Friday, 11 October 2019

Once Upon a Brunch


Once Upon a Brunch

One long afternoon, cotton clouds translated the blushing sun’s muttered spells as he descended towards a mustard dust horizon, sugar coating dewdrop jewelled bottles in glittered spangles.

These were racked up alongside revellers like a glass slippered castle; liquid of every hue and cry, every regret and sigh, and they had lured many seekers of answers to life’s loves and truths to a sick, sticky hangover the next morning.

Still, that was a lifetime away from now, and, in front of the gathered multitude, was a feast like no other. Every conceivable cuisine was represented from around the world, from the plainest breads, fruits and cheese to delicacies like lobsters, oysters and thick black caviar. Soups babbled quietly in huge cauldrons, delicately spiced curries and stews chuckled together in good humour, sweets and trifles whipped themselves to a frenzy and, best of all, thick chocolates, white, brown and bitter dark, gushed ceaseless from fountains into sweet rivers attended by striped trousered guardians.

And these small men and women were busy ferrying the banquet to tables surrounding rose petalled fragranced pools; murmuring quietly into the ears of the diners. As the afternoon stretched its shadows, the throng became louder, noisier; some breaking off to dance long threaded congas, weaving haphazardly amongst tables where they were good-naturedly pushed off by the seated like badly piloted paddle steamers. And the scurrying of the waiters became more frantic as four o clock approached and snapping fingers intensified…for as every child knows, four chimes break the spell.

All are shown the exit and those with any sense stumble straight to bed, some with each other and others alone.

At one of the smaller tables, pushed back against a wall, shaded by a parasol and quite some distance from any pool, petalled or otherwise, sat two men. One was a giant. An ogre, bearded, with a vast, inverted rainbow smile. When he laughed, his armchair shook as though hit by twenty thunderbolts. When he spoke, his voice was so deep as to threaten to crumble any soft sandstone the hotel was carved from. Next to him, his opposite. Small with a long cactus spike of a nose and eyes close set together, his voice reedy, and as sour as a pint of unsweetened grapefruit juice.

The one sipped water and consumed the mountain of foods heaped upon his various bestrewn plates, whilst the other consumed glass upon glass of blood pink Campari Bitters, often forgetting to dash the drink with the lemonade at his left hand. He observed his giant companion eat, threw another drink down his throat and snapped his fingers.

“Why don’t you drink, anyway, Ahmed?” he complained, as his companion mopped gravy with a hunk of rough bread before placing it into the cavern that passed for his mouth.

Ahmed chewed thoughtfully. “Whilst it is not forbidden, of course,” he boomed, after a few movements, “I don’t like it.” And he laughed, delightedly at his answer, spraying bread due to the suddenness of his response. “I do beg your pardon, Felix,” he continued, pulling out a tissue and gently cleaning the small mess he had made from the table, for he was golden hearted and considerate. “That was thoughtless of me.”

“Think nothing of it,” grumbled Felix, who wasn’t, then continued griping, “If you drank more, or even something, we might be invited to join the conga. I mean, look at the fun they’re having.” He indicated the dancing, stumbling line which was, even now, staggering its way back to complete another lap, whooping and hollering like a scream of enraged guillemots. “Those Irish sure know how to party. Every week here they are, shouting ‘it’s the craic’, having the best of it and every week the conga.”

“It’s true, Felix. I expect they’ll be sick soon. Then maybe I must help with clean up the mess, carrying them out to taxis and calling ambulance.” Ahmed scratched his beard, because he remembered a few occasions where he had done just that - but never with any sense of unwillingness. He was big. He would bear them.

Felix ignored him, scanning the linked people. “Look!” he snapped. “Disgraceful. That girl’s top is off and the man behind her is groping her boobs. Cupping a good handful. Disgusting.” He continued to stare, his head bobbing absently in time to the shaking bodies until he dragged his eyes away and returned to table, swallowing more bitters.

“Well, well,” grinned Ahmed, looking, then slapping Felix across the back, “he will drink from full cups tonight as well as this afternoon. For she is certainly gifted.” But he could see his friend was not happy; had not been happy for some time and Felix, for his part, continued to scowl across the other tables until four o clock, whereupon his colossal friend helped him up, supported him across the marbled foyer and poured him into his car.



So, the pages turned and soon another magical Friday, it is twelve thirty and the tables of every hotel across Kata are once again laden with more dishes than it is humanly possible to turn into five loaves and two fishes and wine enough to water every wedding guest.

Felix once more scowled his way to an offered table he was unsmilingly led to and sourly noted it had only two seats, as ever. “Even the small ones have recognised that I only need a trivial table, a table their size, they either know me, or sense that I have no friends, none,” he berated himself, and further than that wondered why they bothered. “We never have any fun. No conga for us.”

But where was Ahmed? They had been doing this for years and the giant was usually first in line; his appetites were legendary across Kata. Staff were always keen to greet him, eyes smiling, fist bumps and handshakes; enclosing their palms within his and he would affectionately drape a giant arm across shoulders whilst introducing ‘his good friend, Felix’.

“Abandoned, hah.” grumbled Felix, after a few minutes. He thought to send a message, then snapped his fingers brusquely for the Campari bottle.

Before it could arrive, he was surprised by a tallish, thin young fellow standing above him. Felix bristled a little, for, being small in stature, he could ill afford a scrap which was, he suddenly saw in a moment of blue-sky clarity, why Ahmed was useful to have around. Where was he? Why this day of all days?

But there was nought to fear. The young fellow offered a hand and introduced himself. “Hey, dude. My name’s Patrick, but call me Paddy, hell, everyone else does. I think I’ve seen you around, hey, for sure. It’s a good craic here, anyway.”

“Join you?”

“Sure. We’re all by the pool. We kept a seat for you.”

So Felix allowed himself to be ushered over by the beaming, dark haired boy and, before long, a chair had been pulled out for him, right bang in the centre; a good chair, a throne almost. Yes, surely a throne for now he was surrounded on all sides by young men, young women, all hanging on his every word. “My name’s Felix,” he’d announced, and there were gales of laughter, even at that utterance.

Flanked on either side by dark eyed, sultry beauties was he and even the sun, still in the Gods, shone upon him, spinning his every word into pure gold: why, he was an undiscovered raconteur, every thought a gemstone of the purest quality, a treasure chest of wisdom and wit. “Certainly,” he nodded, to one of the ladies near to him, “it was a dead parrot and it had ceased to be.”

Without Ahmed, the drinks kept coming, as was just and right; drinks of burnt amber, drinks of emerald green. And with each drink, each word was more precious than the last: “You have a woman’s purse! A woman’s purse! I’ll bet that purse has never been used as a lifeboat and had seven sailors tossing in it…” and when he spoke of the chair that when you sat down, it farted, he’d floored them. “Great! Super!”

Before long, Aoife had taken his sticky palm in hers, their faces swimming in and out of focus like playing with the tracking button on a VHS.

“What’s a VHS?” she’d asked.

“Well,” Felix slurred, softly, “it was a machine, a machine that recorded, everything, you put a tape into it, a tape into it and the box, snapped shut…”

“Ah, for sure,” Aoife purred, “you’ll be liking my box that snaps shut, sure enough,” and she’d put his arms to her waist, “let’s dance.”

Felix could scarcely believe it. Even now, these years later, he still finds it hard. For here and now, the conga began to weave it’s way through tables, round pools and, whilst he was not leading it, true, he was third or fourth.

One two three, kick. One two three kick.

His arms around Aoife’s waist. Oh, Aoife. And her scanty, flimsy top riding up, up with every kick, her warm, browned, bare back ever more visible, and no bra, he was sure of that. It’s the craic. So he pushed his hands upwards and cupped firmly.

He first felt a fist. Then a boot to the head.

Later, there were two strong arms underneath his back, lifting and a voice he would ever remember. “Felix, my dear friend, I have erred, My dear, dear friend.” Maybe an ambulance. Then ice cool sheets.



On long afternoons, when cotton clouds listen to the blushing sun’s muttered spells as he descends, it is true that often they frown upon a sad, small man, sitting long away in hotel after hotel, ticking each one off his list. Seeking, seeking, but never giving up.

Still sipping Campari, Felix sees long snaking congas, which he might smile sardonically at, maybe even listfully, but waves them away.

And one question. Always the same question.

Yet, as one name is deleted, the same name still appears, as if by magic, for this is, after all, a fairy story, isn’t it?







Friday, 4 October 2019

Twenty Twenty Four


Twenty Twenty Four


As journeys go, honey,
a hard time we’ll have of it:
Odysseus himself could not have predicted
as he visited the oracle to check the score,
your answer something like:
‘yes…well, it’s 20 - 24’.
Well, okay, but to who and who, though?
I find it mostly feeling stiff, sitting
next to you, travel sticky palms not knitting
yours but drifting just so, alongside
zero reaction, soon fendered, pushed off,
but not so far as to be not near
to what we couldn’t hold undear.
You bustle moist, stir your sugar, sugar shook
face, gathered by Ena Sharples’ hairnet
into frosted teasing smiles, shadowy fringe,
lack whirlpool courage to down it,
plunge into deep damp cleavaged v-necking
tongue tangled ship wracking.
To tell you the truth, soft-sod lover, gentle
though those crashing rocks won’t be,
pounding us together like magnets
to mill many the suck salty sailor
or wren, well then, so let’s be honest here;
we’re all seafarers these days,
I think sirens shall sing us east of Malta
to landfall upon soft rocks of Gibraltar
where, dragged sultry in chains to altar,
you’ll plead innocent. Your halter
necked lace bra will wither and wane:
angel’s wings often perish in acid rain.
Not for us, I think. Not some halo bright,
love; we shall have to forge and fight.
Our busy, busy dirt soil stroking,
commit crime, oh, pleasure choking
long, it would be total tossed off wrong
to martyr up, wait out Marvell’s eternity
unnatural and, I think, off beam
not to come together, sigh and scream.
But if it pleases you, we can sit and burn
for Odysseus’ return, see Icarus yearn
to fly, melt too near liquid sun,
some sort of Lucifer turn, never learning,
strapped to rose thorny tree and trashed,
stripped back licked, wielding whip
 proud exposed, now thrash honey, grip
it, writhe soaking, deep bound
open mouths beat out blissed songs
coupled rigid together. 
But I suspect life’s sad history
scarred us with predictable sophistry
of this and this and this is plain wrong,
when it should have been us all along.
Now, a hard time of it we'll have for sure,
 shuffle silent to twenty twenty four.









Not Quite


Not Quite


Not quite, is it? No. They’ve not yet been there.
Never dazzled to become, are, will be;
chewn gristle, sipped pissle, flossing hair
with razor wire until why can’t they see

mine for me, as Morrissey singing
you tried so long, profess second sight
bleached words in your head keep ringing
you earned the right, oh maybe not quite.

Scant the huddle-muddle nooks
to bullhook lost lambs, singled, push
reluctant, preach broke china crock
of shit behind back handed hush:

shush - lisper ‘I like not that’,
cross-stitched smirk bespattered face
that bitter green spittle racked
cat-spite can’t quite erase

what’s left inside of brain,
where greed hob-gobbles grasp
for name, pushing inane,
bitch filed nails rail and rasp,

strip mine wiser tongues.
Use soft boiled malice
words to corrupt young
minds, not quite callous

in twisting knife.
Dark in corner,
stabs stiffs in strife
all who mourner.

At any rate,
spreading good
contemplates
a sainthood

grip bag
lip sneer,
tits sag
fake tears

all
right:
Not
quite.








Saturday, 28 September 2019

Coprophage


Coprophage



The cockroaches came today

but I now do think

they’ll beast with us forever.

Prodding it with my toe,

it scuttled for cover,

young, bum trinket bush tucker

flittered, like a feeble fucker

but far too late,

flushed watered demise,

victim of my quick grasp

and keen witted eyes.

They blow in locust clouds

from west to east,

passing stools of emerald shit

in the get go altogether

trash attracting trash,

like poles that don’t repel,

heatseeking effluvium stench and smell.

Now, not going to lie to you,

I suspect these bastards can fly,

hanging clotted from ceiling,

they drop, bury in your hair

get under thick skin,

approximate to a grin

of copulating piles of sin,

falling, falling fast

into your shit, onto your lap

always seeking out leftover bits

sucking in crack through crack

blowing off each the other

tossing into cold chips

and grease

racing relentless

to vomited up feast

littering bits of marble floor

until sated, cannot swallow any more.

I’ve heard their confessions

belching end of days,

in eructing rhyme,

cheap sheet music keeping time,

shuffling soiled tissue pages,

mumbling hymnal rock of ages,

prayer booked by grit-yellow

fingered dog collared

scumbag priest,

see how quick they return to yeast

nail scraped from between toes

held lingering digit to nose

licking long and sickly savour

each and every fungus flavour.

Racket as each the other screw

one on one, two on two

entrance exam to obscene zoo

squealing yes, yes, crying comes

in song sung crude,

assaults your ears in rhythm lewd

it sticks in too deep,

takes turns and turns and turns about,

then with gobbled shout,

clings happy to slappy slag heap

grinding gruesome, thrusting cheap

until spent at last, with matted locks

revisit reeking burger box.

Flocking into East from West,

you’d think they might be glad of rest,

no, seeking turds and eating shite,

scutter coprophages into night.





Friday, 27 September 2019

Blood, Gold and Brass


Blood, Gold and Brass


Huge heaven bellied laugh of man,
stops his taxi, opens door and beckons
for I am UKanian, he rightly reckons:
a warrior king of blood, gold, grass,
though never me, I lack Ashanti; my kra
and his entwine briefly in the car
for fleeting duration, talk long of nation,
journey together in conversation.
Slip wind thread seasick serpentine,
change places, slick swap lanes
savannah swamps of forest rains
by way of Gravesend and the Thames.
Some gold coasting, idle by the lights
he talks of love and forgone fights
yet not forgotten, pluck choking cotton,
backseat driver echoes something rotten.
They take the gold, they take the oil
what grew in earth they hack and spoil
cold choppings, bone plattered clotting fish
sworn loaves on every chipped dish;
he chuckles deep at penitent replies,
benign, listens, ticks time, likewise.
Those easy pickings glitter ivory shores
in perpetual drink, scaly scabbard reptiles
bind in local cloth and local textiles
topple golden stools, kuduo backcracked,
snort lines, left crimes, thick grimy
stickybeak fingers nail the hiplife and highlife
steal her dark sullen stares to top as wife
beneath rounded huts, grassy bed and roof
streaks stencilled light of God and truth.
But his profound love of everything British
still seems a poor bargain, to leave,
demand visas, bar entrance, magpie thieve
and pilfer every kind of meagre right
in the sacred flames of immigration,
for once we were linked as nations:
Hip joined in blood, gold and grass
but where’s there’s muck, there’s brass.
Deposited, I tip my hat, reach for change,
must feel his laughter something strange
as his eyes explore my soiled skull
exchange tawny eagle for retching rapist gull.





Saturday, 21 September 2019

Il Capo di Tutti Frutti all Ruetti


Il Capo di Tutti Frutti all Ruetti


The giant Romanian paused and prodded his finger emphatically at the azure sky. “Claudius.”

“Indeed.”

“He was called it, for, of course, his one feet was not even bigger than his other one feet.”

“Of course.”

“There is no word in English for such a thing, my dear friend.”

“But how did he stand for leaning, then, Alexandru?”

“That can never be known. But, believe me when I tell you, Claudius was known throughout the history of all Latin countries. I,” he continued, “am a Latin. We are all Latins. ‘Il capo di tutti capi’. The leaning tower…it is no coincidence.” I patted Alexandru on his shoulder. You had to stand on tiptoe to do that, you understand, but with effort, it was possible.

Sometime after Eid and the sun was raging over the skyscrapers. A soggy flannel – no, flannelette – no, wet leatherette of a breeze teased us like a coy lover between damp armpits chuckling at the idea of cool and we kicked our way through desert dusted streets.

The sand falls finely.

It gets everywhere, coking everything, even borne on the wings of air conditioning units to invisibly frost the marble tiled floors of our apartments, so that five minutes of walking barefoot and your soles are tarnished black.

Yes, those too.

For in this land of plenty, everything can be bought. You may as well spark fires, sneeze black pepper and smoke for all the good abstinence will do you. So, of course we do. The dust is everywhere anyway. And it gets dark so, so quickly, like the flick of a switch. Dusk? No…there is no dusk, only a sudden vertiginous plunge into black.

We are cherry picking our way across the uneven paving, avoiding the mewling stray cats and the overheated automobiles; gigantic behemoths parked without concession, smouldering like tinted glass ovens, perpetually hot so that those inside stayed cool and those outside burned.

Two strange creatures, we, who washed upon these shores cast iron castaways, holding conversations in every language, for all languages are here; swapping stories from every culture, for all stories are here and looking out across the rest of the world, for the world is here. Or so it seems.

And on Alexandru’s birthday we probably should get together and cheer the old fellow on.

He clapped me on the shoulder, all seven foot of him. “Now, I tell you this, my dear friend, for Nikolai, he has one leg considerably shorter than the other leg. All his life, he suffers, he wears one shoe bigger than his other shoe – but I call him ‘Godfather’, Il Capo. So, like Claudius, no?”

“Why, because he has uneven legs?”

“No. He bears himself like the head of all the heads. Why, on his birthday, we, that is my beloved Mihaela and myself, bought him gifts. We took him to the finest restaurants.”

“A man to be reckoned with.” I was humouring him, I guess. He was, in fact, a teacher in a school and not a particularly good school at that – head of heads? Probably an honorary title, no more…but still, you could never be totally sure. Whispers were everywhere.

“Of course. I asked to see him, on my birthday, why it is an honour. A pleasure.”

And I’d met a few headteachers here, over the years. They tended to be wizened walnuts who considered themselves fallen too soon from the tree; generally good at cultivating the occasional talent that they came across, grateful to be embraced in the warmth of the sun, after suffering winters of recession. But here? Maybe we had something exceptional, if Alexandru had it just so. And he was a man in whom I had an absolute trust.

So we buzzed the bell. To be honest, I’d never met him – one of Alexandru’s friends from his last school. All I knew was that he’d left Croatia. We’d all done that, fleeing the rotten stench of home. We missed it, of course, family, friends…but there comes a time when you just get fed up with being screwed and you need to be paid a living wage and not scavenge from streetside foodbanks. But as for Nikolai? Maybe different reasons entirely.

I was prepared to be impressed.

A tiny Filipino girl opened the door, quickly running her index finger down the side of her mouth and smiling. “Hello, sir,” she sang, her mouth full - of falsetto music.

I looked at Claudiu.

“It is not my doing. Probably she helps him.”

I was sure it couldn’t be to stand straight, due to the one bigger shoe, so I dismissed that sordid thought from my mind. As we entered through the iron gate – and I’d better explain that here in Kata, many, many villas sit flat roofed squat behind large metal and concrete walls, to be entered through a square steel door – there was little behind. No heaped sandstone piled mansion, no villa, not even gravel or clinker, just a bit of the desert and a largish, yellowing tent a few hundred yards away, the sort you might find in a Eurocamp site.

It looked a little rickety. A little askew. A little lopsided.

Well, because it’s difficult to get a strong purchase in the soft sands. Or maybe to befit the owner.

So, we were led towards the canvas. “Please remove your shoes,” our hostess sang, well before we arrived at the flaccid aperture. Alexandru shrugged and took his sandals off, so I followed suit and let me tell you, that sand was bloody hot, too. And one or two unpleasant looking insects were in attendance, so I was not altogether delighted.

The flap was lifted. Alexandru had to crouch beneath the metal poles of the entrance and we were ushered inside which was empty save for a white plastic table and three or four canvas camping chairs placed around it. The table was bare, not even glasses for water and I wondered where the promised birthday feast could possibly be.

“You are late. You missed starter.” The voice came from…somewhere. My eyes were still blinking away the sweat which cascaded from my forehead in salty rivers and made bringing things into focus difficult. I wiped myself with my wrist.

“Starter? What is this?” boomed Alexandru, still bent over, to avoid getting snagged in the canvas roof.

Boy was it hot in there. The yellowing materials of the tent provided little to shield the malicious stare of the just a little past midday sun overhead and a few flies droned miserably round and round in orbit above the centre of the table which, I now could see, had a PVC wooden look top which had been all the rage in late seventies caravans but now provoked only apathy and gloom.

One of the flies hit my face and I swotted at it irritably which only seemed to fill it with enthusiasm as it now strafed again and again. What is it with them, anyway? How do they always know where you are?

I still couldn’t see our host, but then noticed, at the back, another opening that appeared to conceal a linking canvas corridor – presumably to a tent extension. Possibly a dining tent or a kitchen tent. Who knew? Maybe we were in a surface complex of interlinked tents covering a huge subterranean abode, full of people preparing food for our pleasure.

I knew we weren’t though. This had all the omens of a disaster. Portents, you see. Portents? Oh well, have it your own way.

Anyway, our Filipino guide had shoved us towards the canvas chairs and we sat down opposite each other, Alexandru and myself, wobbling precariously and Alexandru doing his best to look reassuring, mouthing ‘il capo di tutti capi’ and tapping the side of his nose with a huge finger. I was impressed with his optimism.

Until the canvas supporting his backside ripped and he collapsed beneath the table.

“That cost plenty of riyals, Alexandru.” snapped the voice, the flap shoved aside and our host, Nikolai, approached the table, limping. A small man, wearing shades and somewhat surly in tone, he plonked himself down on one of the free chairs. Now, I could feel the canvas of my own chair starting to sag and one or two stitches were popping, it’s true. So, imperceptibly, I pushed down with my feet to ease buttock weight. It was uncomfortable to support myself in this position, hovering above canvas, and I wondered how long I could keep it up. “May I join Alexandru on the sand?” I asked.

“You not like my chairs?”

“No, no, it’s not that…”

“You show no respect.”

Alexandru’s voice was muffled, but apologetic. “My friend, my dear friend, I am so sorry. I will of course pay.” He must have pulled out his wallet and a few colourful bank notes were held aloft from beneath the table in supplication. Nikolai snatched, riffled and trousered; somewhat mollified, he clapped his hands as befitted a sheik and the entertainment began.

Unable to continue on tiptoe, I gave up, sank into the seat and the canvas ripped in two. I joined Alexandru on the floor, following suit in proffering riyals which were, as before, grabbed.

Two Filipino men danced and sang unenthusiastically to a CD player, dressed in satin veils, satin pants and waving wild gestured satin handkerchiefs mumbling ‘Tutti Frutti, All Rooti’ whilst the girl bashed her hands against a biscuit tin to keep time. My friend looked entranced all the while whilst I tried not to snigger.

Behind his shades, it was difficult to work out what Nikolai was feeling; his mouth remained fixed in a straight slash across his face. I nudged Alexandru, “she’s keeping good tin, at any rate.” But it was lost in translation, anyway, feeble as it was.

When the excruciating performance finally ended, Alexandru whooped in genuine joy – no, really - and wiped what might have been a tear from his eye. “My dear friend, I am truly touched that you should have remembered. To bring to life my culture in such a way. It is a heart breaking moment for me. Such pain.”

I sympathised entirely. Indeed, I wondered what a Little Richard karaoke routine had to do with Romania, anyway. But presumably it was some sort of tribute which I wasn’t privy to. Still with that assault on the senses, I was hungry, so I kicked at the sand beneath the table, feeling the urge to call an Uber, a camel, anything – but my friend stayed me with his wide palm. I thought at least I might have a cigarette but feared the flimsy tent might ignite in the heat.

Now the small one came over and whispered. “You like, sir? You want more? My husband ask what you need.”

“Husband?” I looked at Nikolai.

“My wife is serving you this afternoon,” he scowled, and I wondered what sort of husband gave his partner a biscuit tin to keep rhythm and tempo. She was such a slip of a thing, I felt sorry for her. She smiled, nevertheless.

“Well, I am hungry. Where’s the birthday feast for Alexandru?” I asked, in what I knew wasn’t quite cheerfulness – there was that awareness gap between what you were attempting to project and the actuality of what came out of your mouth. It was tangible and felt like lead.

I’d rather be anywhere but this place; even bed. Bed, ah, what a prospect that would be. But still, I was prone to narcolepsy, and so.

Nikolai glowered and clapped his hands yet again. Our three poor Filipino’s now scuttled away, presumably to get food, and I could only hope they were being right, royally paid.

Bums burning on the scorpion sand, whilst our host pulled himself nearer to the plastic table by shuffling his chair with his sandaled feet, we anticipated. Alexandru, sensing my discomfort, winked and tapped his nose whilst, now returned, newspapers were spread in front of us. Mine was the Daily Mail. I squinted to see what the lead story was, caught a glimpse of the word ‘immigrants’ and a picture of blonde Boris looking pretty vacant beside a starting pistol just before some mutton stew was slopped all over it.

Mrs Nikolai smiled prettily and opened a packet of ‘Lays’ tomato ketchup crisps, daintily sprinkling an almost generous portion on top of the luke warm meat concoction and knelt. She used the fingers of her right hand and scooped some stew towards my mouth.

Alexandru was less lucky. He had one of the men.

I dutifully opened my mouth and allowed some in. I’m not lying when I tell you that it tasted of Pedigree Chum.

You know what that’s like? Me neither, but the smell conjured round bowls, collars and muzzles, I promise you.

I spat it out immediately and looked to my left. Alexandru was chewing with all the appearance of someone immensely enjoying the experience, savouring, turning each piece of horsemeat around with his tongue. I was sure he was going to put his fingers to his lips and kiss them, such was his blissful expression.

It might have been whale, of course, given the bones.

Anyway, I was having no more. Not wishing to upset Alexandru – clearly having the time of his life – I discreetly pushed the majority of the dog food into the desert. Thought it best.

“Sir!” my lovely lady exclaimed, “you spoil your food.”

“I need to read the latest on Brexit,” I lied. But even as I picked up the paper, I could see some fishbones had obscured Boris, as though they’d penetrated his brain by way of the nose, and, at that point, I almost loved him, I really did.

No, of course I didn’t. That would be stupid.

Anyway, the meal was clearly over, because Nikolai, who’d had nothing, now leaned forward in his chair and, with a gesture, the newspapers were taken away. “All these times you do not call me Godfather,” he said.

“Sorry, Alexandru, I’m off,” I snapped. Because I may be many things, but I’m not sleeping with the dishes, in any case. No amount of hand shouldering would prevent my exodus; some explanation, for sure, but I know dog food when I taste it.

“Wait, my dear friend,” Alexandru smiled, in some sort of communion, well because it was his party, I suppose.

“You never once called me Godfather,” continued Nikolai.

Well, I stood up. “I have to tell you, Nikolai, that having been served dog food on newspapers…”

“Wait. Do you not eat your British fish and chips in newspapers?”

Well he had me there, I had to admit.

Nikolai leaned forwards. He probably would have pinned me with his gaze but for his shades. “You will stay. I only want to wet my beak.”

“What do you mean?”

Nikolai now spoke conspiratorially. “I know that you chop, you chop plenty?”

Alexandru smiled politely, “Of course, my dear friend. We, all of us chop most handsomely, here in Kata. I myself have amassed five hours of chopperage every week, more than enough. I take an Uber, go to chop, take the riyals. It is our benefit to be in this beautiful country and chop.”

The dog food beside me was smelling abominable and attracting more biting flies than ever, so I tried to cover it with sand, using Boris as a scoop. It was partially successful, too. Yet still the flies buzzed tirelessly in a sound cloud and I idly wondered what the chop they were going on about. It seemed to be one of those conversations composed of exclusive language – designed to exclude me. “Chop?” I asked, in the end.

Alexandru leant his face into my ear, dwarfing me, as he does. “Nikolai refers to our evening tutoring. It is his code to hide intentions from those who listen. Il capo.”

Ah, the worst kept secret in Kata – our evening activities, extracurricular and a little naughty – but visiting the palaces and drinking karak and nibbling pistachio fancies whilst we explained the finer points of language was a way of life. And the little extra came in handy.

Nikolai continued, however, unaware that I was now on the same page. “I only want to wet my beak,” he repeated. “Let’s say 25% and I will be happy to protect you.”

“Il capo, il capo,” murmured Alexandru, “you request something that I am not happy to give. We all enjoy our chop here. You chop more than most, I’ve heard that you chop plenty and make a good profit, spending little on life or your poor wife.”

Nikolai exploded. “You think it easy for me? You think it easy? Walking the streets with one leg shorter than my other leg? They see me and they bar my entrance, Alexandru. And look at my overheads, my friend: two chairs to replace, servants to house and this meal you have enjoyed does not come cheap. No, my friend, I will make you an offer you cannot refuse…” he looked at me and whipped off his shades, “you too, my good friend. I only want to wet my beak.”

Well, I was outraged. Was this bribery? Who did he know that he could split on me? I leapt to my feet, but almost immediately, the two satin clad men closed cover. Nikolai scowled. “You want I set my dogs on you?”

Well that explained the food. “No, I want dessert,” I blustered, “all that tutti frutti, you see?”

Alexandru rose to his feet as well and I swear his head ripped straight through the canvas ceiling and popped out into the sun as though he was wearing a fading yellowed dress. “Claudius, Claudius.” he hissed, a little muffled, “There will be no dessert today. It would not be just.” And with as much dignity as he could muster he left, in a trail of guy ropes and yellow tent.

“That tent cost 90 riyals,” screamed Nikolai, “you’ll be hearing from me, never think you will not.”

But we never did hear from Nikolai again, though. He just disappeared. Left in a most enigmatic fashion, no messages, contacts, explanations…nothing. Some whispered about the wife; she’d had enough, but after a week or two I looked in Alexandru’s office at school and saw that he had two new book-ends upon his shelf. Shoes – one slightly bigger than the other.

You see, now when I sleep, I dream of chopping, fishes swimming in newspapers and see a seven foot il capo di capi looming over me humming tooti frutti quietly to himself.