bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

The Things You’d Like To Like

Dear Rachel,

I am as English as rain in an alleyway.  Scramble back a few generations, though, and there is a rogue dash of Highlander lurking in the gene pool.  This came as no surprise, as I have long demonstrated a fondness for shortbread, porridge and bagpipes – in fact, the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Royal Tank Regiment appear between ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ and ‘Uptown Top Rankin” in a playlist I was listening to on the Northern Line this afternoon, and they seem strangely at home there.

Our main family name is Whitehead. The dynasty, which can best be described as something of a handful, has always been based in and around London and the Medway Towns. Ages ago, a stray female with the powerful Scottish clan name of Sinclair – no doubt a wizard with the porridge spoon but defenceless against the charm of the Whitehead menfolk – found herself married to one of them and transplanted to the sharp end of Victorian London. I should imagine that pleased her no end.  Why the Whiteheads were marauding to the distant north is a mystery, but a bloodline was nonetheless kindled, and here I am at the other end of it. A quick bit of research into Clan Sinclair reveals that they fought with great bravery at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The Highlanders’ defeat here marked the end of their entire society. The reason I feel an affinity with the Sinclairs is that they fought with great bravery on both sides.

This practical approach to duplicity was what the Sinclairs bought to the Whitehead table, and it has echoed throughout the generations, culminating two hundred and sixty seven years after that famous battle in the moral quandary I often face when presented with a plate of jellied eels. I shall explain my point in detail.

Goddard’s is an excellent pie, mash and eel shop on the corner of Greenwich Market and King William Walk, and I recommend it if you’re in the area. Danny and I regularly have pie and mash from there, but on Sunday he treated us to jellied eels instead. Both of us are familiar with this maligned East End delicacy from our respective childhoods, even though Danny spent his over the water in Deptford. Historically, jellied eels are a truly pan-London dish, and I should like this recognised. I don’t see why the East End should take the blame, with Acton and Chiswick shuffling about at the the other end of the Central Line, refusing to make eye contact and acting like they’ve never heard of seafood before. It’s not that jellied eels aren’t nice, although admittedly that is a large part of the reason they are best avoided. Similar dishes are enjoyed all over Europe, wherever there is a tidal waterway. The thing is, no matter how many sprigs of parsley or glasses of Chianti you arrange around them, they still look like something that has already been eaten. The luckless eel is decapitated, de-tailed, diced and dropped into boiling water where it remains until it learns to behave. The result is almost wondrously good for you, and I concede that a liberal dousing with chilli vinegar – one of the traditional ‘liqueurs’ that pop up all over the place in London cuisine – will cheer the whole thing up no end. However, as Danny and I hoovered up eel jelly from plastic spoons, I concluded that as the actual meat content of the eel consists of penny-sized buttons gnawed from a par-boiled vertebra, the view wasn’t really worth the climb. Or, to borrow a similar pre-electricity phrase in common usage at about the time an obscure branch of my distant family tree were hedging their bets at the Battle of Culloden, the game’s not worth the candle.

Other games not worth the candle are the Olympic ones about to engulf London. Jellied eels are ugly, but they’re good for you. The Olympics are just ugly. In fact, everything about them is ugly. The logo is ugly. The lettering font is ugly. The merchandise is ugly. The mascots are ugly. The whole thing was inflicted upon the city under the promise that there’d be no more fat kids and that everyone would be happy forever by Tony Blair, a national disgrace, which is ugly. The stadium is not ugly as such, but unimaginative at best. Remarkably, even the posters on the tube telling you where to go for what event are a queasy shade of hot pink, and therefore ugly. In short, I don’t know a single person who wants the Olympics. It’s an excuse for people who are already very wealthy to become much wealthier and for everyone else to demonstrate a poor sense of perspective by weeping about absolutely everything whenever a television camera is pointed at them.

It can be awkward when you don’t like one of your signature regional dishes or a massive sporting event being held where you live. It makes me feel grumpy, to be honest. Upon reflection, I doubt that a speculative link to a distant Highland battle explains my compromised stance on the Olympics and London cuisine.  That said, I do like to imagine that somewhere in a Scottish glen there’s a mirror image of myself as a similarly distant result of the same Whitehead – Sinclair dalliance who feels obliged to watch the Highland Games and eat haggis while thinking ‘Don’t get me wrong – I like being Scottish and everything, but I’ve never liked hammer throwing and this stuff tastes awful.’

Twitter: There must be an anti-London 2012 hashtag. Look out, International Olympics Committee! Well, look out for about thirty seconds, until someone posts a picture of a cat doing something quirky, and that becomes the most important thing in the world.

Facebook: Incredibly sinister.

Kindle: I’d subscribe if I was you. I certainly have. That hasn’t stopped us falling 110,379 places in the Kindle store sellers’ list to 221,759 since last week, mind you. In the listings, we’re on page 37 of 41, behind a book called ‘Furunculosis: Multidisciplinary Fish Disease Research’. Furunculosis is something that salmon get, and if you keep salmon at home, you might want to spend £116 on this book before they get it. On the plus side, we’re one above ‘Caress The Sun, Embrace The Thunder’, which sounds like something that should just go away. My pick for this week is the fish book.

Photards: This week’s studies in water colour are:

Top: The Duke of Wellington public house, Toynbee Street, London E1. Vinny the Landlord constantly baffled by letter theft. Q: Why didn’t Vinny go to the rave? A: Because someone stole his e’s.

Middle: Nicer than they look, but not by much – jellied eels. Chuck a load of liqueur on them and you’ll be fine.

Lower: Chips from the Lighthouse Fish Bar by Tooting Bec tube. Note Encona Hot Chilli Sauce hidden away front left, Unusually, I have put these on a plate as I was at someone else’s house and wanted to make a good impression.

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