Number Thirty One November 2005
The month of October is, in my mind, one of the best months of the year; the start of the nights drawing in, and the thoughts that it will not be long before the cold weather starts to take a turn for the worse. Never mind, this is where working in a hot kitchen has its benefits, the thoughts of the many sweltering hot days trapped inside the kitchen working at the stoves with steam coming out of the top of my chef’s hat have now gone. Also stopped are the comments from the T-shirt and shorts brigade known as delivery drivers. Little comments like, “cor chef you look a tad red round the gills today” as they leave the kitchen through the chains that hang in the space of the open door into the bright sunshine. Over the years I have worked in some very hot kitchens. One I remember was a brand new kitchen but to be fair a little bit on the small size. Fitted in the wall about four foot above my head was an electric fan that's sole purpose was to remove all the heat from the kitchen. All went well for a few days then one very hot day I heard this little clicking sound, at the time we were working our way through a busy lunch service. Then it happened, the clicking seemed to get a bit louder, and then louder, then in a great bang and a puff of blue smoke so that I half expected Widow Twanky to appear, the clicking sound stopped, and so did the fan. We found out that the heat in the kitchen had expanded the blades of the fan, thus bringing about its downfall. So you now see why most chefs welcome the cooler weather and as the winter weather kicks in we, in the kitchen, are cosy and warm with two ovens and a range full of gas rings at full pelt. You can open up the oven door and toast your nether regions to your heart’s content. Around the same time each day you await the arrival of the delivery drivers, no more T-shirts and flimsy pairs of shorts but now they are dressed in winter woollies in a vain attempt to keep them warm. Yes these are the very same ones that gave freely their comments in the very hot summer days. Now the weather outside is blowing a force nine gale, raining cats and dogs, and snow is forecast and it is slowly taking it’s toll on them as they enter the cosy environment of my kitchen. Good morning chef, as if they are pleased to see me, and then I would spot their eyes looking at the burning gas rings. “Any chance of a warm up chef?” My answer, normally in Russian that sounds like stroganoff, is short and to the point and would normally send them on their way back into the force nine from whence they came. Deliverymen seem to have very short memories. October is a month when, as the summer trade slows down, we at the restaurant take a week’s holiday. We don't normally go away, but just spend time relaxing. That is after I have completed Mrs. R’s list of things to be done. Maybe if things go well I fit in a days fishing, and the fact was we were going to a dinner dance on the Saturday night. I was especially looking forward to the evening as one of my young chefs that worked for me many years ago was coming from London to be there that night. We were all looking forward to the weeks break when on the Friday before we closed down, my back started playing up. It’s been years since I have suffered with back pains but on reflection I put it down to my attempt in trying to be a new man a few weeks ago. My misadventure with the throng was now I believe the cause of the problem with my back. As the great day approached my thoughts of trying to stand upright on the dance floor and jig away to the sounds of rocking all over the world did not rate as enjoying myself. One has to understand that as a young lad of nine and standing almost five foot six, add to that my short trousers and black canvas plimsolls, bad memories of being forced to dance to the sounds of Miss Ransom’s attempt at playing the flute, did not go a long way in giving a young boy confidence. My first reflections of having a bad back problem came from a school play at Christmas time. I was to play the King and young Mary, whom I thought at the time as being what they would call a bit of alright was to play the part of Queen. What seemed a good idea at the time was to haunt me all these years later. On the opening night all our mums and dads were there to see us perform. Not one seat was left in the hall. Then some lad decided to put a slightly broken chair for Queen Mary to sit on. All went well for a while, but then Queen Mary stood up to start her bit. As she descended, the chair leg cracked and she fell backwards. It was at that point I thought that my luck had changed. Mary, due to the lack of chairs, had to perform the rest of the play sitting on my knee. But it was not long before the combined weight of two young nine year olds jumping up and down had its affect on the old school chair. My dear old dad said that he had never enjoyed a school play so much, and reminded me constantly about what he thought was the best bit of the show, namely seeing two pairs of legs waving in the air. From that day on I convinced mother that I required long trousers for school from now on. After that little problem with the school play was over Mary began to ask me round to her house. In fact she only lived minutes from my home. Even at that early stage in my life thoughts of offering a nice meal to win a young lady’s heart was in the back of my mind. Grandmother was always baking fresh bread. So on days when she went out to see an old friend of hers, I would nip into the larder and cut two good old doorstops of bread and to these I would add lots of butter and a great old dollop of homemade strawberry jam. Then with the aid of a knife my little treat was ready. To present my offering I washed out my old oxo tin that I used to keep my maggots in when I went fishing. Mary always said that my strawberry sandwich was the best that she had ever tasted. The only problem was that she asked on many occasions why did the lid of the oxo tin have so many holes in it.
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