FEAST AND FAMINE
I have only once been seriously hungry for an extended period in my 69 years. Back in 1971 when I was 20, my friend Marty and I were hitchhiking through Germany when a 3 day public holiday meant that we were unable to change our travellers’ cheques (google that antediluvian quaintness if you are under 55) and we had run out of cash. I recall being stranded at some bustling motorway café where I felt so hungry, I feverishly contemplated eating the grass to the rear of it. As it happened, we had a tiny amount of deutschmarks, so that with my worthy O level German I went inside, and asked what they had in the way of a snack, as opposed to a meal. I used the word Imbiss which translates literally as ‘bite in’ and believe me I’d have loved a ‘bite in’ on the analogy of a ‘love in’, but no such thing was to be had. The three young women assistants couldn’t make any sense of the term ‘bite in’, and in any case the cheapest thing on offer was a minute Kartoffelsalat for which we had inadequate marks. In the end Marty in his desperation went hurriedly round the nearest small town, where he found a kindly long-haired record shop owner who changed one of his cheques. We then, I remember as if it was yesterday, gorged and spluttered on egg and chips and wurstel sausage and beer, until it came out of our 20-year-old ears.
Fast forward exactly four years to the opposite scenario in the summer of 1975. I was living in little known Irish West Cumbria, which is to say a small town called Cleator Moor, and I had been out for the evening with my landlady Beth and two of her friends, a couple called Katie and Luigi. Katie who barely drank had driven us to a pleasingly obscure and old-fashioned pub in an atmospheric hamlet just off the Egremont to Cockermouth road. Luigi, who had a strong West Cumbrian accent (yis marra, ah bliddy dyeuh hev) but whose Dad hailed from Reggio Calabria and had once worked the Whitehaven pits, consumed the same as myself which is to say 4 pints of lager which then cost 22p per pint. Katie sipped just half a pint of shandy and Beth two bottles of sweet stout Mackeson, so neither of them were as painfully hungry as Luigi and I were on the return to Beth’s house. It needs to be emphasised that we had had an extremely ample dinner (tuna bake, roast potatoes and green salad) cooked by Katie before we had gone out, but of course alcohol in quantity can renew and exaggerate one’s appetite as if by totemic magic. Luigi and I therefore demanded that Katie stop at a chip shop half way down a very long cowboy town called Frizington, where as it happened my grandfather also called John Murray (1878-1951) had once rented out two small terraced cottages at a peppercorn rent. There we ordered mountainous portions of fish and chips, while the women ordered nothing, and sure enough Luigi and I devoured most of our malodorous repast in the back of the car, breaking off now and again only to sing from Stevie Wonder’s latest mesmerising album Fulfillingness’ First Finale of which we were both enraptured addicts…
“They won’t go when I go…”
They certainly wouldn’t. We had brought 4 cans of Harp from the country pub, and once reached Beth’s neat little kitchen, both of us reeking of chip fat whilst still warbling that admonitory gospel song of Stevie Wonder, we broke open the Harps then immediately decided that we were still very hungry.
“I don’t believe it,” said Katie in a tone not of justifiable reproof (Luigi, who was a talented artist, was decidedly a podgy bloke, while I was as thin as a lath) but of sincere and open-mouthed wonderment. I walked without delay to the cupboard where I kept my lodger’s supplies, and then to the fridge, and before long had prepared massive doorstop Mature Cheddar sandwiches, that lacking any chutney, I had daubed with Coop marmalade, which of course supplied the complementary fruit element to the pungent cheese, though not the desirable astringence of the vinegar.
Beggars can’t be choosers, I thought to myself, and anyway marmalade will give the cheddar a bit of zesful elan and a bit of needful tang. We both snorted and wolfed down 3 of the ungainly sandwiches, as if they were gourmet baguettes or bistro panini, neither of which of course had reached West Cumbria as a standard snack or Imbiss or bite-in by Neanderthal 1975.
Suddenly Luigi the artist took on a profound and altogether pained look, and remarked in a not unslurred tone:
“I like it when it’s mature, you know…”
I garbled through a gag of marmalade and strong cheese, “When woh is?”
But he had forgotten what it was he liked about maturity, culinary or otherwise. Plus Stevie Wonder, as ever, was to come to his aid.
“Heaven is ten zillion light years away,” Luigi crooned with a tender, heartfelt passion, indeed with a remarkably resonant and powerful, almost operatic tenor.
Regarding which, it is easy to forget that the backing vocals on that particular song are provided by the Fifties pin up Paul Anka (born 1941) who was a Canadian, and not as widely believed, an American. But that explains why, without notice, and devotedly gazing at his tall and beautiful girlfriend Katie, Luigi rose with a stagger from the table and the Mature Cheddar, and started to carouse after the manner of some ardent troubadour, Oh please stay by me, Diana! which was Anka’s bewitching worldwide hit when he was a mere 16 years old.
The next post will be on or before Friday 1st November