The search for the spirit of Christmas. Eating ‘n’ drinking: Ben Myers
“URRGHH! No!! I can’t touch that! It’s got pubic hair!”
What, a pigeon? With pubes?
“Look, just trust me on this one OK?” Nic, one quarter of All Saints, looks me straight in the eye and in all seriousness says: “You do not want to see the underside of this pigeon.”
And it all seemed so simple: invite some of our favourite chums around to swap culinary tips, maybe have a glass or two of fine wine, celebrate Christmas with those we have jigged, ligged and rocked along with in the fine year that was 1997.
In other words, do bugger all work and then write about it. Like I said, it seemed simple.
THE FOUR sharp-tongued felines that are All Saints are the perfect band for such a foray. They’re young, glamorous, adventurous, up for anything and have probably had a disaster or two in the kitchen. “What do I do with this thing?” says a wide-eyed Mel holding up a large, crooked parsnip. “How am I supposed to cook it?” Erm, girls, do you do much cooking normally? “No.” Thought so. “We don’t know how,” they all smile innocently. Hmmm…
“We all eat meat,” says Nic’s sister, Nat, tucking into some slices of smoked ham before we begin. “But I don’t eat red meat.”
And what then, pray tell, is that that you are shovelling into your cake-hole as we speak? “Oh… well I don’t eat steak.”
By some stroke of good fortune Nic, Nat, Mel and Shaznay have turned up with three bags full of some of the finest delicacies around, so one quick Christmas dish turns into a whole bloody meal. With every hair in place the girls are ready to go and, like all great artists, they can only work in a flurry of activity, a whirlwind of creative chaos. Or incompetence. It’s hard to tell the difference.
“I love Christmas dinner,” says Nat. “The thing about Christmas is that there’s always loads of good programmes on, so I never go anywhere near the kitchen,” she laughs. With Shaznay attacking the sprouts and Mel just fritting about looking cool and sultry, it’s up to Nic to reluctantly take charge of the pigeon (which for practical reasons we are pretending is a turkey).
“I can’t touch this thing!” she says, wincing. “I get all the worst jobs. Oh f*** it…” The poor pigeon is hurled viciously into a baking tray where it lands with a dead thud. A large argument then follows over who should wash the bird and whether it really does have pubic hair (it does, but not as we know it). “This is going to be Pigeon a la Melanie,” says Mel, grabbing a handful of ingredients. “There’s honey, mustard, cooking oil and salt and pepper… it’s my own special marinade recipe.
“I must say, those roast potatoes look mighty fine. Who did them? “Oh, a chap called Mark and a chap called Spencer,” says Shaznay coyly. “We’ve had to cheat a little.”
How do you plan to spend Christmas? “Well, we’ve got about 10 days off so we’ll probably eat for five days and then work-out for the other five.” Same here. Hmmph.
“Hey! Look at this!” shrieks Mel as she slowly moves a wooden spoon in and out of the oily pigeon while licking her lips. Let me sit down for a minute. Pour me one of those brandies will you.
AFTER EVERYTHING is on the boil, in the oven and a little improvised a cappella singing has taken place, it’s time to concentrate on making the eggnog, the only alcoholic beverage which sounds like a character from Tolkien. “Are you recording this? Oh my God,” says Nic leaning into the tape recorder. “Mel’s a c***!” she yells inexplicably. Cheers. On with the eggnog, please. Mixing the brandy, sugar and cream is easy, but the whipping of the egg-whites proves to be quite tricky. Everyone has a go, with Maker photographer Matt taking charge of the whisk. “Well, it’s getting stiff but I bet your arm is getting tired,” quips Nat. “It’s all in the wrist action although I’m not really experienced in that field.” With the egg-white stiff as a board the drink is ready.
“Nic! I’m making eggnog!” says Nat, getting genuinely excited, bless her. The meal is served amid a pile of filthy, burnt out pans and even filthier burnt out journalists.
So, girls, what do you think of the meal? A success?
“This pigeon looks like a spider!” yells one.
“No it doesn’t! It looks like that thing in Predator!” yells another.
Bon appetit ladies, and Merry Christmas.
THE ALL SAINTS CHRISTMAS DINNER
• Pigeon (Class A, no giblets)
• Fresh broccoli and cauliflower (for regular bowel movements)
• Ready-made stuffing
• Ready-made roast potatoes (to cheat with)
• Carrots (already chopped)
• Turkey joint
• Green beans
• Nut loaf
• Gravy granules
• Sprouts (to push around on your plate)
• Spicy bean burgers (for no particular reason)
• Smoked ham (ditto)
3 COLOURS RED
“AH, I DUNNO aboot this… cakes are boring and I’ve never decorated one before.” Chris McCormack, guitarist with 3 Colours Red looks genuinely worried as he stands contemplating the spatula in his hand. You see, 3 Colours Red like a drink or two and therefore try to avoid food at all costs, after all, it just soaks up the booze. Good job they’re going to make some mulled wine then. “Mulled wine?” grins singer Pete Vuckovic. “Nah, I’m going to make mullet wine out of respect for the great rock haircut. Look, I’ve brought my own herbs too!” he says, pulling out a small packet of special “parsley”.
“Can we crack open this beer then?” says guitarist Ben Harding.
Oh Lord, here we go again…
LIKE ALL Saints, 3 Colours Red are up for anything, especially if it involves chaos and, bless ’em, they could do with some proper food in their stomachs, so we’ll go and get a kebab later. In the meantime there’s brandy snaps, mulled wine and cake-decorating to be getting on with.
“Chris, you haven’t washed your hands yet,” says Pete, acting motherly as he rolls his pre-cook spliff.
“I don’t even wash me hands after I’ve been for a shit… and I bite me finger nails!” retorts the spiky-haired one as he gets stuck into mixing his icing.
So, chaps, how do you plan to spend Christmas this year?
Chris: “I’m going to the Caribbean for 10 days with Alan (McGee).”
Ben: “I’m spending the day with my extended family. There’s going to be about 23 of us, then I’m straight off to Cornwall for New Year’s Eve.”
Pete: “I’m going to Lapland for the day. I don’t believe in Santa but I’m going for the crack.”
Well, I was going to ask whether it’s going to be different this year now that you’re famous but I don’t suppose South Shields is quite as appealing, eh Chris?
“Aye that’s reet. This is f***ing great!” exclaims Chris excitedly. “Have you ever seen two eggs being beated as well as this?”
Beated? “Er… aye, beaten. That’s what I meant. I’m going to do this more often!”
WITH RENOWNED culinary whizz drummer Keith Baxter (whose resemblance to Keith Floyd extends beyond sharing the same name) away for the day, it’s up to the other three to battle it out to prove who’s the best.
“I can only work after a glass or two of red,” declares Ben inhaling the vapours of a fine claret and slipping into Southern Spiv mode with ease. “I’m actually a very keen chef,” he elaborates, looking down his nose with disdain at Pete’s soup-like wine and Chris as he becomes increasingly smeared in every possible food-type.
With Pete’s herbal “mullet wine” on the boil and Ben’s brandy snaps disintegrating nicely, it’s time to decorate the cake. “Reet, what colours do I want? I’ll have a bit of this… nah, actually. I’ll use it all,” says Chris pouring in a bottle full of mustard-coloured food dye. “It looks great! Totally punk rock! What can I write? ‘Bollocks’ is a bit obvious isn’t it? I know!”
With a nervous hand and total concentration he slowly ices the cake. “H… u… m… b… u… g. Humbug! I think I’ll draw some breasts an’ all. Voila!” And it was going so well.
“Er, does anybody know what a quarter of an ounce looks like?” ponders Pete.
“Let’s be methodical about this,” says Ben. “What does a quarter of an ounce of cocaine look like? Where’s that recipe book?”
HALF AN hour, and a crate of beer, a bottle of wine and half a bottle of brandy, later, the 3CR boys are finished. Chris is happy as Larry with the result of his cake, Pete (with blood-shot eyes) keeps sleepily adding ingredients to his mulled wine while Ben struggles admirably with his brandy snaps.
“I think mine has turned out best. I’ve put pride into my work,” declares Chris “So have I,” adds Ben defensively. “I’m making this up as I go along,” chuckles Pete, not really caring as he pours us each a glass of rocket-fuel mullet wine, the new rock star’s choice for ’98, undoubtedly.
“Cheers!” we all bellow as we sway unsteadily “Reet, who’s coming to the pub?” mumbles the Geordie.
Happ… er. Merry Chrishmuz, everyone, I mean… ah, f*** it.
THE 3 COLOURS RED CHRISTMAS
1 1/2 pints of claret (or 6 if you play rock music)
1/4 02 “bruised cinnamon” (or normal cinnamon that has been punched a few times)
6 cloves Nutmeg
Home-grown “herbs” (optional)
1 tsp of ginger
1 bottle of brandy
CHRISTMAS CAKE ICING
1 lb icing sugar
2 egg-whites Flour
Food colouring (excessive amounts of)
“I HATE CHRISTMAS! It’s rubbish, innit? It just gets in the way of the rest of the year,” spits lead motormouth Brother John Robb, his Goldblade brethren nodding in silent agreement. This, of course, begs the question: “So why do you always look like you’re dressed as Christmas trees?” Tee-hee. I hold my tongue though. There’s more of Goldblade than me.
“Right, we’re going to make sushi rolls because they’re about as un-Christmas as you can possibly get. They never even used to have Christmas in Japan you know,” barks John.
True to form, Goldblade like to do things differently. With their souls burning bright for 12 months a year it seems their eternal flame is reduced to a flicker for a week. “Everything grinds to a halt, dunnit? The TV gets worse an’ all,” moans guitarist Brother Jay spiking his hair in the reflection of a mixing bowl. Well, we’ve had the turkey, the cake and the wine so now it’s time for the vegetarian-soul-brother-strictly-hardcore Christmas. “First we’ve got to boil up the rice, it’s got to be sticky,” says John, taking charge, while the brothers pull crackers and take the piss out of bass player Keith Curtis. Do The Blade have any favourite Christmas day culture?
Brother Jay: “Slade, of course, and It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Brother Rob: “Bad Lieutenant for its seasonal message.”
Brother John: “Anything with sex, drugs and violence. They capture the theme perfectly.”
Brother Wayne: “We want to get a Goldblade seasonal grotto going where the children come in and we just yell slogans at them, tease their hair up into huge quiffs, give them a pair of brothel creepers and send them on their way!”
WITH FAR less fuss or carnage than our previous chefs, the rice is dispatched on the seaweed where it is then rolled skilfully with a selection of dubious “soul food” fillings using a small bamboo mat.
“Are we going to be eating this at Christmas? Of course,” says John. “Christmas is no different for us. It’s bawrin’, innit?” The boys busy themselves rolling their sushi rolls with John bowing graciously before his meal. They somehow convince me that sushi is not fish but, in fact, small tubes of rice.
“So what are you getting for Christmas then?” they all enquire.
Oh, you know. Kerplunk, some orange peel and a piece of cardboard.
“Cos if you let us know now we might be able to sort you out,” says John. “You can have anything as long as it’s shoes. Cos that’s all we can get free.”
Cheers. With the small snacks rolled, we each sample some, the Goldblade boys tucking in while I make half-hearted “Mmmm…” noises. For the first time in 12 months they’re silent.
Any last words, brothers?
“Yeah, I hate Christmas. It’s…”
Boring? Bah humbug to you too.
THE GOLDBLADE CHRISTMAS
Rice (“just lob it in”)
Seaweed sheets (£12.50 for 50, plus £1,200 to fly to Japan)
1 avocado (firm)
“Musty old plum paste that no one likes” (optional)
Fermented soya beans (John: “They’re nice if you like eating your own shit”)
© Ben Myers, Melody Maker, 20 December 1997