Tag Archives: food and drink writing

Happiness

He looked over the top of his glasses, nodded his head and made a humming noise. I don’t know why he looked at the menu, we’d gone there every week for ten years. The menu never changed, except when they introduced steak night on Wednesday, but we went on Friday so what did it matter to us? It was a long ten minutes of swirling the dregs of his beer around in his glass, and gazing over the menu as if it was the directions to the Holy Grail. He finally closed his menu and put it on top of mine.

“You know what you’re having love?” I finished off the last of my Rioja and folded my arms on the table.

“Yes, the salmon. You?”

“I’m going to try their steak and ale pie.” Try? I thought. He’d been ‘trying’ it every other week since 1998.

The waitress didn’t even change. I didn’t know what was sadder, the fact we’d been eating there for 10 years, or the fact that she’d been working there all that time. She was a bowling ball. She rolled around the restaurant, between the tight tables. “Oops, coming through,” she’d say while trying to land a plate of vegetables on one table, and navigate her obscenely big bottom around the chairs. I thought how could you let yourself get like that. Must be picking in the kitchen and it is true what they say, little pickers really do wear big knickers.

She shuffled through the tables, pen behind her ear and note pad in her hand. Her tights were like the skin you get on sausages and her skirt was showing too much of them. Her gut was tucked in to her skirt and her shirt buttons weren’t done up high enough. Cleavage was spilling out all over the restaurant. She was smiling at us. Pretty face with heart shaped lips and big eyes. Lots of make-up but that’s what they do these days. Understated is out.

“Fancy seeing you here,” she said. I smiled and Al laughed.

“Yes, fancy it,” I said.

“Let me guess,” she put her fingers to her temples and hummed, she pointed at me. “The salmon?”

“That’s me,” I said. “How did you guess?”

“And you are having…” she looked at Al and did the same with her fingers on her temples. “Now, last week you had the sausage and mash, so this week it has got to be the pie!” Al laughed hysterically, I laughed a little.

“You’re so good at remembering,” he said breathless from laughing. Had he always laughed at jokes that weren’t funny? Jokes that weren’t even jokes.

“Did you want it with all the usual trimmings? Chips and peas with the pie, new potatoes and veg with the salmon?”

“Please.” We both said same tone, same time.

She shuffled back through the tables, the glasses chinked together as she passed. One week we when we were at the restaurant I spent the entire time thinking about how the place could be arranged better. Why did they even have so many tables? The place was never full, just a couple of regulars doing regular things.

I knew Al would go and get us both a drink, he liked to do something while he waited. I told him I’d have the large red and he shuffled off to get them.

He was at the bar.

“Hello Al, me old mate,” that was the barman. “What will it be?” He knew what it will be, bet he even knew the joke, wait for it and brace yourselves, it’s a good one.

“I’ll have a large red and a pint of Frog, not in the same glass mind!” The barman was kind, he laughed. I cringed every time I heard that bloody ‘joke’. To think, all those years ago when we met I’d laughed at that. I’d touched his shoulder in the pub while he ordered the first drink we ever shared and thought it was the funniest thing. Those were the days, back then when I was in a pub with my friends, having interesting conversations.

Good old conversations.

Since we moved out in the sticks ten years ago I lost touch with everyone. Al promised me it would be nice in the country, there would be groups to join and he could get a dog. He never got a dog and I never joined a group. He got old and I got shy.

Al shuffled back, two glasses in his hands. He always placed them so gently on the coasters and had to line the rim up with the picture. He breathed heavy because he had polyps, and it was worse after any kind of physical activity- even walking to the bar. A couple of long hairs tickled his upper lip and I wished he’d used the nose hair trimmer I’d got him for Christmas. I took a sip of my drink; he took a sip of his. He looked around the room, and I did to. I lined the coaster up with the edge of the table, and counted the corners on the picture frames. I looked at my hands and stroked each soft nail, straightened my eternity ring.

Eternity means forever.  I spun it back round.

I knew exactly what he was going to say and I tried to stop him because every time he said it I hated him.

“I do love the wall paper here you know. You think we could do it at our place. Hire someone in maybe, you know I’m not too good with wall papering.” Words to that effect were said every week, every other week if I was lucky. The wall paper had been up since 2005. Big ugly flowers taking over an entire wall.

“Yes, I guess we could. We would have to hire someone of course,” I said. He nodded and took another sip of his drink. He sang along to a song he was too old to know and tapped his hand on his knee. Next, he had a choice of three people to talk about and two different topics. Either his brother giving his kids their inheritance last year, or the next door neighbor getting her teeth done.

It was our neighbor and the teeth. He was thinking about going down to talk to the dentist about his. He hated his teeth. Bit late to care now I thought, but I didn’t say anything. I nodded, smiled. He told me I was blessed with straight square teeth. Others would kill for my teeth he said, then the food came.

I didn’t see the signs, honest. I was looking down at my plate, picking at the fish and trying to remember if the salmon always tasted so bland. I was thinking what I would do if I ever got to cook something so different. I thought that rosemary and butter would make this salmon so much tastier and maybe a foil parcel would make it more moist. I decided that I’d make it for myself soon and Al could have his usual meat, veg and potatoes. I looked up to tell him how I was going to do the salmon, not that he’d care, and not that he’d react, but I had to say something.

Al looked different. His mouth was drooped at one side. His arms were heavy on his lap. “Al,” I said. “Are you okay? Is something wrong with the pie?”

He tried to speak but his words were slurring like he’d drank six pints of Frog, not one and a half. It clicked.

I threw my chair back, “Call an ambulance!” A stroke, of course. It was a blur, the staff rushing around, a couple of diners leaving their meals to lend mobiles. I didn’t know how to work it, I threw it back and said, “you call.”

When the flashing lights got there they bundled us both in the back of the ambulance, Al more carefully of course. I knew he was goner. It was how his mother went. I held his limp hand and thought how we hadn’t held hands in years.

His nose hair stopped tickling his upper lip on the road that led to the hospital. The paramedic turned to me and said, “I’m sorry, he’s gone.”

It felt like Christmas eve back when the kids were little. It felt like the weight of a 14 stone man had been lifted from my shoulders. It felt like happiness.

“Do you cook salmon in a foil parcel,” I said the paramedic, “or do you pan fry?”

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The Test of a Good Woman

  I believe you shouldn’t judge a woman by the way she looks, smells, or wears her hair. Yeah, okay so all that is important- I’m not after a troll who smells like a trucker- but I think you can tell all you need to know about a woman by what she eats, how she eats. I’ve been on a lot of dates, and this isn’t me bragging clearly I’m no good at it after 34 long years of being single, but I’ve always had a keen eye for knowing what women are really like behind that first date smile. I cant tell from the moment I see them, but from the moment I see what they order.

Take Sue. Sue was a red haired, fiery woman in a tight dress and thick heels. I met Sue in a club and told her I’d take her out after a few Martinis. I liked the way she flicked her tongue round her straw and tried to catch it in her mouth. Sue smoothed her Lycra skirt to her bare thighs and sat, with her spine curved at the bottom, on the chair. Her necklace hung low, a locket, and if things went well at dinner I was planning on asking to see inside it. She circled her shoulders in time with the music and held the menu in both hands. The waiter came and she peered over the top of the menu, winked at me and said, “I’ll have the oysters.” Looking at me the whole time she ordered. I don’t have to spell it out, she knew what she wanted and I like that. I also like a woman who can order and order well. Oysters are good on any occasion, on your own on a Friday night even, and if what they say is true then even better with someone else. I ordered a light soup, simple and easy, a classic.

                Sue started off impressively and I really thought I might get to know what was in the locket, somewhere I hadn’t got in years. I froze to watch her take the fish, hoping that she didn’t fail at the first hurdle. Her thick eye lashes were spread like spider’s legs and her pupils round and dark between them, not looking away as she pulled the oyster closer to her lips. Her red, thick lips. She scooped under to loosen the flesh from the shell and sucked. The noise echoed through the entire room, shaking the pictures on the wall and I’m sure I heard a mirror crack. After what seemed like 20 minutes of slurping and staring she’d sucked it all in. Then she chewed. Sloppy, mouth open along with heavy breathing, worn out from shoulder dancing I guess. I looked down into my asparagus soup and weighed up the pros of drowning myself in it.

Hannah was sweet. I met her on the sea front; she worked on the ice cream parlour and served me a 2 scoop of rum and raison for the price of one. Maybe her mum had told her that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I picked her up in my duck egg mini. I always drive; I don’t cloud my judgement with drink. Concentrating on every mouthful they take requires a clear head. I got carried away once with a woman a few years back, ended up drinking a couple of bottles of wine with her. I thought she was the one. In the meal I must have missed crucial signs or just let them go because after the 2nd bottle she burped right in my face. From then on I’ve always driven. Hannah kept tucking her hair behind her ears, even when it was already there. She pursued her lips and looked up at me over the menu, but when I made eye contact she looked away and giggled. I ordered fizzy water on ice and she followed suit. When the waiter came Hannah gestured towards me to order first and said the dreaded words, “I’ll have what you’re having.” I ordered the hottest curry on the menu and watched her sweat and sniff with every mouthful.

Sharron, or Shaz as she liked to be called worked at the supermarket. She made me laugh when she came up behind me and said, “You going to pay for that you thieving bastard.” When I turned around she had her hand covering her mouth, as red as onions. “Oh, God, I thought you were someone else,” she said.  She put her arm around my wrist and begged me not to tell customer services that she’d called me a bastard. I agreed as long as she came on a date with me. She was a big girl with a pretty, sweet face. Thin red lips, big blue eyes and blonde hair shaped to her round face. At dinner she wore jeans, heels and a top which was floaty and forgiving. She ordered her own drink, a large Nantua Les Deux- a complex and buttery wine. I knew she had good taste.  Then she ordered the food, “I’ll have the avocado salad please. No sides thank you.” How could such a good wine order go with such a terrible food order. I must have paused mouth open for a moment or two because the waiter had to call me twice. “And for you, Sir?” he said. “Sir?” I ordered the Chicken in a soft cheese sauce, with a side of vegetables and new potatoes.

When the waiter packed up his note pad and left, she said: “It’s a gland problem, my weight. I eat light.” I laughed and said something vaguely sympathetic, “my sister suffers with that too”. Don’t get me wrong, I would have believed her if it hadn’t been that when I dropped my napkin I noticed two chocolate wrappers in her open bag, and what I had thought had been a mole on her face began to look more and more like Cadburys. I don’t date liars.

Jane. If I was one of those men who judge a woman by her name I wouldn’t have bothered with Jane. I’d known her years, we worked together, drank coffee together, filed stuff together, then I bumped into her in town and we got talking.

On our date she had her hair to her shoulders and flat to her head. She wore jeans and a white shirt with a pair of black boots. She ordered a white wine and she didn’t mind which- I think she chose the cheapest. Out of work and worried that I’d ask her to split the bill. She took her time over the menu, really analysed it as though it was important data and we were at a meeting. The conversation flowed well as we spoke about people who we used to know, where they were now, where we were now. The waiter came over, smartly dressed with a napkin tucked into his belt. She smiled at him and closed the menu in front of her. “Please may I have the chicken in a white wine sauce but without the sauce.” Her order was dry chicken and boiled potatoes with no butter. It was dry and plain. If I’d have judged her by her clothes or her name then I could have saved myself three hours of my life listening to the plainness of hers. She’d never even been on holiday and stopped after one glass of wine because of a fear of getting drunk.

Tina was a food critic, so I let her pick the place. She said she wanted to try out a new Thai restaurant uptown.  She sat straight like she was balancing books on her head, wearing a tight black dress to her knees, low cut at the back. Tina had short black hair and thin red lips painted with bright red. She inspected the cutlery and wiped it over with her napkin. When she eventually had cleaned everything on the table she opened to the wine. She curled her lip and flared her nostrils at the list. “Oh I guess we will have to have the Belondrade y Lrton, it’s the only half decent one on here.” When the young Spanish waiter came to tell us that they were out of Belondrade y Lurton Tina’s lips went even thinner. “What kind of establishment is this? Why don’t you just tell me what to have rather than me even look at the menu.” The waiter hung his head and apologised but she didn’t stop. “Oh stop with your sorry mams, please. I would have thought a place like this would have a proper waiter not some spotty teen saving for his first car. Please, bring me the manager.” Then I got an emergency phone call and dove out of the restaurant.

That was how I met Lucy. I bumped in to her as I was running out of the resturant, half expecting Tina to chase me with a well polished knife. 

“Watch it,” she said. Coffee all over her parker. I tried to rub her down but it meant touching her breast and she didn’t take well to that one.  “Where you going in such a rush?” she said.

“Bad date.”

“Did you throw a coffee over her too?”

I laughed, “Let me buy you a coffee, please to make up for this one.”

“You don’t hang about, straight back on the bandwagon, you get knocked down, you get right back up,” she said.

“Well you know, can’t hang about. At my age most the good ones are taken.” Hannah looked young under the street lamp in her 20’s I guessed. She had soft blonde hair, flowing over the hood of her coat. I could see her hot breath in the cold night and she was shivering a little.

                “Don’t want coffee though, I’m starving. You can buy me a burger instead.”

“Alright, know any good burger places?”

“All stop serving at 10, ‘cept that burger van.”

“Bit cold though, isn’t it.” I know it was forward, I rubbed her arms to try and warm her, it just felt like something I should do.

“It’s alright, there’s a wind shelter over there.”

 We ate burger and chips together on a bench. We sat close to each other to keep warm, our thighs touching. She got sauce on her face and didn’t get embarrassed about it, she wiped it away and we moved on. She chewed with her mouth closed, and covered her mouth when she laughed. She was a casual diner, cool and easy to please, she was herself. That was how I met Lucy.

 

 

 

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