The Gift Trilogy

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Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Paprika then

Adrian Jones must have been short of money. Despite my small flat, my even smaller kitchen and the small tornados of dust that followed your every step, he invited his girlfriend there for a meal. He’d told her I was a master chef, and I was easily flattered.

It had to be Sole Veronique, a delicate dish of cream, white wine and grapes, easy to do and going well with the carpet. I should have scented disaster. It loomed about me but I was oblivious. A parsley garnish. No parsley. No problem. I’d sprinkle a dash of cayenne for colour. No Cayenne. No problem. Paprika then. A very tiny amount, the merest breath.

I heard Adrian and his latest conquest chattering quietly in the room next door; took a glug of wine and raised the paprika. The lid dropped gracefully into the dish followed by a torrent of red.

A chef never panics, but a clever chef knows when to admit defeat and opt for a takeaway. Instead I stared at the paprika, less a garnish than a malevolent red dune, and grimly stirred it in. Paprika Sole it was then.

We ate in silence, a dusky pink mess, the fish tasting like stewed peat. It was an abomination, a sin against the Hungarian nation and an entire species of fish. Adrian and his girlfriend didn’t look to happy either, but the broccoli was nice.

Adrian remained in Newport for some time in his capacity as a union official. Perhaps his greatest moment came during an ambulance strike. A television reporter accosted him and thrust a microphone into his face. The tone was aggressive, the question provocative. “Don’t you think it’s a thorough disgrace that people may be dying, that desperate people are not reaching hospital in time?”
Adrian stared into the camera and nodded gravely. “Yes,” he said. “And if I was the Regional Health Authority I would be thoroughly ashamed of myself.”

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