Saturday 2nd September 2017.
At Stradbroke Community Centre there was a tractor mowing the field round and round. It’s not a field with painted lines or goal posts, just a fenced in patch of grass. No park bench with memorial plaque where Albert used to sit and enjoy the view, only the damp ground. I don’t know what they do there. We sat on some concrete debris on the roadside instead. We like to get away from the people. Nearly one hundred of them turned up, churning the old hard luck stories, tales of an errant knight. “The Ingenious Nobleman Mister Quixote of La Mancha”, current title of the Stradbroke Community Centre Reading Group?
No, it was a rapid play chess tournament. (‘Tales of an errant knight’ was a pun I came up with. I may submit it to ‘Chess’ magazine. They have a small section for chess jokes and there’s a comic strip. Every month they manage to come up with something.) So over the day we played six games moving the pieces around, banging the clocks. A chaotic hybrid of the real thing. Moronic, automatic moves sometimes salvaged by frantic audacity, sometimes crucified. Losing a rook in fifteen moves, I’m playing on not to finish first: to approach the front with my result, like a guilty child summoned by Sir. My last opponent, a real gent, with 40 seconds on my clock, offered a draw, handing me a prize of £37.50. Worth an Elijah Craig 12 – stock up, they’re not producing any more.
Straight to Woodseats, parked up Chantry Road. Bigger and grander from the outside, it’s a gloomy place. Some tired furnishings; bulbous, decorative vases. Stuck in a middle lane of tables for two, we formed a curious row of back-to-back couples. At last, distracted from surround sound table talk by a pickle tray of singular variety.
Reports of woefully sluggish service and shirty, unapologetic staff, not entirely in evidence: service was good, in fact; there was, however, a noticeable hiatus between courses. I tried some cod to start, swathed in those sizzling onions you get, half-cooked. Under-flavoured; neither was it flakey, moist fish fillet. I don’t know what the Captain would say. Onion bhagis: cosplaying Fred Astaires; crispy coat and hat, no pizazz.
The tandoori nihari lamb came on the bone, two bones. But no rich, creamy trademark gravy. Instead, some mince, a halved boiled egg, a scattering of tame, sliced chillies. I failed to detect the bullet. It was a pot pourri dish belying its nihari claims. Well, we ate up anyway and paid a visit upstairs. The facilities were better than most except I couldn’t find the light switch to the toilet cubicle. There wasn’t one. It was completely black like a tomb. I didn’t need to go in there, I’m just saying.
Judge ‘Gonzo’ Pickles
Fred ‘Skippy’ Pickles