"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Every man needs a best friend. Preferably not one that comes with a puncture repair kit or, indeed an hourly charge. A real friend, the sort they can rely on in times of need to tell them that they are a " pathetic little bastard" and "in need of a dozen pints, a good slap or both"

I am very lucky to have such a person in my life and his name is Paul. We met 12 years ago at Penguin Books where our common northern heritage and desire to view life through the bottom of a pint pot set us apart from many of our colleagues who considered us rough vulgarians. The fact that ten years has proved them to be utterly correct has not diminished the friendship between me and this small ,rotund little man who, strangely, gets miffed when I refer to him as "Paul, thrice Lord Mayor of Hobbiton"

A few years ago ( well eight, in fact ) this Velasquezean character left London stinking of regret and moved to Cheshire dragging with him a poor unfortunate who he had persuaded to marry him. Even more bizzarely, this grotesque has managed to sire a gorgeous child too. Life is, it is quite plain, not fair. Not fair at all.

However, throughout the trials and tribulations of the past years, there has been but one constant and that has been Paul. The one person to tell me exactly what he thinks good or bad, to offer unequivical support however big of an asshole I have been and the one person to whom I would turn in times of crisis. I wish all people could be so lucky.

As ever, when Quasimodo, I mean Paul, is in town, he calls upon me to me to provide a free roof over his head. About ten years ago when down on his uppers, he stayed with me for 10 loooooong weeks. It took me everything short of an exorcism to get the place back to normal and I suspect that the poor folks who bought my place are still finding inexplicable little short and curlies in the most unusual of places. Thank God, when he said he was coming to town this time, it was just one night.

In return for not forcing him to spend a night in the penny hanger where he belongs, he always foots the bill for our traditional nights out. To quote " a couple of cheeky beers and a ruby"

I have never, in all the time I have known him, had him explain how a beer can be cheeky or otherwise. But, as a combination, it works very well indeed.

A "ruby" as everybody knows, is a " Ruby Murray" which = a curry. What is harder to explain is that a ruby curry has about as much to do with Indian food as I do with the Mah Jong Society of Upper Norwood. I.E Bugger all. It is about as Indian as Peter Sellers in " The Party" Created and maintained primarily by Bangladeshi immigrants, it is food that is unrecognisable to most Indians, though beloved of most brits. Particularly, after a number of the aforementions beers of the cheeky variety. That is not to say that it cannot be fun or indeed the perfect end to a beer session. But, Indian food, it most certainly is not. But, it was certainly what we wanted.

Arriving home from a hard day's grind, I barely had time to settle down before the buzzer rang and I opened the door to Paul, looking more than ever like Rick Moranis inflated with a bicycle pump. He had been down for a day's hard media P.R work ( yes, I found it hard to stifle a giggle too ) and was ready just to drop off his gear and head out to the nearest bar.

So followed a few beers ( yep, all very "cheeky" ) in The Princess ( very passable Tim Taylor's Landlord ) and The Slaughtered Lamb ( equally agreeable Bombadier, served even more agreeable in Jugs. The first time I had had that in nearly 10 years ) before we headed to The Gulshan in Exmouth Market.

As Paul quite rightly said, it was an entirely Ronseal experience. Exactly what it says on the tin, It did everything that was required of it. Papdums with dayglo pickles, Prawn Puri, Cricket Ball Onion Bhaji, Suitably coconutty Korma, Dahl of indescernible lentil provenance, unfeasibly large bottles of Cobra. Waitstaff shifting nervously from foot to foot while dressed in ill fitting clothing and even the pre requisite After eight mints with the bill. There is no need to describe the food. That would entirely miss the point of going there. Suffice to say, we wandered out of there an hour or so later about £40 lighter ( or Paul did ) and perfectly sated and having tapped into a part of the UK culture that you either get or you don't get. It is the same as when a friend of mine bought me a Hot dog at a ball game in the US. It was beyond vile. I said " you know this is made almost entirely of hooves and lips don't you?" to which he replied " yeah, fantastic isn't it?" It is all about culture and context.

Hardly a night that will go down in the annals of culinary history, but a night that was spent doing what northern boys do with my best friend and, what can possibly be more enjoyable that that?
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