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Eel Pie and Mash

25 Mar

Anticipation had been swelling up inside since early morning. This day he would be finishing before time and he was now gazing beyond the lop-sided heads in front of him to the large, round, white clock face on the far wall. Five more minutes. Enough for five more conversations. Five more life-sapping conversations.

The clock grew slowly in size as conversations, including his, faded into the periphery. The second hand tocked and vibrated, tocked and vibrated and he willed the minute hand to force itself forward with a little more urgency. Both hands, however, were resolute, confidently carrying out their duties.

The phone was placed in its docking station and he tried to recall his last conversation. He could only remember that it was with a man and that he’d passed on some information from the computer screen in front of him. He logged off, despite knowing it was a minute early and that Mr. James was very keen to squeeze every last drop of work he could out of every possible employee. Only last week he had belittled a part-time student who had packed up a few minutes early, reducing her to tears while the rest of the office looked on impotently or shamelessly concentrated that little bit harder on their task in hand. It was best not to test Mr James. After all, nobody was here through choice and he was the only boss in London who referred to himself as Mister.

The clock drummed 12.30. He bolted up out of his chair, grabbed his mobile off his desk and marched off to get his coat. Time was up and Mr James couldn’t touch him now. He decided to take the stairs down to the street, to help shake off the morning tension. He would take the bus there, the 57 was regular. There was a lady at the bus stop and he smiled at her but not so much as to engage her. This was something he was doing for himself and nobody could penetrate his bubble today.

The 57 bus was on time and he gestured to the lady to board before him, careful not speak. The bus driver was looking directly ahead at something beyond the road in front of him and as the green light beeped the last person on board he systematically put the bus in motion, still staring at that very same thing. Looking around the bus it was a relief that there were no school children on board. There were seats available and he could have sat anywhere but he was too excited to sit, he needed to keep moving. He watched people get on and off the bus and noted how people tend to make a lot more fuss during the daytime, perhaps they had more time to.

So what could he expect? A mind-altering experience? One that would change they way he thought forever? Or maybe just a good time. The bus rolled on. It passed an old village hall-like structure where muslims dressed in white tunics spilled out onto the street chatting happily. It passed a large supermarket and crossed a small river.  A tube station came and went and finally it reached Tooting Broadway, always bustling, always lively.

The road he was looking for was opposite the market. He knew where this was so he weaved his way to the market entrance and looked across the street. There was the road. He skipped across between the slowing cars and leapt up onto the opposite kerb. Was this really the street? He couldn’t see anything of note down there. It was a street with a fading breed of shops along it, a cobblers here, an ironmongers there and a dirty less-than-trustworthy-looking lawyers office  further down. Perhaps, it was fitting after all. Perhaps this wasn’t the renaissance he’d expected. He strained to see where it was but it couldn’t be seen. He walked deliberately towards the end of the low parade and from the corner of his eye, he noticed something bright, luminous. It was star-shaped and there was another and there another. This was it. Two small frosted windows either side of a very narrow double door marked the entrance and now he could see that this inconspicuous shopfront peppered with pink, green and yellow luminous stars was what he had been reading about for so long. Trepidation arose in his stomach. He pushed the wooden doors and slowly stepped forward onto an old tiled floor.

The doors jerked themselves closed behind him. The back wall was tall and tiled. Newer tiles blended in with some older, classier ones croaking back to more prosperous times. Five narrow tables jutted out from the right hand wall and thin fixed benches accompanied them. He glanced left at an overweight lady in a gingham smock and hairnet holding a ladle and then back to the benches where an old man sat spooning white fluff into his mouth. Self-consciously, he stared up at the menu board to compose himself. The menu board was packed with choices but closer inspection revealed that these were not choices but variations – Pie, Pie and Mash, Eel Pie and Mash, Eel 2 Pie and Mash, Eel Pie Mash and Liquor. All mash is lumpy said the sign. The lady was staring at him, waiting. He ordered Jellied Eels, 1 Pie, Mash and Liquor with a mug of tea and the lady expertly whipped out a pale blue bowl and with her spatula span it round dolloping lumpy mash around its flat edges. Next she ladled chopped eels into the middle and covered it in gloopy liquor. Really? Was this it? She finished off by wedging a flat ground beef pie onto the mash. He took it, along with a spoon and squeezed himself onto one of the benches. This place was dying and he felt the slow death creep over him as he spooned the food into his mouth piece by piece, looking round at the very few people who had been coming here all their lives.

Refine it please




My own experience with a Pie and Mash shop was similar. I’d always wanted to go but when I went it was hard to enjoy. The main reason being that the food was disgusting!!  Don’t get me wrong, I love eels and I love pies but not these eels and not those pies. Now the place I went to had a faded charm but I did feel like I was eating in a hospice. Maybe this restaurant was particularly bad. I’m not surprised they are disappearing from London but I’m equally surprised nobody has thought of updating the concept. Working class food doesn’t have to be quite so nasty and there are plenty of things you can do with both eels and pies.