As one of a baker’s dozen or so writers, I performed a couple of short pieces on the theme of either tea, cheese or cake as part of the Speakeasy Salon, which itself was tucked up like a layer of cream and jam in the Eat! Festival. Big thanks to Chloe Daykin and Helen Limon for the organisational wonders, and for the audience member who ate my vegan carrot cake and didn’t either spit it out or die.
Here’s the four pieces I wrote for the event, only two of which were read out (guess which ones).
Each morning before lunch, after he’d swept the floor to earn money for schooling, Gwale would go out to the garden and climb the avocado tree and pick us the best fruits for our dessert. I was terrified of the tree, not for its height, which was larger than I ever imagined, ignorant of how avocados grew, but for the lace of web dipping between branches, the potency of the arachnids who lived amongst places where, if I were stuck, which I knew, from my childhood climbing our plum tree, could happen, I would have to face their brown scurry. My colleagues, mostly Zambian, ate their avocados sprinkled with sugar, as we do grapefruit. It was many years later, while reading Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar and finally realising that Miss Shug meant Miss Sugar, that I understood what sugar might mean to Africans, and why my colleague Siviwe put between fifteen and twenty teaspoons of sugar in each cup of tea, each morning and afternoon, right up until his disappearance, only noticing he had gone when his avocado halves remained un-sprinkled and uneaten.
First Date with Oysters (based on crimes committed by the author)
It could not have gone any better. You squealed with something near delight when you saw it was Planet Hollywood, our table under the Sinatra, the very finest of the plastic memorabilia. You squeezed my arm when I told the waiter to ‘come on, fill the glass up, I’m not paying for a dribble’. Sure the king prawns were a little crunchy, but wasn’t that the fun bit? You laughed perhaps too hard when I took the chilli bowl, not the ginger, to clear my palate. And okay, Tabasco is not for snorting. Perhaps I should’ve known that blue meant red, that corked didn’t mean unopened, that sweetbreads weren’t, well, sweet bread. But none of that mattered. It could not have gotten any better. And then it did. Big, grey, gloopy oysters for dessert, I gobbled greedily. ‘But we didn’t order Oysters,’ you said, not touching your plate.
The Kindness of Strangers (also a true story)
No-wonder Dunja did not date Westerners. In the fat of the war, as Milosevic besieged Sarajevo and every other city across Bosnia, the West, sending convoys to her aid, did not discriminate in the foods they sent. To Tuzla, sixty days under the sniper, arrived one morning in a Red Cross-bartered ceasefire, three trucks from Catalonia filled with sodium chloride. The white stuff, seasoning, vinegar’s other half, life’s essential solution-reactor, and, thought Spain, foodstuff’s symbolic saviour. Of course, Tuzla is the only city in Europe with its own salt lake. In Ottoman Turkish, it means ‘salt’. So the Tuzlans, under the eyes of the Red Cross and unbelieving snipers, poured those truckloads straight into the Pannonian. (And Ivana from Croatia, I soon discovered, was more amenable to the gut flora of foreigners.)
Obituary for a fillet steak
My friend, Cow 269, a Belgian Blue,
Who passed nine days ago at target weight,
Of fourteen-hundred pounds minus his hide.
Who was once sprayed with silver paint by teens
Causing trouble for grazing on’t Town Moor,
And who rubbed his nose against a lamppost
To cheer on my Park Run personal best.
Was this week fed to a hundred diners
At Blackfriars. He was clipped in a crush
as I clip my own hair. Stunned, cut up, cured.
He is survived, for now, by ten billion more.