m offered a guided tour. I loathe guided tours. The herding nature of tour guides means going at the pace of the slowest and in the direction you’re told. I remember once a guide calling ‘Come by!’ like One Man and his Dog. And does it really matter whether things happened in 1489 or 1490? I’ve paid my hundred pound entrance fee and want to poke around by myself. But for others, the tour is a godsend – safe, sociable and included in the two hundred pound entrance fee.

AnchoviesOr I might be on the way to a reunion, as long as it’s with a few close friends. Three or four hours in a room with forty others, usually same sex, many of whom weren’t friends fifty years earlier, haven’t been in touch since and likely won’t be again is hard work. But many people do thrive on such reunions. I suppose it’d be okay talking about Marmite. Or anchovies.

Other foods spring to mind. ‘Bits’ in orange juice seem equally loved or hated. Likewise mushy peas. I enjoy both – nothing like mushy peas with fish and chips occasionally.

And a major contender must be offal, particularly liver. A cheap and plentiful source of protein and iron, liver was, until the outbreak of BSE (Mad Cow Disease), a commonplace product, warranting eye-level space on supermarket shelves. But when cattle began turning in circles and being put down, politicians, who spend their entire working lives turning full circle and putting each other down, banged the final nails in the offal coffin. I love a rich liver and bacon casserole. I make a good one myself, and I’m always delighted when an enterprising cafe places it proudly at the head of the menu. Consigning these tasty innards to a small corner on the top shelf surely belies their popularity.

So those are my contenders for ‘Love or Loathe’. There must be more. If you think of any, ask a hundred people on the street, and let me know.

Paul Costello © September 2013

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello

Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!

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

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 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