Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Universities: Restauranteur

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they react when they pass a deconsecrated church.

The demise of Soviet Communism means that 150 million previously cheerful Slavs now wave their hands around their torsos as if swatting away a lustful giant bumblebee whenever they survey some of Stalin's finest handiwork.

British town planners used to think "bank!", but now that we all know what happens in such establishments they prefer to mumble "er, supermarket or mosque - is there a way to combine the two?"

The average Welshman thinks "the wages of Episcopalianism is being turned into an XXX porn cinema, though but".

Maximum Bob Friog and I were making steady if bow-legged progress past the Methodist Church on York Road, Reading, after another lesson on why The Moderation was the least appropriate name for the given pub. I noticed the church had recently been closed down, and admired the way its Gothic twin steeples parted the red clouds.

Bob looked it up and down, took one of the cigs out of his mouth, threw his head back and bellowed "MEAT!!!"

We proceeded to The Hobgoblin, where Bob elaborated on his new kind of cuisine.

Prospective diners arrive at MEAT! - a deconsecrated church in the Caversham borders - guided by the Frankenstein sparks that leap from one tower to the other thanks to the Van Der Graaff generator that long replaced the bell.

The bone-studded doors of solid Boerewors swing open to unleash a mounting barrage of timpani rolls that turn out to be a fusillade of evangelists catapulting into the giant tureens of nutty slack that dangle across the dining hall.

You are welcomed by Bob's then girlfriend, a comely Persian with a degree from Shiraz University in Advanced Mindfucking (egregia cum laude). If your clothes please her, she passes you on to a friendly Hells Angel who rides you to your assigned place at the sole, endless table. No, not a Harley. He rides you.

Any remark about anything at all, and she sorts you. Your young lady is propelled into one of the many kickboxing-movie-surplus dancing-girl cages to win back her freedom through tearful hip-gyrations, while Sir joins the vagrants, lepers and endangered species down in the larder.

MEAT! dispenses with the outmoded restaurant system of menu, crockery and service, opting instead for a guided dining experience.

Your place at the table comes complete with hollowed out tree-trunk stool - there are no toilets - meat trough and booze dimple. Every ten minutes or so the pig-iron doors to the kitchen fly open to reveal Gran Maître Bob Friog, naked apart from a bloodsoaked leather apron, framed in flames.

His trademark cry of "MEAT!!!", fedback through the over-amplified speaker stacks under the table, releases a phalanx of bikers with hunks of half-cooked beast impaled on their Pickelhauben. You get what you're given and are vocally grateful, in unison.

The meat is real meat. Fish and chicken are classed as vegetables and dropped live through grills to the Vegetarian section in the Crypt. Salad is provided throughout, for use as ashtrays. Smoking is not compulsory, and the righthand side of the table is reserved for lungcoddler weaklings.

In order to keep MEAT! the right side of at least one law, tobacco is banned.

MEAT! is ecologically aware, so drink is served by the bottle it comes in. Brown Booze = ale, Red Booze = wine, Yellow Booze = scotch. All booze is selected by your designated Hells Angel, Filthy Al, in line with the meat you got and whatever he hasn't already necked or poured down your date's cleavage.

Vodka, lager and all other mixers are banned, except in the Snakebite Express takeaway outlet in the Vestry.

MEAT! works with the local community, and encourages the pupils of the nearby primary school to befriend the animals on its Great Beast City Farm at all stages of their furry odyssey from pallet to plate. This culminates in the Imbolg Wolf Cub Challenge, at which lucky children compete to see who can eat their way out of a boar revolving on a spit before the flames take.

Dessert is more meat, served with a pineapple on top. And leave your wallet at home because you won't be presented with any bill. Instead Al and his mates will ransack your house and sell what they need to cover your meal. For a perfect end to a perfect evening, they may still be there when you get back.

I was impressed by this vision, and set to designing an advertising campaign. Readers will recall my previous attempt at promoting Start, the world's least appetising breakfast cereal, through guerrilla TV shots of Dennis Skinner MP yelling "Eat Start, it's Shit!", not to mention my promotion of Matthew Ward's Robo-TEFL Teacher screenplay.

I decided that MEAT! required something a little more sophisticated, and came up with the three following ads:

1. A man is driving through a grey London late afternoon. The wife at his side is droning on about some new restaurant with "to-die-for" goat's cheese crêpes. He stops at the lights, and a squeegee-merchant starts soaping his windscreen.

From the driver's point of view we watch the sponge circle hypnotically, as the wife's adenoidal litany of lettuce recipes fades away into steady crescendi of pounding timpani. Almost imperceptibly, the sponge turns into a raw, red steak, smearing blood all over the windscreen, and the woolly-hatted merchant morphs into a gurning Bob Friog, naked apart from his sanguinary leather apron.

The driver turns to his wife and screams "MEAT!!!"

Cut to a black screen, with the simple caption "Bob Says Eat My Meat".

2. A wife sits in her underwear at the dressing table of a well-appointed bedroom. She puts on her make-up and jewellery as her husband chats from the en-suite bathroom about the restaurant they are about to visit - steamed fish and sustainable samphire a speciality.

His prattling fades out in the mounting march of drums, the bedroom door bursts open and in stalks Bob in trademark déshabille and clotted apron. The wife turns, mouth open. Bob draws a raw steak from his crotch and rubs it bloody in her face before flinging it against the cream silk wall. He leaves.

The husband's voice fades back, asking "So what's it to be, darling, tipila linguine?" He wanders into the bedroom and drops his towel as his wife shrieks "MEAT!!!" through bloody teeth.

Cut to black screen etc.

3. Whitechapel, the autumn of 1888, and Old Jack is at his exercise. A petticoated figure is slumped in a grimy midnight doorway. Over her hunches a top-hatted figure in black, a Gladstone bag by his side. A blade flashes in the guttering gaslight. Two policemen advance slowly on the scene of slaughter. We hear only their panicked breathing - "at last! at last!"

A uniformed arms reaches over and grabs the killer by the shoulder, spinning him round. In a crash close-up we catch only the bloodshot eyes, the stubbled, sweaty cheeks, the rotten teeth twisted into a grimace.

The policeman releases his grip. "Oh, sorry, Bob," he mutters. The two officers salute, and move on down the cobbled alley.

The camera pans up to a killing moon as the Victorian London skyline is torn by a cry of "MEAT!!!!", slowly subsiding into a bestial snarl. And fade to red.


The York Road church is now sheltered housing for the bank managers who heard our initial business pitch, but Boyo-Friog Associates are still in talks with some East European investors and actively seeking unhallowed ground.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Jeremy Clarkson Book of Happy Endings

Unlike Wales, plain women and his BBC paymasters, I like Jeremy Clarkson. The obsession with motor cars and himself does not move me, but I enjoy his unmasking of lettuce and willingness to wander around in public looking like Jeremy Clarkson. His facial tributes to John Carpenter's The Thing (mid-transformation) never cease to please.

News that he had taken his first wife as a mistress - a lady who must be an echoing cavern of self-loathing - ushers him into the Alan Clark Waiting-Room of Caddish Eminence. The time has come to drop the sports jacket and jeans for a gap between the front teeth, trim 'tache, cravat, blazer and personal tankard behind the bar of a country pub near Maidenhead - where they call him "Major" and keep a room upstairs in case the Jaaaaaaaaaaag breaks down and he needs to comfort his secretary.

Jeremy also puts me in mind of a niche Christmas gift market for unpopular men that has not yet been skewered by the axis of socks and cologne. I call it "The Jeremy Clarkson Book of Happy Endings".

The target buyer is a recently-divorced woman. She has the house and most of the money, but there's one thing she can't take from the noisome octopus to whom she was lately wed - his puerility. And divorce gives him the chance to rediscover it.

He's already kitting out his batchelor hutch with all the apparel of midlife adolescence:

  • a water sofa-bed
  • a fridge with easily-distinguishable bacon and lager sections
  • a PC with patent "Plasterer's Radio" self-degumming monitor
  • a compact recording studio, still in its box, and, above all,
  • a giant flatscreen HD television on which to wallow in the films of yesteryear.

What he least expects is such an apparently-thoughtful gift as "The Jeremy Clarkson Book of Happy Endings" from his ex-wife. This bangs all the right gongs:

  • It look like a Ladybird book, evoking teary memories of childish thumbing through the "Kings & Queens of England" in search of good beheadings
  • It is endorsed by Jeremy, which guarantees wit as dry as a Martian Martini, and
  • "Happy Endings" reminds him of something that happened to Mike on a golfing holiday in Bangkok, which would have been alright if the girl in question hadn't turned out to have been a chap.

Plus the fact it's a book means that, alongside his car manual and bound volumes of Viz, he now has a library.

And so he settles down in the director's chair with his feet up on the boxed set of Japanese import "Wacky Races" DVDs and opens "Clarkson". On the right-hand page he sees a picture of a Turkish gangster shooting up a seraglio. Excellent. On the left he reads the following text:

Kevin Spacey is Keyser Söze in "The Usual Suspects".

The nightmare begins. The picture lured him in, then the words delivered the coup de grace. Before he can cover his eyes, the film is ruined. But he cannot stop. Jeremy beckons. In misery he turns the page. A sweaty man in a baseball cap stares at him.

Soylent Green is people!

He blinks back the tears as his fingers flick across to the wheaten features of a brown-suited child, receding down a Georgetown sidestreet.

The psychiatrist is dead. Obvious since the scene with his wife in the church, when you think about it.

On he goes, through the wreckage of his film archive. Merry is the widow, for she has understood and overcome a fundamental male survival technique.

Men have no long-term memory. That's why we compile lists - not only because we believe in wasting time better spent shoe-shopping or listening to women, but because otherwise we'd forgot your names and where the kids' schools are.

This is a true blessing, and proof of the existence of a genial and thoroughly clubbable God. It means that we rarely reflect upon the essential shallowness of our own existence, have no problems with enjoying football and will, after a shandy, chat up your sister at a christening once again.

It also explains why we watch the same films over and over. I for one can never remember that Stapleton's sister is in fact his wife, despite the mundanity of such arrangements back in Wales, and therefore approach each reading/viewing of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" with a lamb-like skip.

Women, on the other hand, need to know. This is why they read the last page of a book first, to assure themselves that it is worth reading. This is also why they ask what men are thinking all the time. Men, like my near namesake in "Under Milk Wood", are either thinking of wet corsets or nothing.

And so the divorcé looks forward to evening after curry-stoked evening in his celluloid back catalogue, with the flicker of the cathode reflecting his rapt gaze of amazement as the Mafia and entire US Government kill JFK from all possible angles, some gunman takes out Carter on a charcoal Geordie beach, and the Christian copper dies at the setting of the pagan Summerisle Sun.

"The Clarkson Book of Happy Endings" is the ex-wife's silent revenge, for her former spouse can't stop reading on despite the horrors it holds. Men are all addicts, and if it's bad for them they just can't stop. His meagre interior life dissolves in each acid page, but forward he goes like Scott of the Unconscious, snivelling "Why Jeremy, Why?", until the last page.

There Edgar Allan Poe meets his red-rimmed stare, holding a rubber mask in his ivory hands.

And you would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids.

It's "The King in Yellow" for this post-decadent century. Buy it now ladies, and our world is yours.

"Pa vo beuzet Paris, Ec'h adsavo Ker Is."