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.