Get Your Laugh­ing Tackle Around this

The Victoria Standard - - Food - GE­ORGE SMITH

Prior to my ad­ven­tures in Nor­folk, there came a point in my life when I needed the ser­vices of a best man. Al­though, as you may re­call, the choice of wife proved an er­ror in my judge­ment, the can­di­date for best man was a much less risky se­lec­tion process and could have come from a rather ex­ten­sive list. It is the na­ture of the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try that every per­son you meet be­comes a friend by virtue of their be­ing your cus­tomers. Such droves of “friends” of­ten led me to seek so­lace in a snooker hall across the road, run by my soon-to-be best man, Mal­colm.

The day was warm and sunny and the street was crowded with rush­ing shop­pers and of­fice work­ers. I dodged be­tween the cars and trucks snarled up at the in­ter­sec­tion of the high street and the main road out of Lon­don. Grab­bing the handrail I ran up the stone steps to the large, dou­ble swing doors and burst through into the dark. Be­fore my eyes could ad­just to the lack of light, I stood and lis­tened to the si­lence. A dim orange glow hov­ered across at the far side of the room and be­neath it stood Mal­colm. He was a short ro­tund chap with cropped black hair top­ping a round puffy face, and he stared at me with his beady eyes and grunted a “Good Morn­ing”. I bought a pint of some in­nocu­ous brew and sat at the bar. Some­thing was dif­fer­ent that day. Mal­colm was talk­a­tive and started to tell me about his wife, Paula, who had just given birth to a baby boy. By the end of the morn­ing, I had con­sumed three or four beers on the house and had in­vited Mal­colm and his new fam­ily out to din­ner later that week.

The day of the din­ner ar­rived and as a re­sult of wish­ing to es­cape our places of work and the tur­moil of in­ner-city pubs, we went to a quiet French bistro in the city cen­ter. The evening went well and by the end we were the best of friends. Paula was a happy-go-lucky sort who chat­ted non-stop and not just about chang­ing nap­pies and get­ting up in the mid­dle of the night to feed young Nigel. We talked about fish­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, and the pub game, and the peo­ple who fre­quented our es­tab­lish­ments – the crooks, crim­i­nals, those with po­lit­i­cal agen­das, and those who per­haps needed lock­ing up as lu­natics. We had both seen enough guns, knives, fists, and bro­ken bot­tles and glasses.

So, Mal­colm agreed to be my best man, and the stag, the wed­ding, and the af­ter party all went off without a hitch - were bor­ing, even. The food was good. Billy, the young chef who in a pre­vi­ous col­umn grabbed the hand of the guy hold­ing me at gun­point, pro­duced a splen­did feast, com­plete with a Tur­ducken. Life re­turned to nor­mal, or as nor­mal as it would be un­til the day Paula showed up in tears at my pub, hold­ing Nigel.

Ap­par­ently, Mal­colm had de­cided to rob a bank. He had picked a Lon­don high street bank and called from the phone box across the street, telling them he had planted a bomb (a bag of bricks and a tick­ing clock with wires stick­ing out that he had placed in the foyer be­fore mak­ing the call) and that they needed to pay him an ex­or­bi­tant amount of cash to dif­fuse it. Af­ter pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions, he had turned up at the bank and, un­sur­pris­ingly, was promptly ar­rested. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I never saw Mal­colm again, but I know he was out of jail af­ter a cou­ple of years. The term in Eng­land for time in jail is “do­ing por­ridge”, since at one time that was all in­mates got to eat.

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