This post is still about food, but it is also a shameless plug of my mum’s latest novel. Clare Morrall is a Man Booker Shortlisted novelist, and her latest novel “When the Floods Came” is dead good.
I asked her for an extract from her latest novel that would relate to London to legitimise its existence on Blackheath.london . I failed…. She lives in Birmingham, and in this novel London has been covered with water. So I suggested an extract relating to food.
Yup! That was a win.
We have food in common, me and my mum…
Clare Morrall will be speaking and book signing at the Paperback of When The Floods Came at the Age Exchange 24th September 5pm, 11 Blackheath Village, London SE3 9LA
(Tea and coffee will be provided and books for signing will be available to purchase)
Chapter 13 of When The Floods Came
The smell is coming from a spit turning slowly and methodically over an open fire. The joint of meat, the remains of a large animal, crackles and hisses as it cooks, making a wordless protest about its treatment. Several slow-burning logs are glowing in the fire below, not producing flames, but giving off a heat that’s so intense I can feel it from several metres away. A young guy with dazzlingly blond hair is standing at the side, turning the handle smoothly and methodically. The same age as me, I decide, born pre-Hoffman’s like Paula and Joe. I glance round, wondering if I can see them, but there’s no sign. I need to talk to them – there’s so much to say. The guy is gazing into a vacuum with an expression of utter boredom, but when his eyes drift towards us, he snaps awake. He ignores Popi, Moth and Lucia, examines me with open curiosity and half-grins at Boris. Then he turns his attention to Delphine, lengthens his neck, flexes his shoulders, and seems to stretch. There’s a brief interruption to the movement of the spit. He winks at her.
Delphine stares at him in surprise, clearly uncertain how to react. She glances at me and widens her eyes in a silent question, but I don’t have any advice. I’m as taken aback as she is. Why’s he more interested in her than me? Does this mean she’s attractive, special in some way that none of us have recognised?
“Hi,” he calls. “I’m Lancelot.”
“Hi,” I say. Boris takes no notice of him. Delphine doesn’t respond. “Are you from Brighton?”
“What are your names?”
“Roza, Boris, Delphine.” I indicate each of us in turn. “My parents, and Lucia.”
“I’d come and talk,” he says. “But I’m busy.”
“We’ve noticed,” I say.
He grins, almost shyly, wanting Delphine to speak, but she’s studying her shoes with unusual interest. “What do you do when you’re not here?” I ask.
The owner of the meat stall steps out towards us, clearly delighted that we’ve come to him. He opens his arms generously, almost as if he’s preparing to enfold us in a welcoming hug. He’s tall and thin, almost bald, with a grey, sunken face, as if he’s harbouring some hidden disease. “Hello!” he says. “I’m Pete. I hope you’re starving, because you’re standing in front of the best food at the fair.”
Popi peers at him, clearly suspicious. “You’re a butcher? Do you do this between the fairs as well? Where?”
Pete ignores him. He picks up a long knife with a blade so thin it’s almost transparent and goes over to the meat on the spit. He cuts through the outer surface as easily as if he’s slicing tomatoes, catching each piece, thick and curled, oozing with juices, on a metal dish in his hand. He divides the meat into equal portions and hands us each a small plate. He stands uncomfortably close to me.
“Get that down you,” he says. “It’ll put colour in your cheeks.”
He ought to take his own advice. Shouldn’t he be plump and healthy if he has access to this kind of food on a regular basis? I lift the plate and sniff. My toes tingle, my mouth waters and my head spins. I glance at the others. Delphine starts nibbling at the edges cautiously, while Moth concentrates on helping Lucia to cool hers down. Popi is reacting in the same way as me, testing first, slightly suspicious of the ease with which we were given the meat, but Boris doesn’t waste time. He takes a large bite immediately. It’s too hot. He opens his mouth to let out the steam and flutters his hand up and down wildly to dissipate the heat.
“Patience has some advantages,” I say to him.
“Patience isn’t my type,” he says, continuing to stuff the meat in, chewing rapidly and swallowing. “She can sort out her own problems.” Grease coats his chin and he wipes it away on the back of his hand, grinning at us. “Whizzario!” he says. “Best thing I’ve ever eaten.”
“What is it?” asks Delphine .
“Haven’t you had meat before?” asks the man.
“Of course we have,” I say, wanting to take a bite, but determined not to be patronised. “All the time.” Actually, that’s not true. We have the hens and Edward the goat, but it would be counterproductive to kill them for meat, since they provide our eggs and milk. One or two of aunties and uncles catch wild animals, and offer us cold leftovers, but we’ve never been very good at finding our own meat. Popi is not a hunter. “It’s not goat meat, is it?” I don’t want to eat one of Edward’s relatives.
He considers before answering, as if he can’t decide how much information to give us. “Wild pig,” he says eventually.
“I thought all the pigs died with Hoffman’s,” I say.
“Not the domestic pigs,” he says.
There’s something about the way he says this. As if he’s hiding something. I study the meat on the chipped china plate in my hand, trying to work out why he would lie. Was the animal diseased? Has it mutated so that no one knows if it’s safe or not? Or has he acquired it in some illegitimate way? Tom, Tom the Piper’s son, stole a pig and away did run-
Review in the Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/clare-morrall-reveals-the-strange-places-the-ideas-for-when-the-floods-came-from-and-her-interest-in-a6855956.html
Link to Amazon: