The Confessions of a Tin Opener by Trevor Plumbly

As the car drove off, I faced a few days fending for myself and I realised that it wasn’t going to be quite as simple or relaxing as it once was. The old system worked fine in a big house; the washing, dishes, pots and empties could be ignored until the eve-of-return blitz. In a small cottage however, some sort of system would need to be followed to get the full benefit out of my temporary return to batchelorhood. First, a quick stock-take: the liquids were easy, tea, a few beers and a couple of bottles of red seemed adequate, but the food might be a problem. The old ‘bachelor buffet’ was the answer: fill a large pot with stock, toss a few lamb chops in, add potatoes, onions and carrots, salt and pepper and simmer for a few hours; when the pot gets low, toss in a tin of soup and a couple of fried sausages and bingo! You’ve got enough grub for a week.

I might have got the quantities wrong or perhaps the years had blunted my appreciation of the dish, but it simply didn’t taste the same; even after adding curry powder it was hard going. But I soldiered on and then settled back for a glass or two of vin rouge and some music. It was an evening of discovery: Jacqueline du Pré I found relaxing, but an hour of cello can be a bit too much of a good thing. If you play Bob Dylan at night it makes you feel old, and you can’t get to sleep after you’ve listened to a surfeit of Emmylou Harris.

The following night I gazed at the contents of the stockpot, hoping that age had made them more appealing, but sadly not; even the waste disposal had trouble digesting them. It was obviously time to get back to basics. I checked the fridge; lots of funny looking unknown vegetables, and I remembered the mantra: you need to eat more greens. Why is it, I wondered, that some folk feel that a couple of Brussels sprouts and a few cabbage leaves will undo years of abusive dietary habits? Rejecting these passports to an everlasting healthy life, I plumped for cheese on toast with baked beans and fried eggs. Leaving the dishes to keep those from last night company, I settled down with the rough red and the CD holder.

Neil Young was OK until he started singing ‘Helpless’. The King’s College Choir was a bit too churchy, so I tried Leonard Cohen; after a while I found myself wishing we had a gas oven. The telly was no improvement, but then what is after 60 odd minutes of Mr Cohen’s dirges? Even light chamber music failed to lift the emotional fog, so it was off to bed with talk back radio; hopefully a few late night nutters might provide some light relief.

Day three was decision day. Apart from the healthy green things, the cupboard was practically bare. Two eggs challenged me, but after frying their mates three days on the trot (no pun intended), I conceded defeat. It was time to eat out. What I really fancied was some good old-fashioned pub grub. With a plate full of sausages, eggs and chips and a couple of pints, I bet even old Leonard couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. It wasn’t long before I realised that pub grub was going to be a problem. First, there was a shortage of actual pubs. There used to be heaps of them, with chubby landlords, buxom barmaids and good, honest stodge to sustain the inner man. My old local was now a ‘girly bar’, but anyone who regarded that array of tired old tarts as ‘girls’ definitely couldn’t be trusted with food. The next one had re-invented itself and was now a ‘bistro bar’ and its idea of sustenance was ‘tapas’. For Christ’s sake! A pub with a French title and tiddly bits of Spanish grub, no wonder the country’s in the crapper. Food should be a simple affair with the maxim, ‘If you can’t spell it, don’t eat it’.

I trudged on, passing all sorts of culinary curiosities: Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, Italian even Mexican before I spotted it; a monument to British Heritage, with ‘FISH AND CHIPS!’ proudly emblazoned across its windows. Ordering was simple, who needs a menu or an interpreter in a chip shop? Back home, I trembled like a junkie clutching an overdue fix. After carefully anointing the goodies with vinegar I sat back and enjoyed. Nursing a can of Guinness, I topped off the near religious experience with an hour or so of The King’s College Choir.

Lunch the following day was a simple affair: the rest of last night’s chips, heated and sandwiched with HP sauce. Then on to the clean-up. The stockpot was a bit of a challenge; the remains of the ‘bachelor buffet’ had solidified to a Formica like substance at the bottom of the pot which didn’t respond to a scrub, so it was a question of boiling the pot until the gunk at the bottom gave up the fight. After that, the only real problem was the untouched green things in the vegetable drawer. Should I leave them there like silent witnesses to my avoidance of the healthy path, or lay them to rest in the worm farm and try to look vibrant? I decided that the former would be par for the course and the latter stupid, so I left them to keep company with the surviving eggs. That done, I sat back, mulling over the past few days, and decided that next time she went away she should take me and my arteries with her. Who knows, maybe Leonard Cohen would sound happier after being left home alone for a few days.

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