There was a big argument in Britain a while back about what constituted a ‘National Dish’ and, given there are many worthy of the accolade, which dish it should be. Should it be the traditional English Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding Sunday Dinner (eaten at lunchtime)? Should it be Steak and Kidney Pie? Roast Gammon? Roast Leg of Lamb? Fish and Chips served in newspaper? Bangers-n-Mash with Mushy Peas? The humble but ever so enjoyable Bacon Sarnie? Or perhaps the unarguably world famous heart-attack-on-a-plate, the traditional English Breakfast with all the trimmings?
The discussion became heated, tempers flared and feathers flew. The scots banged on about their beef and salmon. The Welsh reminded everyone of their close affinity to sheep and rarebits. It all became rather distasteful until one, hitherto silent participant suggested, quite reasonably, that a ‘national dish’ was surely the most often eaten, most popular dish within any given country. You cannot argue with the logic of that, after all things do change. When Homer penned his Odyssey, he was surviving on acorns which can hardly be considered the national dish of Greece pre austerity. In America, apple pie is out, shrimp and grits are in.
A national survey was conducted and the results came in. Nothing, apparently, better satisfied the British palate than a damn good curry.
Marcia had just left to take Alex to school this morning when I received a phone call from Manny. She manages Rico’s place, the lodge next door to where I am building mine. She has, bless her, a distinctive South African accent, all the more remarkable because it is wholly incomprehensible to all but her fellow Boers. Before my morning cup of tea, I stood no chance. All I understood were the words ‘rubbish’ and ‘impotent’. Now this confused me as, to the best of my admittedly shaky recollection, I had never slept with her. Still, I thought it wise to climb into the truck and drive down there.
‘Ah! Tank gudnis u ev aroived,’ she guttered, ‘de impotent visitah is to aroive any minit an oi needs to get rid a all de sheet and ar trrike iz bust!’ The way her lads thrash that little three wheeled motorcycle pick up, I wasn’t surprised it was tits up.
‘You said something about rubbish, Manny,’ I said relieved that her visitor was important and I presumably normal.
‘Yah! I call da boy nar,’ and she hurried off.
I hauled two truckloads of rubbish and kicked it all off at the dump with the help of da boy. Stinking, foetid rubbish, well stewed in overstuffed and torn plastic bags heaving with maggots. Even trying to bounce beer bottles off snuffling feral pigs at twenty paces did little to raise my spirits. I was in the middle of an African rubbish tip under a hot African sun, birth place of every bloated fly in the universe scooping up the putrefying remains of countless meals with my bare hands. Instead of a full nuclear, biological and chemical suit complete with respirator, I was dressed in shorts, T-shirt and sandals. Some people find the sensation of maggots squirming between toes interesting. This was a shit job and it got even worse when the head of my broom fell off and refused to screw back onto the handle, so I had to get down on my hands and knees to sweep the truck bed clean of the last of this biomass. Still, I thought as I jumped out of the back of the truck, I was lucky not to have cut my finger on a piece of broken glass, that really could cause a nasty infection. I landed on a broken wine bottle and gashed my foot instead.
Rico has a special cottage for VVIP’s. It’s a house really, with its own separate kitchen so that meals can be prepared exclusively for the guest staying there. Clearly Manny had left giving that a good root out to the last minute as well because as I drove into the lodge to drop the boy off, I was treated to the sight of cases of empty drinks bottles and dozens of fat black bin liners stacked up outside it. The boy was knackered. I was knackered. Neither of us had eaten, it was now nearly three in the afternoon and if I looked as disgusting as he did, it was reasonable to assume that he was as pissed off as I was. I’ll give him that though. Having loaded on another truck load, he made to climb into the cab. ‘Forget it,’ I said, ‘I’ll do this one by myself.’ He was very grateful but I wasn’t being charitable. If he went with me, I would have to bring him back. God knows what I smelt like but I could not stand the smell of him so I reckon we were both happy to part company. Besides, this was fresh rubbish, nicely crated up or bagged. This run would be easy.
As I left Rico’s and turned onto the road, four local fishermen flagged me down and asked for a lift to the main road. I told them I was going via the dump and then onwards only as far as my place. No problems, they said, I could drop them off at the turn to the dump. As I drove, I realized that with four healthy blokes in the back, they’d have the rubbish tossed off in seconds. As I pulled up at the turn, I offered to take them all the way to the main road if they helped me dump the rubbish. ‘No thanks’, they said, ‘we’ll walk’.
Bastards. They’ll happily scrounge a lift but if they have to do something in return, they’re not interested. I flew down the track to the dump and had the last bag off before the first had even landed. I caught up with them still two clicks short of the main road. I drove very sedately up behind them.
‘Oh!’ they said when they saw me, ‘can we have a lift?’
‘Vai te fuder.’ I replied.
When I got home, I saw that Marcia had a house full of Angolans who were to stay the night. This meant Marcia had been cooking and the nice clean kitchen I had left in the morning now resembled the rubbish tip of recent acquaintance. Misinterpreting my expression, Marcia hurried to explain that although she was cooking Angola fare, she was preparing English food for me. Now I like some Angolan food. Not all by any means but quite a few dishes appeal to me so I was strangely irritated that she would lump all Angolan food into a category disliked by Europeans. Her motive became clear to my cynical mind when she translated this for her guests in a manner which called attention to her Goddess-like preoccupation with her husband’s wellbeing. I was like a child, unwilling to try anything new or unusual so she had to prepare me a ‘special’ meal.
As I had climbed the steps to the veranda, I had every intention of stripping off my vile garments and striding naked through the lounge to the shower to douse myself with oven cleaner. I had instead remained clothed and was now paused in the lounge so that I could exercise the last remnants of civility still within my gift and now Marcia, having humiliated me now addressed me as if I were a child returning home after playing on a dung heap. ‘Thomas! Go and have a shower!’ Thus dismissed, I entered the bathroom and found my towel had disappeared. I checked the bedroom. No clean towels. Now this was annoying, hadn’t I just put them all through the washing machine yesterday? Had I not used my clean towel this morning and hung it on MY rail? I chased Marcia down.
‘I need a towel.’
‘They are in the bedroom.’
‘No they’re not.’
‘Yes they are.’
‘You go and look then .’
‘I am busy Darling.’
‘I am dirty.’
‘Yes I know, go and have a shower, dinner is nearly ready.’
Marcia turned to her companions, ‘He wants a towel. Honestly, men! Unless they fall over whatever it is they are looking for, they cannot find it!’ Everyone tittered except me. I was reminded of scenes from Reggie Perrin. I went into the spare bedroom and found it unusually tidy with all the towels neatly folded on freshly made beds. Clearly Marcia’s visitors were impotent as well.
I came out of our bedroom stripped with a towel around my waist.
‘Your food is ready,’ said Marcia.
‘Just stick it on the table,’ I replied, ‘I’ll be right out after my shower.’
Clean, I dragged on some fresh clobber and reappeared. There was no one in sight. Lonely on the dining table was a covered plate flanked by a knife and fork. The TV channel had been switched from incessant bloody soaps to the Winter Olympics. Typical! Only when they have something else to do that interests them more, do they switch the channel to something I might like. I stuck my head out of the veranda door. At a beautifully laid table sat my family and our guests. Was I expected to eat alone at the dining table? Was it a case of foreign food inside, Angolan food outside in the fresh breeze and setting sun? I had a look at what they were eating. Moamba da Galinha. I love Moamba da Galinha. It is chicken casseroled in a peanut cream sauce, it is divine. I went back to the dining table and peeled the cover off my food. Two pieces of filet the size and shape of testicles, three chunks of a quartered boiled potato, and two thin slivers of fried aubergine. I checked under the aubergine but my first impression had been correct, there was no sauce.
Well bollocks to that, I’d show these bastards what strange food foreigners like to eat! I went to the fridge and took out a carton of fresh cream. Pouring some into a bowl I added salt and pepper and some chopped dill. I took out a can of peach halves and opened it. Rooting among the pans on the stove I found there were more testicles in the frying pan. I heaped them onto my plate. I then arranged a peach half on each, poured cream over them and then drizzled the beef tea from the pan over the potatoes and aubergine.
‘Room for one more?’ I asked as I strode out onto the verandah.
‘Don’t you want to watch the Olympics?’ Marcia asked me, ‘the channel changed automatically so I knew you had saved a reminder. We came outside to eat so as not to disturb you.’
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘There’s more steak in the pan,’ Marcia went on, ‘it’s just that I know you like Moamba da Galinha so I only put a bit of steak on your plate to leave room.’
‘Righto,’ I said making my way down the table to sit next to Alex, ‘that was very kind of you.’
‘What have you got there!’ Marcia asked in astonishment as the plate descended below the level of her eyes on its way to land on the table, ‘are they peaches?’
Naturally everyone at the table had to have a look. No Moamba for me, I was going to have to finish what was on my plate or really lose face.
‘I don’t want this!’ said Alex pushing his plate of Moamba away, ‘I want what Daddy is eating!’ confirming in the minds of the Angolans present that we Europeans eat some odd stuff.
Alex and I proceeded to polish off the plate.
‘What is it?’ the visitors asked having been persuaded to try some.
‘This,’ I said, good humour fully restored, ‘is England’s National Dish,' I paused long enough to allow them to swallow, 'Testículos de boy com pêssegos e molho de natas com endro.’