Miss Piggy

For some time, I’ve teased myself with the prospect of buying one of those whole cured legs of serrano or prosciutto ham. You know the ones. We see them hanging in the chilled section of all the supermarkets in France and sometimes here, usually in little independent deli type shops. I don’t know about you, but during the summer we buy packs of ‘continental’ meats every week. We love to serve them on big platters with green salad, roasted peppers and tomatoes – perfect for lunch in the sunshine.

So when I saw a whole leg of serrano ham on offer in one of our local cut-price supermarkets, it didn’t take me long to convince myself that this was a bargain not to be missed. I was actually on my morning canal-side walk which takes me past the supermarket and popped in on spec. I spotted a poster advertising the ham but couldn’t see one on the shelves so I asked the teller and he said “Oh no, we don’t have them on show. They’re out back”. I paid for it and he went off to get it. When he reappeared, he was carrying a huge cardboard box. How big was this pig? I thought it was just a big box but no, it was very heavy. I should have guessed it would be from the description of the ham on the poster – 6-7kg. Slight problem. No way could I carry that for the four mile walk back home. I trekked off to retrieve our car and then drove back to pick it up about an hour later. I opened the box and the ham inside was indeed huge.
Ham in the box 2
My husband was bemused. He had readily agreed that it was an offer not to be missed and he loves serrano ham, but he immediately spotted a few flaws in the plan. For one thing, we have a very small galley kitchen with almost no worktop space. We don’t have a stand for the ham. We don’t have a meat slicer. “Not to worry” he said “we can use the old electric carving knife and put the ham on a big plate.” This proved to be easier said than done, so after cutting a little portion, we oiled the cut bit (as advised in the inevitable Google search), covered it in cling film, put it aside and repaired to the pub.

The Wheatsheaf has a sophisticated clientele so we were soon the recipients of a raft of helpful advice on how to cope with our bargain. “You should get one of those stands especially made for cured hams.” “Invest in a proper meat slicer, you’ll never get those thin slices with an ordinary knife”. Back to Google search. It looks as though Spanish ham stands are around £80, Meat Slicers vary between £40 and £3,234! So we sharpened the old electric carving knife and tried again. We cut another little portion, oiled the cut bit, covered it in cling film – and had pasta for supper.

The ham languished variously on worktops in the kitchen and in the dining room while we pondered what to do. Should we take it to the local butcher or to the Wheatsheaf and ask for help to slice the bloody thing? Or continue to faff about cutting little bits? The whole idea is that you hang it in the kitchen and cut slices whenever the fancy takes you. But quite apart from storage, the kitchen is very warm at the moment. Would it go off? By now I really didn’t fancy eating it at all (but don’t tell anyone). Back, yet again, to Google to check out storage and some sort of ‘use by’ advice.

After about 10 days, we decided to cut it all up, freeze some (the Google search said to make sure that the freezer bags were absolutely airtight and it would be OK) and keep some in sealed bags in the fridge. Apparently you just need to bring it to room temperature before serving and all will be well. It seems that once the ham is off the bone, it stops curing and could go off quite quickly but by now we were running out of patience.

It took us two hours to manhandle and strip the ham (almost) to the bone. To my absolute horror, when we took the plastic sleeve off the end of the leg, there was the pig’s trotter. Quite a dainty one considering the size of the leg. How awful. I thought that it must have been a really fat pig but now I imagined it wobbling around on little feet, like Miss Piggy. Oh dear.

Well, it was done now. Wrapping up the chunks of ham is one thing, but how on earth do you wrap up the bone to dispose of it? By the time we had it wrapped in two or three black bin bags, it looked as though it could be a piece of dismembered body. The following day was our refuse collection day, so I lurked around until they arrived so I could explain. “The funny shaped bag is a big ham bone”, I told the guy who picked up our bags. “Honest”. “Bloody big ham”, was all he said as he tossed it into the back of the truck. Indeed.

Never again. In future I will stick to those little vacuum packs of about 6 slices at a time. Or I may become vegetarian.

Edward and Mrs Simpson – 3

They’re back… not from honeymoon, I don’t think. They picked up the same routine as before, arriving and leaving the café separately. Yesterday we sat closer to them and I could see that he wears a wedding ring and she has both wedding and engagement rings. So they are married/widowed or whatever. Not to each other though. Of that I‘m convinced.

They didn’t look very cheerful so whatever their circumstances, they don’t seem happy.

How long can this go on? Surely something will happen sometime? Since they showed up at the pub, we are now on nodding terms so perhaps we can start a conversation one of these days. Mind you, it has taken months to get to this stage so we may all have lost interest by then.

Edward and Mrs Simpson

They have disappeared – no sign of them last Friday or on Monday this week.

We did notice them checking names from a list last week. Maybe it was a guest list. Maybe they got married at the weekend and they are off on honeymoon on some far away exotic island. Won’t it be great if they turn up again, tanned and happy, arriving at the café and leaving together, pouring over proofs of the photos of their big day? I can just imagine the scene, she in a simple, long ivory lace dress with flowers in her hair to match the delicate spray in her hand. And Edward by her side, proud and handsome in cravat and tail coat, pale grey I think. Two beautiful bridesmaids stand on their left, his daughter and her best friend and a tall dark young man, in tails matching his new step-father, on the right.

Or maybe one of them is on holiday.

Miss Haversham

Having to queue to get to work by car is only marginally less annoying than having to queue to get home again. My route to and from work is actually quite picturesque, although not in a pretty countryside sort of way. It takes me along a lovely, tree-lined residential road with beautiful and very large properties on either side. Queueing, sometimes for as long as 20 minutes, gives me time to gaze at the lovely homes, watch the progress of the very many improvements and extensions being built and, of course, to speculate about who lives there.

After about a mile the road cuts across another wide avenue and just on the other side, as the road sweeps down a short hill, there was a modest bungalow. The house stood out for several reasons. It was very small. The blue paintwork of the doors and window frames was old and peeling and the lace curtains in the windows never changed. The large gardens around it were very overgrown with huge untended bushes and trees which encroached on the semi -circular drive in the front. On the right of the house there was a tiny detached garage and in front of the old wooden doors was an ancient little caravan, an old motor bike and side car and one of those tiny three-wheeled cars. I googled the strange little car and I think it was a BMW from the early 50s, so surely quite rare.

Over the 10 years or so that I made my daily commute past the house, the caravan had disintegrated and crumbled to a heap, battered by the weather, and the bike and the little car just rusted where they stood. What a waste! They definitely looked to me as though they might once have been valuable. In the last couple of years, students began to park their cars in the drive. Rude, I thought, did they have permission? I assumed that the house must have been abandoned because I had seen no sign of life at all, not even a light in any of the windows.

Then, one dark winter’s afternoon, I saw her. There was a dim light on the porch and an ancient, stooped lady made her way slowly across the yard to the rubbish bin. She appeared to be wearing a long white nightie. In the half light, it looked for all the world like a wedding dress!

Now, I admit that this may have been a figment of my imagination, but of course it sent my mind racing. Had she been there alone all this time with no one to care for her or to help with the house and garden? Was she sitting forlorn in the half darkness, in her wedding dress, like poor Miss Haversham, jilted at the altar? Or had she been left all alone after a long and happy marriage, one half of a devoted couple with no children to comfort her when she lost her beloved husband? I’d say that he must have been a collector of the old vehicles, an enthusiast who would be horrified to know that they were just left to go to wrack and ruin over the years.

Sadly I’ll never know. Just a few weeks ago, to my horror, I saw bulldozers moving onto the site on my way to work. By the time I drove home again, the house was gone and by the next day the rubble had been taken away. It took no time at all to wipe out the bungalow, vehicles and all, and turn the whole area over. It’s now a plot of land with only the little garage and the rubbish bin left standing. I never saw any sign of a removal van, nor do I think the vehicles were taken away, so it looks as though everything – a life and all its trappings – was just swept away. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye, and I admit it did cause me to well up one day in my queue. If what sat on that property was a mystery, the mystery is infinitely greater now that it’s gone.

Mr Pooter

Some people just catch your eye – don’t you think?

Mr Pooter is my name for an unremarkable man who we see around our town. Mostly in our local, the Wheatsheaf (did I mention that this would crop up from time to time?) He’s made extraordinary by his purposeful walk and his aura of absolute concentration. Like some sort of robotic homing device he strides towards the doorway of his destination, head down and fists clenched by his side. No-one gets in his way or diverts him from his seemingly pre-programmed course. I did once try to engage with him. I met him in the doorway of the pub as I was leaving, “Wow, could it rain any harder?” No response – in fact I don’t think he even saw me or heard my words as he virtually pushed through me into the pub. It was very wet. Maybe he’s deaf?

He is what I think you would call stocky, not fat but certainly solid as I found out when I tried to pass him in the doorway of the Wheatsheaf. He dresses quite well, always exactly the same, winter or summer, sunshine or rain. Grey trousers, black shoes, white shirt and a heavy black velvet jacket the sleeves of which are too long so he seems to hold the cuffs in his clenched fists.

So, straight through the crowd to the bar – the staff know the beer he drinks and his pint is pulled and on the bar in a flash. He has the correct change and the transaction is over in seconds. Drink in hand, he repairs to the end of the bar where the daily papers are piled. He stands, and reads or has a stab at a few crossword clues – probably The Mail’s quick crossword: he doesn’t look like a Times man. Glass drained he strides out of the door, head down as usual, and homes in on his next destination. This, I assume is the next pub on his trail where he probably follows the same routine. So far I’ve resisted the temptation to actually follow him. However, another of the regulars says that he’s been seen in the Plough and once even in what I call the kid’s pub, one of those Lloyds places in the town square. I have to say that both of those are seriously down market from ‘our’ pub. No-one I know has ever spoken to him, not even the bar staff at the Wheatsheaf who are a very varied bunch of interesting individuals and very chatty indeed.  He has the air of a man whose mission is to drink his pint as quickly as possible and leave. And – this is very odd and I’m not sure whether to believe it – one of my fellow people watchers insists that he once appeared in the pub wearing lipstick and mascara! He doesn’t look like that sort of person to me but then I didn’t see him that day.

He is intriguing though. Is there a Mrs Pooter sitting at home who, having given him his ‘tea’, chased him out from under her feet ? I know I would. Who knows? But it’s fun to speculate…

Mrs Cellophane

Cellophane, Mr Cellophane shoulda been my name
Mr Cellophane ’cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me and never know I’m there

Chicago – Mr. Cellophane Lyrics | John Kander

Why? Well, the notion started with something  Sheila Hancock wrote about in her book ‘The Two of Us’ about women of a certain age becoming invisible and it occurred to me that it is true. And surprisingly liberating, especially when, like me, you enjoy the gentle pastime of people watching.

Take the couple who meet in our local cafe, for instance. I have called them Edward and Mrs Simpson. They are perfect subjects for people watching. He, Edward and she, Mrs (for I am sure she is married) Simpson, meet there every weekday morning. When we (my love, to whom I happen to have been married for 30 years, and I) habitually arrive around 08.00am for a coffee and croissant, he is already there, in the same seat by the side window, empty espresso cup on the small round table in front of him. He studiously reads his iReader, glancing at the door now and then in barely concealed anticipation. I am not sure whether he’s dressed for the office or the golf course. In any event he’s  smart, silver hair, sparkling glasses, chinos, crisply ironed shirt, loafers, blazer and very handsome. She arrives at around 08.30, petite and slim with casually styled short blonde hair, dressed down but undeniably expensive and chic. They exchange a brief kiss and he immediately closes and puts his iReader down.  She goes to the counter to collect her coffee. She doesn’t pay, obviously he’s already ordered her coffee.  They sit and chat, intimately I’d say, for about 20 minutes and leave together. Another brief kiss and he gets into his Mercedes salon car while she slips into her Mercedes B Class and off they go.

So, is it an affair? Are they lovers? Are they married to other people and stealing a few precious minutes before going to their separate lives?

I admit that we have been observing them for quite a while, so there have been ups and downs, twists and turns. One day Mrs Simpson left in tears, with a sad little wave.  “Oh no”, I thought, maybe it’s all over? But no, they were back the next day with all as usual. Another time, and this is really odd, Edward was in his usual spot but with a young lady in jogging gear. His daughter? Surely Mrs Simpson wouldn’t show up. But she did and kissed them both hello! Then, when they left, the young lady got into Mrs Simpson’s car and drove away with her! The plot thickens.  But that’s not all… last week, in the early evening sunshine, we were sitting outside our usual watering hole (which I shall henceforth call the Wheatsheaf as it may crop up now and again) and they appeared. Together! Hand in hand. They cozied up in a corner over a glass of white wine and left again after only about half an hour. Intriguing. So it could be a simple courtship. Maybe they are planning their wedding (second for both of them, families happily integrated) or it is an affair and they take the opportunity to meet when they can in the evenings, not just over early morning coffee. I’ll keep you posted.