COLUMN: December 13, 2012

I AM enjoying the Traditional Christmas Markets which have popped up in our cities of late. Admittedly these traditions are only a couple of years old, but all traditions have to start somewhere.

Actually, I am not sure how many times something has to happen before it becomes a tradition. Once is clearly not a tradition. Twice could be a coincidence. It is probably three times. By that bare criterion, I suppose Traditional Christmas Markets make the cut, but the paella is pushing it.

I had to visit Chester this week for a meeting. There’s no need for me to go into detail, but I didn’t want to be late so I overcompensated, and arrived far earlier than I intended. This led me to wander the streets of that ancient city like an unusually well-dressed vagrant, stopping only to note the plaque commemorating the unveiling of the railway station’s refurbishment in 1994 by the town’s former MP, Gyles Brandreth.

Younger readers might find it hard to imagine Gyles Brandreth as an MP, but it was a different world back then. We didn’t have the internet, massive coffees, or common sense.

Also, I had committed the classic office worker error of bringing my lunch to work, not flinging it away to pacify an aggressive stray dog, and eating it at 10.30am, so I was a bit peckish.

So when my wanderings deposited me at the city’s Traditional Christmas Market, and I smelled the waft of barbecuing food, I was like a soon-to-be butterflied and marinated lamb to the slaughter.

The Traditional Christmas Market in Chester is not the same as the Traditional Christmas Market in Liverpool. Liverpool has a Continental Market. I am not sure to which continent the market refers, but it appears to include China and the Indian subcontinent.

Chester, however, has plumped for an Olde English Market, as they would have had in Tudor times. The way it distinguishes itself from a modern English market is by having mock-Tudor cabins instead of flapping tarpaulin, and by putting the letter E at the end of several words. There are more unnecessary Es in Chester at the moment than there would be at a disco for ADHD sufferers.

I decided to enter into the spirit of the occasion by buying an Olde English hotdog, as Henry VIII would have done. I decided not to go for the Olde English Thai chilli hotdog because there is only so much authentic Tudor spirit one can take.

The sausages were on a rack suspended over a barbecue. I have never barbecued anything, for a variety of reasons mostly to do with a keen sense of my limitations, but I’ve seen enough cookery programmes to know that barbecues work best when the flames have died down and the coals are white hot.

This barbecue was like something out of Dante. Flames leapt from the pit, like flares from the sun. An ambitious low-budget film director could have made a disaster movie about it.

“Onions?” asked the man serving me. He was dressed as a Dickensian chimney sweep. This was clearly some sort of Tudor/Victorian/21st century mash-up, like Tory social policy. “Yes, let’s go mad,” I replied, as I watched him pick up my sausage with melting metal tongs.

I handed over four actual pounds for a single sausage in a bread roll and looked around for condiments. There was a squeezy bottle of American mustard, so I picked it up and squeezed it.

Two minutes later I had managed to extract enough from the bottle to make the effort almost worthwhile. It is an incredibly bland substance – Americans are the only race which can add mustard to a dish to cool it down. They should call it American yellow stuff.

In any case, taking the delay and the cooling properties of American mustard into account, I decided that my hotdog would be ready to eat. I was quite wrong.

I bit into the sausage and yelped. I took a layer off the roof of my mouth. Even a few days later, the act of eating muesli this morning was like consuming sharp gravel.

The shock of the volcanic heat made me spill my mustard-smeared onions. I leapt backwards to avoid a mustard-smeared suit, mindful, even in my agitated state that I had a meeting, and the sausage fell out of its bready vessel. I was left with a £4 extended barmcake, an oral injury, and the pitying stares of passers-by.

Once again, I had humiliated myself in public. It has become a tradition.

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