Captain Potwash

Volume 1: Haute Cuisine

It’s your lucky day. You’ve just been awarded the prestigious position of ‘kitchen assistant’ at one of the UK’s most exclusive gastro-pubs, let’s call it KD Butherspoon. You suspect the competition was fierce, yet your exceptional skills and guile paved your way through the rigorous application process of a 20-minute interview. You’ve been blessed with a zero-hour contract with the possibility of up to 50 hours a week. And at £7.80 an hour… well, I’ll let you do the maths. You’re living your dream. You have more bloody money than bloody sense.

 

As you walk in for your induction, the tension is palpable. With the weight of the whole KD Butherspoon corporation on your shoulders, you are the chosen one. You’re the man to prise the torch from the cold, dead hands of the ‘old guard’ and carry it towards a more enlightened era of gastro-pubbery. You are Captain Potwash.

 

The first thing that hits you about your new career is the wealth of knowledge you’ll have to acquire if you’re to fill this gaping void adequately. With such a wide range of cuisine available from a fully seasonal menu, every single dish has a specific time requirement in the microwave. Failure to cook the food for the correct amount of time can result in the delivery of sub-standard – and, heaven forbid, even average food. But get it right and you’ll be serving a slap-up meal to rival any of the nation’s most coveted chefs. Slop a frozen chicken korma in for 3:33 (3 minutes thirty-three seconds to those unfamiliar with industry jargon) and you’ll be serving up one of the silkiest and most authentic curries this side of the Indian subcontinent. All this just in time for Thursday night’s revered ‘Curry Club’. Food doesn’t get more exclusive!

 

Rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest food-handlers in the galaxy makes you realise just how wrong you were about the very fundamentals of cooking. How do you poach an egg? If you’ve been faffing about with pots, pans and boiling water, you need to get a grip. The 21st century poached egg comes pre-poached, wrapped in airtight plastic for optimal freshness. Titillate the egg for the 30 seconds in the microwave until it pops and spits, then place atop a comfy bed of salmon and cold bagel, garnished with fresh rocket. Serve within 1 minute of the order coming in and move on to your next ticket. Smear any food residue on the front of your apron.

 

Any genuine Captain Potwash follows a precise formula in every strain of the cooking process. A decadent side salad must have four slices of cucumber and four of tomato. Nothing more, nothing less. Authentic nachos must have jalapeños on the guacamole, but by no means on any other part of the plate. Certainly not on the sour cream. You want people to enjoy their food, not feel overwhelmed by too much flavour. Deviation from said formulae will result in a verbal warning barked from a Polish co-worker, the masterchef to whom you are the humble understudy.

 

With an average of 7 minutes between an order being placed and food being served, any kitchen assistant must juggle the art of food assembly with impeccable haste and urgency. Failure to do so will result in some friendly motivation from a co-worker, who will gently tease you for being a “fucking pedał”, which translates as “faggot” in English. This team dynamic is enough to uphold standards and maintain the kitchen as a well-oiled machine of winners.

 

And so too, of course, you must clean the kitchen after its closure. This is much like waxing down a much-loved Aston Martin after a weekend of ragging it round the Dordogne. Get your head right into those grease-bins and give them a good, hard scrub. Inside and out. Splatter the grease on your face. Exfoliate with grit. Replenish said bins with fresh bags and wait for the nightly kitchen inspection from your duty manager. Repeat this process twice for your duty manager until the bins are deemed clean enough for more shit to be splattered in them tomorrow.

 

Cycle home in the early hours with your head held high. You’re on a learning curve.

An Open Letter

A letter to bikers

 

I’d like to address this open letter to anyone who owns and/or rides an excessively loud motorbike.

 

Oftentimes, when I’m pottering about a public space and taking in the sights, I wish the ambiance could be punctuated by an enormous, rattling motorbike exhaust. I like that exhaust so damn deep and gargly that it gets right up in my throat through my ear drums. That “fuck off if you don’t like it” brand of engine that really turns heads. In the same vein as those that drive ‘modified’ Subaru Imprezas with crude holes smashed through the exhaust pipe, these guys succeed in drawing my uncompromised attention as they pass.

 

My favourite’s when bikers rag it through residential areas at night, just to let you know that they’re there. Otherwise it can be quite a worrying time, night-time. You can’t see any bikers, because it’s dark. So it’s reassuring to know that they’re safe, and most of all that their bikes are still exceptionally loud. We’ve all had nights that start so promisingly turn out to be ruined by a lack of motorbike noises. This is always a real relief for me.

 

It sums up all the problems I have with today’s society that not every single person in the world has a loud motorbike. The streets could be alive with sweet, madrigal motor harmony, 24/7; a global gargle, if you will. And with these God-awful politicians in charge, you can bet we’ll get no closer to this utopian ideal. Bloody philanderers.

 

So, if you do have a Harley Davidson, or Kawasaki Ninja, or any loud adult’s bike toy, please rev it right up close to my fucking ear drum, as loud as you possibly can. Especially in quiet, tender moments, because I fucking love it. I love to have your mid-life crisis non-consensually thrusted upon me and my loved ones.

 

Thanks so very much,

 

$icK PuP.

Pop Culture

WWE – WWBS? (What would Barthes say?!)

Roland Barthes wrote about the fascinating “spectacle of excess” that wrestling brought to the world in the 1950s. He’d surely be happy that he isn’t alive to witness the vertiginous rise of WWE, in all its flabby falseness and commercial trickery.

 

This year, WWE held their 33rd annual ‘Wrestlemania’ event, now a coveted pay-per-view show, which I understand is a massive deal to many children and – rather more bafflingly – certain adults around the world. It makes so much sense that young children – so weak in mental perception and yet so strong in imagination – love to watch burly American men bash each other with plastic chairs and exchange potato punches for a couple of hours. Household names like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, with his painfully indiscriminate stance on accepting acting roles, are undeniably awe-inspiring figures, well beyond the reams of physical normality. This is, of course, especially breath-taking for a young boy in his ‘World’s Top Snorer’ football-themed jammies. Certain characters manage to cross over into the public eye in other ways. None more than John Cena, a man who’s been the subject of many a good meme, which somewhat excuses his WWE ventures. You’re excused, John.

 

But back to the young boy in his football jammies who loves wrestling. This makes sense. But what makes less sense is a world in which adults live for these flaccid ‘wrestling’ displays. According to Forbes, Wrestlemania has generated over $1 billion in economic value over the last decade. That is, by all accounts, a veritable shit-tonne of money, which vastly surpasses the amassed sum of little boys’ pocket money around the world.

 

Narratives sell, and I suppose watching enormous men bash each other in front of 125,000 spectators does indeed embody a certain American-ness. This is surely what Barthes was alluding to when he spoke of a “grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theatres.” He was talking about one big, swollen orgy of sagging man-flesh, plastic chairs and scantily-clad female hostesses. US citizens have the right to bear arms and body-slam – it’s written in the declaration.

 

A friend of mine once recalled going to watch a live WWE show in Wembley Stadium, in London. He said that one of the wrestlers got pretend ran-over by a pretend car. It’s at this point when I instinctively want to chastise any adult who’s taken with such tomfoolery. But then I’m reminded that, to think like this, is to completely misunderstand the draw of Wrestlemania. As Barthes surmised, “Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle.” Upon reflection, any billion-dollar sports franchise that promotes characters like ‘Scotty 2 Hotty’ – a yellow lycra-clad, bucket hat-wearing fuckboy, is just that – it’s a spectacle. A silly, highly lucrative spectacle. Barthes often helps to make sense of contemporary conundrums, despite much of his work being written in the 1950s. That great brain is what made him such a good guy.

 

 

Travelling

A Really Sick Pup

You’re in Thailand and it’s a smidge too exotic for your feeble English bowels. You’re sweating impressively persistently even when sitting in the shade. The locals are wearing thick denim jeans and long-sleeve shirts. They’re habitually fingering their belly buttons and tossing oily woks over hot stoves in unison. They don’t seem to be sweating at all. Why the fuck not… You’re sat panting in a stained ‘Bintang Bali’ wifebeater and some imitation Liverpool shorts. You smell. You’ve got your new Roy BonTM sunglasses on. Asian you has exquisite taste.

 

Your body wants a drink, so you kindly oblige. You should obviously buy some bottled water. Having a mild nervous breakdown, your mum made you buy a Lonely Planet travel guide to South East Asia before you went. It cost you £20 and all of the information it gives you is available online anyway. It greatly emphasised the need to drink only bottled drinks in this part of the world. And yet a cheeky sense of victory washes over you as you order a mango lassi, because your eyes awoke from your gormless, soggy facial features for long enough to let you know that they do lassis here. As a pudgy white tourist in Roy bloody Dons, you’re not supposed to subject your precious insides to the Asian water. Lassis are just ice, which is obviously just unbottled water in a frozen form.

 

As someone who already suffers with IBS and runny-bottom syndrome, you’ve made this naughty decision on several occasions now, and it’s only right that you should pay the price for your relative intrepidity. Arriving in Koh Samui for a week of watching predatory older Thai ladies try to fuck your handsome mate, your visit rapidly deteriorates as your stomach starts to begrudge you and your taste in lassis.

 

Time to enter the purgatory. This is a purgatory of your pasty, doughy body being POV sodomised from the inside-out by an aggressive tropical infection. You spend a few soulless days, bed-ridden and sobbing, as foul rusty water explodes out of your poor arse every twenty minutes, 24/7. You can’t eat anything – even plain crisps – and you lose around half a stone as your friends go out to eat and piss about on the beach. You cry a bit and mourn the loss of your digestive system. Then you phone mum and dad and they actually seem more worried than you are, which renders your chat counterproductive. You return to your sweaty prison bed and chastise yourself on the inside for not just having bought a nice, corporate Coke. ‘The inside’ is, by this point, an unchartered nebula of emotional stresses alongside the less abstract traumas of food poisoning.

 

Several days pass like this. One night at around 3am you decide that you can’t handle the hunger any longer, so you walk alone to the local 7 Eleven, where you buy the plainest thing you can find – Thailand’s answer to Pom Bears. As you walk home you are hassled by a hefty transvestite prostitute on a tiny moped, who begs you to let her take you home. After telling her to fuck off a few times she lets out a manly roar and ‘peds it into the distance looking like Yogi Bear on a tricycle. This is finally the start of your rebirth, marking a triumphant road to recovery and relative faecal normality.

France

Please find below an exhaustive list of all things French people get right:

 

After spending a fair amount of time living in the south of France, I reckon there’s some things hypothetical French me would have liked about growing up here…

 

Lunch – French people entitle themselves to two hours’ lunchbreak and often actually use this time to interact with other people who also have a lunchbreak. They eat together and just generally have a groovy and/or pleasing time. A glass of wine is apparently the done thing on a French lunchbreak. This is because they make nice wine and they understand how to drink without getting completely pissed up and sexually aroused. In my mind, I place the technicolour image of a suave French woman spending her lunchtimes in the sun among friends, with a ciggy and a glass of wine, alongside the bleak monochrome scene of a podgy English bloke called Keith eating a pork pie at his desk in Slough. Keith sits alone in front of a spreadsheet and sometimes looks out his window at the rain drizzling for an hour. He might go out for a ciggy under the bus stop, sheltered from the pissing rain. It’s a cruel and unflattering disparity and certainly one that none of us should be very happy about.

 

Wine – Far from suckling the hallowed teat of Jacob’s Creek or boasting a gaggle of Lambrini girls who “just wanna have fun”, the wine you buy from cheap French offies is genuinely nice and at any rate entirely inoffensive. Alas, long gone are the days of any deified sack’o’wine nourishment, here you’ll be swigging straight from the bottle. You can’t even find bottles of wine with screw-tops… Imagine.

 

Cheese – There’s a disconcerting variety of stinky, festering milk curds produced in France which are revered worldwide. All sorts of French alternatives to our championed Stinking Bishop with strange, aggressively coloured waxy vertebrae which are either exciting or upsetting depending on your personal stance on cheese. Sadly for me I don’t really like strong cheese. French me would let this cacophonic taste bud experience unfold in his mouth oftentimes.

 

Rushing – People in south of France don’t rush. They don’t understand why you would rush. I often find myself waiting politely in a queue, sweat seeping into my worsening heat rash, stressed as I wait for a French waiter/barman/person to let me order/pay/leave. It seems like the lovely Mediterranean sun just isn’t conducive to hurrying about. Even at university here, it seems like starting ten minutes late is just the done thing – which seems about fucking right given that most lessons last at least two hours.

 

They don’t give a fuck – When I was in the UK, I generally found any weird form of personal transport – a category which includes Segways and ‘hoverboards’ – pretty fucking hilarious. I couldn’t take anyone seriously who rode past me with their headphones in, face frowning, when there was a hoverboard cushioned beneath their Nike Huaraches. When I got to France, I felt exactly the same. But I saw them a lot more – significantly more. People even go on the roads with them at night, with helmets and fluorescent jackets on. Given that these machines look funny anyway, I also can’t shake the image of Jimi Heselden, inventor of the Segway, plunging to his death as he Segwayed unknowingly off the edge of a cliff. RIP Jimi. Let France take the baton now, darling.

 

Please find below an exhaustive list of things French people don’t get right:

 

Flirting Unfortunately, if you have a penis in France your life is a lot easier than if you have one of those other things. French men are insatiable scavengers who are always on the prowl for the right moment to sweep a lady off her feet and into their stinky beds. Especially if they’re an English girl who are, by default, considered ‘easy’, because they drink more and wear slightly more revealing clothing in general. Here, we note the classic double standard of men loving seeing scantily clad women yet simultaneously assuming that these women have less self-respect. Showing your lovely sideboob here probably isn’t worth the hassle, unless you want some hassle, in which case, flaunt that sideboob. Perhaps most suitably, the French verb for flirting is ‘draguer’ – they do drag it out to painful extents. I say this with a hint of bitterness because the audacity and tenacity with which the French sleaze is admirable all the same. One of my friends was approached in a supermarket, asked what the difference between tanning oil and sun cream is, then promptly invited for dinner. You crafty old bastards, you.

 

Being Racist – Just to clarify I don’t mean that they get racism wrong and aren’t proper racists, I mean that they often are. Not that British people aren’t often horribly racist too. It’s just that in France it seems worryingly less ‘taboo’ to say racist things, which I find particularly shocking in young people. I’ve particularly noticed a lot of racism and distrust towards France’s Arab community, often from the Maghreb countries of Northern Africa. In a banal conversation with a French friend in Montpellier, I remarked that it’s interesting to see a more prevalent Arab culture in Montpellier than where I’m from in the UK, to which he replied that “it’s a good thing you don’t have them, they cause a lot of problems.” This is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems of racism here.

 

Vegetarianism – It would seem that the large-scale environmental benefits of vegetarianism are yet to present themselves to the French. Along with pungent cheeses, the French produce a great deal of high quality meat, and cook with it all the time. Seriously. Vegetarian options at restaurants are therefore generally limited, and the dogged French aversion to Americanisation means that the whole trend of veganism and its subsequent culture hasn’t quite caught on to the level that it has in the UK.

Sex

A SICK PUP’S GUIDE TO CONDOMS

After enjoying the smooth, husky pitter patter of Loyle Carner’s voice live in the flesh, your night’s taken a more debaucherous detour. Soaked through every orifice by the pissing rain but warmed by company of your good friends, you’ve gone to Yates and bought a few cheap pints to get nice and pissed. Maybe a couple of nice bright blue pitchers as well, the details are always hazy. But it’s nice and cheap. There’s an old noncey bloke who’s there on his own, too pissed to recognise that the 15-year-old girls he’s dancing with are bullying him. They’re pointing and laughing when his back’s turned, but keeping his pickle tickled by touching him all over and, in a circle surrounding him, slut-dropping in sync. It’s a well-oiled routine and he’s being nicely done over.

After getting the most you can out of Yates on a Thursday night, you leave nice and squiffy towards The Artful Dodger, at a club you’ve only been to once before. You remembered it being pretty shit but it was over a year ago. When you eventually shuffle in past the bouncers, your heart drops: it definitely is shit. It’s a tragic scene. A sensory overload of sticky floors, pumping house (not garage) and the smell of Jaeger Bombs sidles over to greet you and ushers you in. Sick Chirpse has organised the night and they’ve stuck Bigger Than Barry on as a support act, which has nicely filled the cunt quota for the night. You decide to get as fucked as your money will allow so that you can at least enjoy the two Artful Dodger songs you actually know.

Your mind wanders… It’s a shame Craig David isn’t there… He probably wouldn’t do Fill Me In anyway.

The girl you kissed last weekend’s over there… You’re not certain you want to see her, but then again you are pretty pissed and you go up to her and sort of try to look friendly. You end up kissing again, and get a few drinks whilst moaning about how you hoped this place wasn’t as shit as you remembered but it actually is and that you’re disappointed about it. Sort of insinuating that you’re too cool to be there, even though you know you’re not and you go on ‘shit’ nights out all the time. She suggests you leave, and you tell her to come to yours. The November air’s cold and makes the 40 minute stumble home unbearable. You decide to put your jacket over her, gritting your teeth and wondering why the fuck she didn’t just bring one herself – what the fuck! After a while, she gives it back to you and says it’s obvious you’d rather wear it than give it to her; you resist for a minute but then boozily snatch your jacket back off her and put it on.

Opening your door, your heart sinks slightly as you hear laughter in the kitchen, as the smell of hash wafts gently down the corridor. Everyone’s really enjoying the fact that you’ve brought someone back; they’re grinning and very obviously trying to catch your eye in their shriveled, reddened gazes… You swiftly take your companion up to your room… You don’t have a condom. The girls asks “are you clean?” in a gently accusatory tone. You are. You have sex. The next morning, she borrows your jumper for the walk home (why the fuck didn’t she bring a jacket) and you exchange a few messages without ever meeting up again.

Two weeks pass. Your knob is sore. It’s a bit red, and very sore. You’re playing 5-A-Side football with your housemates and you can’t stop readjusting your naughty manservant.

A month passes. The symptoms persist. You go to the STD clinic one morning at 8am before your seminar, feeling queasy with nerves and tiredness. The clinic’s a depressing, but at the same time intriguing place. There’s a mix of everyone from all levels of society: Middle-aged businessmen, single mums, students, young teenagers, all united by a common fear. You try to work out what everyone’s doing there then realise it makes you really uncomfortable so you put your head down and wonder what’s wrong with your poor willy and why you didn’t just wear a condom. Fuck you Yates and fuck off Artful Dodger, you big twat.

Travelling

A SICK PUP’S GUIDE TO HA LONG BAY

 We sweated our way down to a shitty Hanoi travel agents. It was the kind of travel agents one only finds in Hanoi, complete with a gorgeous Clip Art logo. We were there because we wanted to see Ha Long Bay, obviously, but didn’t want to spend any money. People assure me that you can have a lovely time in Ha Long Bay if you’re happy to spend money; in South East Asia, you generally face the consequences of your decisions if you’re too frugal with your cash. We were reeled in by this particular tour because it was half the price of its better-known, main contender, whose clientele consists of the kind of ‘fuckboys’ you actually go to Vietnam to avoid – you go halfway round the world and they’re still fucking there. These are, of course, the invariably big boys that probably treat travelling as a pilgrimage of happy endings and full moon parties. At uni, they’ll probably land on their feet as a club rep for Pryzm, guiding their young disciples to the promised land of VKs and titties. Maybe they’ll also become a staple name on The Tab’s prestigious ‘BNOC’ feature, which is like winning the Nobel Prize of uni… Anything’s possible if you work hard.

In the cheaper travel agents, the big welsh bloke’s sales tactic was a two-pronged attack: a base of gratuitous mocking, complemented by a flurry of misogynistic remarks. If you grew up in Salisbury – or any rural armpit – you become an accomplished handler of such situations. In this situation, you just nod along and feel quietly guilty for not challenging the bigger boys’ intolerant views. In the end, we didn’t like the idea of paying double the price just to be made to shotgun beers all day on a boat with a bunch of twats, so we went for the welshman’s lucky dip, budget option.

I can’t honestly recommend this train crash of a tour enough. The tour guide, if he’s still out there, is called Zoom, and I was really pleasantly surprised to discover that someone like this a) – exists and b) – can make a living as the custodian for the lives of tourists on a small, water-borne vessel. Sharply dressed in a jazzy little number, Zoom arrived late and broke the ice by shouting jokes at us in a jarring mix of Vietnamese and English. Later on in the evening, after getting nice and pissed as the sun set over Ha Long Bay, Zoom sat on the edge of the boat, swaying, whilst his eyes rolled back into themselves with a look of ecstasy. I’m not sure that he wasn’t pinging.

After making sure we all put our beersies down to somersault off the top of the boat into the bay’s suspiciously warm waters, Zoom sat us all down in a circle and produced a briefcase. Instead of the itinerary which I assumed was inside, the briefcase housed Zoom’s paraphernalia. The first item was a large, hand-crafted bamboo bong, and the second was an excitingly unorthodox sex toy which had a large, pulsating rubber tongue atop a chunky vibrator. With a cheeky look emerging behind his clouded eyes, Zoom went about his official business of a systematic assault on all of his passengers: he would cheekily kiss the gyrating rubber tongue against his target’s neck from behind, wait until they turned around and then offer them the bong by way of initiation. After carrying out his boozy assault with military precision, a big bunch of his cronies moored up and boarded our boat with cheap Vietnamese voddy and ciggies for all to share.

There’s one particular image which stands out as having permanently branded my memory. At night, a mate and I tried to throw our room key from Zoom’s boat across to the mutineers’ vessel (for a laugh), and obviously it fell in the water. We stood and watched gormlessly as it gurgled into the stinky depths. Pissed and feeling like naughty schoolboys, we went in to the boat’s kitchen/dining room/bong area to find Zoom and ask for a spare key. We found him, sweaty, stripped down to his underpants, sprawled on his back on top of the table, very much asleep and confused. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but he did eventually manage to tuck his stiffy away and find us another key. What a strange life.

The scenery at Ha Long Bay is wicked cool, but our strange little tour guide stole the show with his subtle wit and raw sex appeal. Each night I watched his pissed-up soliloquy unfold… Sat on the railing of the top deck, puffing on his bong and sipping voddy(/cleaning fluid) from the bottle, his eyes whitened as the sky oranged behind him. I like to think he’s still out there now. You should go and find him.