"Well, you obviously don't know as much as you think you do. Look at it. White, knobbly, tough as old boots. It's tripe."
"Well, I think it could be the brains, actually." "Brains don't look like that. Brains are less firm and they're sort of marbled. A bit like sweetbreads, only greyer. That's definitely tripe. Look, it's got a coulis and some shredded rocket on the side."
"Mmm. So what's this slimy stuff on a slice of toast?" "That's the squid and parmesan bruschetta, silly."
We're lying in the middle of the living-room floor, reading the Sunday papers. It's Bank Holiday Monday, and everyone else has gone to the seaside, or, at least, for a nice sit on the motorway, but we can't do that because we're both brassic. I've long since hocked the family diamonds. Olly has taken to rolling her own cigarettes. I've taken to rolling my own cigarettes from butts in ashtrays. I've not yet got down to collecting butts from the streets - although apparently the steps of art galleries are the best places to look - but it won't be long now.
I'm rapidly rediscovering habits from my twenties I thought I'd finally been able to shed. They don't make me feel young again, just make me feel as old as I felt when I was 24 and juggling heating and rent. I don't care what they say about money and happiness, when you're standing over the kitchen sink squeezing the last drops from a four-times-used teabag, you know how much the ritual humiliations of poverty erode the optimism. Bargains in charity shops and bottles of Woodpecker cider are okay for a change. As lifestyle, they suck.
Olly's worse off. She hasn't had a sniff of a cheque in three months and she's down to shampooing with washing-up liquid. Her hallway is full of Kwik-Save bags of rubbish because she's economising on bin-liners. Her social life consists of walking to other people's houses. And walking isn't cheap. Shoe-leather costs money, you know.
The weekend has flashed past in a whirl of card-playing, staring gloomily out of the window and talking about all the fabulous meals we'll eat when we win the Reader's Digest Prize Draw. Well, when I win it: Olly's credit rating has sunk so low she doesn't even qualify as a privileged entrant for the London West area. It's a good thing the neighbours recycle. After a dawn raid on the landing, we at least have a good supply of glossy mags and supplements with which to set our saliva glands trickling.
We gather together menus for future dinner parties from a huge pile of high-lit, silicone-sprayed photographs. Galette of aubergine with a tomato and chilli salsa. Parma ham and quails' eggs with truffle shavings. Feuillete of tiger prawn and wild mushrooms with a lemon-grass and coriander dipping sauce. Dolphin teriyaki. Goujons of stickleback with marinated puppies and Polyfilla dauphinoise. Polenta-stuffed rocket with croustillade Newbury. Campari-soaked prunes with a devilled creme fraiche custard. Flash-fried breast of Geri with a ginger spice extra-virgin dressing. Millefeuille Jeffrey Archer in an old-rope basket. Calf's liver pralinee. Afghan ewe- lamb in a chargrilled blanket. Bourke-Legge kebabs a la Diane. Portillo yakitori.
Olly has hold of an American glossy full of advice from Martha Graham. "What's a scallion?" "Spring onion, I think." "Mmm. And what's zucchini?" "Courgettes." "Okay, try this one. Cilantro." "Coriander."
"How come Americans call themselves an English-speaking nation when all their food names are Italian?" "What, rather than French, you mean?" "Absolutely."
"And another thing," says Olly. "What is this with offal? Ten years ago no-one would touch kidneys and now they're queuing up to get Marco-Pierre White to give them a fry-up."
"Tchuh. I'd have thought that was obvious. It's the class system. Eating offal is one of the ways old money proves it's not nouveau riche. It's like wearing a sign saying `I had a nanny'."
Olly scratches her head and small flakes of old detergent form a cloud in a shaft of sunlight playing through the window. "I am so sick of being poor," she says. "Do you know, I spent Thursday afternoon cutting the laddered legs off old pairs of tights so I could make up a pair to wear to that interview. And I was round at John's the other day and I caught myself screaming at him not to throw out some mouldy Cheddar because I could cut the rinds off and use it."
Having spent the night before scraping the furry green stuff off a jar of half-used pesto, I can empathise with this. "Don't worry, darling. It won't be like this forever. You'll get a cheque next month, and be able to buy a whole chicken."
She rubs her tummy. "Don't talk about chicken. I'm really starving." "Me too."
Olly gets a wicked look. Rolls onto her haunches. "Come on," she says. "Sod the money. I don't care. Let's just go somewhere and have a blow- out."
"Hell, why not?" I cast around for my shoes and purse, which is so thin it keeps disappearing under unopened red-bill envelopes. "Beans on toast okay?" "Lovely."Reuse content