Cookery School

August 17, 2012

I haven’t managed to put anything up on my blog for a while so this piece is one that I scribbled down months ago and never put up. I have a sporadic relationship with the Internet; a lot of the time it feels like getting on a bus full of strangers who take it in turns on the journey to stand up and shout that you’re a dick. Hence my tendency to blog once every four and a half years and tweet every time I see a rare bird. I did a cookery course in Devon on my own and this is what I wrote about it.

Over the past twenty odd years I’ve worked up a steady repertoire of three meals that I can comfortably prepare for myself without crying: bolognese, salmon in a tray and porridge. I’ve wanted to remedy this for some time but have never worked up the necessary levels of being arsed. On a whim I’ve signed up to a “Beginner’s Cookery Weekend” in Ashburton, Devon. I think I was expecting a nice seaside town when I signed up and when I arrived it was as if the town had disguised itself as one but without the sea. It seems to me that as you get further towards the coast people go, “You know, I’m so bloody happy about living near the sea I’m going to paint my house pink. Sod it. I don’t care what colour it is. ‘Ere Geoff! Geoff! Why don’t you paint your house yellow? Let’s just let ourselves go.” This town had that but without the crucial coastal aspect. Feeling actively deceived by the candy-coloured bastards I arrived at the digs provided by the school.

I was greeted by a cheery woman with the middle and index fingers of her right hand bandaged. “Accidents do happen” being the first thing she said to me. What a great motto for a cookery school, I thought. I imagined the school’s insignia: a banner inscribed “Accidentus Happenum” and above it a chef with two thumbs up – on fire.

I had booked myself on the course impulsively and hadn’t given any thought to the type of people I’d be mixing with. After dropping my bags in my accommodation (and noticing with some alarm that the ancient floor rolled and undulated like the land the Teletubbies lived in before that little hoover snapped and killed them all) I went down for the welcome drinks that had been organised.

A sea of round, wrinkled, female faces lay before me, almost all uniformly kitted out in loose-fitting pastels, the same colour as the houses. The kind of neat, countrified, middle England faces that could tell you all about the wonders of making your own jam and without even a change in their tone tell you how much they don’t like black people.

Conversation is such a fucking necessity isn’t it? I’d be perfectly happy just guessing what people were thinking, but no, you’re apparently not allowed to just stare at people, you have to do the whole “Hello how are you?” thing, don’t you? Now, sometimes I’m perfectly content in the company of strangers and can find chat flowing easily from me like dysentery, but sometimes, just sometimes, I find myself behaving like I’ve recently been found in the woods having been raised by sparrows who, as we are all aware, haven’t the foggiest when it comes to introductory drinks. So, after swallowing the disappointment that the prospect of any sex that weekend was dependent on me overcoming an aversion to thick beige tights, I embarked on some conversations. After 54,000 repetitions of “I came by train…yes it was crowded…no, they’re never on time,” I discovered that the majority of these fine women were here for the “Express Dinner Party Course”. Of course that’s the course, I thought surveying the cropped grey lake of their heads.

“It’s going to revolutionise the way I entertain,” said a pleasant ruddy one without even the faintest whiff of irony. To cheer myself up in the face of such earnestness I imagined that they were all swingers and the course was called “Express Sex Parties”. This certainly helped jazz up the exchanges I had with them. Statements such as, “My monthly nights will never be the same” and “My friends won’t believe what’s hit them” completely changed their meaning. They would chat of “whole new ways of glazing breast” and “plum reduction” and my lips would curl and add comments about “covering everything in jus.” God it was childish, but it helped me through what would have been a very awkward forty minutes.

There was a man called Trevor who had a voice exactly like Peter Cook’s E.L. Wisty character, you may not be familiar, but it was eerie. He had been bought the beginner’s weekend as a gift from his kids, having been recently widowed. “I can only cook offal,” he said. “The wife did everything else, you see.”  He told me implausible stories about accosting Gordon Ramsey in Harvey Nicholls and asking him about tossing salad, and how he once threw a chocolate tart at Rick Stein. I like you, I thought.

Upon excusing myself because “I thought I heard a car crash” I went into Ashburton to celebrate my foray into culinary learning by buying a takeaway curry. I wandered down to the Indian takeaway, staffed entirely by Italians (a sign-maker’s error they couldn’t afford not to commit to?) and I decided the best option on the menu for me was the “Meat Madras”. Normally, I like my meat to be from a specific animal, but fuck it, I thought, I’m on holiday and I like meat.

Non-specific foods should, I think, always be treated with an air of caution. Whenever I see a menu with “Meat” as opposed to lamb, or beef, I imagine a conveyor belt of mashed cat, or human hands in a bag. I have a similar distrust of “White Sauce”, perhaps an even greater wariness. WHAT ARE YOU HIDING? I want to scream. What do you mean “Hot Sauce”? What’s IN it? A temperature is not a flavour, no more than a table is a man. I yielded this one time though, partly because I couldn’t see anywhere else, and partly because I have the eating habits of a man deliberately testing the resilience of his own body.

And so it was that upon my arrival at Cookery School I ate non-specific meat in a mystery sauce from a foil box and thought about how it would all change.

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