Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Vino de Mesa

It was as awful as it promised to be, and worse.

The credit crunch dinner date at Jim's house had been compiled with a certain amount of young hipster irony and genuine necessary economy. He and Steve were still getting to know one another and it was risky but cheap to have Steve come over for a homecooked meal: he budgeted for 50 per cent pasta, 5 per cent pesto and 45 per cent affordable booze to ensure Steve would stay over and they could both afford to buy lunch the next day at work. Times were hard for everyone but that was no reason not to see one another for dinner, a DVD, some wine and some quality time together, right?

The dinner was established a failure early on, however, when Jim served reheated butterbeans mixed with a tin of tuna in brine because Steve had recoiled in horror at the gluten-rich pasta and possible nut allergy inspiring pesto. And the two individual cartons of Tesco Value Vino de Mesa were meant to be an amuse bouche rather than the main tipple for the evening, as Jim had assumed that Steve would bring something far superior (ie. actually drinkable), seeing as he was the dinner guest. He arrived empty handed, and they sat with their bowls of hot fishy beans, glasses of tap water and cartons of foul Vino de Mesa, pretending to find it hilarious while stealing furtive, miserable glances at the kitchen clock.

"I found someone's bus pass on my way here," stammered Steve when the ghastly silence became unbearable. "I don't know what to do with it."

"Let me see," said Jim with obvious delight that conversation might be revived. He turned the slim plastic wallet over in his hands and then flipped it open. He nonchalantly flipped through the out of date tickets, crumpled receipts and wadded flyers and junk mail shoved into the sleeves. Then he noticed the little gleam of gold at exactly the same time as Steve. "What's that?" they asked each other. Like two Charlie Buckets finding the golden ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, they stared and stared at the gold credit card tucked into the back of the bus pass wallet, disbelieving their own eyes. Jim pushed the cartons of Vino de Mesa out of the way and his hand found Steve's across the table, a faint tremble evident in his finger tips. "Get your coat, Steve. We're going out."

Steve did stay over that night. In a suite, at the Hilton, with Jim nestled into the Queen Deluxe bed next to him. Jim snored until dawn; he always did after drinking champagne.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Feeling The Wobbles
The jelly did have blood in it. That's what Mrs Dimbleby meant when she said it was high in iron. Everyone commented on how rich the flavour was, how refreshing and moreish. And it's good for you, she would remind her red-lipped customers. Low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals - it's not a just a light wobbly treat on a summer's day, it's a tonic for whatever deficiency you might be feeling. Ninety or so years ago, she would have made more of the marrow bone jelly in her recipe too but it was no longer the bonus it was, so she kept quiet about that and promoted the jellies as low-carb instead.

They sold extremely well; they always did in this village fete. Even though for generations they had lived in sunlight and went to church, the village folks had the craving in them, even the vegetarians (
especially the vegetarians). She supplied the thing they didn't know they wanted, and was always happy to slip an extra free jelly to the most anaemic child or particularly pale young man. Mrs Dimbleby knew her duty to the people, and she served her purpose willingly even though it was over two centuries since she had incurred her debt to the village and the malevolent moors where her incident happened had been a business park since 1962.

"Is there any alcohol in the jelly?" one customer nervously enquired. "Depends on the blood donor!" replied Mrs Dimbleby. She loved that joke and never tired of it, but she longed to wheel out the one she had devised about diabetes. Hardly anyone ever asked if the jelly was sugar-free but she was confident that once the subject was broached, she would deliver the punchline with great effect.