Thursday, March 15, 2007

The perfect day for dining in silence

Creamy linguini with cheese, garlic and rocket, eaten in separate parts of the kitchen-diner in utter silence while two fat sirloins continued in their blood marinade in vac-packs in my fridge. I would never have bought such steak just for one. I would have done so a year ago, but now on nights alone I opt for the opportunity not to fillet a boney sardine or herring or two. Indeed, it was precisely to replenish the Wife’s monthly dip in iron levels that I had picked up the flesh in the first place. This being the 5th or 6th or 7th day of a particularly bad cold/flu, however, she was in no mood for chewing meat.
There is nothing sorer than silent dining, although being sat opposite one another for the duration would have definitely been more painful. And, as I can safely guess is typical of so many midweek post-Office nights for the married and young-child-worn, the situation was entirely avoidable.
Of course, she couldn’t have known that I was up tight like a cunt on account of not having any gear left, nor that I am increasingly struggling to come up with some sort of ritual or another to mark one year of being alcohol free in two days’ time thus giving me rough directions from here. She was ill and in need of basic comfort and reassurance the likes of which have deserted me in recent days or weeks. So, in classic histrionic style fit for a marriage of three and a half years, I took offence at being accused of not caring. Can she really not see that my every move in food and booze is executed with her in mind? That, honestly, if it weren’t for her I would probably never get beyond pasta and steak for my midweek suppers? Beneath the surface I am desperately seeking recognition, praise, even gratitude for my feeding her first class meals every fucking single day of the year. And I know just as well that she would exchange all of it in a moment for a few simple words of understanding. It’s fucking pathetic and I hate myself for it. But today was just not the day for reflection.
This time last year I was walking home from the Office purposefully finishing off a quarter bottle of Royal Stag from a plastic water bottle, stopping off in the underpass of a deserted A-road roundabout for a blast on my pipe and then into a news&food outlet for a couple of cans to mask the smell before arriving home to my young family to begin the next session of the evening. Today, my life is anchored in a rhythm of necessity, pinned around the Shop and the Fanny’s market and the occasional Tesco for my coffee and shit-roll. I really don’t go anywhere else or interact with any other people other than those in the Home and Office. And that’s minimal. I don’t eat any vegetables any more, just premium leaves. I don’t eat any fish but mackerel and the odd crustacean, meat other than beef, and my only guilty pleasure in processed fare is the sugary, vinegary, dried-herb-spiked salad dressing in the Office cafĂ©. I try to occasionally break the routine, but I underestimate how important it has been for the last 12 months.
Yet as solid as it might appear, I am lost this evening. Fighting the mild urge to jump in the car under the cover of the domestic to pick up a wee baggy from the depths of social decay across the other side of town. It’s this one- to five-day long dead-zone period I’m where I haven’t yet made enough progress to rule out a trip back for more. I’m not locked into this rut just yet, so I tell myself.
It’s time to get hard now, and perhaps next Tuesday is the perfect day to start.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Humanity is overrated

Something different has happened. It began this morning with a call to a taxi firm from the Wife who, feeling ill, had decided to commute to the train station by cab. As the all important pick-up time drew nearer she began to fill the empty minutes with mild obsessive-compulsive disorder while the also ill and especially dependent children got progressively closer to the edge. So on the minute she decided to go outside and wait there instead, only the children could see her from the window which made the occasion even more scream- and table-banging-worthy.

I felt a deep sense of sorrow at the figure she presented, still clinging on to the hope that the world makes sense, that people who say they will do something for you will actually do it, while I knew with virtual certainty that no car was going to turn up any time soon. Five-minutes in she knocked on the window and came back inside to call the firm, upon which she was assured that the car was in the area and would be there any minute. Another five minutes later she knocks again, this time to get her bicycle so that she could get to work on time.

So there I found myself, dressing-gown- and sandal-clad with two screaming kids, swelling with rage at the idea of my poorly wife having to pedal like fuck to catch a train that Those Bastards had assured her she would catch, with nothing to do but down a cafetiere of Lavazza and wait for the man to actually turn up. Which he did another five mintues later, knocking in that rhythmic but irritating “I’m not going to throw sulphuric acid in your face” fashion.

I was going to wait until I had a good three-seconds’ look at him before I decided how to vent my personal hatred of him, all the staff in his firm, the transport system, the government, and my own incongruous ideology. But he turned out to be so bemused by the concept of someone leaving before their taxi had turned up that there was nothing to be gained from insulting the man. So I picked up the phone and pressed redial to get at someone more appropriate – the controller of course.

Controller – [female voice] hello, c to t taxis.

Me – My wife ordered a taxi from you this morning to the train station which arrived 20 mintues late, forcing her to abandon the idea and cycle instead – while very ill -- in order to catch her train. Is it normal for your cars to be 20 minutes late?

C – Don’t start getting aggressive with me [voice rises quickly to a shout] …

M – [interrupting] So I suppose you’re not going to apologize for the fact that you lied to her when you said the car was in the area?

C – No, I’m not. She was told that we cannot guarantee travel times at this time of day.

M – But surly that doesn’t apply to pick-up times?

C – Is there anything else I can do for you?

M – Yes, you can fuck off.

I slammed the phone down and felt good about my actions ... for about a minute. Then I started to get the fear. Partly this was fuelled by the prospect of a meathead husband/brother/boyfriend/all-three, having access to my full address and phone number, turning up here late in the evening looking for some action while I bumbled around like a paranoid stoned twat. But much more troubling than this was the feeling of badness in my bones for having just told a complete stranger to fuck off in a loud and aggressive voice. It was strange to feel such optimism for humanity -- that I cannot reasonably expect things to ever improve so long as I go around telling strangers to fuck off. Indeed, I don''t even have an interest in things “improving”; all I want is to sign out and watch the whole shithouse go under from the calming Atlantic view of my successful Highland restaurant.

So without giving it much thought at all and acting purely on impulse, I pressed redial once more and, once I had established it was the same woman, apologized for having told her to “F-off”.
But it didn’t at all have the effect I thought it would. Rather than connecting two people who have no reason to hate one another, my butterfly-inducing debut reaching-out to humanity was met with a grunt of indifference. This time I put the phone down with the distinct impression that today wasn't the first time this woman had been told to fuck off. But on I clung to the fading reckoning that my call made a difference, that while decomposing on the couch in front of Eastenders later this evening she would question why a total stranger had bothered to put her before his stubborn pride. The pathetic truth is that it made me feel good. It made me feel alive for a moment, even though beneath the veneer I knew I was witnessing game theory in action -- that the whole episode had been nothing more than a selfish individual watching his own back.

As the day wore on, however, this feeling subsided and was replaced with annoyance at having sold myself out. Like the battery drones that pack call centres up and down the country, nobody should be shielded from the injustices that are being perpetrated by the complacent disregard of the C to T firms of this world.

But I also had much more pressing worries to hand: the end of the gear. All day I had been coping with the mild irritation in the back of my mind that this was my last day of it for some time. It was a day of torment and ritual on this front, initially because I kept coming back to the problem of whether to have two moderate pipes with a couple of hours in between or one big bastard to wipe me out. Then there was the optimization of the timing of it all so that I could enjoy the company of my two little girls, cook, listen to music, fantasize, eat etc all while in the most appropriate haze.

My tiny stash turned out to be enough to fuel two blasts in fact, although sadly I am still here. And as I strolled around the back garden with the second one, looking up at the stars and turning the event into much more than it really was, I felt a sense of purpose. My pipe, for example, had been busted recently while I stopped with the children on the way home from the nursery to get a hit and found that it had been blocked with tar from the heavy, heavy strain I've been stoking it with lately. Having failed utterly in my attempts to unblock it with twigs and hardy grasses, I had continued to work on the problem back home, essentially having to write-off the shank (on account of it now being stuffed with sticks) and do a Blue-Peter job with a snapped biro and a roll of red insulating tape. The result looked druggy and dirty, the pen having clouded up with a dark green coating after a few smokes.

Perhaps this was its thousandth refill, I thought as I drew down hard on my last pinch of burning grass. I had planned the evening well as it turned out, feasting alone on blissful courses of scallops&potatoes and mackerel&leaves with bread and butter and chilled S.Pellegrino. For a hardened rationalist and despiser of all things metaphysical I surprise myself with my fondness for indulging such ceremony. I remember the night before my finals sitting down at what some might have viewed as a lonely scene, a salmon steak with boiled potatoes and mayonnaise and a single ice cold can of Stella Artois. I sat there all evening without a book in sight, savouring the simplicity of the moment.
Back under the stars, however, the sticky little clumps of bud were soon reduced to a light ash. I then snapped the bastard pipe in two, hurled it as far as I could across the city sky, and went inside to spoon half a litre of Green&Blacks vanilla ice cream into my mouth with shavings of dark chocolate and crumbled butter cookies. It sounds melodramatic, but it was vitally important that I got rid of the pipe for this new phase of management that I am about to embark on. Having to interact with those new-age, jostick-burning tie-dye types with the black eyes and fingernails to buy a new pipe is something that I will put off as long as possible, at least providing a shadow of a safety net. And then I will be justified in another few weeks' worth.

This is why cannabis should not be legalized: there are others like me, who will abuse it until they start to crack. I know this only too well, having lived in Amsterdam for a year where I was getting through two boxes of Luckies a week without smoking a single fag. Not to mention the crate of flip-top bottles of ice cold Grolsch. Civilized in the extreme.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Food is the new cannabis

It is a downer on the whole. Irritable with the children, again. Feeling tired and vacant, and suffering confusion over what is real and what isn’t. Why have I decoupled from the Office, for instance? Is it because: A) the drugs are fogging my brain and rendering me incapable, or B) the drugs are bringing the tedium of the workplace into full bloom, showing me just what a fucking waste of my life it is to sit here every day? No, no, of course, it’s always option C), that for reasons I will doubtless never understand, I am addicted to the escape of getting drunk and high and my every thought and action is directed towards managing this goal in some capacity.

But I am bored with it and its grubbiness; not to mention the munchies, which have jumped by an order of magnitude from anything I’ve experienced before. I have been gorging myself on chocolate-coated shortbread and glasses of milk, Italian blood oranges by the half dozen, buttered hot-cross buns, buttered bread encrusted with wafers of Maldon and chocolate cake with hot chocolate sauce. I am ballooning and just can not be fucked controlling it. I buy it all in in advance, just as I would my fags or booze. And I do it with quality biscuits, premium ice creams and fine chocolate. I am abusing this drug because I know it is temporary. Or is that the biggest delusion of them all?

I have realized that you need to host two personalities at the same time to maintain a life as a managing stoner: one to be your stand-in and the other to live with the guilt and small-time depravity. Take yesterday’s Sunday lunch with the neighbours. I mean, it wasn’t as if they weren’t hungover anyway and nobody could hear themselves think on account of the teething Infant we’d brought. But they didn’t deserve me missing dinner on account of my need to score, dressed up as a trip to the Tesco for some Bonjela. I must have been gone for 40 minutes on my return trip to the other side of fucking town, having set out just as the kids’ portions were being doled out.

I would fucking want to kill a bastard that did that to my food. And the beauty of it all was its utter pointlessness, spending as I was the afternoon in the kitchen of a bloke who can sort things out in an relative instant without my moving so much as an arm to a jean pocket. Remarkably, while driving back in the Sunday sun I was not working myself up with guilt in the distant knowledge that I had already missed dinner; and I had left my passenger to worry about the practicalities, such as: “how would I feel if I had bumped into someone from the Office while I was in there getting my ten-bag?” No, nothing like this at all was going through my mind – just the nagging feeling that the size of the bags are shrinking these days, convinced I’m getting regular 5-bags for the price of ten, possibly a result of my soggy brain perceiving the contents of the bag to be much less than they really are because it knows how much it needs these days to get itself properly high?

So, as it was with my secret transfers of Litre Pantry Smirnoff to Half-bottle freezer Smirnoff one year ago, I am now hiding my dependency even from those to whom it doesn’t matter. The Wife doesn’t know a bit of it either, although I don’t actually believe that’s true. It’s selfish and greedy and grubby, and I am abusing it because I want to hate it and want to be free from it. But fuck, the vast open space up ahead is daunting – particularly since I have just had a glimpse of it and been beaten before I even got there.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A visit from the North

Cycling home from the Office on a Tuesday night I floated in the cold light rain powered by ludicrously high-THC Skunk, Red Bull and Professional Widow. I felt a part of the wet tarmac bumps and was acutely aware of the fact that I was the best driver out there. I could have pedaled for hours instead of crashing in as I did on my stable and normal home-life for a plate of Wife-cooked meatballs. She must surely realize that I’m out of my head most nights. My eyes resemble those fading turds which develop a blood-red hue after a few hours’ steeping in urine; my face is pasty and drawn. And my chat is inane really, consistently missing the note and losing the thread of arguments mid-sentence; the paranoia of being rumbled with every vacant pause making it all the more difficult to hold the show together under the rarely truly comfortable spotlight of the dinner table.

I am slower in the kitchen, too, obsessed with wiping down surfaces and washing up items as they become dirty. It’s as if I’m being watched or examined, waiting for someone to pop-by and notice the fact that my leek-wrapped bouquet garni was tight and barrel-like. There isn’t even anybody who could be that someone. I try to properly think about ingredients, my creativity buoyed by the cannabis yet the tide marks of my knowledge remaining unchanged; and in any case, my attention span only permitting a minute or two of such activity.

By dinner the next day we had to get as far away as possible from the vat of background beef stock that had been steadily coating every square inch of our bodies with a fine layer of grease all afternoon. Not to mention the children, who were disappearing in a muted haze of fat globules, nor the daffodils which were starting to droop heavier in their vase. So I fried some fresh fillets of mackerel, again, with a rocket salad, again, and a few soft heaps of capers in a thick emulsion of bay-infused olive oil and sweet Italian-lemon juice to help mask the smell of death and the feeling that, due to the meatiness of the brew and the lifelessness of the bones boiled dry of all their goodness, my bold exterior had been stripped back a layer or two.

I find myself in search of purpose on stock days, fixated with basic tasks and thoughts, exacerbated by the fact that I am housebound for 12 hours. Masturbation springs to mind, as one returns trance-like to the sticky collagen soup to skim off another layer of scum. The atmosphere is Stone Age, clinical.

There is meat everywhere: a 1.3 kilo joint of silverside, a pound of banquet beef sausages, half a dozen chicken thighs and mince picked up at the Fanny’s market with the aim to both satisfy the tastes of a choosey nephew and cure mild guilt for nabbing every last one of the money-grabbing bastards’ free bone-bags. But none of this compares with the work of my excellent Highland contacts: a 2.5kg rolled haunch of Sika and a tail-end of wild smoked salmon.

I was beginning to dwell on the possibility that my packed fridge is the result of classic stoner indecision -- that a seven year-old is really going to want to have to choose between a spaghetti bolognaise and sausage, mash and peas on his first night in a distant, up-tight and never-particularly-interested uncle’s house down in England. But a solution soon appeared in the form of an all-round favourite of thumb-suckers and straw-feeders alike, the Cottage Fucking Pie. This one aimed to reach deeper than most, the prime beef mince bulked out and made child-friendly by the contents of two fat beef sausages, all of it simmered for two hours in a few ladlefuls of stock with some neeps and carrots and finished off in a high oven to crisp up a thick layer of rough creamy mash studded with salty butter.

The Boy knew this was different to the mince and tatties he gets at school. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know why, he just knew this stuff made him feel good. But then, in what some might say is a tragic turnaround, he signaled that the chocolate sauce mixed up by the Wife from some double cream, milk, soft brown sugar and fine dark chocolate was “too choclatty”, and that he wanted “the strawberry one” instead. As soon as I find myself despairing at the dehumanizing otherworldliness of marketing and modern food production, I stop in the fear that I am repeating what everyone in every other bastard generation has said before me and therefore can only conclude that I am but a worthless flash in the pan.

But then, by chance, I was given some hard evidence which corroborated my view that I am, in fact, living in the future. It took the form of a Friday night at the outta-town Showcase Cinema Complex. To understand how alien it is to enter this Temple to Mediocrity, you have to imagine having just scoffed down a large, hot bowl of creamy linguini with smoked salmon, rocket and watercress in the comfort of your own home, a couple of glasses of wine for those who aren’t alcoholic and some hearty chat about how much fresh air the grandchildren got this afternoon. Then, armed with a few safeguard expectations about the depth in ankles of fast-food debris and the number in gangs of “young” people who have driven there to ruin your evening, you suddenly find yourself in the midst of a vast moonscape of car park. Guided towards the 16-door entrance by blue luminous lights and the sound of overproduced “feel-good” rock/pop fodder through tinny speakers, one is immediately under-whelmed by the smell of sweet ketchup, boiled dogs and failed promises.

Straight into the check-in queue we went, talking to each other as if we were surrounded by a different, and mute, species. Then up and into the vast blue-carpeted space I quickly spotted alcohol for sale, and could see a Lounge Bar Area lit in red neon against one of the huge vertical walls. Up close it was not much more than a student-fridge worth’s of Breezers, Becks and WKDs, but while trying not to think too much about the irony at our playing at being a pair of cinema-loving class-snob “wankers in the wrong shit hole” it was appropriate to down a Smirnoff ice before the show started. Which, after some silent confusion over protocol, was brought over to us in a plastic beaker just as soon as we had been seen to be sat over in the LBA. From there we were able to survey the task ahead, taking into account the two possibly-armed security guards at the pick ‘n’ mix stand and the LED codes displaying which gate to go to. Then, after successfully presenting our tickets and negotiating the departure hall, it was time at long last to sit down and disengage with reality.

You cannot help but associate with such 21st century entertainment a disposable food culture of the lowest common denominator. You just knew, for example, that the fat cunt with the shaved head and football shirt stood at the cinema bar pushing the dry, bland and dangerous hotdog into his face had already eaten a full meal before he had come out and was need of just one more fucking hit to raise the blood-sugar levels before sitting on his doughy white arse for the next two hours.

It is a culture in which my fridge was partially immersed this weekend. When visitors, especially kids, turn up the fridge soon fills with vac-packed cheese sticks and cartons of luminous liquid, the cupboards with sugar-coated cereals and trans-fat-laced biscuits and cakes. Chocolate for treats, an aftermath of half eaten matter spread across the floors and tables for most of the day. And just when I thought that I was going to achieve three hits in a row in my attempt at please-all family food, by doling out early evening thin slices of best roast beef and a tray full of sticky roast tatties and parsnips, I realized that the aliens had won. Not even the most caramelized of the waxy roast potatoes, coated with beef fat and the distant scents of roast onion and garlic, was powerful enough to win out over the crisps and buns and chocolate and fizz. He eats “mashed” potatoes, but not roasted. And the meat, it was said, was too cold – a problem which, obviously, a short period of reheating in a frying pan was unable to remedy.

Food relationships can be brain damage. I was sat there having not anticipated such rejection, while the Boy was simply trying to live up to somebody else’s expectations. In fact, he would have preferred fish because fish is what the new father figure in his life likes to eat after a day on the river. And so my buttery tart tatin with vanilla cream, intended as a treat for eating so much tattie and meat, turned out to be the main meal of the day, with big refined-ingredient smiles all round.

And that was it. I had managed to spend a weekend with my own mother while hardly exchanging a word, hiding myself away at the worktops while the children were entertained and flirting with the strong urge to get good and drunk with her across the kitchen table, drinking gin and whisky with familiar ferocity and smoking hard on 25-packs of Richmond. Collapsing in the shower to come, ranting at the moon…It didn’t seem to fit, and the craic was poorer for it.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Blind optimism

I seem to be riding on a rare crest of control over my weaknesses for addiction. It will be short-lived, you can put your house on that, but that makes it all the more tense. For with each waking minute it threatens to die away or crash. The whole image could also very possibly be a deluded fantasy dreamt up while as I am every night as high as a kite. But its seems I have found myself at this point partly because it’s en route to a year of being alcohol-free and partly because I am still just about managing to convince myself that this one-off bag of knockout grass is going to be one of only a few more and hence my springboard to building a proper relationship with it, a success-story which I shall then transpose to my alcoholism and, finally, be free. Etc.

At least it is keeping us well fed, since this wave of optimism is coupled with life outside my own head and is somehow fuelling confidence in my kitchen, not to mention the Office. Indeed, in the latter I have unknowingly struck gold – having had a “business idea” which provides on a plate a desperately needed Shining Example of their tens of thousands of pound’s worth of corporate strategy being put into action. While trying to sell its merits I found myself fumbling in an attempt to avoid terms and phrases such as “monetize”, “move forward” and “exploit potential”, and just when I found myself resorting to vague and vacuous sketches accompanied by some grand hand-waving and thoughtful frowns, the MD suddenly interrupted me:

“Stop right there,” he said, with his hand out and a reassuring but deeply troubling smile on this face.

“That’s called a Vision”.

It was fucking priceless. It had taken their most cynical employee in his desperate bid to escape a dead-end position to bale them out of the sinking ship that is their Corporate Strategy. Before I know it I’ll be being hauled out of the Christmas-do to pick up my engraved silver cup and three-figure cheque, the rancid tang of industrial brandy butter still keen on my breath.

At home my period of clarity is materializing in slightly more style. Yesterday I made a fish stock with the fleshy frame of a large halibut and a few aromatics. It had the look and feel of a thick chicken stock, like nothing I’ve seen with other fish. I put a litre or two away and the rest into a fish soup. The Wife, possibly due to her rampant and enviable rediscovery of cigarette smoking, has been in need of creamy meals – ones that are comforting too, ideally, so as to blot out the need for a painful drink.

This stock had the complexion of bull semen. I ladled it into a heavy pan of reduced wine, leek, shallot and lemon grass and threw in a couple of tatties. Then I used it as a bath for the meat: first the haddock for a minute or two, then two fat twitching langoustines for three, followed last by a handful of mussels. It blitzed to a smooth sheen and was made table-ready with a handful of Maldon, a pile of cream and a few stems of flat-leafed parsley; crusty white bread; good quality, salted butter.

I have no idea what sort of culinary culture my children will inherit, however. Earlier today I noticed the Eldest being fixated with my hacking out of the eyes and ripping out the gills of a triangular fish-head the size of my sink. And, later, I quietly enjoyed watching her taunt the sleepy langoustines that I had merely intended to show her for general-education purposes. Couple that with my odd and uptight behaviour at mealtimes generally and you’ve got a classic recipe for disturbed teenage tendencies.

So I march onwards to fuck-knows where. Because I am perpetually caned I’ve been cooking up some oily and Malden-encrusted treats. This evening was a super-rare lump of Barrow Gurney topside with wedges of soft maris pipers roasted in rosemary and garlic, sweet Italian cherry tomatoes rolled around in hot olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a portobello mushroom and some rocket coated in a Dijon vinaigrette. The food was so juicy it had no need for a gravy. A forced rhubarb & oaty crumble with vanilla ice cream for a munch.

But it’s all temporary and will end soon once the mundane bores back in. I cannot afford to consume cannabis of this strength with everything else that’s happening around me, not least my family. It will crumble. But it’s good to be here one-last-fucking-time again.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wake-up gear

It was inevitable. I’ve known for a while that my break of a couple of weeks would be rewarded with a bag this weekend. I had factored it in. The Friday night ritual of bar and conspicuous nods and robbery would kick in and by seven I’d be happy. Well, it is Wednesday now, and the pace of anticipation has been shifting up a gear, as has my general happiness and sense of well-being I might add. Just like with fags or booze, it’s the knowledge that you can enjoy them that really lights up your day and not the actual moment when you do. And my good spirits made me a more relaxed husband and father, as well as less sociopathic in the workplace, a better cook and generally an all-around slightly nicer human. Although at the same time I am completely in the dark as to whether my positive outlook was, in fact, due to the looming prospect getting off my tits or the fact that after two or three weeks’ rest my dopamine receptors were starting to fire on time again.

Tonight, three days sooner than planned, I found out. It is thanks to a twenty-bag of the most potent gear I’ve tried, scored in civilized surroundings much closer to home than amongst the socially handicapped in the bar. The rest of the evening was a haze as I wandered around the house seeking purpose. At one point I managed to stagger outside to admire the rather odd looking moon, which was forming an unnatural looking upside-down crescent and which later turned a deep and eerie crimson. It wasn’t until the following day when I noticed the next day’s headlines such as “Lunar eclipse wows sky watchers” and “Best show for a decade” that I realized how far gone I must have been, to have seen the moon disappear and then turn colour without stopping to think why the Fuck that might be happening. How the fuck was I doing this every day for so long?

Anyway, the conclusion is that I have no choice but to use this stuff carefully, to ration it. And this surely presents a fateful opportunity to attempt to attain a working relationship with an addiction? This could be just what I have waiting for, the culmination of my year of abstinence, like a giant insane relay-race, the baton about to be passed from one to another: it is safe to drink again at last!

Yes, that’s it. I’ll stow it away in an out-of-reach place such as the garden shed though the week, pinching off a wee bit to perk me up at the weekends and feeling like the master of ceremonies. I will learn how to be able to have close to hand a substance to which I am addicted, to “just live with it” as a good friend helpfully pointed out recently.

I will then sail past the one year milestone with a summer’s project to start slowly reintroducing the drink. There would be no quiet frenzies of vodka and ice and citrus fruits to accompany a Saturday afternoon in the sun, nor steady-can-Sundays with the newspaper and the smell of cut grass. There will be peace at long last.

But, then, there is every possibility that I will cane this entire bag and its striking potential for vacancy in the next 4--6 days. And Fuck Knows what that is going to do to me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Just when I thought I’d forgotten how to loath Nigel

Nigel’s leader in this month’s OFM really engaged me and made me want to be like him. Just replace the word “evangelical” with “like a smug, self-satisfied, middleclass Guardian-media-twat living in a West London bubble with nothing but the intimacy of his bonds with root vegetables left to worry about” and then decide whether or not you want to eat his food:

“I like to know everything about what is on my plate. Not just whether my food is organic or not, but more than that. Much more.

If I shop at the farmers market or farm shop rather than the supermarket I can get to know who grew it and what variety they planted, if I buy from a vegetable box scheme I will sometimes get a note with it too, about the trials of getting stuff planted and picked.

But it is the fruit and vegetables I grow for myself that I really appreciate; I know their entire story, and can look at the carrot, the tomato, the cabbage on the plate and know I have some connection with its entire cycle from ordering the seed from the catalogue through to pricking out, planting, tending and harvesting.

Okay, so it has a few holes in it and is a prime contender for the rude vegetable competition, but somehow that makes it all the more special. It has an integrity and honesty to it that exceeds anything I can buy.

If this sounds a bit evangelical then so what? I guess that is what happens when you get your hand into the soil in order to make your own supper.

If cooking is a pleasure, then it becomes tenfold the moment you lift your own vegetables from the earth and rub the wet soil off them with your thumb.

Yes, I can say it tastes better, and some of that may be true, but there is so much more to it than that: I feel some kind of bond with what I am eating and, when I put that food out on to other people's plates I feel I am sharing something very very special.

Which of course I am.”

Get the fucking wood chipper fired up, would you.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The death of the customer

Today I took great pleasure in watching the brain-dead secretary eat herself alive, at least what’s left of her thanks to years of yo-yo bullshit dieting, on hearing that someone else in the Office is buying a flat in the poshest part of town. It penetrated deep into her steely but fragile core and although not one for incisive comment left her with no other coping mechanism than to wish out load that she too had a rich mummy and daddy. So I went upstairs for some lunch, feeling buoyant and friendly and being met without a single smile or anything bordering on acknowledgement by the people who I have seen and handed money over to virtually every day for the last five FUCKING years. The till rang up two pounds poxy fifty for my platter of bland carb-fat-salt slop and a pale and elegant hand reached out. Nothing was spoken, no eye contact made. I felt as if I wanted to throw a handful of loose change all over the floor and walk off, leaving the fucking tasteless matter on the counter as I went.

This is the reality of Blair’s meritocracy, if we can stretch the imagination for a moment to accommodate some sense of cause and effect in this buckled and disjointed society. Everyone is so fucking sure that they have a fundamental right to fortune and fame that they can longer work in the only fucking jobs that anyone will ever employ them to do; they’re too busy figuring out how many loans they will need to secure that place on a retail-therapy HNC to tell me how much my needlessly mediocre meal is going to cost me.

Meanwhile the BDS refuses to pick up my phone because she thinks she should be a PA to someone more important; waiting staff look at me as if Im the one shoveling shit; car hire staff, utility companies, customer service of any kind – you have to fight every inch of the way to restore your role as a customer. Being nice, as I see most people being, or being a cunt, as I have ended up, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Either way they will still hate me for it. A dangerous lie has been spread by those fucking bastards in power, and us drones are turning on each other as a result of our unmet expectations. I am helpless. The customer is dead. When did the customer die?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

One day at a time

What the fuck can I give up for lent? It’s been 11 months now. Somehow the anniversary of my stunt is taking on more meaning as it draws nearer. It’s as if I’m waiting for some kind of closure, as if 8760 hours makes any fuck of a difference whatsoever. As if some clarity is going to suddenly appear from nowhere, a signpost to help me go further. Or maybe the event will con me into thinking I’m able to have another go at drinking properly, having “managed” a whole year without it. I am fucked whichever way I turn.
I need something.
I am a better person when I’m levered off the plane, I know I am. I am presently a fucking nightmare; the kids, the Wife, the Office, my temper is short and fierce with everyone. Really, I am being eaten alive by this all-consuming emptiness generated by my need yet self-diagnosed complete incapability to get out of my fucking head on something. I thought I had gear to turn to if things got tricky, but my recent reunion told me otherwise: I just wanted to pack as much into the shortest space and time possible so as to get as numb and fucking mongoloid as a human has ever gotten. Even with this empirical evidence behind me, I appear to be unable to learn anything from it. I have, for example, been entertaining delusions that by learning how to use gear properly I can eventually switch it for drink and thereby live a life of controlled, high-functioning alcoholism. And, fuck, it has been just three days since my little experiment and I am right now seriously considering making yet another “final” trip to the socially handicapped for a restock.
There must be something else at work here. I find I have largely shut off from the world. I even sat down in front of the television the other night to shout at Nigel Slater and his unfunny friends on a food&drink roll-out of the grumpy-old-men format, but had to switch it off without comment after 23 seconds. And today should have been spent sourcing bones and making stocks, but the idea seemed utterly pointless because I just couldn’t imagine a time when I was going to use any of it. I cannot see beyond a short horizon right now, a day or two at best. Perhaps it’s time to reach out and up and embark on the Twelve Steps to enlightenment without which I am told I am a dead-man. I certainly feel powerless right now. But I’m fucked if I trust anybody else enough to hand myself over.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

VD and gout

The thought of a lump of meat surrounded by a buttery sauce didn’t appeal this VD. We have been eating highly seasoned, munchy-driven gastro-pub type food for a while. And of course having been together for some time, we the Wife and I are far too “ironical” and, more to the point, cynical to go overboard on VD. But that is not to say that no thought went into it. I knew she had a hangover, for instance, and so would appreciate a deep bowl of hot and comforting penne.

So I made a tomato sauce, enhancing the tin of chopped with a handful of reconstituted sundrieds and a punnet of velvety beef stock. After cooking it down with plenty of browned bacon, red onion and chili, I tossed it into the pasta with some wild leaves, truffle oil and a scraping of ageing parmesan. We ate it with hot crusty rosemary and olive-oil bread and it was more than sufficient to temporarily fill the marital potholes and divert attentions from the more unsettling sides to an eight-year-long relationship. That sort of thing could take the wheels off a meal.

But I had prepared a backup just in case the beef didn’t reach far down enough: a desert that could, in fact, kill in quantity. It was meant to be chocolate ice cream. It was fucking chocolate ice cream, but not like any I had tasted before. It began with six supremely fresh and deep-orange yolks in a bowl, into which I tipped a good handful of icing sugar and whisked until smooth and pale; cooked up with a pint of warm double cream and 120g of dark Lindt chocolate; a splash of milk to slacken it all up. But by the time it had chilled enough to be presented to the churner it was far too stiff to pour. So I folded in some more cream and watched the cheap plastic blades scrape their way round, making their task slightly harder by chucking in small handfuls of crushed roasted hazelnuts. It didn’t take long to grind to halt, and I quickly transferred the mixture to a tub, stirring in some more double cream to create a crap marbled effect.

I served three small boules of the stuff in a puddle of Kahlua (for those who aren’t alcoholic) and dusted them with some sieved icing sugar. It was like eating a giant frozen Belgian chocolate. To illustrate just how outrageous this substance was, I very nearly (and should have) served it with a dollop of chantilly cream to lighten it up. It reminded me of a Cruzan rum by the name of 151, so called on account of its agonizing potency (75.5%abv). The bottle carried a bright red flammable-liquid warning, and we were mixing it with neat Absolute to make it drinkable. It burned and made us salivate so badly that the last two hours of the session were spent in silence, crouched over a table gobbing thick, salty and acidic spit onto our own floor. It would have been a fitting end to VD really.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A social menace

Things were definitely continuing on the up. It began with a £20 find at the farmers’ market and culminated with a ten-bag from the socially handicapped. Thieving and purchasing quasi-illegal drugs. With the former I went to town on a large wild sea bass and a good handful of venison steak. [Such serendipity would have normally been met with a bottle of malt, which is more fitting than a couple of meals.] The latter was the result of “decision-overturn”, a process I entertained for a surprisingly long time given that I knew all along what the outcome was going to be.
Evidently, the psycho-switch that has been so powerful in keeping me away from booze for the worst part of a year doesn’t seem to have been wired up properly for the gear. I know why, of course. Principally it’s because such a black&white decision would bring me too close to an existence with no bolt hole – however obstructed it may have become from overuse. Despite the lonely ceremony on January 3rd when my supply came to a foggy end, I knew I had to keep the option open if I was ever to make sure that the drink didn’t spot the opportunity and raise its game accordingly. I knew that when I stood in my soggy back garden with my pipe in my hand contemplating hurling it into the night.
So with all this brought much closer by the imminent prospect of a weekend with just the children, the idea was rasping away at my Friday-night mind. By the time the morning came I had reasoned a bullet-proof case for getting some in by the end of the day, which was boosted by some kitchen DIY success in the shape of some Swedish-designed under-shelf lighting. And I felt good about it.
The core strand of the argument was this: it was an opportunity to show to myself just how mature and sensible my approach to my addictions has become, how I understand myself so well that I can coolly and calmly afford myself a few day’s of societal outage as and when I need it. And just in case I started to see through it all, I covered my ass with the “if I am ever to have a healthy relationship with this stimulant, then there is no sense in just stopping forever altogether – you need to keep in touch though the bad times, test each other to see if the space has had any effect” routine.
But it was all academic.
It took all of three minutes of having the stinky little bag in my hands before I was coughing like a cunt in the car park next door. And rather than sit back and enjoy the clean high I had expected to get from only the minimum of material filling my freshly ventilated lungs, I found myself doubly hungry for the stuff. I hit it hard for a few days, enjoying the heightened enjoyment of food and fantasy. Rolling soft strips of purple venison steak in hot butter, spiking the juices with some crushed juniper berries, reducing the seepage from a handful of reconstituted porcini and tipping in a tub of single cream to make a stoner’s stroganoff was just one example of the kind of self-indulgent concoction I was immersing myself in.
But I felt slow too, forgetful and much more paranoid than I thought I ought to be. One of a rare few occasions when I have been utterly aware of how the substance I’d just imbibed was altering me. I disliked the heavy, hazy hit and my quick transformation into insatiable monster. I fucked a filleting job on a mackerel and have been consuming shite like I can’t recall, gorging myself on cheese and pickle crackers, premium ice creams and bars of Cadbury’s chocolate. The high made me want to indulge, instantly, in everything. I hadn’t expected this to happen at all, rather that I would be knocked totally off my tits and care-free. It flicked an altogether different kind of switch. Just like drink used to do, all it did was trigger a behavioural pattern that I had grown used to. I was back on the Red Bull, taking longer to do everything than I should have been, tetchy but worst of all craving getting more fucked.
So it seems as if smoking high-strength cannabis has now been added to the small but growing list of things I cannot do properly. I would feel the loneliness if it weren’t for the comfort of knowing it’s not going to be taken away just yet. Although things are different to the way they were five days ago. This ill-conceived little test did not turn out too well. I feel even more trapped than I was. And I cannot afford to be slowed down right now, in the beginning of my supposed prime. Like a man with which I have in common nothing but age: rock/pop-star/teetotaler AANA Robbie Williams, drinking 36 espressos and 20 cans of Bull every day and now checking-in to rehab to wean him off subscription drugs. We need to talk. I am already thinking about how I’m going to get past tomorrow without scoring another bag.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Welcome to Flatland

Buttered brown bread in abundance, and all helped down by several fucking litres of Highland Spring. There are signs of hope on the horizon. I find myself here, anticipating an overdue dump of snow, with 160,000 gassed turkeys and the world’s most expensive meal on my mind. The former is an attempt by the bio-police to hold back the inevitable explosion of H5N1 in one of Bernard Matthews’ bootiful battery factories, the latter a one million baht wank-fest involving 18 star’s worth of signature dishes accompanied by a predictable “uninterested investor” wine selection. The news provides coarse culinary orientation of sorts, lying at the extremes of the Epicurean scale; my cantankerous existence would appear to lie somewhere between the two. It is especially useful to visualize this scale as being one-sorry-dimensional, for there is no doubt that I am currently staring down the barrel of a life devoid of peaks and troughs.

But it could be that I am beginning to settle in to Flatland. He no longer, for example, turns in an instant from calm and considerate father to deranged maniac at the sight of his one-year old trying hopelessly to consume a banana or deciding half way through a spoon-fed plate of rough vegetable mash, which he spent good time he didn't have preparing, to mix it with sticky warm snot and rub it all into her eyes. Notwithstanding the rage as the three-hundred-and-forty-fifth flattened raisin squelches between his morning toes. But more telling is the clarity with which I have been approaching the evening meal. Like a foggy film that has lifted from my brain, the food has cut through the crap and been quick and fuck-free for a while.

There was Monday’s hot-shit soup of water, carrot, ginger, coriander and salt; Tuesday’s fresh butter-fried herring fillets floured and egged and rolled in oats and served with parsley and lemon; Wednesday’s seared slices of rare rump steak with neep & thyme mash and truffle-dressed leaves; Thursday’s roasted Chinese-five-spice duck leg with celeriac puree and some stir-fried purple-sprouting with soy; Friday’s fresh mackerel, pan-fried until crispy and bursting with oils cut by a caper and watercress salad dressed in a simple lemon vinaigrette; and today’s crispy pork belly with fennel seeds and a stew of cannellini beans cooked in cider – no more than an elaborate excuse to walk back from the newsagent's with the paper and a can of Blackthorn at ten o'clock in the morning. Nobody batted and eyelid, as it turned out, which helped crystallize all the more my little fantasy of taking my purchases home via a park bench. (A lovely chilled can to take the fur out my mouth; a wrap of Cutter’s Choice too to numb the itchy rasp at the back of my throat; a packet of mints to counter the deathly stench of bitter sweet sweat; a newspaper to bring purpose to my actions; and endless hours trying to convince myself that it’s all being carried out with irony, merely childish and attention-seeking play-acting.) It would be a bleak picture indeed if this were for real, of course.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A day in the life

Schizo-confusion is the real killer with addiction, tormented minutes or hours spent trying to work out what is real and what is the work of demons. Both are real, of course. It gives you a hint of what it must be like to be mentally ill. Perhaps I am mentally ill. But one thing which is not in any doubt whatsoever is the dual or more existence that an honest-to-goodness dependence on alcohol, drugs, diets, gym membership or sex with strangers offers you. It’s extremely dangerous in fact, and you only realize just how much when it is taken away.

Take a typical day of modern life. A man gets out of bed and the first thing he asks himself is: “why?” It’s not as if he really feels that there is any point to his job anymore. He can see right through his boss, knows full well he could run the place much better himself, and instead of giving the 110 percent he knows he’s capable of spends his days reading bullshit Internet news stories and torturing himself with the seemingly blissful existence and higher salaries of others around him. He knows that he has a greater purpose in life, of course, but is also cynical enough to realize that it isn’t going to be realized by spending all day sitting around this fucking Office whining.

So he takes up a personal-bettering hobby such as running to help focus the mind and to impart a sense of control over his life. Get a kick out of life, he reasons, by getting fitter and pumping some oxygen through his slowly decaying brain. And he spends a while on the treadmill, finding solace in the subtext of competition with other men in the Office. But he soon starts to feel terribly alone out there. It starts when he ceases to notice any further weight loss or toning, and continues until he admits to himself that the whole exercise has been a diversion to permit him to procrastinate over his exit strategy. He decides to throw himself into the work again in the hope that all the advice from friends and family and books and corporate art ‘that you only get out of life what you put in’ is really true. And the whole cycle starts over again, trundling mercilessly down a bland and heartless suburban cul-de-sac.

But what if he had something so great to look forward to each day that it turned his in-tray into a fucking advent calendar? Something which at the same time allowed him to really set himself apart from the pack because he knew that he was the only one doing it; something whose effects continued to fuck with his dopamine receptors well into the following day, providing a welcome disembodiment from his work yet simultaneously giving him more incentive than ever to get through it so that he can enjoy his reward guilt-free at the end of it. With exercise you get the precise opposite effect – nothing to look forward to but pain and cold sweat, and an enlivened brain which only serves to make more stark the mediocrity of your 9-5 existence.

He has, of course, found drugs and alcohol. Everyone is doing it to some level -- just think of the atmosphere after four o’clock on a Friday afternoon as the smoke-filled, decibel busting, suit-filled bar looms. Behaviour becomes more animated with every degree the minute-hand traces, the scene quickly verging on one of lost panic as people start to readjust to their real selves in preparation for the weekend. But sitting there quietly knowing that he is going to get even more wrecked than all of them, in infinitely better comfort and grander style than the meat market of a city-centre pay-day post work session and also using illegal, if soft and recently declassified, drugs brings a sense of calm and inner peace. And when he does arrive home to familiar familial surroundings and starts to get himself into a proper nick, he wallows self-satisfied in just how ahead-of-the-game he is and, more importantly, redeems his sense of individuality.

This can go on for years, his fogging brain finding it increasingly hard to make anything more of the job and causing him to miss out on all opportunities to progress or bolt. For this stuff doesn’t come for free. The paranoia starts to show itself and he begins to think that everyone knows he’s stoking his hash pipe in the gents’ before he heads home of an evening and then nipping into the newsagent’s for a couple of journey-cans. Before he knows it he has become so used to the effects of being high that the incentive to get through the day becomes less and less. His nerves start to shatter and the paranoia spreads to the family, shrinking the Safety Zone until it is no more appealing than the Office he was trying to escape in the first place. Soon he can face neither, and the only hope of averting the mid-life crisis is to sign up for a much better hydroxyl compound.

Suddenly take the drink and drugs away, however, and the scene looks even more desolate. For his mind will be fucking dross and the job still in the troughs of bare necessity that it was left in the day before, and not just for a few days. Indeed, time appears to slow to a virtual singularity while space takes on a cold and portentous light, the objects within it sharper and more menacing than he recalls. All a sensate occupant can do is sulk and snarl and drown itself in the gross unfairness of the world.

And then the punch-line starts to rear its demonic head, only our shell of an individual is now incapable of appreciating the tragic humour. It was cigarettes all the time that he was missing, that he was trying to replace, first with harder drinking and then with regular cannabis abuse. The master of all addictions has worked its magic so savagely that he hadn’t even noticed. But in fact all he wants is a fag and, deluded with the partial progress he has made towards conquering what he deemed much more serious addictions, the idea of sparking one up has lost all taboo and sense of failure. It seems so harmless in comparison. It would be the right thing to do in order to keep everyone happy, he reasons. And he suddenly realizes
that he doesn’t know who or how many were listening to the giant conversation that has been going on in his own head for several years.

A true masterpiece of the self.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Burn it off

A recipe upon which to unleash some real anger, yet giving you just enough time to cool off and become receptive to its soothing reward; a one-pot, two-day meal that will melt away the worst of January’s hostilities; and all for the price of a box of fags.

What you do is this. Go into your nearest supermarket, probably a Tesco, and pick up a half-shoulder of lamb on-the-blade. Pause for a moment to ponder why there is nothing but New Zealand lamb on offer, until you find yourself getting frustrated by your paradoxical helplessness as a consumer immersed in the runaway capitalism of a nouveau riche society, then toddle off to the FIVE A DAY zone for a pillow of reduced spinach and some fresh coriander. Entertain for a second the delusion that you have the power to choose which queue will get you past the checkout safest and quickest, then proceed directly to the one containing the invisible sixty-something with Parkinson’s and a fistful of vouchers. Be ready with your cool and calm response to the relentless inquisition of cards and points and schools and cash, then attempt to take home your purchases in the free carrier bags that are being repeatedly slashed open by the edges of the unfathomably large plastic cuboid that contains your meat. Check your watch to make sure you have at least five hours left before the time when you want the ordeal to be over, then go home and turn on your oven.

Take out and admire an array of blunt and heavy implements. Then smash up a fuck-load of garlic and pound some chilli, lots of it. Use a rake of chillies, dried, fresh, mix them up, it doesn’t matter. Just guess at how much you want to suffer and then add some more. Pulverise some coriander and fennel seeds, plenty of both. You must work as fast as you can to ensure you are running on your innate sense of reason and gut-feeling only; it is vital that you measure nothing. Smell the seeds to find out how much you want them, forget about the chillies, don’t shy away from the garlic. Mix it all together with some oil, salt and lemon to form a thick paste and then launch a frenzied stabbing attack on your shoulder. Rub into the dry wounds and spaces between fatty layers your gritty potion, and throw the job into the oven for a slow 2-hour roast.

Forget about your dinner. Do something less boring instead, such as install a dishwasher. But when your eyes start to water and you start to feel something tickle and rasp in the back of your throat, it’s time to sweat some onions and any celery, leeks or carrots that you have to hand, in oil in a large heavy pan. This is your pot, and it needs to be big. After a while throw in a little more fennel, coriander and chilli, but most importantly a load of turmeric. Let it all cook away until it smells like curry and has taken on a good deep yellow colour, and then tip in a good couple of cupfuls of water and let it boil. Empty-in your spinach, put the lid back on, and set about hacking the meat from the shoulder into rough chunks, fat, gristle and all. Throw it all into the pan along with the naked blade, making sure all is just submerged, and then top with a pound of peeled King Edwards chopped in half. A handful of salt, a lid, and back into an even slower oven for another two hours.

It doesn’t matter what you do next. Your house will slowly fill from bottom to top with deep meaty and spicy odours. After an hour, stop what you are doing to check things haven’t gone awry, spooning a few pools of sheepy fat over the tatties. Then, when the end is near, retrieve again your pot, transfer the surprisingly crispy potatoes to somewhere warm (i.e. the oven), remove the bone, stir in some yoghurt and any creamed coconut you might have, and return to the oven for five minutes to melt into a pale orange and green sludge while you roughly chop large handfuls of coriander.

You are ready to spoon it all into large bowls and eat. And you will find meat that falls apart at the mere prod of your fork, yellowing tatties full of unexpected earthy flavour, and a thick fatty sauce that warms and refreshes in equal doses. The unparalleled soothing qualities of the meal, you realize with smug self-satisfaction, are down to the lack of metrology. You are surprised by how good it has turned out, and will remember next time what needs to be adjusted to perfect your brew. What’s more, you will never again consider the twenty-fifth of January fit for Haggis.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Fucking Chicken

Call it a lack of culinary balls, ability or inspiration; and level a few accusations of being a pathetic whining male while you’re at it. But the truth is that, like always ending up at the cinema when in search of an alcohol-free night out, I was essentially helpless in my choice of Sunday meal this week. In need of a move away from the red meats and heavy Christmas stocks, yet looking for something that I could throw into a pan without much thought so as not to impinge too rudely on my great sulk with the world regarding (mainly, but not exclusively) my inability to use alcohol and/or soft drugs to obscure it, I was obviously going to end up with a fucking chicken. And let’s face it, everyone loves a chicken don’t they? I couldn’t go wrong, I thought. But when the time came I started fucking things up right left and centre, dangerously so as I was about to find out.

I should have just plumped the bastard into a pot with some veg and wine and let it roast away all afternoon. That’s what I should have done under the circumstances. But, of course, I was not thinking straight on account of my straightness. So unfortunately, while standing there with my hand up the bird’s arse retrieving its giblets, I started imagining prepping the bird as I may have done had I been up to my eyeballs in super-hybrid skunk. I’ll roast it with tarragon butter under the skin, I thought, packed full of a rich bacon, liver & herb stuffing and served with root vegetables roasted beneath it in the slow drips of fowl fat, an “independent gravy” tying it all together for its place at the Sunday family table that I wearily attempt to resuscitate from one week to the next.

But I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and before long the scene before me was one of cowboys & Indians scrapping over chopped liver. There were herbs all over the place and pieces of misshaped onion, too many knives and pans and evidence of indecision everywhere I looked. All the while I was becoming more and more angry for having made it so unnecessarily difficult for myself (it’s not as if anyone else gave a shit). It was as if I was trying to follow a badly written recipe or something. I just couldn’t get into it. Nothing felt right. And it came as no great surprise that I could barely summon the motor skills to spoon it into my face when the time came.

The stuffing was too strong and, I suspect, undercooked. Moreover, it lacked the crucial crispy coating that had tricked me into thinking the job was a good’un when I fried off a quick sample. The skin on the bird was not crispy enough, and the tarragon butter (a freebie from the Shop) had lent a claggy, bitter taste to both the flesh and the unsuspecting vegetables beneath.

As for the independent gravy, it was a waste of fucking time. Sacrificing any hope the bird had of producing a sauce for some grease-coated carrots, courgettes and potatoes, I browned the neck and a good handful or two of diced carrots, onions and celery, then deglazed with plenty white wine and cooked it all up with water and a fat bouquet garni for a half an hour before pressing it through a sieve. It made perfect sense, but I might as well have mixed a reconstituted Knor stock cube into a pasty roux for all the effect it had on my internal well-being.

The worst, however, was still to come - and it was much worse than I could have imagined. It meant I would not be able to eat for five whole days, nor participate in any task, trip or conversation for more than five minutes before having to run to the nearest porcelain bowl to jettison another 2-300mls of hot liquid faeces. I was as sick as a pike. I had given myself salmonella.

At least, that was my diagnosis. The medical establishment would have asked for all manner of stool samples that would have to be left under a heat lamp for a week before I could possibly be told what was in there, not to mention fobbing me off with helpful suggestions about the possible route of infection such as the usual Office air-con et cetera. But a modicum of cerebral activity pointed directly to the Fucking Chicken. Apart from the fact that those bastards are all full of the stuff, especially happy flappy farmyard ones like mine was, it was the only explanation as to why nobody else around me had got lucky too. Being too liver-like, the Wife hadn’t touched the lukish-warm stuffing that had been nestling up close to the unwashed walls of the body cavity for a good 45 minutes in bacterial-multiplication heaven. The children neither. And in a last attempt at making me feel that my sober efforts had been worthwhile I had decided to make a show of stuffing as much of it down me as I could (which wasn’t much) at the table. I have only ever poisoned myself once before now, and that was pale in comparison.

But somewhere in the midst of crippling stomach cramps, dry-retching and almost hallucinogenic headaches, I received frustrating confirmation that my sobriety is having and adverse affect on my home life and, importantly, on the way I cook. I received a little green present from the neighbour, a pipe or two of dried up old skunk. And thought - for Christ’s sake - that the world owed me that much. And even through the mist of my diarrhoea delirium, I suddenly felt alive and well. Within a few hours I was throwing out effortless bowls of impeccably seasoned fish curry followed by sexy squares of warm treacle tart with thick dollops of clotted cream, and by the time my serendipitous stash had run out we had put away plates of prime veal & pork sausages & mash with a blood-red sauce made from the best part of a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and tubs of beef and veal stock, garnished with char-grilled courgettes and tomatoes. And before I had time to fully experience the unparalleled glow that such ingredients bring to a cold January soul, it was back to the numbing reality of porcelain, dihydrocodeine and electrolytic sports drinks.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Think before you quit

I wasn’t thinking straight. The world was shimmering ever so slightly in the darkening mid-afternoon light, my hands like protheses over which I hand no control, and the car I was driving with nonchalant abandon floating centimetres above the road in defiance of physics. How could I have been thinking straight? I was running on fuck-all, dry, empty, lean, vulnerable, cagey and as pale as tripe. I hadn’t had a cigarette in two and a half years, a drink in ten months, or a blast of THC in nine days. I was a fucking liability, and shouldn’t have even been contemplating an attempt to employ my ill-coordinated senses in preparing an evening meal.

Ostensibly, I was marking an end to the festive cholesterol with a trip for some fish and chicken. Chicken? By the time I had got myself through the Shop doors, hovered towards the meat counter, and pointed wearily to an oven-ready carcase it was too late. One fresh fat winter mackerel and ten quid later, my fate was sealed.

I got back to the safety of my void-like home and rushed the ingredients into the fridge before I had a chance to get out the knife. And after spending some time pretending to consider the meal I would make, when in fact all I could think about was the fact that by the time I came to eat it I would be feeling exactly the same as I was now, decided it would make good use of my disembodied hands to throw together as quickly as I could some sort of one-dish baked mackerel affair.

It is obvious when you should stop cooking when you find yourself chopping roughly and unevenly your vegetables without a care in the word. It takes no more time to prep them properly, to normalize their cooking times and render them appealing on the plate. But like wrecking your own bedroom in the search for the sock that you know must exist, the sight of your cowboy cutting sends you up and produces dregs of inspiration such as throwing a few sliced parsnips into the fray and scattering the whole fucking lot with cumin and fennel seeds. As for the fish, it seemed ridiculous not to snip off its tail and leave it looking just slightly deformed, for I would be so fucking straight by the time it came down to eating it that I’m sure I would hardly notice.

It was all over within five minutes, the dish in the oven leaving time once again to fidget and twitch and snap at anyone crossing my path. And after an attempt at making presentable the pile of veg by tossing it in some, err, al dente sliced spring greens, I remembered why I don’t like mackerel cooked on the bone. It is too oily and claggy and bursting with fishy fat, made more sickly thanks to the sweet cumin and parsnip slices, nothing in the meal holding together and cruelly hammering home my feeling of fractional existence.

But nothing that fish could do could have prepared me for the chicken.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

100-unit man

The kitchen looks different somehow. The edges on the cooker are steely and sharp, the lighting cold and dim, and the fake marbled worktops black and bare. The condiment shelf holds the same limitless potential as it always does, the fridge and pantry standing-by to offer their (albeit wilting) support. But nothing about the scene before me spoke of inspiration for tonight’s solitary tea.

It occurred to me that I haven’t properly suffered the harsh light of day for several years, whereby I am not either under the influence or comforted by the imminent prospect of being so. Nowhere is this more evident than in my kitchen. A bottle of Red oils the cogs of a weekend roast; a chilled opened White turns the fridge into a secret lucky dip; a stiff vodka tonic jumpstarts a midweek pasta special; while a blast of White Widow magically transforms the mundane into a joyous moment of self-congratulation. None of this was around, however, to take the edge off this particular Friday night.

Instead, I got through the boredom and pointlessness of my meal prep (I wasn’t even hungry - I just wanted to gorge myself on SOMETHING) by imagining a moment when things will be different. Saturday & Sunday mornings, I thought as I fried some smoky chunks of bacon for my eggy pasta bowl, were so much more relaxed now because I didn’t have to try and find ways of putting off the start of the day’s drinking or smoking; my ability to spend freely on the best food I can get my hands on, I told myself as I tossed in some black olives and garlic, would not exist if I had a two- to three-hundred quid intoxication bill each month; and one day, I mumbled out loud while stirring some milk and grated parmesan into a beaten egg, I would get back that feeling I had as a kid before I drank or smoked and never saw the point of either.

Unconvinced, I sat in front of YouTube all night slurping down great forkfuls of olive- and rocket-enhanced carbonara, trying to manage the sporadic microsecond moments of excruciating anger and frustration by actively telling myself to remain calm and ride them out. They’re not physical junky pangs, of course, just occasional peaks of white noise that threaten to take over and turn a Friday night into what it always was and should be.

And then I found myself lying in bed, tossing and turning and stuffed full of eggs and cheese, thinking hard about the story of a man who drank 100 units of alcohol on Wednesday. New Year is only now beginning to taper off in the Highlands, and tales of horrific abuse spread out over several days will have been widespread. But at 33 times the recommended maximum intake, 100 units in one session - imbibed in the form of three bottles of red, 15 pints of lager and a good few drams - is surely a record breaker. It sickens me to think about that. But not nearly as much as it does to know so well just how much craic I missed out on by not being there with him in that tiny, fucking bar on a dark and otherwise lifeless post-Hog evening.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A different kind of shopper

For the first time in my life today I entered and walked around a Waitrose. I knew what to expect in terms of the food -- the walls of roquette (rocket), abundance of locally sourced fruit and veg (it’s amazing what you can grow in the English winter these days) and rare-breed sausages (each with its own name). But I had overlooked the clientele.

I mean, the place is famously pricey so it wasn’t surprising to find a car park full of Mercedes and SUVs and a shop floor teeming with well-out-of-season tans. It was the expressions of disgust-in-waiting that these people were wearing as they pushed harassed through the empty aisles, however, that caught me unawares (the same one they wear on the street in preparation for the lonely cyclist, who they would rather see mangled before them in pile of twisted flesh and metal than share their pavement when the 2.63m cycle lane along side comes to an unexpected end in the middle of a busy dual carriageway). The women looked like Cruella De Vil on imaginary missions to out-buy each other, while the markedly fewer blokes were the bulging-belly-beneath-hand-made-shirt types in search of meat and bargain clarets. There were a few sandal wearers in amongst it too, but you had to look twice to notice them.

The contrast with my local Tesco couldn’t have been more rude, with a distinct lack of doughy midrift, nothing in the way of sickly sweet alcoholic sweat, no babbling Poles with baskets of battery eggs perusing own-brand forty-ouncers of vodka and, most sadly of all, not a single smile in the aisles. I could draw some crass conclusion from my trip that money can’t buy you happiness. But that’s just not true. These people were just as bothered as they always were, like I am, yet have perhaps bought-out the ability to reflect on this and have a good old laugh at themselves.

Going to a new supermarket is always an exciting experience, but one which is short-lived as it dawns on you just how much your diet and cooking is defined by powers outside your control.

Seeing as fish is pretty hard to come by at this time of year, however, I thought I would take advantage of the Waitrose fish counter by picking up a fillet of smoked haddock for a Cullen skink (bizarrely, the only other item the “fishmonger” had on display apart from some overpriced and far too old tuna loin was three rows sardines standing upright like miniature obelisks, frozen solid with their tails snipped for ease of insertion). And then, in all the excitement of flicking through the supermarket’s exceedingly glossy magazine, I went and left the bastard haddi at the checkout.

Angry with myself for not being able to present my family with a hot bowl of thick fish soup to counter the chilly January air, I decided instead to substitute the fish for the scraggy leek in the fridge and to make the best fucking leek & tattie soup the world has ever seen.

So I fried some thick bacon chunks with cross-sections of leek until they were good and brown and transferred them to a plate while I set some chopped leek and half an onion sweating in the pan and peeled four maris pipers and half an ex-festive parsnip for sweetness. Next went in a pint or two of aromatic veg stock. It may have looked like manky tap-water ice when I hacked up and threw large chunks of it into the pan, but once it started to melt it underwent a magical transformation to cloves, star anise, apple, leek, onion, celery, bay, parsley ….

Half an hour later I blitzed the lot into a silky smooth soup, slipped in the plate of leek and bacon and adjusted the seasoning (read: threw in an ungodly quantity of Maldon). It was tasty and wholesome, and the leeks had taken on a strong hint of peanut. We dressed it ourselves at the table from a bag of roquette and a small bottle of truffle oil, ate it mostly with our hands with hunks of crusty white bread, Nige-style. It would have been the greatest leek and tattie soup had I fucked-in some double cream too.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The end of the green

A saline assault of the senses on my first day back in the Office: a celery and stilton soup that almost burned the tongue. I have noticed this before of their cheesier soups, but now I think I know why it happens: they don’t realise (i.e. take five less spoonfuls of stock powder) that stilton, particularly the shit they buy, has a fierce saltiness of its own. I can’t decide which is more worrying: that nobody thought to taste the gloop before whacking it out, or that someone did taste it and deemed it sellable. Either way, combined with my dry “cheddar” sarnie with strong notes of cheap vegetable oil and yeasty preservatives there was no hiding from the fact that I was no longer in the fuzzy comfort of my own home.

It didn’t help either that every single newspaper I glanced at to try and take my mind off the nasty taste of modern life was offering twenty or more ways to create the new 2007 you. Coping with booze and food featured large, of course, with one rag offering a few special “advice from the experts” boxes to help us along. But the relevance of this for civil servant Geoff, 44, from Newcastle -- who had recently vowed to try to address his six-pint a day habit with the help of Leigh Clarke of the North East Council on Addictions – is highly questionable.

In the left-hand column there was Geoff describing how surprised he was that his newfound alcohol diary rang up an impressive 86 units on his first week, followed by his pride and satisfaction that he managed to get it down to 55 the following week: “If I get it down to 40, I'll be happy,” he added. But this is hardly going to cut the mustard for Leigh who, in the adjacent column, spends most of the small space available telling us yet again that the safe weekly limit for men is 21 units, and that anything more than 3 or 4 units in one sitting [i.e. a pint and a half of Stella] constitutes a “binge”. So Geoff is a chronic binge drinker who I can only guess, according to national health guidelines, is already dead.

I left the Office arrived home the same me, or at least that’s what I am telling myself. In fact, for the first time in several months tonight my brain will not be enjoying the thoughtful detachment provided by increasingly large doses of tetrahydrocannabinol, knowing full well as I do that I have been using this increasingly as a dangerous replacement for drink in the last few months. Strangely, the papers contained not a single mention of how one might go about coping with such a loss.

And if food&cooking is to be my escape then I shall need to come up with a slower meal than tonight’s leftovers of prime rare ribeye and a great little salad made by tossing small florets of al dente broccoli, a few fine beans, some leek, rocket, dill and tarragon in a mustardy dressing. It only took five minutes to prepare.