I hated fat and gristle. The longer I left it the colder it got. Stone cold gristle was vile. I’d be made to sit at the table until all my roast dinner was eaten. I’d eat the roast potatoes first – I loved them – and hate myself for it. I’d munch through the carrot and swede and mash and cabbage, never able to take my eyes off the fat on the plate, which was getting colder and uglier. I knew I was fortunate to have meat – I was told so – but that only made it worse. If it was so expensive and such a privilege and I hated it anyway then save your pennies and let me eat mash. Years of trying to force gristle down while listening to Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves on local radio has given me an aversion to that kind of music. I was in an Oxfam shop when the owner flipped an LP onto the turntable. It was that kind of music – what will forever be known to me as Gravy Music – and I was instantly transported back to a chair with a wicker seat that left shredded wheat patterns on my bum, and a gristly cut of beef with congealing puddles of fat and tepid gravy. There was nothing wrong with it and I’d grow to love the Sunday roast, but being forced to eat anything is as pointless an exercise as putting up a sign that says: ‘Don’t walk on the grass.’
I had to develop strategies fast if I were to leave the table before the next Ice Age. First up, I developed an ability to chop and sculpt food, hiding it behind the silhouette of my knife and fork. That always failed but was a useful delaying tactic until my Dad left the table to snooze in front of the Monaco Grand Prix or recorded episodes of Around with Alliss. My mother would hear the call of the washing up but watch me with a beady eye as she swirled the Morning Fresh into the bowl. Our Labrador, Bess, was a waste disposal unit on four legs and would scoff anything I threw, dropped or palmed. Unfortunately, she was too loud, and a piece of gristle snuck behind a table leg would be wolfed down with an enormous chomp as if a great white shark were feasting on our sideboard. I might get away with dropping her a morsel of fat if there was an orchestral bit on the radio or Mum dropped a hot plate onto the lino. Even then, Bess might unwittingly betray me by licking her whiskers with that huge pink tongue. By now I’d been at the table for forty minutes or more and time moved at glacial pace. ‘You’re not leaving till you’ve eaten it.’ I ate the last piece of carrot guiltily, probing at the gristle with a fork tine. It was the colour of the perished tape on our school hymn books. Was that a hair sprouting from it? ‘If that’s not eaten when I get back there’ll be trouble.’ My mother would go to fetch tea towels from the airing cupboard and I began to learn the times when it is necessary for both parties to be complicit in a lie. My mother couldn’t back down and let me leave the gristle. At the same time, she knew we’d sit there until Judgement Day if she didn’t allow me the opportunity to get rid. When I heard the loose board groan on the landing I tilted the plate and scooped it into Bess’s gaping gob. I then had the ridiculous job of dabbing at a Labrador’s slobbering chops with a burgundy napkin left over from Christmas. And all the time Kenny Rogers sang ‘The Coward of the County.’
In the continuing series of ‘Fade to Gravy’ – Remembering the 1980s….
Our school toilets were hideous. Whether it was the cubicles that wouldn’t lock, the sandpaper that passed as toilet paper, the waxy soap or the sinks plugged with turf from football boots, it was an experience best avoided.
Or there’s a short clip of me reading it (and avoiding those curious cows) at Shaky Bridges on a beautiful September day.
We cool dusty feet in Millian Brook, and climb A ridge of rabbit scrapes and toppled gates To gaze upon Sow Valley as St Chad’s chimes Names are carved in oak and beech. Woodlands dates Bob hearts Bren. Tru Luv. Beneath us, rail tracks sing And far off M6 windscreens shimmer code Timeless here. Insects buzz, hover. Swifts take wing We’ve left the tarmac for an ancient road We’re followed, surrounded, by curious cows We shoo them, then un-shoe to wiggle toes In glistening shallows of the meandering Sow At Shaky Bridges we forget our woes Silvery minnows dart. We toss sticks. Make wishes Upstream, the ghost of Izaak Walton fishes