Tuesday, July 03, 2007


It had all seemed like such a good idea at the time

Me - “ Once I get back from Australia, I’ll come down and see you, if that’s OK”

Adrian Oliver ( Chef PatronMargot’s Bistrot, Padstow) – “ sounds good. We’ll get you on a lobster boat with a Murt ( Murt, apparently is not a single person, but a Padstownian clan) then you can come and help me in the kitchen”

Easy Peasy, no?

Well of course not. It never bloody is.

It began badly too. I had made the fatal mistake of ignoring big brother, The Great Salami, and booking a standard class ticket for the journey there and back. Another £20, and I could have been in first class with young women massaging my aching limbs with exotic ungences and feeding me grapes and that. Instead, because of some “man of the people meets budgetary sense” stupidity, I found myself in the midst of what I can only describe as a reworking of The Island of Dr Moreau.

On one side of me, was the whooping of four public school “dudes” who were going down to sample the apparently “ awesome” surfing of the South West. They were obviously enjoying their first beer, well ever and, at 10am in the morning, were on the first train to slapsville given the looks of some of my other travelling companions.

They had not bought tickets either and were full of “let’s go and hide when the ticket collector comes round” bravery which made my increasingly reactionary hackles rise almost to the point where I wanted to go and find said collector, drag him back to the carriage and point them out.

Ah, but there is a just God. When Mr ticket man did arrive he politely informed them that, as they had not bought tickets before their journey, they would have to pay the full single fair to Penzance, a paltry £180 each. Tee and indeed hee. The rest of the carriage looked on gleefully as their pale chinless faces fell and the awesome surfer dudes vanished to be replaced by terrified little oiks calling their respective “mummies” to bale them out.

One of them offered up “my father’s a judge” by way of threat to the Inspector who replied “ unless it’s Simon Cowell, I’m not impressed”

They finally slunk off the train at Exeter to be replaced by a shrieking group of girlies who were heading down to Cornwall before heading back up to something called “Glasto” They had decided that our carriage was going to be Party Central and they were going to provide the music. Now, young people’s music is officially awful and I truly believe that the day the music died was the day Frank Zappa did, but they took this to new limits.

In between guitar bands of no discernable talent and R&B singers practicing their scales in lieu of songs, they had those extended conversations about matters of real import that only teenager girls can have including the perennial “ is Jacob’s Creek or Blossom Hill the best wine in the world” I ask you, this is our future we are looking at.

Mind you, all of this grumpiness may well have been compounded by one of the girls saying that she was worried her dad was getting a bit forgetful as he got older and she was not looking forward to, wait for it, his forty fifth birthday. Damn them all to hell.

As all this was going on, I got a voicemail from Adrian saying “ The weather’s crap down here. Murt’s not sure he is going out” So, all of this travelling Hell and no lobster boat at the end of it. I could have turned around there and then but for the fact we were about to pull into Bodmin and I had promised to split a cab with the poor unfortunate opposite me.

He wasn’t wrong. The weather was crap. Bucketing down in fact and it looked increasingly unlikely that I would ever get out on one of the lobster boats the next morning. So, I did what any self respecting person would do in a similar situation and having endured the journey I just had. I set out to get totally and utterly arsholed.

It’s not too hard either in Padstow when one of your chums owns a restaurant and the other owns a wine merchant and bar. I spent the next four or five hours flip flopping on increasingly unsteady legs between Margot’s Bistro and Bin Two Wine Merchants filling up each leg in turn with good wine (wine for which I am not entirely sure I paid) scaring the young women who worked in both and then sitting against a wall and beginning to snore loud enough to scare the locals until David was ready to show me back to my digs for the night in his lovely little house in Wadebridge.

And, we carried on drinking. Oh God did we carry on drinking. I managed to punctuate it with a little bleary eyed curry cooking, but that only served to make David open a bottle of gin. In fact, I can’t think of many things that don’t make David want to open a bottle of gin.

“ your cat’s died. Oh, I am sorry, do have a gin”

“the way to Polzeath? Of course, but do have a gin first”

“ Take That, reformed you say? That calls for a gin”

And David’s gins are not ordinary gins. These are three to four fingers of neat booze with, if you are lucky, a slice of lime

By midnight we had already received a “thank you” text from Hendricks and wobbled up the wooden stairs with me praying to God on high that the weather would suddenly not get better and allow me to go out on the lobster boat.

I awoke at 6am with the pleasing sound of rain lashing against my bedroom window. “No lobster boats for this bunny” I thought as my dry tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and my head began playing the theme music to Zulu.

I called Murt though, just in case and made all the right disappointed noises when he told me it was not going to be happening.


Apparently, such excursions are stomach challenging at the best of times, but on top of half a bottle plus of gin, it did not promise to be a pretty sight for me or my companions.

So, I went back to sleep and I slept the sleep of the righteous until nearly 10 am when David wandered in looking as rough as I felt and plonked down a welcome cup of tea. Almost as welcome as if he had bothered to tie up his dressing gown properly rather that leave his meat & two veg dangling at unhappily close to face level.

Despite that early morning stomach heaver, I was soon up, showered and at ‘em. I decided to do what any sane person would do when it is lashing with rain and they have the most dreadful hangover. I decided to go hiking. Well, of course I did.

But I didn’t just go for a little stroll. I went for a good old ‘where’s my compass and Kagoul?” type hike, the sort for which Kendal Mint Cake was invented.

First up, the relatively benign six miles or so into Padstow along The Camel Path which, bar the hordes of kids in mini bikes threw nothing up of any great danger.

Then after a quick pop into Margot’s to arrange my shift for the evening, the real walking. A ferry across to Rock and then the best part of 30 kms in search of the grave of Sir John Betjeman at St Enodoc’s Church in his beloved Trebetherick.

Ah, Sir John, his witty and accessible poetry is treated as rather unfashionable now, but I have always had a soft spot for a man who referred to himself in “ Who’s Who” as “ a poet and a hack”

Unfortunately, his glorious England was not really shown to its best effect that day and as I walked, it poured and I got drenched. So wet in fact that you feel like someone has to pick you up and wring you out bit by bit for you to ever get dry again. There was no stopping me however and I finally found myself by the small, discrete grave stone of one of Britain’s national treasures just as a band of sunlight broke through and cast its gleam on me and a proper writer.

As I mentioned below, it was also at this point that my otherwise useless mobile sprang into life and my agent called to say that we had agreed a deal for EAT MY GLOBE with John Murray, the publisher of Betjeman.

By now it was time to head back to Padstow in time for the last ferry from Rock. Yes, of course I got even more wet and, by the time I reached Margot’s I was fit for nothing and beginning to develop the cold which would lay me low for the next ten days. But, hey, I had those joys to follow.

Tonight? Well tonight Matthew, I am going to be Adrian’s bitch. Well, not Adrian alone. Margot’s is propelled along its merry way by Adrian and his cohort, Claire.

Funny story about Claire & me. We used to know each other about fifteen years ago in different lives altogether. We lost touch until earlier this year when Adrian was reading Dos Hermanos and chortling ( as one is of course bound to do) at the witty musings of the hugely handsome Simon who is “ something in publishing” Claire, by this time, was working with Adrian after having lived opposite Margot’s for a couple of years knew that there was only one gorgeous, witty Simon in publishing and we got to meet up again after all these years.

Not that this meant they would take it easy on me. I mean, they made me wear an apron and obey the “ Employees must wash hands” sign in the bathroom.

They put me where I could do least harm and I was given the important title of “Executive Dish Washing Appliance Operative” which meant I was in charge of the vital task of filling and emptying the large, rather scary commercial dishwasher, ever four minutes or so through the long service.

It’s bloody hard work this kitchen business and only re-enforced my view that I prefer to be on the other side of the swinging doors that to get involved myself. It also made me realise that the service is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Long before Johnny punter darkens the door, Adrian is in there prepping, reducing, simmering and steaming while Claire is chopping, prepping and storing.

I have written about Margot’s over on DOS HERMANOS so I wont go on about the food here. Just take it as read that it’s great. Mind you, on this visit, I got to try precious little of it which is the way of all workers during a busy service. A few bits of squid left in a pan here, a sliver of cheesecake there and that was about it.

The rest of the time, I hunkered down over my dish washer like a man possessed. I don’t like to blow my own trumpet as you know. But, God I was good. Dishes in, press button, wait four minutes, open door avoiding steam, dishes out. Start all over again. Seldom can dishes have been washed and rewashed with such accuracy, professionalism and, let’s not deny it, love. By the end of service, it would be fair to say that man and machine had become one. Acting as one unit to bring clean utensils to a utensil hungry kitchen. When, finally, end of service came and it was time to hang up my pinny, I mean apron, there was a little tear from the corner of my eye and, a little dribble of steam from the washer as if to say ‘ we done well mate”

I sat down in front of house with a weary “ the tools are on the bar” and watched as the rest carried on with the preparations for the next day.

It’s worth remembering, next time you are in a small restaurant and you are tempted to whine about little inconsistencies like dry sticky toffee pudding or the lack of an all day breakfast menu that Adrian bundles up for duty about 9am in the morning to check deliveries and start prepping and his day doesn’t stop until early the following morning when he finishes with the oh so glamorous task of depositing his bags of squelching rubbish in the commercial bins and his linens with the overnight cleaners.

Me, one night was fun, but from now on I am going to leave it to the experts.

I slept well that night, but awoke the next morning with a dry mouth. Not this time from booze but from a combination of the onset of a cold and the dread fear of that “cabbage” class journey back up to civilisation. It was every bit as dreadful as I had anticipated as indeed was the cold from which I am only just recovering

Oh well, I may not have gone out on the lobster boats, but at least I caught something.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't really learn. Hit the Dry Martinis late at a party on Sat night just gone. VERY messy.

Anon. ;-) x