Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Weekend Gruelling

In these harsh economic times it’s more of a treat than usual to send out for a take-away.

Nonetheless, on Saturday night, Girly of Whirly and I counted up our shekels and plumped for a modest Chinese feed to cheer ourselves up while we pondered the prospect of global financial meltdown.

Our local Chinese take-away is much like any other — there are fish, a selection of pretty young girls in dinky hats, and the usual array of newspapers and magazines from 1988. The cuisine is far from Ken Hom, but you get a nice enough meal for under fifteen quid without having to buy in a ton of chips or a pizza with every topping but the kitchen sink.

What I hadn’t expected when I turned up on my unicycle was for the Golden Palace to have closed down. Even more surprising was that it had been replaced by a branch of Gruel R Us.

Harsh economic times, indeed.

As I pondered the menu in the window, it seemed to me that Gruel R Us was definitely positioning itself just below the very bottom of the market. Fifteen quid would buy you everything on the Chef’s Specials section and most things were forty to seventy-five pence. But what to do? With Girly of Whirly ironing the cutlery back home and the nearest alternative being Big Bob Bumcrack’s Burga Bar it was either a case of cycling home empty handed or taking a risk on a form of cuisine fit for the workhouse.

Call me an optimist, but I bustled past the tramps huddled in the doorway and took out a fiver like Dirty Harry unpacking a Magnum.

“What yer want?” said the bloke at the counter.

I studied the cauldron, the ladle. “I suppose it’s gruel isn’t it?”

“Or fritters,” the bloke replied curtly. There seemed no need to ask what was in the fritters — or whether the bloke’s name was Terry Jones. All I needed to figure out was what flavour to go for, and whether I wanted it pouring into an empty pop bottle or a rusty oil can.

While I cogitated, the bloke spoke again. “Chicken?”

“Actually, that would be very nice, thank you.”

He shook his head. “What I meant was, you look scared shitless. It ain’t poisonous you know. Ask any of the regulars outside.”

I turned to the pallid faces pressed up against the glass by trails of snot. “So is there any chicken?”

“Not tonight, no. All we’ve got left is Plain.”

Girly of Whirly’s face flashed before me, a wash of intolerance and rage. The longer I took to cycle home with something the more I risked being poisoned in my sleep in the run-up to Christmas.

“What’s in the Plain?”

“Fuck all. That’s why it’s called ‘Plain’.”

“OK. How much?”

“55p a pint,” said the bloke. “But I’ll knock you 5p off if you’ve got your own bucket.”

A meek smile played my lips like the last twitches of an electrocuted stunt man. “Sorry. My son’s nicked the bucket for his school history project.”

There’s always a sense of anticipation whenever a feast-to-be is being prepared, but as the bloke sloshed my dinner into a pair of worn wellies I couldn’t help feeling moderately sick. Fortunately, I didn’t spew up. He’d only have mugged me for trying to set myself up in competition.

“One ten.” Such courteous gruffness.

“Thanks,” I said, and scurried outside to attach the wellies to my paniers.

When I got home, Girly of Whirly was moderately incandescent. “Where the hell have you been?”

I flopped the wellies onto the dining table. “You know how it is with fine dining. The more exquisite the ingredients, the harder they are to source.”

Her nostrils flapped shut like spasming ani. “I said noodles, not dragon bowels.”

Treat clearly shot to pieces, we raided the larder for tinned tomatoes and pasta and rustled them up with a few chillies. It wasn’t exactly haute cuisine but it did have the advantage over the gruel of ensuring that our stomachs didn’t suffer a horrible demise. In any case, a few of the patio slabs had worked loose over the summer and we were fresh out of concrete.

I suspect there’s more of this sort of thing to come, with bathtubs taking the place of council swimming pools and donkey-drawn charabancs replacing buses and trains.

So — how was your Saturday night?


Old Kitty said...

Love to see you on your unicycle!

take care

Donna Hole said...

You ride a unicycle? Cool.

I'd tell you about the dinner house I went to, but it'd make you jealous :) I'll just say it was too noisy inside and leave it at that.


Whirlochre said...

Yes, I'm quite a hit as I unicycle into town...

Mother (Re)produces. said...

Could be worse. In Scotland they batter and deep-fat-fry the gruel first. The oil is left over from the fuel crunch in the seventies.

Whirlochre said...

McKoala? Can you confirm this?

Sylvia said...

It seems likely to me!

fairyhedgehog said...

Deep-fried gruel. Mmmmmm!