I have a very middle-class friend called Mr. Meyer Spoonbridge who wants to make a habit of visiting working-class establishments. I managed to yoink this from his holdall:
Diary Entry, 14th July 2010
I am still trying to put myself together after a shocking episode at lunchtime today. My colleague Jude Quinn – who is in all truth probably the most working class person I associate with – took me on a field trip of sorts to a place that sits right at the crest of his memory lane. To all those not sharing in his nostalgia, it is known simply as The Pie Shop, and it can be found in the least salubrious quarters of Bexleyheath, to the west, where you are greeted by the grind of restless traffic, the endless rattle of a hundred prams being pushed by 15-year-old mothers serving cigarettes to their babes, and Pizza Hut.
We planned our approach from the relatively safe car park of Asda’s (which is reasonably priced). At first we had to march warily down an alley lined with what must have been nearly a thousand shopping trolleys that were waiting for eager shoppers that – we must think – would never come. My hopeful colleague winced as he told me, “this is the land that time forgot”, and he assured me that all would be well once we were where the pies were. Through the acrid smog, I saw a glint in his eye. For him this was not just a reunion with culinary pursuits of the past, but with good friends nearly forgotten, who belonged to a freer and easier time. We marched on.
There were four things which struck me instantaneously and simultaneously on arrival at The Pie Shop at the nether region of Bexleyheath’s Broadway. One: the high wooden seats of the booths, too wooden to be modern, too high to be homely. Two: the tiling covering the entirety of the room, engendering an atmosphere reminiscent of WCs from the 1990s. Three: the full-on smell of a blend of vapours from sweat and some liquid I would later be told was “green liquor” – vapours which must surely have been trying to escape the room, but to no avail. Four: the pitiless gazes from the patrons of the place, examining and judging our social status and looking in disgust at the formal lanyard looped around my neck.
“Pie and mash, with green liquor on the side,” I requested, as Jude had instructed me, and I stood and kept my face from displaying my emotions as I saw a pie and two lumpy spheres of mash shoved gracelessly onto a plate. We sat down to consume this straightforward fare and my colleague told me “how to do it” – green liquor sloshed all over, with lashings of vinegar on top. He proudly referred to cigarettes, newspapers, and college friends, which in reality were not there, but I did not fancy to correct him on these convictions he held to so fondly.
It took approximately five minutes for me to empty my plate. I approached the food tentatively, as you do a stranger, and by the end I felt as if we still had not quite met properly. Eager to immerse myself more in the ways of this world, I returned to the counter to order a spotted dick with custard. Now, I had to restrain my natural reactions once more as the helpful lady put together my dessert in plain sight. First she took a large Tupperware container from out the fridge, whispering to another woman wearing a bib, “it’s been a long time since we got this out, isn’t it?” which hardly instilled confidence in me. She then attended to the custard, mixing together water and powder and allowing the microwave to do the rest. When I told my colleague about the transparency of this recipe he shrugged and said, “well it’s good to see what you’re getting”.
We soon left and evacuated the area. And just as we were getting into the car my good colleague turned to me and said, “Next week – next week we do the cafe.”