Friday, 12 November 2010

England, my England


Scene: Small Essex retirement home, a comfortable, friendly and well-run place where the staff are such saintly stars that I wouldn't mind putting my name down in due course. My son Nibus and I are visiting.

In the main day room there's a new resident, an elderly man with a gift for Herculean coughings, hawkings and phlegmings. Two or three places down an elderly lady, the only resident with a mild dementia, occasionally utters wild fortissimo shrieks and moans. It's one of the periods of the day when the television is on. (The residents' committee, partly guided by our visitee, has banned continual television.)

Mr Hawker is at full throttle. Mona is in mid-season form. So far their utterances have been separate. Suddenly for an instant they coincide, a simultaneous massive viscous rumbling and eerie banshee howl, a sort of transcendental geriatric coition. At that moment there's a burst of enthusiastic and prolonged cheering and applause from the television. Nibus and I daren't look each other in the eye...


...we eat that night in a little restaurant specialising in Tex-Mex cuisine. We've been there before, just often enough to know the staff, mostly stunning Essex blondes of which S. the chef/proprietor seems to have an unending supply, by their first names. I've nearly finished my fajita and Nibus his Big Beef Bummer when S. comes and sits next to us.

For no clear reason he tells us about the time when during a deep-sea dive he had been seriously alarmed by a presence his limited field of vision and the semi-opacity of the water prevented him from identifying exactly. The presence followed him continually, keeping just out of sight. At last he caught a glimpse of a single eye, staring balefully, as though it was trying to give him the evil eye. (I wonder. A distant memory comes to me, something legendary about looking into the eye of a whale and seeing certain visions of a higher truth.) At length the fish revealed itself. It was a cod, a big bugger, the chef/proprietor says. Nibus and I have more eye-to-eye trouble. S. punctuates his sentences with 'yeh', like David Brent in The Office.

Why is he telling us this? A possible answer is that he's deliberately engaging customers in conversation in order to escape some menial washing-up task that he's left to his wife in the kitchen.

We order dessert. Nibus chooses a Lemon Lush, a gooey confection consisting of a viscous glob of lemon curd nestling in vanilla ice-cream, surrounded by whipped cream. I ask, as always when I go out, for strawberry ice-cream. When it arrives I see it has been expressly, and suggestively, sculpted to resemble - well, there's a Russian cigarette set at an angle of about 60ยบ between two pink globes. The waitress excuses herself: it's nothing to do with her, she says, she's a pure girl, unspoiled and untainted. So it's come like that from the kitchen. By what right...

...oh, never mind. We don't get to England very often. We should relish these authentic glimpses of the Old Country more.

13 comments:

Rog said...

It takes an ex-Pat to see the wonder of it all. Flemish Restaurants. People who have been in the presence of Cod. Coq au Vin.
Wonderful. Alan Bennett.

Dave said...

A blonde girl from Essex, pure, unspoiled and untainted? Surely you have found something unique.

Vicus Scurra said...

Next time, come to Hampshire. None of the food is suggestive.

Sarah said...

Slanderous words indeed Dave. Just as well there are no Essex girls reading this.

C why do you always chose strawberry ice cream? Is it because you are indeed a man, and like ALL men, habitual in your behavior ? .....just wonderin'

Z said...

A wonderful discovery comes when you spend time with grown-up offspring, especially in a non-domestic environment. You share the same triggers and know that you know it.

Christopher said...

Rog: Yes, the piece of Cod that passeth all understanding is always relevant. Ask Dave.

Dave: Perhaps you could explain and expand this notion, with particular reference to the chippy in your village?

Vicus: A few days ago I had some notions of finally retiring to Hampshire, county of my birth, or it would have been if my mother had been there at the time. Would you say they treated the very aged well in Hampshire?

Sah: Always. There have to be some constant reference points in life. Otherwise we would drift aimlessly. I was once terribly distressed when, having asked for strawberry ice-cream as advertised on the menu, I was served sorbet. You can imagine the sense of betrayal.

Z: Very true. A magical moment when it first happens. And I suppose a deep disappointment when such complicity doesn't exist.

Sarah said...

Drifting aimlessly is what I do to perfection. There are no reference points, life is a metaphor for something completely different!

Dave said...

Life is an elaborate metaphor for cricket, actually.

Christopher said...

Why, Dave, this is where I came in, all those years ago! 7th April 2006, to be precise, yet another day when Sarah was discovered drifting aimlessly.

To discover this date I've just spent 30 minutes or so with those ghosts from the past, Car01, Internet Wombat, taigathefox, medusa, Tamburlaine, frangelita, mimi buzzard, occasional poster of comments, Pashmina and other commenters at that time who used to hang about your place with dear old Interpreter Pavlov. Have they grown old as we that are left grow old?

Dave said...

A couple of them, I know, are still alive, but certainly not blogging. Oh well, the world rolls on. I remain a still point of certainty amongst the chaos and confusion.

Christopher said...

How true, Dave. You are a very beacon of hope and stanchion of steadfastness against the rude assaults of Barbary.

But I hope none of them is dead?

letouttoplay said...

Frangelita isn't dead :) She's multiplied.

Christopher said...

*Light dawns, slaps brow in glad realisation of hitherto unperceived relationship. Wonders if new infant is changed on multiplication table.*