Fear and Loving in Heaton Park - Home is the Hero

In a city where takeaways are the front line in a turf war, our epicurean chronicler is forced to seek sustenance in an unforgivable place.

Recently I became a pescetarian, mainly for health reasons, but also because I don’t eat my friends. Not that I hate fish, we just favour different elements. I have tried to form meaningful relationships during the exceedingly brief periods I’m able to remain submerged, but it’s proved impossible. Especially as, by the time I’ve taken another breath, they’ve swum off. (I blame their 3-second memories; my mum their astute judge of character.)

Regrettably, cod wasn’t an option. A few years ago, not only had Mancunian psychos shot at some teenagers outside a chippie as they’d driven by, but the intended targets had returned fire. They didn’t hit anyone, but their fingers were greasy. Bruce Willis or Jason Statham would have trouble dispatching terrorists after a fish supper.

Unless appearances were extremely deceptive, it seemed unlikely this happened in Didsbury. However, I didn’t want this to be my last supper. Best to head back and make do with a surreptitious sandwich. Then I saw it. The Al-Shabab’s Gourmet Kebabe Shoppe.

My local Greek restaurant, Korku Korku, proudly displays a sign proclaiming it ‘the best kebab shop in the world’. Given its food hygiene rating of one I had harboured doubts, now this suspicion had been vindicated. Here you had decisions. Delicious decisions. Which succulent meat, perfectly spiced and marinated, did you crave? Should it be barbequed or fried? Would sir prefer lightly-salted focaccia or unleavened Turkish bread? Not ‘do you want moustache or chest hair?’ Not only did it have an acceptable wine list, but also a sommelier.

Here there was no skewered colossal amalgam of frightening fistula and perturbing protrusions, combined with identifiable pets, organs and glands. They not only knew the provenance of all their carcases, they knew its name. (It’s a pity they didn’t serve horseflesh, as there would have been a ready supply when all the Henrietta’s left for their gap years.)

Resistance was useless. Defeat ineluctable. Would Linda McCartney forgive me? Unlikely, I’d never forgiven her for Mull of Kintyre. Looking around furtively, I dismounted, hitched my high horse and entered.

‘Hello sir, my name is Kurtz, what do you desire this fine evening?’

Waiting for sustenance I ruminated on the day’s events. Exceptionally enjoyable, atmosphere you could bottle and sell, and, anxiety aside, even the journey had been painless. More Summer Holiday than Heart of Darkness. Thankfully I found something worry about. Like its chip shops, riding an omnibus in Manchester presents a unique hazard: namely Morrissey crashing into them due to no longer being welcome at home. Each time we slipped beneath a darkened underpass I held my breath, fearful that my time had come at last.

Admittedly, if he did plough into us, he’d come off worse, a lot worse. A situation I could profit from. If Mr M survived, I could proffer my assistance in return for an autograph; if he didn’t, I could snaffle any memorabilia, as well as his watch, wallet and jewellery… purely for sentimental value you understand.

My half-century is approaching rapidly, yet there are few achievements I’m proud of. Climbing the Old Man of Hoy, a break of nine in snooker, meeting Michael Gove and not giving him six of the best from my revolver, but getting back to Didsbury before twelve is the zenith.

And where was my competitor JC? The fate I had fretted fearfully about all day was surely his current reality. Companionless, exhausted, lost, condemned to endure an eternity of fear and loathing. Unable to board a bus or flag a taxi, he would be forced to walk. Mile after agonising mile, preyed on by muggers, relentlessly pursued by the deranged, until finally, battered and bruised, his spirit shattered, in the wet drizzle of another grey Manchester dawn, he’d collapse at our host John’s front door.

Myself, with head-held aloft, proud, would stride there, sinking blissfully into the exquisite oblivion of memory foam, goose down and Egyptian cotton. He would be exiled to the airbed, tortured by dreams of punctured prophylactics, descending hot air balloons and collapsing soufflés.

JC had been vanquished. Crushed. Utterly defeated. The streets should have been thronged. Bulls sacrificed, roasted and devoured. Vast flagons of wine imbibed. Epic poems composed and sung in my honour. Where were the scantily clad girls dancing provocatively before being deflowered? Instead, I stood alone, bereft, without even one vestal virgin to make my own. It was exceedingly disappointing. A double bed, not matter how comfy, was a meagre reward. It was unacceptable. The people of Didsbury would pay for their insolence, or JC would.

Rather than replace the key in its agreed hiding place, it would be secreted elsewhere. Forcing him, Odysseus like, to choose between Scylla and Charybdis: wake our host and face his wrath and summary eviction, or scale the drainpipe in a possibly fatal attempt to gain our garret. Just the thought of his plaintive cries, begging me to unlock the door or let down my luxuriant locks filled me joy…

‘Order for Mr Marlow,’ rang out, shattering my reverie.

‘Present,’ I drooled.

My return was far less triumphant that deserved, but as I unwrapped my forbidden fruit such disenchantment was immediately forgotten. My senses greedily devoured the sumptuous feast before me. A dish worthy of Olympus, it was to flame-grill flesh like this that Prometheus had stolen fire from Vulcan. And this banquet would be served with Schadenfreude, a sauce far more exquisite than ambrosia.

Perhaps, as Kilgore claimed, the smell of napalm in the morning is the smell of victory. I couldn’t say, but I know what the taste of victory is. It is the taste of kebab.

Next month: Philpot phantasmagoria


With thanks to Dominic Salmon and Dangerous Dave Nicholson