Saturday 5th November 2016.
This week, generosity and romance both seemingly triumphed in a viral media story concerning a certain Alex Doyle and Zoe Paton of Launceston, Cornwall. You probably Heard. It’s the one about the anonymous benefactress, a middle-aged woman standing 5ft 4” tall (in sensible shoes) – that’s all we know about her. Overhearing the pair sat in a parked car arguing over money, she slips fifty quid through the open window. “‘Ere, take this stash and make some memories, my lovelies.”
How wonderful, I suppose – such a thoughtful, unnecessary gesture. However, somewhere in this story, beneath the cockle-warming humanity, I detected a darker sub-text. My suspicions raised by the faintly irrelevant detail emerging from the BBC’s reportage. Detail such as: “Miss Paton was telling him ’it felt like he had given up looking for work.’” Now why would Miss Paton divert attention from the benevolent act only to regurgitate the old argument – this time under the unblinking scrutiny of global media? Presumably, she divulged this rather incriminating barb simply to underline her point, in case Alex Doyle hadn’t quite digested it at the time, in the midst of his surprise and delight. Or, conversely, it was Alex Doyle himself who blabbed. Consider that. A mean-spirited effort to expose Zoe Paton’s caustic, if only momentary, heartlessness.
Ill-starred auspices for a first date, in my opinion. But let’s not dwell on the rights and wrongs, the whys and wherefores. Here is a young couple, stony broke – at least for the benefit of the story – harbouring an incipient infatuation for one another, though also a bit grumpy, experiencing a minor miracle of sorts. Let’s focus on the positives: that beautiful Plymouth meal – we don’t know where (nor why, indeed, Plymouth); the satisfying rustle of the Plymouth Advertiser’s job pages over a plate of roasted garlic bruschetta, let’s imagine; the sweet reconciliation that only a clink of wine glasses and a snatched, scampi-breathed kiss can consummate… Not forgetting their post-prandial cinema visit to see that meltingly sentimental masterpiece, “Ouija: Origin of Evil”.
“Ouija: Origin of Evil”. I kid you not. Further damning evidence of that toxic undercurrent I was earlier alluding to. Occult horror now the rose-petaled pillow of seduction? Forgive me, but that’s the last time I dress myself up in mother’s calf-length, pleated tartan skirt, stuff a fistful of cotton swabs down my bra front and don that ludicrous Poundland Mrs Brown perm, just to do a couple of kids a favour. I may hold onto the sensible shoes, and I may not.
Harrumphing blindly round Richmond’s cobbled square, a dizzy spell and palpitations set off by a fusillade of fireworks… Until I remember I’m not actually the old infirm lady I’m dressed up as, it’s just the effects of poisoned goodwill. (Though, it’s true, I’m a sufferer of restless leg syndrome (RLS), tinnitus and eye floaters. Also, in childhood, there was that bout of Henoch’s perpura; not forgetting the time we thought my ear was falling off.) Anyway, to cut a long story short, we did eventually manage to locate and negotiate the steep flight of stairs up to our Tandoori Night table booking – before curtain call at the Georgian Theatre, before my lower lumbar seized.
Despite the chilly climate inside, the visiting electrician appeared quite comfortable swaggering round the restaurant in shorts, all tool belt and ear pencil. Another of the takeaway crowd it turned out (a transaction bargained with light bulbs). The takeaway crowd considerably outnumbered the seated custom, we observed. In fact, as diners, we acquired a fleeting celebrity: a photoshoot for Facebook advertising; the 7-course Xmas Day menu urgently thrust into our mits (£14.50 per head). It was an oddly uncomfortable atmosphere: the soft murmur of Indian tunes barely puncturing the pregnant hush. Listening, jittery waiting staff surveiled the area primed with paranoiac quips. With judicious care, we passed admiring remarks on the wallpaper.
The pickle tray was a pleasing diversion from the psychological cat and mouse. A gravy boat of minty-honey-mustard-dip, accompanying the usuals (including lime pickle), kept us guessing – failing to distinguish the shock banana. The mushroom pakora and onion bhajis a Rudyard Kipling just so-so; instead, it was the puri bread dishes that claimed the starter plaudits: the bhuna prawn and the chicken tukh tukh. (The chicken only lacking its rickshaw transportation.)
Main dish-wise, nothing, it has to be said, compared with Amontola’s (Amontola, Richmond, North Yorkshire) desi mach (a Bangladeshi fish curry) – even Skipjack Ma’s appealing chingre jhole, a “Bengali fisher folk” recipe. By contrast, it just tasted… red. The remainder were rich, sweetish, coconutty concoctions – mine a misguided hybrid served madras strength. Incongruous as a marmalade slathered Peperami stick, say. The, nowadays, out of vogue, tea-light food warmers at least offered nostalgic charm, if not quite dissipating the lingering air of solemn forboding, presaging disaster: Shaeffer’s “Black Comedy” at the Georgian Theatre, for instance. Nothing catastrophic though. Rest assured, generous measures of Skipjack Pa’s 12 year old Tomatin administered in weighty, crystal cut glasses, proved ample (and profound) consolation.
Judge ‘Gonzo’ Pickles
Fred ‘Skippy’ Pickles