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.