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.

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