Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Two Tonys [i]

The Tonys were home-makers, and their kitchen turned out wonders.  Grisly wonders, on this occasion, laced with blood — pâtés and terrines.  I nibbled awkwardly at some crisp sheets of Melba toast, to show willing.” — From The Novel Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones ('literary sadist') to be published on Thursday 20th January, 2011.

It's funny how the wheels turn. The last time I had two Tonys for company was 1972; they’d mince along in my direction before perching on the sofa next to me (keeping a wary distance) before to me and saying things like: “What have you been doing today?” or “We didn’t see you last week... hope things were OK” or “Tony managed to procure some Gjetost yesterday. We had to go to Robert Sayle to buy a stainless steel cheese slicer at a shocking price. We bought brown Rye-King and Cashew-Nutta from the health shop in Rose Crescent and found it perfect as a base on which we could lay the slivers, and cutting it in itself is quite a business. Anyway, the first thing Tony said was, ‘Make sure we save a slice for Little John, who can’t get any’ — Didn’t we, Tony?” and I was handed a brown crispbread smeared with brown goo and a sliver of some fudge-like substance balanced on the top. I was starving but I asked him if he’d he’d put it on the counter for me to take later. I couldn’t stand the idea of the expectant looks I’d get from them, eagerly awaiting my comment on the strange cheese, knowing full well that they’d have no interest whatever in my thoughts which they’d merely use as a springboard to launch into their chic opinions and judgments. I hate listening to people’s judgments on food I haven’t tried, and I hate listening to opinions of dishes I haven’t eaten when they’re prequelled with details of the ingredients you’ll need, methods of preparation and cooking. You’re just supposed to enjoy the dish first. You’re supposed to be enamoured with it so much that you end up gagging for the recipe.

I left the crispbread on the counter, determined not to take even a nibble as I’d been doubly insulted in one sentence: ‘Little John can’t get any’ indeed! It was true: I ‘couldn’t get any’ because until a few moments ago I had no clue as to what the Hell ‘Gjetost Cheese’ was. That’s always always a valid reason, of course, but somehow I don’t think that was what the Tonys had in mind. Although I was hungry, my real appetite gnawed at a deeper level. I didn’t go to CHE meetings in those days to eat vol-au-vents and go into soufflé recipes, but that was the groove into which people seemed to be channeling me. There were a few interesting people on the other side of the room, one of them a rather gaunt and hauntingly attractive youth who seemed to be lonely and searching. I recalled my first trip to India about eighteen months ago and felt we’d find some common ground. Yet when I struggled to stand and begin to hobble over all eyes were fixed in my direction. A few started to make ‘let me help’ gestures and before I knew it one of the dratted Tonys (who must have been following the direction of my gaze) horned in with a statement like ‘Let’s see what we can do to get you fixed up’. Nothing could have been more off-putting.
Allergic by now to cheese I’d never tasted, my small burning flame of desire was quenched by the smothering help of one of the Tonys. I altered my course and made a bee-line for the door as if I’d never had the slightest intention of making contact with anyone: I’m good at doing that. I did manage though to exchange a smile at the haunting youth — it was a swift glance which escaped their radar, and I even managed to roll my eyes heavenwards in their direction and that raised a further smile from the young man. Evidently eye-rolling had the same meaning in India. It was really nice, and it was enough for me.
The steps which ascended into the meeting room were perilous to ascend, but even dicier when you tried to go down. I’d given no thought to this vital aspect and was suddenly afraid of toppling over, both physically and from sheer pride. Providentially a hand appeared from out of the shadows. It was a mirror image of one of the opening scenes of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. In the classic (and gripping) romantic thriller a woman dressed in white from head to toe appears out of the shadows and solicits help to cross the heath, on the condition that ‘you will not ask me any questions, or interfere with me in any way’. On this occasion a figure appeared from out of the shadows: a man in a casual white suit which went from shoulder to toe. Middle-aged in appearance, with a kind face, his movements were soft and firm. He eased me down the perilous dark descent, then softly walked with me to the car, where he held the door open for me like a chauffeur. His actions were very physical, but gently so and his lilting Welsh asked if I’d be all right for going up the steps to my room. I said fine yes thanks, the steps to my room were very easy. I had somewhere else to go first but another night I’d be grateful for help and perhaps a little company, stopping short of the mention of ‘a coffee’ which was usually a lewd thing to offer in those semi-secret days.
“Don’t be put off by tonight,” he said, “they mean well, but seem unable to see that people do need to find their own way.” I said it’s OK and it didn’t matter and I was used to it by now. He stood outside on the steps of 5, Glisson Road, Cambridge and waved. Waved until I reached the end and turned right into Regent Street, then left into the imposing wrought iron gates of Downing.
All the way back I wished I’d accepted his offer of help, and I wondered if we’d ever meet again. You see, he’d saved me from the third insult from the Tonys which usually topped the evening. Politely but firmly one of them would put his hands together and beam the question which had me totally stumped:
“And what are you going to do now?”

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