It was a flat black cylinder resembling an ice-hockey puck. But it turned out to be a very elderly round of cheese in a black wax coat
Saturday 07 September 1996
Eyes flashing like a Bengal tigress, Mrs W leaped to my defence. "He's not wearing any socks," she said in a voice heavy with asperity, not to mention gin and tonic, "because he hasn't got any socks."
Though a sad admission for someone in his prime earning years, this is perfectly true. Now, you may think I'm exaggerating here and all I'm really saying is that I've got not no socks that match - a complaint I'd guess, made by virtually every paterfamilias in Britain - but, no, I mean I no socks at all.
Maybe I possess one or two hairy things that might serve as winter insulation in Spitzbergen, but no ordinary socks suitable for a British summer. I can't explain why - possibly a gap in the time-space continuum somewhere in the corner of my sock drawer. Mrs W says it's because I'm a nincompoop who could lose a cabbage in a coal-scuttle. Whatever the cause, she announced that it was high time for a spring-clean. My protests about the inappropriateness of the season availed me nought. "I'll start in the spare bedroom," she barked, her sarn't-major's tash bristling. "Can I trust you to do the car?" Feeling the twinge of a wound from a previous battle, I thought it best not to argue.
If this doling-out of duties sounds like I got the soft option, you haven't seen the Weaslemobile, which, on bad days, resembles a mobile midden. Beneath a mountain of sea-shells, rusty tins of WD40 and a streetmap of Adelaide (you never know when it might be useful) I encountered an object which astonished even me, inured as I am to the Weasel family's uncanny magnetism for unlikely debris.
It was a flat black cylinder resembling an ice-hockey puck. Since I rarely participate in competitive team games on the rink, it seemed an unlikely object to be in my possession. I approached it gingerly, like the ape-man touching the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It turned out to be a very elderly round of cheese ("Eat by Oct 95") in a black wax coat. Despite my protestations that it had just achieved a ripe maturity, Mrs W insisted on the fromage going swiftly binwards.
This was indicative of her rash and unreasonable desire to throw away all manner of useful items. Her enthusiasm had resulted in a small mountain of bulging black bin-liners. Fortunately, one of the bags split and I was able to recover a large diving knife, which she insanely wanted to chuck out. "Oh no, what do you want that for?" she yelped. "We only ever used it for eating yoghurt and honey on the beach."
"It may come in handy. Suppose I get my foot trapped in a giant clam?" Mrs W's expression suggested that this might be a not altogether unwelcome eventuality.
I also protested vehemently about her decision to ditch a length of two- by-two timber which had been hanging around the house for a mere decade or so. "Why do you want it?" pleaded my spouse. "You never do any woodwork."
"You just don't understand," I found myself replying. "Men need bits of wood."
Needless to say, no socks turned up. Could it be poltergeists?
Seated in a Waterloo brasserie, I had just taken on board a forkful of risotto when Mrs W intoned the fateful words "Don't look behind you." Of course I did just that - is there any instruction more likely to elicit the reverse reaction? - and encountered a sight which nearly made me pebble- dash the ceiling with half-masticated rice. I was peering into a pair of red, slit-like eyes, about nine inches from my own. They were set deep in a blubbery visage of exploded veins and flanked by a corkscrew mop of greasy, grey locks. Fortunately, our respective phizogs were separated by the restaurant window and the open slats of a Venetian blind.
Even so, I found it hard to give my supper my full attention while the tramp ogled and gibbered at me. Without wanting to seem unsocial, I suggested to Mrs W that it might be a good idea if she were to close the slats by turning the rod of the Venetian blind, which was on her side. My dear wife, however, insisted that the device for closing the slats was a loop of string on my side (it would, in fact, have raised them entirely). Meanwhile, our uninvited companion was smirking wildly while pressing his strawberry conk against the glass. At last, the maitre d', recognising that his gratuity might be in peril, sauntered over and turned the rod. When he re-opened the slats a minute or two later, the poor chap had gone.
I suppose that such chance encounters between London's myriad strata occur constantly, but they tend to hang in the mind. A few years ago, I recall watching a dirty and dishevelled figure stroll into a smart South Kensington eaterie and undertake a slow perambulation of the tables. Eventually, he helped himself to a piece of roast duckling from a plate belonging to a chic French diner. He was hustled out, grinning broadly, with the meat clamped in his mouth. At least the clochard showed taste. The restaurant was Hilaire, where my celebrated colleague, Simon Hopkinson, first established his glittering reputation.
I know this is the great era of DIY, but a story I heard from some friends in Lewisham takes the practise to an extreme. They were present at a Registry Office marriage attended by many of the borough's more colourful residents. Because both bride and groom had commenced celebrations a little early in the day and were much the worse for wear, the registrar refused to proceed with the solemn nuptials. The groom responded by scrambling on to a table and, like Napoleon at his coronation, conducted the ceremony himself.
The only guests who did not come from the mean streets of South London were a party of five sober-suited foreign businessmen. Colleagues of the groom from the days before his wholehearted embrace of Lewisham's Bohemia, they were not too surprised by this turn of events. They had read in the papers about the state of modern Britain. This, they said, was mostly what they had expected.
The more you learn about gastronomy, the more you realise that food has no nationality. It is now thought that pasta was independently invented in both China and Italy. The fashionable foodstuff is also a mainstay in Mongolia (made from flour and mutton fat) and India, where it is known as "string-hoppers". (Completing the circle, the Sardinians make a poppadom called pane carasau.)
But such is the British partiality for tinkering that we mangle any gastronomic import something shocking - hence our unhappy invention of chicken-tikka pizza. Italians are also mystified by dried-tomato pesto, a concoction unknown in their country. I now learn that we're applying our innate inventiveness to sushi, an item regarded with almost religious fervour in Japan. Instead of using the traditional raw fish, a UK sushi magnate is flavouring the little rice-and-seaweed rolls with ham, cheese, and turkey and cranberry. He claims that these depraved combinations are much more to the national taste. But nothing surprises me about our propensity for tampering since I discovered that Macsweens of Edinburgh, Scotland's leading haggis maker, also produces a vegetarian version
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