BOOK 1

The stories below are the unedited manuscripts that were the basis for Alan's autobiographical novel 'Guinea Pig in White Wine Sauce'. 

Tale 1. Dead Animals.

Jack was always a different boy.

I do admit the boy may contain a little of my own DNA, however I have taken sound and very expensive legal advice and remain to this day absolutely sure I cannot ever be held responsible for him in any way other than as his probable sire. I was taken advantage of by his mother in a weak moment. Unfortunately the seed fell on stony ground and he turned out just like his father. 


It was of course his mother’s fault. 

He definitely came from her side of the family, most of who were more or less direct descendants of convicts or medical practitioners. I mean, who in their right mind would wear gold nipple rings, gold nose rings and gold eyebrow rings with a silver tongue stud, other than one of her relatives. And he has a full size tattoo of a tiger romping all over his back and he takes great pleasure in showing all manner of people where the tail is. Some swoon, some shriek and some of our more gentle folk take considerable interest in his epidermal artwork and ask for a private viewing at a time and place more convenient to both parties.

 

And he is a vegetarian too.

He took that pledge on his thirteenth birthday and since that day has eaten nothing more toxic than an egg. Laid of course by a brown free-range hen which has been fed only organic wheat all its life and has been serviced at least once a week by a rooster kept specifically for the purpose of procreation. The idea for this last stipulation was of course suggested to him by his mother during one of her ‘moods’. And he inherited her moods too. Both he and she are what I lovingly call ‘temperamental’.

 Eighty per cent temper and twenty per cent mental.

 Honestly, if I hadn’t been terribly short staffed that day, I never would have employed him because the boy was exactly like I used to be thirty years earlier and I too was only ever employed by people who didn’t know me very well. 

Or my father.



He arrived for duty a little early.

In fact three and a half hours early, because he refused to accept a lift with moi, his nominal biological father, preferring instead to use public transport to the edge of the suburbs and walk the rest of the way to the restaurant in the warm morning sun so he might arrive glistening with moisture, looking to all intents and purposes like one of Mother Nature’s fresh little flowers with a generous coating of morning dew. Unkind persons might have called his appearance hot and sweaty.

There was only one bus to the edge of suburbia and it fortunately left town at about the time Jack was returning home from partying all night, so that particular Sunday morning, there was no need for his mother to drive over to his house as she usually did and wake him up and make him breakfast so he wouldn’t be late for workies. 

She drove over anyway because her twenty per cent part usually took over whenever it came to the children. It was a phenomenon I found common amongst all my ex wives.


It was Autumn, the second Sunday in May and the road was busy with traffic hurrying to Mother’s house for the joyous annual Mother’s Day lunch that everyone so looks forward to. (I understand the Bureau of Statistics shows there to be almost as many murders committed on Mother’s Day as on Christmas Day and it gives a whole new meaning to what we lovingly call a ‘Relly Bash.’). Jack waved to them all as he sauntered the final five or six kilometres through the hills to his place of casual employment, his freshly laundered white shirt (so recently ironed by his mother) tied in a neat bow about his waist in order that both he and the tiger might benefit from a little vitamin D during the course of the stroll.

And perhaps scare a few young children along the way in the process.


On his arrival I remembered to thank him for his punctuality and also made quite a point of thanking him for the fine selection of music he had thoughtfully brought with him in case we didn’t have enough ourselves. There were two new CD’s by his favourite artists, ‘Annihilation’ and  ‘Smash the Police.’ I said I could see his mother’s influence in his taste and politely lied that given an opportunity, I would ask one of my other staff members to add his CD’s to our current selection.

If they wished to suffer instant dismissal.

I also tactfully suggested he deposit a few handfuls of the gel he had brought for his impressively spiked hairdo, under his armpits as well. It smelled like deodorant and I hoped it might do the trick. Jack had had a very long walk and although not musically inclined, he was already starting to hum a little. The day was starting to warm up and we had a fire going in the dining room too. It was my wish that the patrons notice only the bees humming around the flowers outside.

 He shot me a winning smile and complied as immediately as a twenty one year old son ordinarily does and with just a few minutes to spare before opening time, the deodorant gel was in place doing a fine job, although his armpits now made funny farty noises whenever he lifted plates or glasses as he set the tables.

Perhaps he was from my side of the family after all.



I made a special point of asking Jack to be ‘personable’ with the customers. Not personable as in ‘with your siblings,’ (for in the past this had often involved third party interventions of a quasi legal nature), but a more ‘sociable’ sort of ‘personable’.

 “Converse with the clients” I said. “Tell them your name. Tell them you will be personally attending to them this afternoon and if they need anything at all, just ask and you will assist wherever possible. Perhaps even chat a little.”

The lad beamed. 

If there was one thing he was good at, he replied, it was socializing. He said “Chain yourself to your workbench with equanimity old man; you can rest easy. I am now in my element.” 

I wondered where on earth he had learned the word ‘equanimity’?

Certainly not from his mother. 


As a safeguard, I asked the voluptuous young Amanda to signify the differences between the articles of cutlery to the young man before turning him loose on the customers and then made the mandatory telephone call to his mother to reassure her that her little baby had in fact appeared for work and had not been taken away in a spaceship by alien beings for scientific experimentation. I added that I was sorry it had apparently happened to her. And her mother.

She hung up.

That was the eighty per cent part of her nature going into overdrive.


FACT. Women eat chicken and men eat steak in restaurants. Occasionally, a person of indeterminate sexuality will order something different.


Ergo, chicken and steak feature strongly on a menu which has a choice of only two main courses on Mother’s Day. As an addendum, in very fine print at the bottom of the menu, are written the words…. “Ask your waiter if a vegetarian option is required”.

This piece of information is of course by intention every bit as readable as a telephone book at fifty paces or a clause in a hire purchase agreement. It is however occasionally noticed by Flower Children and the Mardi-Gras set with better than 20:20 vision. 

So, as well as the usual thirty mother-bear and thirty father-bear high protein type dishes I had prepared for Mother’s Day, I had also lovingly prepared two beautiful French crêpes stuffed with Avocado and Camembert. Just in case Goldilocks and her current girlfriend with phenomenal eyesight came for lunch as well. 

One must always be prepared for every eventuality, mustn’t one?


My first order came through to the kitchen from the dining room…………

 “Four chooks and four pieces of meat”. 

Amanda had quite a way with words and I prayed she didn’t take the same liberties on the itemized account which was presented in a black leather folder to the customer after lunch.

The second order arrived at the same time as the third and fourth orders, all from Amanda’s tables. Collectively they were……….. 

“Twelve chooks, fourteen pieces of meat and one weirdo.”

I really had to have a word with that girl and made a mental note to try and get her on her own late one evening and try to give it to her. 

Jack’s orders were still to arrive and I asked the voluptuous young Amanda to enquire as to his wellbeing and if necessary, to poke him anally with a sharp object to wake him up. She must have used a needle for almost immediately, his sunny face appeared at the kitchen door and he thrust the orders for his four tables into my hand.


The boy had obviously been absent for a while taking drugs in the toilet, for in my hand I held orders for one murdered chicken, two unhealthy steaks and thirteen exquisite Avocado and Camembert crêpes. It wasn’t the adjectives on the orders causing me concern, it was the numbers of each item. I began to feel a little queasy, akin to visiting the doctor’s to discuss dandruff and finding out it was time for the digital examination of my prostate. 

I called the boy over and quietly asked whether or nor he wished to see his twenty second birthday? A reply in the affirmative suggested he indeed did. I then beseeched him not to play little jokes on his tortured father but to instead hand me the real orders.

I said no matter what explicit instructions he had received from my ex wife to enliven my afternoon, Mother’s Day lunch at Chez Alain was neither the time nor the place for childish pranks. April the first had long since passed. It was now May.

He looked at me with the crushed expression that only a son can give and I witnessed the beginnings of a tear in his left eye, the one that his brother Tom always used to poke him in when he was being irritating.

“They are the real orders,” he replied. “The customers just felt like a change today.”


I too felt like a change.

Of underwear.


I had a total of one weirdo left in the fridge and was now in somewhat of a predicament. Thirteen weirdos were required. I thought of asking Jack to perform a naked dance in the main dining room to entertain the guests for a while whilst I panicked in the kitchen, but thought better of the idea in case he actually did it. I then thought of asking the voluptuous young Amanda to do the same, but thought better of that idea too in case I left the kitchen to watch instead of attending to the problem at hand.

There was nothing else I could do but shut down the kitchen for twenty minutes whilst I made the quickest batch of crêpes I had ever made in my life. In the meanwhile, I asked my darling son if he would be so kind as to tell the guests that there would be a short delay and to socialize and chat a little.

“No problemos, ancient one” came the reply and he disappeared into the void to do what he does best. Socialize and chat.

Just like his mother.


Meanwhile, I socialized in the kitchen with my crêpe pan and a couple of litres of hastily prepared crêpe mixture. I also began to socialize a little with the bottle of Napoleon brandy I kept on the shelf above my workbench especially for moments like these. On previous occasions I have found it helps ease the pain and erase the memories later.

Fifteen minutes later, my bench was covered with a dozen and a half freshly made crêpes and all I had to do was fill them with alternate layers of sliced ripe avocado and equally ripe, soft camembert cheese. Easy peasy. The only problem being that I had to do it all myself. Kitchen staff had noticed my assault on the Napoleon and had vacated their posts to see if they could assist the other staff in the dining rooms. Or the carpark. They had seen this sort of thing before and had learned from the experience. So, instead of my apprentice or kitchenhand being anointed with sloppy green avocado goo and sticky yellow cheese, I was the lucky person to receive the rapid colour change, along with my knives, apron and shoes. Not to mention the neck of the brandy bottle. 

As the last filled crêpe was put into the oven to warm, staff reappeared as if by magic and we all became one happy family once again, although daddy was perhaps a little happier than he should have been, owing the influence of his ami, Monsieur Bonaparte. Jack too was in an extremely happy frame of mind and began to whistle whilst he worked, although I managed to rectify this with a love pat to his rectal area with an avocado coloured shoe as he passed through the kitchen.


It was toward the end of the afternoon that I sensed something was not quite right, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Not that I would have wanted to actually put my sticky green finger on it anyway, merely it is a figure of speech to denote my state of whimsy, befuddled as it was by ten or eleven stiff brandies. Slowly it dawned on me what it was that was jarring in my mind. My clients were currently being serenaded to the sweet refrain of Jack’s favourite group, ‘Smash the Police’ and I caught the words “Kill the bloodsuckers and burn their houses down” as I raced for the CD player behind the bar to spare my patrons any more extreme pleasure. Fortunately the album had only one more song of its twelve song repertoire to go and I quickly exchanged it for what I thought was more appropriate hypnotic Mother’s Day music. This was not to be, for my son was one step ahead of his biological co-creator and had cunningly swapped my ‘Elevator music symphonies’ for his ‘Annihilation’. I thought it was fittingly titled and so did the rest of the kitchen staff who were now also taking alternate swigs from the tacky, green-coloured bottle of relaxer-juice to prepare themselves for forthcoming events.

They could sense I was looking forward to a deep and meaningful father/son conversation with my seventh born as soon as the last patron left, and they wanted to be in a happy frame of mind at that juncture.

My apprentice wisely called to the bar for delivery of a second bottle of mood enhancer.


Dessert orders arrived a little later, and after several initially unsuccessful attempts to coordinate their limbs, my happy kitchen staff finally succeeded in assembling what could pass as an edible Picasso on a plate for each of my patrons who I sincerely hoped were in a similar state of peace, love, happiness and intoxication.


Finally the afternoon drew to a close and table by table, my customers approached the bar to pay their accounts and discuss business. As always, the gentlemen from those tables serviced by the voluptuous young Amanda said they had had a wonderful time and looked forward to coming again in the near future, perhaps for a business lunch accompanied by their male colleagues. They said she had done a very good job.

The mothers and wives also personally expressed their appreciation to Amanda in a different, more feminine way, and said she had had a very good job done.


Eventually Jack’s tables began to make their way to the bar and I assumed the stance and smile I reserve especially for the tax man, although I did notice that the room swayed a little if I didn’t hold on to the bar tightly with my free hand. I guessed that in ten minutes or three more brandies it would all be over anyway. Or I would fall over. Either way it didn’t really matter any more, I couldn’t feel anything above the waist. Nothing they could say could hurt me now.


But they LOVED him.

They said how fortunate I was to have such an entertaining son who was so aware of world events and changing social values. And tattoos were quite fashionable nowadays too. And Jack’s was especially artistic, wasn’t it?

They said it was refreshing to be confronted with their own shallowness and in the future would think twice before mindlessly ordering dead animals to eat at lunchtime. And the three patrons from his tables who had dared to order steak and chicken asked me to convey my apologies to Jack, it wasn’t his fault they didn’t like avocado, they just didn’t like the texture in their mouths. It reminded them of the semolina or custard they were forced to eat at boarding school. They promised to give the crêpe a try next time they visited.

Several also congratulated me on my choice of music later in the afternoon. They said Jack apparently knew most of the words and sang along as he waited on their tables, although his silver tongue stud did affect his pronunciation of some of the four letter words. They also added that Jack had kindly invited them all back to his place for a party that evening. To socialize and chat. If they weren’t too busy doing other things. 

I smiled weakly and took their money, noting that Jack’s patrons had collectively left an amazing total of seventy five dollars in tips, which I was told was specifically for the Gay and Lesbian rights legal fund. Just as Jack had requested. 

I assured them the money would be appropriately disbursed by certified bank cheque to the G & L trust account the following day and thanked them for coming.


As the last group filed out of the restaurant, the telephone rang.

It was she who used to be obeyed, wanting to know if her baby Jacky Jacky was still alright after his traumatic ordeal working for me that afternoon.

I said “Currently,” and hung up.

I had a tiger to hunt down and kill.



And so ended another day at Chez Alain, and later that evening, as I lay on my tiger skin rug in front of the open fire, I reflected on how this idyllic lifestyle had all come about.

It started in France……………………….

Tale 2. The Snail Trail Part 1. Aûmes.

   We were camped just outside Aûmes, the quintessential sleepy little village nestled cosily in the French countryside. Two young Australians and a large Blue Jellyfish. Our campervan was so named because of its ability to wobble of its own volition all over the road, even at slow speeds in benign conditions. It was also painted bright blue, except where altercations with foreign objects had dappled the duco with other more interesting shades of the rainbow on its previous visits to Europe with different owners, who like ourselves, were also used to travelling on the left hand side of the road. I believe we were the forty-fifth or forty-sixth owners of the vehicle if those who were never seen again after breakdowns in Morocco weren't counted, and the van was fairly long in the tooth. The Blue Jellyfish did however perform admirably for us on the whole, (apart from its mindset to travel on the wrong side of the road throughout the whole of Europe causing accidents all over the place). And in no way do I shoulder any responsibility for that myself.

It was certainly the van's fault. 

And I soon learned that the wake-up impact of strong French coffee first thing in the morning pales to insignificance when compared to the wake-up impact of a collision with a large French truck! 

The van had driven us nonchalantly down the road on the wrong side for several kilometres after leaving the caravan park and I’m sure it would have continued to do so had we not made the other vehicle’s acquaintance. A short rest break ensued whereby one the drivers (myself) was questioned in a staccato foreign language by all and sundry as to his mental competence. I in turn hit the van with a stick to teach it a lesson and searched for the tin of blue paint, thus reassuring the crowd of my mental competence.

My co-pilot just smiled the special smile she reserved for moments like this and allowed me to prove the obvious.


It was at our first free campsite at Aûmes that I saw my first wild squirrel. A tiny, gingery coloured little fellow with a long flowing tail. He was busy running about a large beech tree, quite oblivious to the Australian tourist below and I was able to observe him for some considerable time, wondering all the while what squirrel casserole would taste like. Hunger can do that sort of thing to you.

That particular picture has stayed with me for more than twenty years, and in more reflective moments, I revisit that beech tree. I feel the warmth of the sun, I smell the damp lush grasses, I hear the ancient church bell from the village and I'm glad and sad at the same time. Glad that I was there. Sad that the moment has gone. 

And very grateful I didn't die of squirrel poisoning.


The little squirrel had other neighbours besides ourselves. A number of plump bunnies hopped about the undergrowth, totally at ease with themselves, blissfully unaware they were in the company of the world's greatest rabbit hunter. In fact I had won every gold medal for rabbit hunting at the last five summer Olympics, and I had once singlehandedly fed the population of a small regional city back in Australia with the proceeds of one night's trapping.

I may exaggerate a little, but the reason we were camped at Aûmes was that we were flat broke and almost out of petrol. We also had little food, and as the male of the duo, I felt it my duty to be the provider.

As far as hunting equipment was concerned, we were in possession of a single coil of fine wire. It was one of the sundry items contained in an old box of odds and ends which came with the jellyfish when it was purchased several months previously from two other world travellers who were camped in a London carpark. They and thirty or forty others in a similar situation were waiting to sell their campervans to new, naïve tourists like us in order to purchase an airfare home, wherever home might be. 

It seemed it was an unwritten law that each successive owner of our campervan must add to the box during the course of ownership, and so, after innumerable additions, it was full to overflowing with the weirdest assortment of paraphernalia. Small glass bottles, springs, new and used spark plugs (some even suitable for the make and model we were driving), fanbelts, bottle openers and even a small brass crucifix which showed Jesus in a most unusual pose because someone had used Him when they couldn't find one of the many bottle openers. The coil of wire I found was actually piano wire, and at the time I wondered why on earth one would take a piano on tour through Europe in the back of a campervan, but decided to leave that thought alone. What Liberace and a friend and a small garden gnome did on their European holidays was their own business.


Little time elapsed before I had made six or seven excellent snares with which to catch dinner and I proceeded to set them on the outskirts of the blackberry bushes where my quarry had established their warren. 

And it was whilst carefully setting the last snare that I realized I was being watched.

An ancient gentleman, sitting underneath an equally old and gnarled olive tree had been regarding my every move and he beckoned me to approach. Luckily, I had studied French in high school for six long years, from a wonderfully eccentric Algerian lady who spoke French in fluent Algerian and had taught me to do so as well. Thus, my bilingual education enabled me to understand nearly five or six percent of what the old gent was trying to say to me, whereas he was able to understand no Algerian whatsoever, even when I tried a fake French accent.

Fortunately, some words are the same the world over and by a mixture of gesticulation, guesswork and good-humoured slow, laborious, repetition, we conducted a conversation during the course of which I learned that it wasn't yet rabbit season in France. Also, if I happened to be apprehended by the local gendarme, I would certainly be a guest of the governor of the Bastille, especially if they learned my ancestors on my mother's side were English. Something to do with Waterloo, I believe, and to reinforce the negative aspect of being caught, he drew his index finger across his throat.

He then smiled broadly, showing me his excellent tooth and waited for my response.

I decided this was not the moment to argue, mainly because I didn't possess the vocabulary, and so I thanked him for his advice. I also promised to unset the snares and return them to the companionship of a bent Jesus in Pandora's box. However, this still left the small problem of nourishment for both my wife and myself. My little darling wife had the appetite of a bird (vulture), and I too had become accustomed to eating heartily on her leftovers. This fact was relayed to my newfound companion who immediately repaired to his nearby rustic farmhouse and reappeared minutes later with a piece of cheese, some crusty bread and a bottle of vin de la very old maison.

Beggars cannot be choosers it is said, so I thanked him profusely for his kind gifts and returned to my beloved who was waiting patiently for the return of her intrepid hunter. Thankfully she knew me well enough not to enquire too deeply as to how I had managed to trap a vile smelling, blue-spotted cheese, an inedible rusk and a bottle of good quality paint stripper with just a half dozen homemade snares.

She knew I was good, that's why she married me.

We dined to the monotonous toll of the single church-bell, commencing with the wine, wrongly believing this would give us enough courage to face the cheese. We were sadly mistaken and my darling suggested that next time I should chance incarceration at the governor's pleasure, for compared with that gastronomic turd, even my famous rabbit ragout would taste good.


Morning found us in exactly the same predicament. Extremely low on funds and with no edible food.

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, our fairy godfarmer appeared with another piece of turd and a second bottle of rank liquid for our breakfast.

Although not quite fully recovered from the hangover we found at the bottom of the first bottle, we graciously accepted this second gift, although the new cheese was viewed with alarm. This epicurean morsel was considerably older than the other offering and appeared to have a more vigorous ecosystem.

My darling gave him a winning smile, thanked him in her most fluent and polite Australian and impounded the offensive article in the glove compartment of the motor vehicle. It would be eaten later she said, should the tyres on the van prove inedible.

Our agri-friend had even more to offer. During the night he had reflected on our predicament and had come up with a cunning plan. He suggested we collect snails, thousands of which abounded in the nearby hedgerows and woodlands. They could then be sold later for folding gold in the large town with the twinkling lights beyond the village.

To enable us to do this, he had brought four large onion bags. 

An onion bag, for those less acquainted with modern agricultural equipment, is exactly six thousand holes joined together by two kilometres of thin, red, plastic thread, which prevents the holes from falling apart. The primary purpose of this type of bag is to allow the onions to breathe and maintain a longer shelf life. A secondary, less common use of this style of bag is to hold hundreds of thousands of snails.

Had it not been for that old farmer and his generosity, we might have died of malnutrition at that secluded campsite in Aûmes. He, on the other hand, probably still tells his neighbours and friends about the Australian tourists he managed to be rid of by supplying them with some left-over fishing bait and two bottles of vinegar that his mother in law had given him for his 25th wedding anniversary.


We set off to snare some snails.

Tale 3. The Snail Trail Part 2. The midnight molluscs.

           Snails come out to feed mainly at nightfall and so I delayed my attack until dusk so I wouldn’t be so easily seen. And to assist my camouflage, Mother Nature had thoughtfully provided a constant fine rain for which I was very very grateful, if I remember correctly. 

So, fortified by the skeletal remains of our full bodied red, I stepped out into the undergrowth and within five minutes I was soaked to the skin. The escargots, plentiful for the first few minutes, were rapidly becoming less and less visible due to the failing light and I reflected that it wasn't only the light that was dim. I appeared to be the only person doing the collecting. Herself was reading a tourist guidebook in the safety of the campervan. She waved to me and blew a kiss.

After half an hour, I had managed to quarter fill one bag and had been forced by the prevailing conditions to conduct the rest of my hunt using braille. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of trying to metabolize the life form now locked safely inside the glove box. And the fact that herself had locked all the other doors on the van as well, to prevent any entry. 

After another half an hour, I had managed to collect a further forty snails which added just one more layer to my sack. I began to panic. At this rate, it would take a fortnight to fill just one bag and the old farmer had told us we would need to fill at least three in order to raise enough money for a tankfull of petrol and a bellyfull of food.

Quel horreur!


Fortunately, Australians are known for both their quick thinking and improvisation, so it came as no surprise to me that after several hours of grovelling in pitch darkness, the thought of using a torch entered my less than adequate brain. I didn't waste time on self-congratulation for this stroke of brilliance, but extrapolated on the idea. I tapped tentatively on the car window and asked my darling for her assistance.

Several minutes later saw that same darling, snug and warm in the driver's seat of the Blue Jellyfish, inching her way (at snail's pace) down the backroads of the village. I walked along in front of the vehicle in the now teeming rain, busily picking up thousands of startled snails caught 'in flagrante' by the glare of the headlights, either too frightened or embarrassed to make a sudden dash for the safety of the hedgerows and ditches by the side of the road.

By two a.m. I was a professional snail catcher and onto my fourth bag. I was now like the actress, discriminating between both size and variety, for when it comes to snails, size really does matter. The big ones meant less bending per gramme collected and so were better value. Littlies were overlooked and left to take their chances with the set of Michelins following.

Three a.m. saw the fourth bag filled to the brim and loaded safely into the campervan with the others. I felt really proud of myself and climbed in with the snails to strip off my sodden clothes. Then, bathed in the warm glow of my brilliance, I snuggled into the double sleeping bag with my darling, who told me I was cold, wet and smelly.

Comme toujours.


Our lullabies were the incessant squelching, popping and slurping noises of several thousand snails parked just centimetres from our heads and to this day I don't know why I put them in the van. I'm sure they wouldn't have run off during the night. Nor would anyone else besides me have been stupid enough to be out of doors at that time and in that weather looking for escargots to steal from outside tourists’ campervans.

As it was, our captive bedfellows took turns in making the most suggestive of moist noises until we arose at dawn, and to the best of my belief, those were the only suggestive noises I heard that night.

By morning, the rain had stopped, a fact for which we were most grateful, because it was now drier outside the van than inside. 

N.B. Readers may not be aware of this little miracle of nature, but a snail manufactures its own lubricant. I'm sure this is of considerable assistance in a personal way, even for a hermaphrodite (which a snail is), but its main function is to facilitate travel. The snail bubbles out a stream of goo (not the technical term), then bobsleds on this slime to a point a little further away. This act is repeated over and over until our little tourer reaches his/her intended destination. This mode of travel is much akin to going on holidays overseas by skateboard but at a much more leisurely pace.

Unfortunately, held prisoner in the onion bags as they were, the escargots couldn't go anywhere, and so just produced forty or fifty litres of goo which they kept at the ready on the floor of the van in case the bags broke and they were able to make a fast exit.


There is no known antidote for snail goo.

Had we been able to collect it and put it into jars, we could have sold it for a fortune as a lubricant for heavy industrial machinery, or a personal product advertised on page three of adult magazines, but alas, the goo had a mind of its own and sought to infiltrate every nook and cranny on the floor of the vehicle. It was whilst trying to rescue her make-up bag from the morass that the idle of my life slipped and was jettisoned bodily through the rear doors of the vehicle, only to have her fall broken by the bags of cargo that I had removed just moments earlier.

She smiled sweetly and suggested we sell the slippery little suckers immediately. I agreed and tactfully refrained from admonishing her for rendering some of them unsaleable as a result of her calisthenics. 


We had been told that our best chance of success would be at l'Hotel St. Dennis. This turned out to be an uninspiring, unimposing, rather drab looking building, inhabited by a barman of much the same description. The atmosphere inside was provided by a single twenty-five watt bulb which hung from the ceiling in the centre of the room and was assisted by whatever sunlight managed to percolate through the coffee coloured windows.

A row of old wooden booths stood unoccupied against one wall and a picture of either Charles de Gaulle or Mona Lisa smiled down enigmatically from the opposite wall. The only other living creature with just one pair of legs apart from myself and the barman appeared to be a motionless figure at the end of the bar. He had a shot glass in front of him, half full of yellow liquid.


I had expected a tumult of traders, a multitude of merchants, a plethora of purveyors, all a-jostling each other, competing wildly for my housebound beauties. However, under the circumstances, I thought frantic jostling and bidding unlikely, unless the obviously wax dummy at the bar was awakened from his reverie by the kiss of a frog.


The barman broke the silence by asking me what I wanted. 

He spoke excellent French.

The position I now found myself in reminded me of a somewhat similar situation in Portugal when a friend of my wife who was travelling with us at that time, found herself with a medical condition of a very intimate and personal nature. I was asked to take her to the hospital and explain in French to the Portugese doctor the extent of her condition and the circumstances under which it was bestowed upon her. Basic schoolboy French sadly under-equipped me for this delicate eventuality, and even less for the myriad of questions which followed regarding my own wellbeing re the nether regions of my anatomy.

Fortunately, the thought of a meal of our glove-box delicacy assisted in the expansion of my lexicon for the forthcoming negotiations.

I asked whether or not (s'il vous plaît), he would be remotely interested (peut être) in purchasing eighty kilos or thereabouts of the freshest, the plumpest and certainly the juiciest (a fact to which I'm sure my wife would attest) snails in the whole of France, and probably the world for that matter.

"Non" was the one word answer.

It was a Mexican stand off in France. There were now three motionless figures in the room. The barman looking blankly ahead, our friend with rigor mortis at the bar, and moi, dumbstruck!

I remained thus stricken for the best part of an hour until the barman blinked first.

"I already have lots of escargots, I need non plus," he said.


I wasn't born yesterday

The barman had made a fatal mistake. He said he didn't NEED any more, not he didn't WANT any more. I knew then he was only jostling for position amongst all the other buyers in the madding throng. I had him trapped.

"OK" I said nonchalantly, "how much will you offer to take them off my extremely well lubricated hands?"

We went outside together to inspect the goods then returned to the bar for the final intricate negotiations. I didn't have a clue what the little perishers were worth and so I resorted to the tried and true Australian way. When all else fails, bullshit as hard as you can. 

He patiently heard me out then made his best, only and final offer.

I took it.


The deal was sealed with a glass of his very best vinegar and I watched with relief as the barman dragged the first bag across the floor to a storeroom at the rear of the premises.

It was whilst imbibing the anti-bacterial mouthwash so graciously bestowed upon me by mine host, that I heard a loud 'Pssst!' It was that rather conspiratorial 'Pssst' which one usually hears in a spy movie when one spy is trying to attract another's attention.

'Psssssst!' came the noise again, this time a little more stridently, and as I looked about, I spied a youth, previously unnoticed in the gloom, sitting at one of the booths. He had obviously witnessed everything and was now wearing the same enigmatic smile as his friend hanging in the frame on the wall opposite.

"Monsieur," he said in a hoarse whisper, "you 'av been stolen!"

I immediately walked over and corrected him. The proper terminology was 'ripped off'.

He went on to say that had I enquired at the cute little restaurant frequented by all the tourists just a little further down the street, I would have received ten times the price so recently offered by my friend the barman.

I thanked him sincerely for his timely advice and in the true spirit of brotherhood left him the remainder of my acetic acid.

Monsieur retired to his campervan where he duly informed his darling that after twenty minutes of hard bargaining he had encouraged the proprietor to part with a king's ransom. 

She was so proud of me.

Tale 4. The Snail Trail Part 3. Chez Marie.

            The kitchen door wasn't hard to find. One just followed the aroma of Boeûf Burgundy to its source, and voilà! - An ancient oak door, fully open to allow the delicious cooking smells to assail the nostrils of the ravenous tourists when they alighted from the buses in the adjacent carpark. Old wine barrels, halved and planted out to a variety of herbs which added to the fragrance, were placed strategically in haphazard pattern along the well-worn slate path.

I thought if this was the servant's entrance, I was quite willing to be servile.

A remarkably rotund madame, wearing a spotless white outfit about which was tied a large apron, itself once upon a time also white and spotless, was busy a-simmering and a-broiling at the stove. I assumed she was both chef and illiterate.

She had obviously never read any of the thousands of books devoted to French cooking containing alternate pages of text and glossy four colour photographs which featured naked chickens, their heads still intact, hanging from the rafters by scaly legs. Nor were there any hares, in various stages of decomposition performing similar feats of endurance. Where were the braided bunches of Spanish onions suspended from wall hooks? The wicker baskets on benchtops, filled to overflowing with huge bulbs of Greek garlic? Not even a perfectly risen soufflé taken straight from the oven and placed strategically on a designer mat atop a red and white checked tablecloth. No marble cutting boards. No highly polished cedar kitchen table. Sacré bleu! The lady had never even seen a book, let alone attempted to read one with the help of a friend.

Her kitchen was Spartan, yet fully functional. It contained an old eight burner gas stove with two huge ovens underneath and an assortment of large stainless steel saucepans adorning shelves made of the same metal which encircled the room. The equipment, the floor and the shelves were as spotless as her uniform.

I knocked on the door and bid her 'Bonjour madame'.

‘Bonjour monsieur’ came the reply, ‘Comment ça va?’

It was the start of a wonderful friendship.

During my teenage years, I, like so many other offspring of penniless migrant parents, had to work at night in a multitude of restaurants in order to pay my way half through university. It was a career move I took up whenever I was short of money, and I’m sure it is why I’ve been employed in the industry ever since. I started as a waiter and eventually regressed all the way to chef.

It was whilst working as a kitchenhand that I got my first big break. The incumbent chef had been over zealous whilst taste-testing the madeira for his ‘special sauce’ and was now carefully inspecting the bathroom floor tiles from very close range. There was a dining room full of hungry patrons waiting to be fed and they were starting to eat the napkins. Immediately I saw the opportunity to fill the chef vacancy so recently created and did what any other sane kitchenhand would have done under the same circumstances. 

I quit and immediately left the building.

I’m not completely stupid.


This episode taught me an invaluable lesson. Never, never, under any circumstances trust a kitchenhand. Or a chef for that matter. Learn to do everything yourself, and when all else fails, ring your mother and cry loudly.

Marie Dubois was the name of our portly French chef, and she was a ball of extroverted enthusiasm. Her methods were the time honored ways of the traditional provincial restaurateur. She simply provided wholesome food that tasted divine. Her sauces were made from three sorts of stock. Beef, chicken and fish. It wasn't hard to work out which went with which dish because they were colour coded. Dark brown was beef. This usually went with beef dishes. Light brown was chicken. This usually went with chicken dishes, and you've probably guessed by now, the cream coloured one was for fish. Marie had designed it this way in case unforseen circumstances (viz taste testing the Napoleon brandy for the flambéed crêpe suzettes) should render her temporarily incapacitated. In that eventuality, her pet Chihuahua could step in and take over and no one would notice any difference.

The modest Marie had a wonderful way with words.

It was she who taught me to cook snails. Although considered a delicacy in the rest of the industrialised world, she confided to me that the French will only ingest them when all other living creatures have been consumed and expiration due to malnutrition is imminent. In fact, she said the only thing worse than snails was squirrel casserole. She said ‘Never, never attempt to chew snails, it is only the sauce which makes them edible and escargots are best taken orally, either with or without the shell.’

Fact: Tennis balls are made from adult snails. They are processed through a series of heavy rollers to flatten them, then they are cut to shape in a hydraulic press. Several weeks in a humid atmosphere encourages the fur growth on the outside of the ball and then the white lines are painted on. The green colour is natural and comes in several shades. Always practise eating tennis balls before going to a posh restaurant and ordering a dozen escargots. It helps take the smirk off the waiter's face when he stands by and sees you accomplish the task and survive.


Marie had many loyal patrons, and every Sunday, at about one o'clock in the afternoon, the dining room was full of regulars. Whole families of Gallic gastronomes descended on her establishment to sit at their usual table and enjoy her hospitality, but unlike the customers of other restaurants where I had worked, her patrons placed no orders with the waiters and waitresses.

 They arrived.

 They were seated

 They were presented with appropriate bottles of best Bordeaux.

 And then an appropriate quantity of wonderful food was brought. Several hours and several courses later, they bade us adieu and waddled chez eux, only to return like homing pigeons the following week for a return bout.

I enjoyed my time working for Marie, and the most hilarious part of all was my extra curricular activity. By day I was a waiter cum kitchenhand and by night I moonlighted as the local snail catcher. Marie purchased them all and fed them to the weekly busloads of Australian tourists who booked in to her establishment to experience authentic French cuisine.

  Life's like that isn’t it?


I owe everything to Marie. Had it not been for her, I might have returned to Australia, completed my tertiary studies and made a success of my life.

 

Instead, I bought a restaurant.

Tale 5. A Dream and a Rabbit.

As a callow youth, each weekend saw both myself and my best friend camped under an old tarpaulin, waxing lyrical about the joys of rabbit hunting. Our rudimentary arsenal consisted of two very old small calibre single shot rifles slyly purchased from Mr Shylock's secondhand store. They were in an excellent state of repair considering their antiquity, and Duncan's even possessed the front and rear sight. Other pieces of equipment brought to our campsite in the boot of the old Morris sedan were a dozen fully functional steel rabbit traps and one semi functional ferret.

The ferret always arrived in this condition because unlike the other weapons with which he was imprisoned, he was quite susceptible to the carbon monoxide which escaped from the rusty colander we jokingly referred to as the exhaust pipe. The gas also permeated the interior of the vehicle because the floor was in the same condition as the exhaust. However, unlike ourselves, the poor little ferret in the boot had neither the luxury of windows nor the arms and dexterity to open the boot from the inside in order to provide himself with better ventilation, hence he reached his destination somewhat more docile than when he embarked upon his perilous journey. On cold and rainy days however, we all arrived in the same sluggish condition.


En route to our usual hunting grounds in the hills, we passed an old stone cottage which appeared to be growing by the side of the road. Long spiky blackberry tendrils had pushed their way in through the broken cross-hatched windows, only to reappear a little later through the eaves and make their way tentatively across the roof. Many years of winter rains had found their way inside the building via numerous rat and rust holes and had formed shallow lakes beneath the rotting floorboards of each of the four rooms. During the warmer months, this water would try to escape by osmosis and late summer would find the damp had risen right up to where the ceilings would have been, had there been any.

Every springtime, grass and weeds grew tall in the blocked gutters and met with the blackberries at the apex of the roof, giving the rusty old corrugated iron an appearance of thatch. A myriad of broken bottles decorated what once was a tiny cottage garden with shards of blue and green and generous passersby had kindly donated their unwanted electrical items to the immediate environs in order to complete the formal landscaping.

It was as pretty as a picture, although a picture of just what I’m not quite sure.

The locals told of a ghost named Elvira who inhabited the premises, but neither Duncan nor I ever witnessed anything untoward as we drove by each weekend and of course the ferret was always too cross-eyed to focus properly and therefore cannot not be relied upon to bear proper witness to any supernatural event.


I have Marie Dubois to thank for my purchase of that miserable rat-infested property, and I do sincerely thank her from the bottom of my bank balance which was plundered to previously uncharted depths in order to effect the restoration of that sad and historic building. An easier exercise would have been to toss gold ingots down a wishing well. I still remember her wishing me 'Bon Chance Alain!' when I excitedly telephoned her immediately after it was knocked down to me at the auction.

Gratitude is also extended to John, the local health inspector whose assistance and advice proved invaluable in meeting the appropriate building requirements and filling in the six hundred and twelve local governmental forms in triplicate.

John was not a man to trifle with.

Although ensconced in a position of considerable influence and power, John seldom allowed it to confuse his judgement and sense of fair play. He knew he could simultaneously close down every eatery in the region for even the slightest indiscretion or technical breach of the regulations and render the populace totally bereft of cordon bleu nosh-houses. He preferred however, to put the fear of god into a terrified proprietor by viciously extending his left index finger at the offending spider web or cracked tile, demanding that it be fixed post-haste or he would sit on him.

John was a very heavy man and had a unique method of upholding the law.

Compliance was of course immediate, and harmony was maintained.


I say his left index finger, because in a previous career, he had been a butcher and had lost an argument with a band saw whilst completing a customer's order for seven of his best forequarter lamb chops which her husband wished to cremate on the barbeque that weekend. Since that unfortunate day, John had only been able to count up to eight. The loss of digits however failed to loosen his grasp of the game of golf which he played like a professional every Sunday at a very swish club with an excellent dining room but an understandably nervous chef.

Being only a mediocre player myself, I admired John's handicap so to speak.

I always held the belief that the secret of his exceptionally sweet swing was the enormous amount of ballast he carried in front of his person, a result no doubt of the hazard of innumerable inspections at his various ports of call during each long working day. When this enormous weight was set in motion at the commencement of his takeaway, absolutely nothing could prevent a perfect follow through after the club’s contact with the ball. Alas, when later he trimmed his figure conducting considerable courtship with a younger maiden, his golfing prowess slipped from professional to just excellent, thus proving my ballast theory.

It was John who christened Mr. Puss.

A small black and white kitten adopted my restaurant not long after opening day and enjoyed the fare immensely over the ensuing months. He became my most loyal and frequent patron, becoming as sleek and as svelte as a well groomed aubergine. The kitten paid for his dinners with the only currency he possessed and the rats and mice which visited regularly from the river nearby decreased dramatically in number until they reached an acceptable level.

He and I became firm friends and developed the kind of close personal 'touchy-feely' bond usually only experienced by seasoned rugby players on tour.

Now it is well known that restaurateurs are not allowed to have cats (or dogs for that matter) on the premises. And so it was, that one day whilst John was sipping his strong plunger coffee with a dash of (skimmer) milk on the terrace under the vines after one of his strenuous inspections, that one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life happened right in front of my eyes.

Mr Puss was curled up on John's knee being stroked and cosseted as usual, when all of a sudden, he turned into an enormous black and white rabbit and remained a rabbit for the rest of his days, albeit most disinclined to forage on the weeds and wild grasses which grew in abundance on the riverbank and were greatly favoured by the other herbivores. Our rabbit preferred fillet steak.

John and I made a pact to remain silent regarding this phenomenon lest we both be ridiculed by skeptics who don’t believe in miracles; but now that John is no longer with us, I feel his residual spirit enabling me to share this information with you, trusting you too have the faith to believe.

Tale 6. The Renovations Part 1. Drizzle.

  I found the new housing estate. 

It was one of those stylish new developments where the streets had been designed by a qualified town planner to closely resemble a bowl of spaghetti. They twisted and turned on each other interminably and one's brain became bolognese sauce trying to negotiate the way home to one's loved ones.

The houses all look the same and the people all have the same surname in these new developments. I believe this is a legal requirement so that the Bureau of Census and Statistics can increase its efficiency. Nowadays it just counts the number of suburbs on a map and multiplies by 4,000 and then by three point six. The whole process can be completed in fifteen minutes on an abacus and a lot of taxpayer's money is saved which can then be spent on overseas study tours for the management.

Anyway, I stood amongst the broken bricks and other building detritus in what would become the front garden of number 24, Photocopy Drive. I was watching the carpenters fix the roof. The walls of the new house had recently been completed and the doors and windows were in place. All that was needed to complete the structure was a roof on top (where roofs usually go) and the staples and glue in the corners to hold it all together until the warranty expired.

I watched the tradesmen. 

The tradesmen watched me.

I was the only one who knew what I was doing, standing there in the drizzle.

 

I was watching.

As was the case at number 24, the walls for the new rear section of Chez Alain were also complete. For several months I had searched creekbeds, road verges, neighbours' gardens and demolition sites, in fact anywhere that I thought I might find similar stone to match the original material that the first owner used when he built the cottage nearly two hundred years ago.

I wanted old stone, not newly quarried stone. It had to be of a particular size and texture and it had to have at least one flat face. Colour was important too. It was a good job I wasn't fussy, because good rocks were thin on the ground so to speak.

Whenever I found one or two stones in my travels that I thought would match, I borrowed them and put them in my car. Some days there was nowhere left to sit because I had come across a goldmine of excellent specimens in an absent friend's backyard and I had quickly loaded them up before he came home and noticed that his retaining wall was missing. I would then try to hatch a pyramid of sharp stones whilst driving erratically at high speed to the old cottage and disembark, disembowelled. Each precious egg was then taken lovingly from the vehicle and put into an appropriate pile according to size and shape, ready for mortaring into place in the new stone addition.

I had never done any stonework before, nor had I done much bricklaying. Chefs don't tend to do a lot of that sort of work in the kitchen. However after attempting and completing the old red brick terrace out the front of Chez Alain, I decided that if the health inspector ever revoked my licence to cook, I could probably make a similar meagre living as a paver. Thus, brimful of confidence in my incredible ability, I decided to tackle the walls myself.

It wasn't really a choice thing. My life savings had long since disappeared and now no one would dare lend me any money for fear of being certified. From here on in, this little black duck would become the plumber, the electrician, the carpenter and the painter. In fact until my cash flow started flowing again, I had to do everything myself AND try not to be caught whilst I was doing it.

I reminded myself that building a wall is simple. All I had to do was balance rocks on top of each other until they were all gone. Easy peasy. I could have read books on the subject, but I knew that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity and so trusted my own good judgement and set to work.

I was never bothered by the weather when renovating or building outside, but I had a preference for rain rather than sun. I could escape the cold by rugging up, but there was no escape from the heat. So, one very drizzly week, when I thought I had collected (liberated) enough stones after months of searching after dark, I mixed my first batch of mortar.


Stonemasonry is quite easy really, and also fairly quick. All one has to do is put a row of stones down on a foundation, plop some mortar (but not too much) on the first row, then balance another row on top. Repeat ad nauseum.

And some people take a three year apprenticeship to learn that!

One also needs to remember to leave a gap where a door is to go, otherwise one would be a very silly little builder wouldn't one. 

That particular oversight was quickly picked up at the beginning of the third day, so the problem was able to be rectified with only a great deal of difficulty. And doors make it so much easier to enter buildings don't they? Especially if they are the right width. 

That little problem was rectified the following day. 

With even more difficulty.


By the end of the fourth day I was a master builder, laying stone at breakneck speed. But at the end of the fifth day, the word breakneck became more applicable, because in some parts, the wall was head high and whereas I had marvelled at my speed earlier, the pace was now slowing as the work became more difficult and dangerous. I now had to lift extremely heavy stones two metres up in the air, one at a time, very carefully.

It was after a most spiteful incident with a large aggressive cornerstone that I decided to go home and take a break. I deserved one anyway. I had been working in the drizzle for almost a week and had built more than half the wall. I was very proud of myself. A real stonemason would have probably built only half as much as me, perhaps even less.  

That night, in my dreams, I of course completed the wall and the building inspector, the Prime Minister and my mother all sent me letters of congratulation on such a splendid job. 


I awoke to a rather different picture and I now know why stonework is slow and a three year apprenticeship is required. Whereas bricks are porous and absorb moisture like a sponge, stones aren't and don't. Bricks and mortar make an almost instant bond. Stones and mortar don't. So, when mortar is plopped on a stone and another stone is balanced on top, it really does balance. And when the weather is very drizzly, wet and cold, the mortar takes a very long time to set. Days in fact. So when an amazing stonemason builds at twice the speed of light, he also performs (albeit unknowingly) an amazing balancing act. So when he comes to work on the sixth day after a wonderful night's sleep chatting with the Prime Minister in his dreams, he finds an amazingly big pile of rocks and mortar where his high wall used to be. 

So then he looks amongst the pile for the sharpest rock with which to slit his wrists.


Washing half set mortar off rocks after one has painstakingly rescued them one at a time from a slowly setting pile of slop is a very laborious and time consuming job. It's worse than marriage. It takes forever and then you have to start building all over again. Very slowly. There is no divorce.



My stonework was now completed, my wrists had healed and the wall was still upright. And that was why I was standing outside number 24, Photocopy Drive. I was watching. I had no intention of building a roof only to find that it had collapsed during the night. This time I would watch how real tradesmen did it.

And that was why the tradesmen thought I was a complete looney. I had been watching them in silence for seven days now. Just watching with my beady little eyes.

The drizzle was mere coincidence, thoughtfully provided once again in my hour of need by my friend, Mother Nature.

Tale 7. The Renovations Part 2. The Getting of Wisdom.

Until a little growth spurt occurring in my late teens, I was relatively short. And even after that, I was still short. Short of money, short of intelligence, but more especially, a little short in height. Suffice to say, when it came time to pitch and fix the roof at Chez Alain, being height challenged was a bit of a hindrance. And during watching week I began to realize that I might need some assistance.


The workmen from number 24, Photocopy Drive had finally told me to remove myself from the premises and stop bothering them or they would call the police. They had begun to get rather edgy of late and they also brandished very nasty looking power tools as they looked down at me threateningly from their lofty positions amid the timberwork high above. So not wishing to upset them further, I obliged; but before leaving, I noticed their ladders leaning up against the wall and so I laid them flat on the ground where no one would accidentally walk into them and hurt themselves. 

I like to help wherever possible, it's in my nature.

Also during watching week, I learned that a roof requires a main beam. This beam runs horizontally (if one remembers to use a spirit level) across the length of the roof. Other bits of wood with funny names like rafters, joists and noggins run at angles from this beam to the tops of the walls. These other pieces of timber hold the main beam in place about two and a half metres in the air above the ceilings, depending on the angle of pitch required, and one is required to swear loudly when hammering these into place. If these bits of wood don't fit very well, or at all, one just uses longer nails or more glue. Like professional carpenters do.

If this sounds too technical and difficult to follow, it really doesn’t matter, because I learned from watching real tradesmen that building a house always follows a set pattern. It is a continuum of mistakes.

The roof tiler blames the carpenter because the roof is out of square. The carpenter blames the bricklayer because the walls aren't plumb. The bricklayer blames the foundation layer because the foundation is not level, is askew or is the wrong size. The foundation layer blames the concrete provider because the mix was too dry, too wet or too late. The house owner blames the neanderthal builder for being too ruggedly handsome and sleeping with his/her partner, and the builder blames the architect because he knows theoretically everything but practically nothing.

When the blaming has stopped, the bank pays the builder twice what the house is worth and gives the proud owners a beautifully hand crafted millstone signifying the size of their mortgage to wear proudly around their necks on an elegant chain for the next forty or fifty years.

This item of high fashion apparel is worn by the house owners to all functions of any social standing and is flaunted outrageously. In fact 'millstoning' as it is termed, has become so popular that banks now issue them in a wide range of designer colours as well. This has the twofold benefit of increasing the house owners' competitive edge in the inevitable social duels which occur at barbecues and the like, and also makes these rock necklaces more attractive to the banks' customers by shifting the focus from the horrendous interest rate to the tonal match with their latest business suit.

Shortly after moving into the mill, one of the players of the home team purchases another aqua, taupe or beige coloured stone with which to furnish the lovenest. The other player then buys a third millstone of at least equal size in British racing green to complete the grounds with trees, shrubs and grasses which die within a few months because they really belong in other parts of the globe where there is better soil, better rainfall, better climate and a better gardener.

My own personal millstone is sculpted in the shape of a cottage and changes colour depending on the season and the angle of the sun.


All this happens beneath the main beam, and that is why it is so incredibly important. I think.


One can rent a very expensive piece of equipment from a building hire company to hold a main beam in place and keep it up in the air and stop it falling down whilst attaching the other parasitic bits of wood. Or, one can hire a Trevor machine.

A Trevor is a very heavy, but versatile four limbed piece of apparatus that was made in the Mediterranean, reared on lasagne, then transported in one piece to Australia in the nineteen fifties. It is not short. It stands almost two metres tall and is therefore eminently suitable for the job in hand. It is also very simple to use, but has one drawback. It needs constant lubrication, otherwise it seizes up and won't work properly. If it is too well lubricated it won't work properly either, so considerable skill on the part of the user is required to maintain the correct balance.


I had my Trevor firmly in place. He was standing on the wooden ceiling, his lower limbs spread to maintain good balance and his upper limbs extended to full stretch, holding the main beam to approximately the correct height.

I could have asked him to raise or lower the height by either standing on a box or squatting a little, but since the beam was incredibly heavy and he would have to hold it up in the air by himself all afternoon, (plus an hour and a half whilst I had lunch and afternoon tea), I decided to accept an approximate height as being near enough. I had no wish to cause him any duress.

All occupational health and safety regulations were met by the provision of one large straw hat to keep the sun off his bald pate, and because he was unable to move his arms, internal lubrication was provided by a heavy goatskin bag fitted with a long flexible drinking straw and filled with forty litres of Trevor's father's famous homemade red wine. 

I hung the bag around his neck to keep the workplace neat and tidy.

I had lured Trevor to the cottage on the pretext that I would teach him carpentry.

A tree had fallen over in his garden, damaging the roof of his garden shed on its way down and it was whilst he was relaying this story to me that I learned that the boy was sadly uninsured for damage caused by storm and tempest. 

Understanding his predicament, I generously offered to teach him how to 'fix' a roof since I now possessed all the required knowledge kindly bequeathed to me by the carpenters who still remained on the roof of number 24, Photocopy Drive.

The boy trusted me.


He now stood immobile, spreadeagled and upright, perched three metres above the ground holding a one tonne beam above his head in the blazing sun. A tube was stuck in his mouth through which he was able to suck almost enough hot liquid to replace that lost to evaporation.

Bubbles rumbled in the goatskin whenever he tried to utter words of thanks, and I believe I must have a gift for teaching, because I think he learned everything he wanted or needed to know that day. He certainly didn’t ask for extra tuition.

I enjoy sharing knowledge, it gives me immense satisfaction knowing that I have added to someone else's life, albeit in a small way.

I am told that Trevor can now move both of his arms freely and is regaining some feeling in the left limb.

The year of writing is now 2004, and the roof of Chez Alain looks just like a bought one. And if one climbs up into the attic and looks in the middle of the main beam, one will find the words 'Big Trev, 1986', written in a neat script by the ambulance man.

Tale 8. Renovations complete. Chez Alain.

With the elapse of time and bucketfuls of money, the old stone cottage began to recapture the beauty and character it had lost over the last half century. Wistaria and glory vines wrapped themselves around the massive wooden posts of the new pergola covering the new red-brick paved terrace. In spring, cascades of perfumed lilac coloured blossoms descended from above, and in Autumn, the falling leaves provided an ever changing carpet of red, yellow-ochre and burnt umber. 

The rough-cut stonework, newly pointed with slate grey mortar, looked as clean and new as the day it was first laid by the pioneer mason two hundred years previously. There was a smart new roof wearing a thick coat of burgundy paint and the renovated woodwork of the fairy-story-book windows had received a heavy splash of creamy beige.

A new wing was added to the rear of the cottage in keeping with the architectural style of the era and the inside walls of it were freshly whitewashed. This room became the main dining room and held about forty patrons. Massive oregon beams rescued from a demolition site now stretched across its length and supported a dark jarrah wood ceiling. The end wall held a huge, feature stained glass window. It was generously manufactured and donated by my younger, more creative sibling, Paul the potter, who like myself had managed to survive the overcrowded nest and fledge successfully.

The other four original rooms each became 'The Private Room', seating 8-10 for meetings or intimate get-togethers; 'The Snug' holding just four tables of two clustered around an open fire and in close proximity to each other; the ‘Reception Room’, complete with a rustic bar fashioned from a three hundred year old redgum log; and ‘The Kitchen’, spartan of course in the true Marie Dubois style.

Previous panoramic views through to the rusted underside of the old roof were now obstructed by new white ceilings, and the winter Roman footbaths in each room had been replaced with freshly lacquered new wooden floors and proper drainage.

Antique lampshades in every room completed the transformation and the nostalgic smells of timber oil, fresh sawdust, candlewax and woodsmoke permeated the air to provide atmosphere.


A bold sign encouraging lovely little tourists to stop for a while was now fixed to the wall facing a car park, bordered of course by a scented hedge of intertwining rosemary and lavender bushes. Chez Marie had changed name by deed poll, migrated to Australia, settled in the Adelaide Hills and had opened for business to trade under the name of Chez Alain s'il vous plaît.


And the Bank was justifiably proud of its new possession.

Tale 9. Harbottle Smyth Pty. Ltd.

The crane arrived on a Tuesday morning at 7.00 a.m. sharp, exactly one hour late. Normally I would be in my fourth hour of fitful slumber at that hour of the morning, contemplating the stupidity of drinking two or three cups of strong coffee just before retiring; however, in a moment of madness several months earlier, I had telephoned an air conditioning company to enquire about a special offer I had seen advertised in the local newspaper. It seemed that for the equivalent cost of several large established houses in a good suburb, I could purchase one of their superb machines in order to provide my clients with a controlled atmosphere in which to relax.

Much like apples in cold storage.

For a small surcharge, the company offered to immediately install this 'Winter Special for Summer Comfort'. An offer I found too good to refuse. 

I must have been drunk or recently returned from a revivalist meeting with a feeling of goodwill to all salesmen, because I signed the wretched contract I was presented with and so began the eternal wait for the appointed day of delivery, which was almost ‘immediately’, but still in plenty of time for summer. 

Hah! Of course the appointed day of delivery had long gone by the time I received the phone call to say the unit would be arriving the next day, and if at all convenient, would I please be in attendance on the premises to have all in readiness for the installers at, say, 6 a.m.?

The liar inside my head said he would be most happy to oblige and asked the young girl in her second day of work experience if she would pass on my fondest regards to the salesman who had been studiously avoiding me for several weeks now. With any luck, if the delivery actually did happen, it would be just in time for the third heatwave of a summer that had come a tad early this year.


Two interminable hours elapsed.

At exactly 9.00 a.m., a spotty young apprentice holding a caution flag was stationed in the middle of the road attempting to control the morning traffic. The morning traffic didn't wish to be controlled and was making that fact evident to the apprentice by repetitive blasts of car horns. It was far too early in the morning for this sort of noise and order was restored by the crane driver, a red headed man of prodigious proportions sporting very colourful pictures of skulls and snakes on the exposed parts of his body. He was also wearing a nose ring once used by a large Hereford bull. He approached the driver of the leading vehicle and politely asked for his understanding for several minutes whilst the air conditioner was winched over the roof to the other side of the building.

The driver complied. He was scared of cattle.

There were two pieces of equipment; one was the motor, the other was the heat exchanger. The motor was installed outside on a flat part of the roof above the toilets, but the heat exchanger took up residence on the ceiling in the attic, directly above the main dining room and was connected to outlets in all rooms by long tubes of very special, very expensive and very flimsy tinfoil, which I was assured would last forever or thereabouts. Approximately. 

I was assured of this by the same salesman who had guaranteed the delivery date.

The only thing I was really sure of, was that it couldn't fall through the ceiling and kill anyone dining below, because although the plank ceiling was made of old and recycled timber, it was supported by massive oversize beams, and a truck could be safely parked up there. 

I think.

And of course, it had previously supported a very heavy Trevor machine.


Unloading was accomplished in a few minutes, just as the bull had promised, and he rode off in the crane to rejoin his herd. Three electricians and one spotty apprentice then set about attaching blue wires to green wires and red wires to brown wires until there weren't too many loose wires left.

I, meanwhile, sat on the terrace thinking of all the holidays I could have taken with the thousands of dollars I had spent on this latest piece of hi-tech. My last significant item of expenditure had been a state of the art security system which was so good, it let every neighbour within a radius of ten kilometres know whenever a large moth or ant entered the building after hours. Not only were the neighbours enlightened, but the automatic dial-out feature also alerted both the police and myself of this significant event so that we could drive at breakneck speed to the premises and swat the intruder with a rolled up newspaper.

The restaurant hadn't been open very long, but it possessed the three most important things in business. Location, location, location.

Thousands of cars passed my premises every week on the way to goodness knows where. It didn't really matter where they were going, just as long as their curiosity was aroused and an enquiry was made at a later date.

Sure enough, the phone started to ring more regularly and local business houses began to make enquiries for their Christmas parties. I sent them a standard response, detailing the size of the restaurant, the number of rooms, maximum seating, cost per head, some usual menu items and standard starting and finishing times. I always included a sample dinner menu which was stamped 'For style only. Subject to daily change', in red ink across the diagonal.

Those businesses wishing to make a group booking would then appoint a competent organizer who would decide on a set menu with two or three choices of main course. The next day, the company accountant would telephone and say that the same menu could be purchased much cheaper elsewhere. On top of that, his boss had eleven children in good private schools and also needed a new headsail for his yacht. It was the poor accountant's job to (a) cut my price in half, and, seeing as how my business was only new, (b) tell me I should be grateful for their patronage. 

Having worked in restaurants all my life I knew that this was standard procedure, and so I made the standard response. The accountant was extremely happy with the offer of a free dinner for two at a later date and after a small adjustment to the tariff, the final menu and specific seating arrangements were entered in the appointment book. And a copy was sent to the organizer.

Quite straightforward. 

Very simple.

What could possibly go wrong?



The first employees of Harbottle Smyth Pty. Ltd., arrived for their Christmas function. It was late December and humid. The temperature outside was forty degrees Celsius, however inside the restaurant, it was a cool twenty-one. And it would stay that way too thanks to my brand new million dollar reverse cycle airconditioner and my attentive staff who rushed to the front door to close it whenever an idiotic guest left it wide open. Even the kitchen, normally a sauna, was maintained at a constant twenty-one, enabling Amanda, my voluptuous young kitchenhand to remain fully clothed, (much to the chagrin of Andrew, my youthful head-waiter and chief of staff).


There were eight earlybirds. Guests had been expected at seven thirty as arranged, but this (loud) party, led by Mr Giovanni AlfaRometti, had been fortunate enough to possess extremely fast cars and thus arrive a full three quarters of an hour before the organizer and the rest of the party were expected.

I received them warmly. I had to. They just stood in the doorway and marvelled at the cool temperature inside whilst the outside air rushed in past the motionless guests in an attempt to cool itself. I was par-boiled by the time I had dragged them all inside and handed them over to Andrew. 

At twenty one years of age, Andrew was completing his fifth degree at university. He had been working for me since he first started his tertiary studies at age nine, and was considered by most to be fairly bright. Unfortunately he had a bad habit of using his initiative. I recently learned that this can be cured by a term of employment in any government department and so I shall write to him accordingly, advising of this fact. I hope he finds it most helpful. 


Mr AlfaRometti and his entourage were given their complimentary glass of champagne and shown through into the main dining room.


As discussed, arranged and contracted with the organizer, (who was not yet present), the restaurant had been set for tables of six. Nine tables of six. Fifty four persons in total. Confirmed numbers.

A knock at the door signalled the arrival of more early comers and they were, as luck would have it, a considerable number of Mr now extremely Ebullienti's closest friends. Andrew dragged them inside and shut the door. He poured the bubbles, gave them a glass each, then ushered them through to the main dining room to join their jovial amigo. He then returned to the kitchen to assist staff with their preparations.

Simple. 

Everything totally under control.


No sooner had he commenced helping, another knock was heard. What a lot of earlybirds, we thought.

On this occasion neither Andrew nor myself were fast enough to beat Mr now extremely Ebullienti to the door. He welcomed the remainder of his closest friends and asked if they would like champagne. The reply "Does a one legged duck swim in circles?" indicated the affirmative, whereupon Giovanni requested several bottles from the bar.

I was partway through my explanation that there was just one glass per person when the literate Giovanni pulled a photocopy of the agreed function menu from his inside jacket pocket. He stabbed with his finger at the bottom line which read, and I quote, 'Complimentary champagne on arrival'. My literate buddy made it quite clear to me that the word 'glass' made no appearance in the text and therefore he and his colleagues had arrived early in order to be well and truly complemented by the time the food or the other guests arrived, whichever was the earlier.

Everything was now not totally under control.


There is always one more imbecile than you counted on, and dear Giovanni proved the rule. However, before he could work himself into a lather, a couple of extra bottles of shampoo were supplied and we returned to the kitchen, allowing our new 'Maître de' to ply his skills with his friends in the dining room.

Several minutes later, Andrew showed his initiative and went to check on the revellers, only to find that it was not only him who had been showing initiative. Giovanni, it seemed, possessed that same quality by the bucketful, and seeing that some silly fool had set lots of little tables of six instead of big ones, he had enlisted the strongest of his workmates to assist in rearranging the tables so that his own group could all sit together and enjoy each other's company at close quarters.

A bit like sheep in a pen.

They had done well, and those of his group used to eating with a knife and fork had even managed to arrange some of the cutlery. The lace tablecloths had presented some difficulty, but with the assistance of some of the more female looking guests, the leftover tablecloths had been folded and carefully placed in piles with the superfluous cutlery on some of the other tables.


We sensed control slipping away.


It was whilst we were surveying this mayhem that the rest of the group and the organizer arrived. They were thirsty and hungry, requiring champagne (which we had aplenty) and requiring a seat each. Unfortunately Mr Algebrati wasn't as numerate as he was literate and had neglected to notice that every time he joined two tables together, the two end places were lost. When this process was repeated five times to accommodate a whole herd of bovines at one long table, ten places were lost. Quite simple mathematics really. Unfortunately Mr Algebrati wasn't quite that simple and noticed no problems whatsoever. On the other hand, the organizer and the newly arrived did notice otherwise. Able to find chairs but no table to match, they began to complain in a loud voice about the lack of organization.

Mr Agitati et al looked on and agreed, offering to call for more champagne and fresh glasses to smooth the situation for the organizer. Andrew, bless his little heart, referred the organizer to Mr Antagonisti who had rearranged the dining room and suggested they discuss the matter of seating arrangements together.

All staff then retired immediately to the haven of the kitchen until the sounds of scraping furniture died away completely and we felt it safe to return. A few people still sat on laps, but at least everyone now had a seat of a sort at each table.

 

They say bad luck comes in threes.


We were up to number six.

Chez Alain was a non-smoking restaurant, a fact usually apparent to even the most feeble minded patron. It was signified by a plethora of signage stuck on every vertical surface, a wholesome smell, and a total absence of ashtrays on tabletops.

Unhindered by this information, Mr Affluenti reached into the infamous inside pocket of his (smoking) jacket and extracted a fine Havana which was lit with a flourish. His personal assistant, Mr Elephanti, (who was equipped with a more ordinary, but no less offensive article), let out a piercing whistle to attract Andrew's attention. It certainly attracted Andrew's attention. And mine. And everyone else's not in possession of a perforated eardrum.

The collective question from the animal kingdom was 'Where can we put our cigarette butts?'

Before Andrew could use his initiative and tell sir the exact location where sir could put the items, I intervened, advising sir of sir's infraction and suggested both he and Mr Alfresco promenade on the terrace whilst indulging.

The front door was left wide open on the way out.

Of course.


Everything nearly out of control.


Andrew took out his notepad and began to take food orders from our carefree little group. The menu, as discussed and agreed with the organizer, had been developed on the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid), and so it contained three choices - beef, chicken and fish, all cooked to perfection à la mode, and featured Marie Dubois' special sauces.

Mr Affluenti finished his expensive cigar and returned to the fold, (leaving the front door wide open on the way in). He was a hungry little boy and was looking forward to his din-dins. 

I really should have offered him a job on the spot, because not only could he pour and serve drinks, he was also extremely attentive to the comfort of my other guests. Noticing that the inside room temperature was beginning to climb, he turned the air conditioner thermostat to two degrees above freezing, thus obviating the necessity to keep closing the front door. What initiative.


Andrew now approached Mr Affronti for his order.

'Will sir be having the beef, the chicken or the fish?

'Lasagne' was his reply.


Although all semblance of control had now disappeared, Andrew was not just a pretty face. In fact he was not a pretty face at all, but he did have initiative. With complete equanimity, he enquired as to whether any of the other assembled primates wished to have a serve of special 'Christmas Lasagne'. Two or three raised hairy arms to signify assent. Andrew solemnly wrote down the order and delivered it to the kitchen.

He looked quite smug.

On this occasion he had been unusually brilliant. 

Several months previously, we had held a staff bonding session on the premises and Andrew had contributed two large lasagnes baked by his little sister Fiona which she had made at her home-economics lesson at school. She had made others before and that is why the family suggested Andrew take them away. After consuming half of one, we all felt very bonded indeed and the remaining gem had been consigned to the freezer. Thereafter it had been used as a temporary doorstop whenever the need arose. So, before you could say "Defrost in a microwave," Andrew had prepared a meal fit for a thing. Or more particularly, four things in the dining room. 

He was so cool under pressure.


The kitchen was now in full swing with mains. I had hoped that this function would be memorable and that other custom would flow from word of mouth advertising, but it now seemed unlikely. The best I could hope for now was to finish the evening in time to go to midnight mass and seek absolution for the thoughts I had been having for the last hour which involved Mr Alcoholi on all fours and a long pointed stick. Certainly worth at least a hundred Hail Marys. And I’m not Catholic.

Andrew poked his little blonde head through the door and interrupted my train of thought by asking for a bucket. I directed him to the laundry and continued with my work at a frenetic pace. Five minutes later, he popped his cute little head around the door again, with the same request. I stopped what I was doing and thought. 

I thought 'Don't ask why'.

I offered him a large saucepan and returned to my work a somewhat troubled chef. A few minutes later he reappeared just long enough to hoist the two largest saucepans from the uppermost shelf and exited just as quickly. On his fourth visit, I could contain myself no longer, and asked “Why, Andrew?” 

I didn't really want him to reply, but he replied anyway.

He told me that there was a leak, but it was all under control now and I could return to my cooking and not worry about it.

I am not prone to involuntary flatulation, but something inside me was trying to escape. I was hoping it was nothing more than a small scream for help, but the growing unease in my stomach told me that Andrew had been using his initiative again and more than one large scream might be in order. I downed tools and followed my chief of staff to the dining room.


Tables had been deftly moved from the centre of the room and had been repositioned wherever they could fit around the perimeter. Some of those patrons in receipt of their main course ate in a bemused state from their laps, others ate in a more regular restaurant fashion from relocated tables.

A large woollen blanket that Andrew had fetched from his car lay spread out in the centre of the room. It had managed to soak up a great deal of the water that lay in pools upon the slate floor. The bucket and four large saucepans were strategically arranged on the blanket to collect most of the water which poured down in small rivulets from small cracks in the wooden plank ceiling at one end of the room, however the water was progressing at a steady pace through similar cracks and knotholes towards the ceiling fan in the centre of the dining room.

Mr extremely Effervescenti and associates were once again seated at one long table, laughing their heads off, using their empty champagne glasses for ashtrays.

As I stood transfixed, the river pouring down from above reached the middle of the room, and began to flood through the hole that had been bored through the ceiling planks in order to install the fan. Unfortunately, the large fan located immediately below the hole was in operation. It had been turned on at the beginning of the evening to assist with air circulation. And, as I watched, the slowly rotating blades now began to assist with water distribution as well as air circulation. A bit like a like a horizontal water wheel, and within a very short space of time, every client was being given a cooling shower. Continuously. Whether they wanted one or not.

Customer comfort is absolutely paramount at Chez Alain.

The best was yet to come. A lady patron who had obviously been to university and majored in electrical engineering made the connection between electricity, water and human bodies and began to scream hysterically that we were all going to die of electrocution if we touched each other. Fortunately her screaming broke my trance and I strode to the centre of the room and placed a chair under the fan. I then mounted the chair and firmly grasped one of the rattan blades.

The little fan motor promptly expired and water streamed down onto my head.

This was no doubt the time to show my leadership skills to Andrew. He looked up to me, (but only because I was still standing on the chair). So I dismounted. Without a word, I walked outside, beckoning him to follow. There was no need to beckon twice, no one in control of all his faculties would have wanted to stay a moment longer than absolutely necessary in that catastrophic room.

Out of earshot to all but Andrew, I issued my instructions. Firstly, distribute more than enough champagne to get everyone completely legless. Secondly, laugh loudly. Thirdly, send out for a box of cigars and distribute them generously.

He was brilliant. He laughed so much, even I thought it was funny. Mr Effluenti joined in until he fell off his chair and onto his friends at repose on the floor. Others began a game of 'Toss the spoons into the bucket of water', and one skillful lady managed to score multiple points with one of my fine china saucers. I even complimented her on her dexterity.

The bubbly did its job. We managed to avert a riot and just after midnight, we poured the lot of them into taxis, promising to look after their cars in the car park until the following day.

Nothing mattered anymore. 

We turned up the music, drank champagne and feasted on the leftovers. Amanda lit up a cigar and we laughed until the tears came. 

There was no semblance of control at all.


The next day, a trip to the attic found the cause of the problem. A drip tray was situated directly under the heat exchanger and collected all the water taken from the humid atmosphere in the restaurant. A small diameter pipe took the water outside the building from the drip tray. During installation, a small piece of insulation material had managed to block the drainage pipe. The tray filled with water, then overflowed. The rest is history.

A letter arrived from Harbottle Smyth Pty. Ltd. a few days later. I had been expecting it and had been in constant contact with both my insurers and my lawyer. However, the contents of the epistle took me by surprise. Harbottle's staff had all agreed that it was the most memorable evening they had ever had and would like to rebook for the following year.



Everything once again totally under control.

Tale 10. Andrew's Auction.

Note:- When one has an intellect as sharp as mine, one has to keep one's business methods extremely simple so that the two are compatible. 

Accordingly, I have only ever hired waiting staff (except Andrew) with a similar mental capacity to that of myself. That is to say they had to be used to walking in the upright position for extended periods and had to be able to count up to twenty without the removal of footwear. Usually university students studying medicine.

Fortunately for most, the entrance exam for a job at Chez Alain was simple. It consisted of just one night's trial, and at the end of the night, those who believed that a well balanced meal was one which arrived at the dining table on the same plate as that on which it left the kitchen, were the ones that could cut the mustard, so to speak. The remainder, which was the majority, were thanked profusely for their efforts and rewarded with a bottle of wine. Their names were also taken, just in case they managed to pass medicine and I was unfortunate enough to get sick within their jurisdiction.

The lissome Amanda was one such young hopeful. She was upright and honest, fair of face, and amongst other items of considerable interest, was in possession of nature's full quota of digits.


One particularly busy Saturday night, Amanda was teamed with the experienced Andrew. They were to work the main dining room together and as is the usual custom in the restaurant trade, they split the workload between themselves instead of both serving the same patrons. The experienced Andrew took the majority of tables, leaving just two for little Amanda owing to her amateur status. He also believed that if he could impress her with his prowess at being able to handle a huge workload, he would be in with a chance at the end of the evening. However that is another very interesting tale which I shall leave for another time, for I fear it would cause me to digress and there is neither time nor space to go into the finer details of that particular saga. In this story anyway. 


The main reason for allocating only a small workload to trainees was to increase their confidence, for once they realized they could successfully serve four or even six patrons throughout the course of a whole evening, they gained enough self belief to return for another bout of equally oppressive work the following week. The fact that their mother had probably managed to do the same for their own family every night with her eyes closed for the last twenty years totally escaped them. Nontheless, at the close of business, the trainee or potential employee was duly congratulated on a magnificent effort and some improvements were tactfully suggested which might prove mutually beneficial in their future endeavours within the confines of a busy and bustling dining room. 

Improvements such as - 

1. Salt and pepper pots, although made of very elegant china and a striking feature of every table, are not usually required with dessert and their removal is unlikely to bring howls of protest from even the most truculent of patron.

2. Patrons sitting at the same table tend to wish to eat on the same day as each other, so the taking of extended toilet breaks whilst delivering six maincourses to one table is not usually viewed with favour, (even if one dilligently washes one's hands several times with both hot water and soap and informs the patrons of that fact). 

3. When laughing uproariously at a customer's joke, please try not to spit. 

4. When a customer asks your opinion of the lambs' brains, DO NOT give your opinion of the lambs' brains.

5. All rings should be removed before service. This includes those located in eyebrows and noses.

Snippets of information such as these, when tactfully pointed out in this sensitive manner, always help put the potential new employee at ease and make him/her really feel an integral part of the team. This is very important.

Amanda was one who had survived my little training session and I thought she would work well with Andrew. One could tell at a glance that she was far from intellectually challenged. In fact, even before the end of her first trial evening, I felt that in a few years' time when she became a doctor, I could quite confidently be sick in her waiting room. 

And so it was that night, with the confidence of knowing I had extremely capable staff, I engrossed myself with my cheffing duties in the hot kitchen and paid particular attention to the placement of the garnish as is so incredibly important to a chef who has had the benefit of French influence.



Tables have table numbers. 

This makes it much easier when waiting staff are delivering food. One doesn't have to say "Take this to the fat bald man by the windows" and suchlike. It is so much easier to say "Table three, the table with the fat bald man by the windows!"

However, from time to time, table numbers are wont to change due to differing seating configurations, and so each table is equipped with an enchanting Art Deco 'gizmo' signifying its specific number for that particular evening's service. These beautiful gizmos are provided gratis to all establishments willing to accept a particular brand of credit card. Of course once an establishment has enough gizmos, the establishment no longer accepts that particular card. 

This is an industry rule.


Tables in the main dining room that evening contained gizmos numbered from one to eleven. Amanda was allocated numbers three and four, and Andrew took the rest. Other staff serviced the Private Room and The Snug. 

We were busy. Very busy. Fully booked. Chock-a-block. The sort of night, dear reader, where garnish placement reaches its zenith of importance as you will no doubt become aware should you have the pleasure of visiting a romantic 'Ooh-la-la' restaurant such as mine in the middle of nowhere on a very busy night.


Orders came into the kitchen thick and fast and soon my order board was full. Amanda had performed brilliantly and had successfully extracted dinner orders from a total of six people, two from table three and four from table four, whereas Andrew was being somewhat tardy with his quota of forty two garrulous patrons who were insisting on enjoying themselves. 

In fact Amanda had performed so well that I sweetly suggested if she could find the time, she could perhaps lend a hand with the small township Andrew was trying valiantly to assist. The young lass gave me a winning smile and vanished through the crushed velvet curtains to render assistance to her hero.

Apart from her extreme good looks, her excellent attitude and her quick mind, Amanda had one other quality I enjoyed. She had legible handwriting, and whereas Andrew's looked like a slug had committed a misdemeanour on a piece of paper, Amanda's looked as clear and legible as the address on the envelope one receives from the police department for one's speeding fines.


I quickly disposed of the orders for tables THREE and FOUR. Then came table FIVE, - one chicken, two rabbits, one beef pie. An excellent piece of work, obviously an order from my new trainee who had found herself capable of a massive increase in workload. The writing was as clear and legible as the two previous orders and was just as quickly attended to by the busy chef. What's more, the lovely waitress took the beautifully cooked meals to the grateful patrons whilst they were still hot and the busy chef continued with his work, laughing and whistling to himself all the while as busy chefs do on a Saturday night in a hot kitchen. The completed order docket for table five was then forwarded to its place of eternal rest in the waste bin along with other bits of equally useful debris and detritus from incoming plates. 

It was about thirty minutes later that another main course order was completed. It was for table SIX and was written in slug script - one beef pie, two rabbits and one chicken.


The shrill 'Ping' of the service bell indicated that Andrew's order for table SIX was ready, and he duly collected the meals and disappeared into the ether. Meanwhile, moi, the whistling chef, continued at a frenetic pace and had the next two tables ready to go by the time a perplexed Andrew returned with the meals which had so recently embarked on their short journey from the kitchen to their intended destination in the dining room where they were to meet their oral demise. They were untouched. Undemised, so to speak.

I sensed a problem, and in my most caring and sharing way, asked whether or not I might be of assistance to the young man.


He dutifully informed me that table six was already eating.


At this point in time, I might point out that if I do have one major failing, it is that I am known far and wide for possessing the patience of a saint, and so in my usual dulcet and tolerant tone, I suggested that he was mistaken. I continued to say that it would be obvious to even the dimmest of garden gnomes that table SIX could not possibly be eating because he was at that very moment holding all their meals in his hot sticky little hands and would he therefore please return from whence he came and dispose of said meals. And, if he would be so kind, I would consider it a great favour if he would please be quick about it because there were now several more meals to deliver to other tables and they were getting cold. 

I sensed that my renowned patience was beginning to show through my sweet smile and the abashed Andrew departed immediately, only to return again minutes later, laden with the same four exceptionally well garnished maincourses.


At this point in time, since I have already shared some of my innermost personal character traits with your good self, dear reader, I feel I ought to make mention of one other, albeit more minor quality that I possess, even at the great cost of laying bare my soul to you. I have an excellent sense of foreboding, and at that very moment I guessed Andrew was about to tell me that once again he had taken the food to the wrong table. Sure enough, right on cue, he confirmed my thoughts.


I am a gentle man by nature and I abhor violence, especially within the close confines of a commercial kitchen where costly breakages might occur and upset me. So in order to avoid any such problems, I searched for and found Andrew's completed order in the bin where all completed orders are duly filed. I carefully removed the small pieces of salad and flecks of gravy adhering to the paper and handed the correspondence to its author with an instruction to solve the problem because I didn't want to see those meals ever again. The order, written in his inimitable handwriting, plainly stated 'Table SIX, one chicken, two rabbits and a beef pie.' 

I may be mistaken, but I do believe Andrew thanked me for my show of equilibrium and he once more departed carrying one beef pie, two rabbits and one chicken.

It would have been a good ten minutes later that an unmistakable sense of foreboding began to gnaw at my ulcer. The usual hubbub which emanated from the dining room was considerably reduced and Andrew was noticeable by his extended absence. I sensed something was wrong.


Sure enough, Amanda popped into the kitchen to cheerfully announce a little mix-up had occurred and provided me with the simple explanation. It was all my fault really. I had misnumbered the tables.

Whilst she was assisting Andrew with his workload as I had earlier requested, she had made the logical assumption that his table number FIVE would follow her table number FOUR and she had taken its order. Unfortunately, her assumption was wrong. There was no art deco gizmo loudly proclaiming a table with the number FIVE that evening. She had in fact taken the order for table SIX as the gizmo next to the cruet set screamed out to her, but had mistakenly labelled it FIVE on the kitchen order form because she thought my numbering system was silly. 

She had also neglected to inform Andrew that she had helpfully taken his table's order because she didn't want to hurt his feelings because "you know what men are like when they need help from a woman". 

She continued to say that Andrew for his part had dutifully taken the order for his table SIX and the stupid, stupid patrons hadn't told him that their order had already been quite professionally taken by the very competent Amanda. And so of course when Andrew delivered the meals to his table SIX, they of course were already noshing on the fare provided by herself because it really should have been table FIVE.

It was all quite simple really,


I thanked the young maiden for her eloquent explanation of my stupidity and incompetence and continued with my work for several seconds until I remembered that I had told Andrew to solve the problem.


I prayed that Andrew was not using his initiative again and I bolted for the dining room where I was met by my beaming young man holding a plate of rabbit casserole aloft, cajoling the diners with the aplomb of a most experienced auctioneer to take this last sumptuous meal off his hands. It was, ladies and gentlemen, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

My look of shock must have caused him some consternation, for he immediately reassured me that all was well. He had in fact managed to offload the chicken dish to a man on table eight who would eat it before his entrée arrived, one of the rabbits to a gentleman who was only halfway through his dessert and seated at table three, and the beef pie to a rather stout lady on table one who had enjoyed that very same dish not two weeks earlier and who said she would eat it right after she had polished off her Rainbow Trout poached in champagne. 

Andrew assured me it would only be a matter of minutes before he found the remaining dish found a good home. It was all a matter of salesmanship.


I returned to my kitchen praying it was all a bad dream.

Tale 11. The Cendelabrum.

A growing business usually has many strings to its marketing bow. My business was no exception.


Friday and Saturday nights had become extremely popular, requiring patrons to book at least two weeks in advance to secure a seat and four or five weeks in advance for their favourite table. Latecomers and other unfortunates lucky enough to incur the displeasure of the proprietor were seated with much grace and fanfare next to the toilets or the front door, where they were able to avail themselves of continual zephyrs of reasonably fresh air created by the constant arrivals and departures of the more preferred guests, or those with enough foresight and intellect to book.

If my memory serves me correctly, a famous politician once said that the general public doesn't have the brains of a sheep. This is not so. They do have the brains of a sheep, and it is interesting to reflect on those patrons who started at the front door and who with successive visits over several years, gradually worked their way to the prime seats next to the fire in 'The Snug' by very slowly learning the booking procedure. These four tables and the single table in the 'Private Room' were quite special and reserved for only my very best customers.

The ambience in those two rooms was as romantic and intimate as the warm lingering caress of one's favourite lover, and it wasn't only the embers of the fire that were glowing and warm to the touch at the end of the evening when the once tall candles peeped over the rims of their holders, signalling the time to repair to the warmth of the electric blanket at home and continue muted conversations in much more privacy and at much closer quarters.

Ah! Romance. 

The very thought of it pressed all the buttons of my cash register.


Sunday lunch had also become a very popular session, but after the 4pm exodus, the restaurant was silent and many were the occasions I checked the telephone to see whether or not the line had been cut.

It seemed no-one wanted to dine with us on Sunday evenings. All the little tourists had scurried home to their lodgings in the big city far away. The locals were in their domiciles, preparing to retire early in order to be fully rested by next morning, ready for another week of arduous toil in the saltmines to earn the mortgage money. The younger carefree and hormonal generation just preferred to sustain themselves with a simple meal of fermented hops obtained from the local hostelry.


Necessity is the mother of invention, ergo Sunday night 'Romantic dinners for two' in 'The Snug' were created and added to my marketing mix. They consisted of a sumptuous three course cordon-bleu dinner, plus coffee, for romantically malnourished couples. Excellent wine was included, and all at an excellent price for all concerned. Given the atmosphere supplied by the candles, the dim lighting, the Persian rug wall hangings and the roaring fire in the cosy confines of the restaurant's tiny premier room, the four tables were eagerly sought. 

I especially remember one particular couple, obviously unmarried because they were deeply in love. When booking for their fifth or sixth visitation, they asked whether or not they could have the table in the 'Private Room' for their Sunday night dinner.

Although immediately adjacent to 'The Snug', this room was seldom used on Sunday evenings since it contained just one table, always set for eight or ten. Four each side and one at either end.

The couple were however excellent customers who always tipped well and so Monsieur was naturellement most happy to oblige. Places were set at opposite ends of the highly polished antique cedar table and a large ornate silver candelabrum with seven candles was acquired to grace the centre.


Owing to work commitents, they made their particular booking for quite late in the evening, at a time when the other Romeos and Juliets would be either desserting or deserting, but I considered this to be more of a bonus than a drawback, because it would allow me more time for preparation and therefore less stress in the kitchen.

The evening duly arrived and as always, romance filtered through the ventilation system and into the pre-dinner drinks. Things were progressing quite swimmingly in The Snug when my last couple arrived. They too had been swimming before their arrival at my establishment.....................underwater in a vat of gin and for quite a while too by the looks of things, and being unable to hold their collective breaths for extended periods, they had unfortunately suffered the misfortune of swallowing large amounts of the liquid when they surfaced gasping for air or extra slices of lemon.

The physical exertion of swimming whilst fully attired in evening dress must have been very taxing for them, for it was with most unsteady legs that my two guests shuffled into 'The Private Room' and gingerly took their seats. 

Eventually, their eyes met across the table and recognising each other almost immediately, they began to whisper 'I love you', sotto voce. A murmur only just audible to myself far off in the kitchen, but thankfully much clearer to the rest of the clientele seated nearby in 'The Snug'. And this endearing refrain was repeated at regular intervals for the next thirty minutes.

For everyone’s entertainment.


The other diners quickly took their leave, relinquishing the pleasure of that melodious chant to me, the lifeguard, and I was left with the high probability of a very, very long evening with a fascinating crossword puzzle in the privacy of the kitchen, whilst my remaining two paramours slobbered over each other within earshot.


It is at this juncture that I digress dear reader.

Bear with me…….


Bread has two fascinating properties.

University tests have proved that if a loaf is lowered into a sterile plastic bucket containing exactly thirteen litres of fluid, only one and one quarter litres of fluid remains in the bucket when the loaf is removed. This experiment was found to hold true no matter what size of loaf was used, however wholemeal bread did sometimes soak up less than white bread, depending on the amount of residual yeast after baking. 

That night, my knowledge of this little known fact, so educationally provided by the collective skills of twelve governmentally funded PhD students, proved invaluable. And, within a short space of time, one little complementary freshly baked sourdough roll (with just a smear of unsalted butter) had managed to absorb four or five litres of the offending gin, plus a half bottle of tonic (probably swallowed by mistake). Thus, before the entrée of smoked salmon crêpe gâteau had been completely demolished, our loving couple was still amorous, but a little steadier on their feet as between mouthfuls they traversed the short distance between each other to deliver reasonably well aimed kisses to several anatomical regions of the other party. Telltale smears of lipstick and salmon pinpointed the direct hits.

Entrée was followed by lean thigh of duckling, braised in a black soy/onion sauce with an infusion of rosemary. Fresh asparagus and yellow button squash were the accompaniments, as was a bottle of exceptional McLaren Vale Petit Verdot. 

My tactful and much repeated offer of a further basketfull of rolls each to enjoy with the wine was declined, and a short while later saw our almost legless little tadpoles sniggering at each other through the candelabrum and blowing wet kisses across the length of the table. My crossword puzzle in the kitchen became more and more fascinating.

I took the fine china littered with the debris from their maincourses to the safety of the kitchen and quickly returned with a simple crème brulée, staying only long enough to watch the start of a very charming routine which they had probably practised together regularly at the beach with warm chips when sober.

A spoonful of wobbly dessert was lovingly but laboriously transported the length of the table by one of the party, where the majority of it was deposited into the gaping beak of its anticipating mate. Bits that tumbled to the floor soon disappeared from view. They were spread by the shuffling feet that had begun to wear a deep rut in the wooden floor. 

I had retired once more to finish my crossword and had taken several extra minutes to tidy the kitchen, stack the dishwasher with intact china, sweep the floor and commence the ritual of coffee making for my guests, whilst the turtledoves billed and cooed in the privacy of the Private Room. Nothing,dear reader, absolutely nothing, can beat the nostril flaring aroma of freshly ground and brewed top quality coffee and I always looked forward to that time of the evening for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly, it meant the guests would soon be gone and I might be able to catch the last half of the football replay. Secondly, I could make a strong cup for myself and relax whilst I contemplated the day's events and the morrow's requirements.

A time for quiet reflection.

Drugged to the eyeballs with caffeine.

I entered the Private Room bearing two plungers of New Guinea's finest medium roast, and distinctly remember two specific events which immediately followed. 

(A) I remember asking 'Would you like your coffee now?'

(B) I also remember noting with horror that the candelabrum had been relocated to the side of the room, hard up against the Persian rug wall hanging and small brown spots were beginning to appear on the rug where the flames were invading its personal space. 

Those two events are imprinted indelibly in my mind.


All the more so because of the fact that my two guests were now fully occupied with each other on the table, and by using rudimentary mathematics I was able to count ten toes up and ten toes down.


I immediately did three things, all of which went unnoticed by my preoccupied guests. Firstly, I reached forward and removed the candelabrum. Secondly, I returned the coffee to the kitchen, and thirdly, I turned up the volume on my radio and caught the last fifteen minutes of talkback gardening which was appropriately about sowing spring seeds.

Neither of the party questioned the magnitude of the account they were presented with an appropriate time later, nor did they ask for coffee, being now quite replete. I took the liberty of telephoning a taxi for them and returning to the safe harbour of my kitchen, I opened a fresh packet of the strongest Brazillian coffee I could find.


Considering what I had just seen, I thought a nice Brazillian seemed to be in order.

Tale 12. The Queen's little baby.

Most nights when I wasn't open for business, I would be alone in the kitchen preparing dishes for the following day or re-stocking the freezer for future functions. Elvira, the ghost who inhabited the building would keep me company, and from time to time remind me of her presence with loud creaks and groans, the result of which was a considerable volume of soiled clothing for the laundry. 

My restaurant was developing quite a name for itself in the district for the variety of game which appeared regularly on the menu, and with my background it was no surprise to me that this was so. Creativity had become instinctive since childhood for I survived my youth as the second of eight, by trading food at mealtimes with my six brothers and sisters. I say only six and not seven because I no longer fancied the excellent breast milk still being partaken by the baby, plus it also would have involved tactful negotiations with an adult third party.

Fixed price contracts were entered into prior to being seated at the very long dining room table, but more casual deals were done in situ with a surreptitious glance or a slight nod of the head. On Wednesdays, I could swap a small potato (they were in constant demand) with my siblings, for three or four brussels sprouts. Of course the brussels sprouts could never be on-traded, so I learned to enjoy them, washed down quickly with a beaker of water. Wednesdays meant I would survive throughout Thursday and possibly until Friday when with any luck, sprouts would once more be on the menu.

As I grew older, but not much heavier, I began to augment the family diet with meat. I caught pigeons, rabbits, ducks, fieldmice and tiny slow marsupials. In fact our diet became so varied, my mother began to entertain the hope that the majority of her offspring might survive. The local farmers however, from whom the majority of this protein had been liberated, did not.


This night, I was dressing game. It was almost duck season and so the larder contained several fresh wild ducks, the ubiquitous bunnies, a dozen fat little stubble quail, and a very large hare which had been gifted to me by Henry, a short sighted friend and neighbour who had shot it on his property by mistake thinking it was an impala. He was an enormous, well hung specimen. And so was the hare.

Henry’s gifted hare was skinned and dressed, then wrapped in plastic film and deposited in the freezer to be used later on.


Whenever hare appeared on the menu, one question was always asked. 'Where do you source your hares?'

The general public should never trouble their pretty little heads with questions. They should just eat and enjoy.

My initial reply was always 'At the local hairdresser's'. Sometimes this would elicit a faint smile, at other times just a roll of the eyes. It was an answer designed to deflect further interrogation, but not always successful. 

Another ploy was to tell the truth………….


Late at night, after work, I would travel the backroads to my den in the countryside, bearing tablescraps for my hungry vixen and her cubs. On occasion, a hare out for his evening constitutional, would be transfixed by my headlights and meet an untimely and unfortunate demise if I was quick enough with my rifle. Or the front left tyre. If not too bruised by the encounter, seven or eight pies might result which would then be sold in the restaurant with both alacrity and vegetables, thus providing the wherewithall to purchase a schoolbook for the cubs to share or perhaps even a few pieces of chalk to use on the slate I bought for them at Christmas. A brace of hares so obtained and disposed of, once even provided a pair of new sandals for my second born, greatly facilitating his daily eight mile romp through the bush to the local junior primary school. The little fellow loved to romp.


The look of horror on the patron's face was always worth the story. I would wink and say I was only kidding, and that the hares were really flown in from Alaska as individually frozen units, and so I apologised for any slight loss of flavour that might be noticed. I was always assured of no noticeable decrease, due no doubt to the miracle of modern refrigeration and air transport. They chuckled at the ridiculous notion of me actually shooting them myself.


It was whilst labouring at my workbench that I heard a knock on the front door. Elvira never entered or exited by the front so I guessed it was a lost soul looking for directions, or one of the many customers who regularly failed to notice that all the outside lights had been turned off, the 'Open' sign now read 'Closed', the cat-rabbit had been put out and the romantic music in the dining room had been replaced by a very loud football commentary on the radio in the kitchen.

I opened the door and was confronted by an elderly lady sporting an excellent standard of footwear. I could tell she was from one of the more affluent suburbs, because not only were the uppers made of leather, but also the inners, soles and heels. This old dear was my kind of customer. She had all the accoutrements of the grand lifestyle. Several kilogrammes of precious gems draped themselves around her throat and upper torso, the lower strings nestling themselves in the fluff of her non-allergenic mohair sweater. Her hair was coiffed, her eyes watery and both her vowels and fingernails, clipped.

It appeared her acquaintances had acquainted her with “a quaint little eating house in the country, where a rather odd little man served unusual but decidedly delicious fare”. She went on to enquire as to whether this was the same establishment and I, the same odd little man.

I replied in the affirmative, motioning to the game currently being prepared on my bench. I agreed that my menu was diverse and that I had developed somewhat of a reputation for offering 'different' fare.

She sniffed a little haughtily and said she was considering a “girls' night out” soon, but would need to inspect my premises first before deigning to bring the whole flock of hens to grace my humble roost.


The subsequent tour of inspection was punctuated by several sniffs and a few snorts, indicating that either her sweater was not true to label, or that my premises were deemed adequate. She then graciously flustered over to the bar where she could supervise me whilst I entered her name, address and telephone number in my black, dog-eared, mock-leather appointment book. I wrote in my best cursive, but in a sans serif face, whereas a lady of her breeding and station usually required the more appropriate serif. This flagrant error was gratifyingly deliberately overlooked by la madame.


Elvira is a very naughty ghost, and has a lot to answer for. She had overheard the grand-dame say that she was interested in 'different' menu items, and whilst I was embossing Mrs Upmarket's name in my book, she leaned over and whispered the suggestion in my ear that I invite the old chook into the kitchen to show her my latest prize, wrapped lovingly in a cocoon of cling wrap and resting regally in the freezer atop the rigid barramundi, some of which were close to legal size.

Both my invitation and her curiosity transported my potential patronne into the kitchen, where she came to rest in front of my big chest-freezer.

I lifted the lid with a flourish and stood back beaming.

"Look at that." I said. "Isn't it a beauty?"

The old chook peered in cautiously, and blinked until the body came into focus.

"What on earth is it my good little man?" was her royal response.

We could have said a hare, which it was. We could have said an impala, which it nearly was. But.........

"A Corgi," said both Elvira and I in unison.


Mrs Upmarket's chins began a harmonic wave and her jaw dropped, revealing enviable dental work. A strangled shriek escaped her bejewelled throat and she escaped through the front door in a clucking flurry.

Tale 13. A Perfect Day. 

Have you ever had one of those days when you knew that everything was going to be just perfect? That particular Tuesday was one of those days. I had awoken refreshed. My daughter, prone to showers of at least several hours duration, had decided to leave me enough hot water to not only initially cover my tired old body in a delicious wave of liquid, but also almost enough to rinse all the soapy lather from that same old body. It was a surprising and most welcome start to the day.

My poached egg was soft, as I like it. It perched happily on a slice of fried tomato which in turn was perched on a slice of crispy bacon atop lightly toasted wholemeal bread. God was in his heaven. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and my car, parked peacefully in the driveway, decided to start without the usual verbal coercion from both myself and my small terrier dog which is often mistaken for a large rat or apprentice beagle.

The sunlight had been streaming through the car window since early morning, landing its rays directly onto my seat and the warmth radiated through my clothes, caressing me in a most private manner as I drove off to work.

It was going to be a most perfect day.

A day when the tourists would be out and about, meandering at walking pace in their shiny new vehicles through the picturesque hills countryside, burdened by heavyweight gold and silver coins, Visa cards and paper money adorned with pretty pictures. Looking for a restaurateur to whom this treasure could be bequeathed.

And so it came to pass, that after one or two hours of gob-smacked amazement at nature's wonderland in the guise of cute farm animals and multi-coloured autumn leaves, both of which littered the roadside, four little touring flies alighted in my car park and strayed into this little spider's webaurant.

It certainly was going to be a most perfect day. The sun continued to shine, the birds continued to sing, and everyone was going to enjoy a wonderful lunch. Me, the lovely little tourists and most important of all, my bank manager who of late had been sending me terse messages through the postal service.


They were a quartet of ladies, neither girls nor matrons, and certainly not what I in my more sexist moments, term 'Yummy mummies'. Three of them had rather full figures, suggesting both regular and robust visits to the dining table, but the fourth was obviously in the thirteenth or fourteenth month of pregnancy. It was also obviously going to be twins or an extremely large child. Perhaps the unfortunate result of hybrid vigour? Etiquette however prevented me from asking after the ethnicity of the father, for these days one can never be too politically correct. Just give an understanding smile and keep the telephone number of the local emergency services handy in case the table of four needs to be reset for five. That is of course if Dr Ramsay is not too busy playing golf. 

I had noted their shoes. Excellent leather. Italian. Expensive. Polished to a high gloss. Each shoe containing a very adequate foot, a product of good feeding throughout its little life. My heart began to sing.

Would it be soup, entrée, maincourse AND dessert? Or would it be a more restricted diet of soup, entrée, maincourse and 'No, no we shouldn't, we shouldn't really! Oh, what the heck, (giggle) you talked us into it you old smoothie,..... Four chocolate mousses followed by plunger coffees, but no cream please, we're on diets!'

But of course, I was forgetting something. The lady threatening childbirth at the table had very little room left inside her. Still, I thought three out of four wasn't bad, but still made a mental note to encourage her to eat heartily, 'for the baby'.

Preliminary chit chat amongst the group ensued about a recent ski trip to Switzerland (of course) where one of the party had found this GOOORGEOUS  little restaurant just OOOOZING with atmosphere, not unlike this one actually, and had stayed there all afternoon, spending the equivalent of the gross national product of a small Pacific nation.

My knees trembled as I asked whether or not they would like drinkies.


Now although it has been said of me that I certainly enjoy the benefits bestowed upon one by the accumulation of coin of the realm (to whit money), I also value children, inasmuch as I have had many children myself, by an assortment of wives. To this day, I continue to love them (the children), and it was for that very reason that my little heart skipped a beat when mum-to-be asked for a glass of Chardonnay.

Although I had picked her as a Riesling or Moselle, it wasn't her surprise choice of Chardonnay that caused the palpitation, it was those damned television documentaries.

Working very late hours as one does in a restaurant, one is inclined to watch television at silly hours of the morning, and so it was that at 4 a.m. or thereabouts one day not so long ago, whilst eating reheated venison risotto (with just a hint of rosemary) made the previous day whilst I was bored, that I saw that fateful documentary. Suffice to say, the nub of the programme was that alcohol was bad for unborn babies.

  Very bad.

Ultra bad.

Hence I was faced with a monumental problem. If I duly served the glass of straw-coloured, dry, gold-medal winning Chardonnay (with overtones of American oak), I could be responsible for an intellectually challenged child. One which may eventually turn into a politician, or even worse, a lawyer. On the other hand, the monetary difference between a glass of wine and the bottle of mineral water (which my conscience pricked me to suggest), was almost half the pocket money I so philanthropically bestowed at monthly intervals upon my collective offspring.

Mon Dieu! 

What a dilemma!

How do I get myself into these situations?


After what seemed to be hours of soul searching, I eventually decided to forgo the profit and suggested what I considered to be a more appropriate aperitif, under the circumstances. I went further, and in a spirit of camaraderie from the knowledgeable and caring father and grandfather that I am, I enquired as to how many days she had to go before the happy event. I went further, and added that should she return for a christening celebration (hopefully with an entourage of many rejoicing relatives), I would be happy to provide complementary champagne to both herself and her husband at that juncture.


The look on her face told me that Arnold Schwartzenegger had just walked into a gay bar.

 

The words “I'm not pregnant” resonated throughout my dining room, ricocheting off the polished slate floor, the stained glass windows, the spotless glassware and every other solid object that could reflect sound.

My perfect day had just ended.

It was not quite twelve thirty, and for the next thirty minutes I prepared and served four of the most exquisite chicken liver pâté entrées, in a silence usually only experienced in a sixteenth century European cathedral before dawn. 

They ate quickly, then left.

I made a mental note to call the automobile association to assist in starting my car for the journey home.

Tale 14. Princeton Elliot. 

I love children. 

Either pot roasted or pan fried if they are young and tender. It doesn't really matter which, as long as they are accompanied by suitable vegetables instead of their parents. Princeton Elliott was one of my more successful pot roasts. 

This is his story.


There are several approaches by road to Chez Alain. Most are typical meandering country lanes with an occasional bend or two and exist only to connect the general public's point (A) to my restaurant's point (B) in a more or less direct way. One route however, is a torturous goat track of interconnected switchbacks, hairpin bends and blind corners; the style of road much loved by today's young temporary inhabitants. Motorcyclists who want to get closer to God as quickly as possible without physically attending church. This circuitous route gives a very well-to-do suburb access to my establishment that it would not otherwise have enjoyed, and there is a relatively frequent stream of visitors from this area that braves the journey on a Sunday in order to join us for a quiet and intimate lunch. 

Adult company. 

With no children of course so we can enjoy our adult luncheon.

This is not to say Chez Alain is a child unfriendly environment. Far from it. As I said before, I love children, and we enjoy our visits from the odd little darlings perhaps three or sometimes even four times per annum. In total. For which we are truly grateful.

Sadly, my establishment is under-equipped with the playthings and novelties that littlies commonly enjoy at the other, more brightly coloured food outlets which pose as restaurants, so Chez moi is less favoured with the fellowship of our underage companions and remains the poorer for it. Often, the time delay between visits of society's junior members seems so interminable to me, that I can occasionally be seen standing morosely at the windows looking out across the car park in the forlorn hope of espying a couple of patrons who might be arriving for a romantic interlude in my secluded, intimate restaurant, accompanied by one or two playful little kiddies.

The very thought of it, even now, brightens my day immeasurably.

Like catching leprosy.


Mr Elliott was a stockbroker. He lived in the well-to-do suburb at the end of the torturous switchback road to Chez Alain and because he had sired one child, a son, some years previously, he had built a dwelling of appropriate size to house his enormous family. There were five double bedrooms, (all with ensuites of course), three dining rooms (two formal), two family rooms and an outside undercover spa which could double as an Olympic swimming pool. I'm sure his son (Princeton) had hours and hours of fun playing hide and seek with himself in this sumptuous abode and I'm equally sure he will be eternally grateful to his father for providing him with such an elaborate playground during his formative years. It certainly assisted in moulding the lad’s fine character. And the personality to match.

Mrs Elliot on the other hand, was a homemaker, not a stockbroker. She was a quiet country lass who happened to marry a stockbroker, and while Princeton amused himself around the house, she enjoyed hours and hours of fun, rigorously cleaning every superfluous square kilometre of the edifice. She had tried on many occasions to convince her husband that a more moderate dwelling might be more appropriate and provide her with fewer hours of entertainment, but her illogical argument fell on deaf ears. He reasoned that it gave her something to do to occupy her mind. 

And Princeton agreed with his father.


It was one balmy Sunday afternoon that I had the pleasure of meeting the Elliotts. All three of them.

Mr Elliott had just taken possession of a large piece of costume jewellery for his driveway, and although not quite as large as the house, the silver Mercedes Benz had enough room inside to accommodate the passenger list of a Concorde. It was also equipped with a cockpit and flight-deck to match that of the aforementioned aeroplane in leather and mahogany trim.

As a treat, Mr Elliott decided to take Princeton on the vehicle's maiden flight and land at some spot in the country for a little luncheon. He also took Mrs Elliott on this inaugural voyage and as a token of his esteem for her, she was offered the full use and privacy of the rear business section entirely to herself, whereas Mr Elliott and young Princeton had no similar indulgence and were required to share the plush leather, individual hand-crafted pilots’ seats between themselves.

Princeton and father had a wonderful drive. The cockpit was festooned with a myriad of dials, switches and buttons which operated the latest technological advances in motoring. There was even a Global Positioning System included in case Mr Elliott became lost in his long and exceptionally well landscaped driveway and had to be rescued by the 24 hour Mercedes Benz Roadside Assist Package (standard with all executive models.)

Another standard feature, included for passenger comfort, was the bank of buttons on the armrest of each seat which operated the tinted electric windows and obligatory sunroof, and young Princeton entertained himself throughout the ride opening and closing all the apertures in rotation and at regular intervals. 

After enduring this for twenty minutes or so, the rear business class passenger tactfully suggested to father Elliott that he perhaps encourage the little fellow seated next to him in first class to desist. The pilot in reply gently chided the passenger for the lack of understanding she showed to his inquisitive little co-pilot. And the windows continued to go up and down like a bride's nightdress.

And so it was that our happy party duly arrived in the car park of Chez Alain…. Princeton, resplendent in his smock coat (with polished silver buttons), dun coloured corduroy trousers and a sporty little cap perched on his sporty little head. Mr Elliott, dressed in more moderate attire of immaculately ironed pin striped weekend business shirt with matching trousers (of fashionable length) and handmade Italian leather shoes. A lovely touch, not unnoticed by myself, was the pair of Mercedes Benz silver cufflinks, the Mercedes Benz polished brass belt buckle, the monogrammed Mercedes Benz handkerchief (noncholantly folded and tucked in the shirt pocket) and the monogrammed leather Mercedes Benz driving gloves. All were tokens of esteem from the dealership, so that Mr Elliott could remind himself (and everyone else he encountered) what type of car he had bought.

Mrs Elliott arrived sporting a new hairstyle, courtesy of the howling wind she enjoyed at regular intervals throughout the journey as Princeton mastered the electronics. Being in the front seat, Princeton was also in control of the override switch, (a feature standard in the executive model), thus relieving his mother of the burden of opening her own window with her own button. Or shutting it for that matter. She also wore her best frock, although I do believe I was the only one to notice. Mr Elliott appeared not to be a frock noticer.


We were quite busy that particular lunchtime, and although Mr Elliott had not been able that month to find the thirty seconds it usually required to make a booking by telephone, I was delighted to be able to fulfill his loud request for my very best seating and immediately led him to a beautifully polished jarrah table with sparkling glassware, colour co-ordinated napkins and soft cushions on the seats of the antique bentwood chairs. Although not quite in the centre of the room, nor by the windows overlooking the garden, the table nonetheless had a commanding view of the coffee percolator and the entrance to the ladies rest-room. The coffee percolator was imported from France, and as far as coffee percolators go, it was quite a work of art and it operated reasonably quietly as well, unless we were busy.

Mr Elliott ordered an eighteen-year-old malt whisky. 

“Quickly, waiter!”

The ten year old ordered a cola. In a wine glass. “And quickly too!”

The lady quietly requested a mineral water and two aspirins. “Please”.

Princeton summoned the menu, and after considerable perusal he informed his father that there was nothing to eat. At that point of time I almost invited the little man into the kitchen to assist chef with a pot roast he was preparing for the following week's menu, but I thought better of the idea and suggested the parents might like to read the menu themselves. Which they did. 

They seemed to find items of food written on it.

Mr Elliott ordered soup, then fillet of beef (cremated); then he passed the menu to his wife, who ordered fish. Please.

Mr Elliott then ordered a large plate of chips and a schnitzel for his little companion. 

I took the menu from the table and read it several times to make sure no-one was playing a little tricky-wicky on me. No, not anywhere could I find ‘schnitzel and chips’, not even in the tiny fine print at the bottom where I advise all patrons of the horrendous Sunday and Public Holiday surcharge. The menu appeared to be the same old boring five star food that my regulars enjoyed so much, and I sadly had to inform Mr Elliott that we were in fact not a ‘chip and schnitzel’ restaurant. And also, through a dreadful oversight, neither did we have any tomato sauce on the premises.

Princeton was not a happy chappie, and made the matter known to me. 

And to all the other nearby diners. 

Loudly.


Mrs Elliott called me aside and had a quiet word with me. She recounted the pleasant drive down and her exasperation with the current situation and asked if there was anything I could do to help. 

Please……………?.


It is my job to serve, and after so pleasant a request, I decided to see what I could do to rectify the situation. I suggested to young Princeton that he might find one of our very rich chocolate mousses more to his liking whilst pater partook of his soup. And another cola. Tout de suite of course. And in a fresh wine glass of course for our aspiring little shit. 

Young Princeton brightened measurably with my suggestions and servility, and thanks to private lessons in percussion that he received each week from his expensive tutor, he was able to entertain the majority of the main dining room with an exhibition of his phenomenal prowess, using just my cutlery and tabletop as instruments, until I arrived with his rich mousse. 

And yet another cola.

Elliott senior joined in the conviviality, acquainting all nearby diners with his new purchase of expensive vehicular transport and suggested that they too might be fortunate enough to own one themselves. One day.

Mrs Elliott politely requested another mineral water. And further aspirin. Please. I returned with her order, and with a knowing wink to Elliott junior, slipped another very rich chocolate mousse to my little friend to ease his hunger whilst dad finished off his soup. 

And another cola of course. In a fresh wine glass.


Main courses arrived for mummy and daddy, and in the absence of there being anything remotely edible for young Princeton in the main course department, I returned with a very special Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch sauce (which chef had made for him personally). And another cola, although I did notice the previous cola wasn’t quite finished yet.

Little Princeton was in seventh heaven, and he avidly set about demolishing his special mainfare whilst I left to fetch another scotch for papa.


Mrs Elliott had by now brightened considerably, and I engaged her in pleasant conversation while father and son busied themselves with the type of man talk that was beyond mere womenfolk. And waiters like myself. 

Everything was going very well indeed now, and I offered the dessert menu.

Father thought that perhaps the youngster had had enough, but I was insistent that everyone really must try the exceptionally light (and exceptionally rich) lemon meringue pie that chef had made that very afternoon. And of course some more liquid refreshment for the little fellow to help it go down.


When the desserts arrived, I considered severely admonishing myself, for I appeared to have made a gross error of judgment in slicing the pie and the serve that landed with aplomb in front of young Princeton would have ordinarily fed three or four Bulgarian weightlifters; but with all the skill and servitude of a genial host-cum-mere-waiter, I encouraged the young man to eat every crumb, even though it took a little longer than usual and a great deal of effort on both our parts. 

Plus just another half cola. 

Because we were feeling a bit full were we?


I decided that the party was ready for the return journey now, and after they had settled their account, I escorted them to their shiny new vehicle in the car park and bade them goodbye. Princeton and father in the front, and mother once again at liberty to avail herself of the comfort and indulgence of the rear seating compartment during the torturous, spiralling trip home.

I really am an old softie when it comes to children, and when no-one was looking, I was able to slip several of our famous (and extremely rich) hazelnut fudge chocolates into my little friend's sweaty hand, with strict whispered instructions to try to save one or two until he got home of course. 



I don't know whether or not it was gentle rocking of the independent suspension (standard on all models) or the fact that the automatic ambient temperature control inside the cabin (standard on executive models only) was set too high when the new vehicle left the dealership, but not long after leaving the restaurant, and after negotiating twenty or so hairpin bends, little Princeton was violently ill. Luckily, Mr Elliott was an excellent driver and although he was quite surprised by the sudden outpour from the little fellow, with a deft wriggle and a swift lurch to one side, he neatly avoided the unwelcome gift from his favourite son; unlike the mahogany dashboard and the plush pile carpets (standard on only the executive model) which were not so lucky.

A wise man once said that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and as Mr Elliott lurched to one side, so did the vehicle, and to use a financial metaphor, the stockmarket crashed. Into a small post on the other side of the road, causing an immediate and sharp depreciation in Mr Elliott's recent investment.

The altercation with the post was but a minor event, however in the blink of an eye, the wonders of German technology (that Mr Elliott had discussed in interminable soliloquy with his fellow diners not thirty minutes previously), sprang into action, and the front airbags (standard all models) inflated inside the vehicle, causing Mr Elliott to enjoy at extremely close quarters that which he had deftly managed to avoid not a fraction of a second before.

Of course, being seated in the rear, where she was able to indulge herself in privacy, Mrs Elliott was not privy to the generous distribution of dividend which had now occurred evenly between the pilot and co-pilot (courtesy of the standard feature airbags) and an unsoiled Mrs Elliott was able to ring the 24 hour roadside assist number on the hands-free mobile phone (executive models only) to request help.


Mrs Elliott also rang my number to advise me that the aspirin had worked a treat, and she now felt soooo much better.

Thank you.

Tale 15. No Speaka da English.

Australia is a wonderful country with a colourful and diverse multicultural society. We are peopled by every skin colour, religion and language, occasionally even within the same family. And at any point in time during the conduct of one's personal business, or in the workplace, one is liable to meet a new migrant or refugee from some foreign land and be confronted with a slight language difficulty or other minor cultural obstacle to conquer.

We call these people 'New Australians' and we love them dearly.


I wish that I could say that addressing and overcoming these tiny communication problems with our New Australian playmates makes for a better, more tolerant society, but our own culture, as much as any other, tends to suffer from the fear of the unknown, and oftentimes in face to face situations there is reticence by one person or the other to indulge in meaningful dialogue in order to accomplish understanding. This of course leads to the usual generic societal problems which I liken to living in a population made up entirely of teenagers with menopause. 

Australia’s main difference from other countries is a fantastic climate, which enables one to play golf almost every day of the year. And for those such as myself, unencumbered as I am by an ever attentive darling to fulfil one's each and every whim, golf provides an excellent substitute and costs far less, even at the most exclusive clubs where I am only an occasional visitor except when wealthy friends take pity on me and invite me to play with them on a course with lots of real grass and motorised transport.

It is on these warm and balmy days for which Australia is so famous, (with the occasional puff of breeze to push tiny profiteroles of cumulus about an otherwise azure sky), that an exceptionally hard working Australian restaurateur such as myself will sneak off to the public golf course for a slow eighteen.

In my case, it is a very slow eighteen holes, because although I am now a fully grown man and in possession of a rather full beard, innumerable 'smile lines' all over my face and greying hair, my brain remains that of a small child. I am easily distracted, and during my round I can be led astray by the intrigue of rabbits, snakes, lizards, juvenile birds, small and large insects, women golfers in tights and almost any other thing that could amuse an eight year old with arthritis and fading libido.

Lateral water hazards too provide an endless supply of interest. They contain fish and frogs and eels, and best of all, other golfers’ lost golf balls.


I consider it my environmental duty to remove these balls from the water hazards and sell them for as much as I can get on the open market to my friends who probably lost them there in the first place. It is not, as some mean spirited people suggest, that I am too tight to buy my own golf balls. 

Fishing for golf balls is an art. They are elusive little fellows, and a keen hunter's eye is required to spot them lurking in the pond weed or hiding in the muddier sections where they think they won't be noticed or captured. On windy days, even the more experienced fishermen like myself have difficulty in spotting them swimming in the shallows because the surface ripples distort one's vision, (I believe it is called error of parallax). However, with patience and the right equipment (such as a ball scoop), one can pluck the legal bag limit of balls on even the most overcast and blustery of afternoons.


It was after an exceptional day's trawling for balls at my local club that I returned to the restaurant with my catch. It had been most rewarding and perhaps one hundred and twenty firm little white balls lay gasping for air in my wicker basket, ready to be cleaned and sorted ready for sale the following day.

I am by nature a very creative (lazy) man, and rather than scrub each ball by hand with a small scrubbing brush to remove the mud and grime to return the balls to their original lustre and considerably enhance their value, I had discovered that tossing them all into the washing machine for half an hour with a large sponge and a litre of washing up liquid accomplished the same result. And with minimal effort. A bit like putting the family poodle in the tumble dryer for ten minutes after his/her annual flea bath. Makes his coat all curly again.

The restaurant possessed a high quality front loading washing machine and according to the manufacturer’s directions, it had a maximum capacity of either two hundred golf balls or ten fine linen tablecloths. So, whilst the ball cleaning was in progress that afternoon, I decided to clean the outside male toilet at the rear of the premises. This was not a task I would normally spend more than five or ten minutes on by choice, but the washing machine as I previously mentioned was of a very high quality and came complete with a stainless steel bowl, so the sound of one hundred and twenty golf balls flying about inside it was absolutely deafening. Akin to spending thirty minutes in the front row at a West Indian steel drum concert. 

Thus, I was able to derive much pleasure from the sterilization of 'The Little Boy’s Room' outside the building, a long way from the din going on inside.


And so it was that day, I re-entered the building through the rear door about half an hour later, just as hostilities ceased inside the washing machine and relative silence once again descended on the restaurant. I was whistling blissfully to myself as I pushed through the crushed velvet curtains that led to the reception room.

Instead of walking into a very empty room, I walked right into a very fullsome woman. She had apparently entered the restaurant whilst I had been busy being the MC in the WC, and I assumed her calls for attention had gone unnoticed due to the cacophony from the washing machine.

I apologised for the collision and by way of explanation, said that I didn't hear her entrance because I had been busy washing my balls in the laundry.

It was at this juncture that although she looked like a very well-to-do lady who had come to discuss an expensive function, I guessed she must have been a very recent arrival to our shores, a poor refugee or similar, because she just fixed me with a wide eyed stare, obviously not comprehending my excellent English, and she slowly backed out of the restaurant, never to be seen again.

Tale 16. The Peabodys.

The Peabodys were regulars. That is to say they came every year without fail on the same day of the same month, and by simple deduction, I reached the conclusion that it was the celebration of nuptials held some thirty years previously, when each had found the other attractive. However, with the benefit of spectacles kindly provided by their mutual health fund, their eyesight in later years had improved markedly. They had then each been able to view their life and life partner with more focus and clarity, and the blissful joy of yesteryear had mellowed to some extent, inasmuch as it was now more resignation to their fate and acceptance of lot. 

Basically, a lot of fatal resignation.

They reminded me in an abstract way of twin calves born to a quiet natured cow that I had had the pleasure of owning for several years on the farm. This docile dam was an integral part of my herd and had been mated to a similarly quiet natured Angus bull of extremely generous proportions who had served the lady well, and she in return had repaid his efforts twofold. Her calves were a pigeon pair. A little boy and a little girl.

For those of you unacquainted with larger animals such as a cow and unable to picture one in your mind, I can really only describe one as an animated vaulting horse with a leg in each corner, a head at one end containing an entrance chute for fresh herbage, and a tail at the opposite end, underneath which is located the exit chute for pre-loved herbage.

The original cow was of course designed by a local council town planner, because sited immediately below this exit chute is the udder. Why on earth one would locate a school tuck shop immediately adjacent to the town sewage works is a fact only a local council town planner would know and a complete mystery to everyone else. Unfortunately, many long years of very careful selective breeding by eminent geneticists have been unable to correct this serious design fault, so calves have been required to work around this nightmare of town planning at mealtimes themselves. Their usual solution concerning the method of approach to mother's in-house restaurant has been to attack from the flank, thus avoiding being anointed with warm compost by her beatitude whilst having their morning milkshake.

Luckily for twins, a mother cow is in possession of two of the aforementioned flanks, and so the calves ordinarily decide to approach mama simultaneously in an orchestrated pincer movement, each attacking the defensless udder from either side to prevent the mobile café from relocating. Only as a last resort is the rear offensive undertaken, for the obvious reasons of good grooming, personal safety and social hygiene.

Unluckily for the male of my twins, his mother had a bad habit of preparing herself for her offsprings’ double snack attack by bracing her side against any available solid support, thus limiting the directions of the mealtime assault to just one flank and the dreaded rear. The result of this restriction leads me to believe that chivalry does indeed exist in the animal kingdom, for the male calf became a very hesitant feeder owing to his gallant decision to always allow his sister first choice of feeding site. She, unfettered by any need to show any appreciation and being in possession of a full quota of female wisdom, always chose the flank.

Always.

Unsurprisingly, the male calf's normal growth pattern suffered dreadfully due to this noble gesture and his masculinity nosedived as well. To say that he became timorous would be to considerably overstate his bovine bravado, and although he was continuously given copious quantities of several types of high grade nitrogenous fertilizer by his doting mother whilst he enjoyed his lunch, he failed to record the same excellent growth pattern as his un-anointed sister. She, on the other hand, before long began to assume the same voluminous proportions as her exceedingly well bred father, Sir Aberdeen the Third.


My initial reaction to Mr. Peabody was that he was the male calf twin who had remained under the tail section for the whole of his life and his size and character had suffered accordingly, whereas Mrs. Peabody had been the one who had received the full benefit of both excellent genes and unfettered access to nutrition. Sadly though, Mrs. P was not overly endowed with good nature, for I believe she must have opted for a double dose of belligerence instead when God was handing out character traits.

Mrs Peabody would stride into the room leading her poor unfortunate husband by an invisible rope attached to his nose ring and on the order of 'Stop!', he would stand quietly to attention and ruminate, as he did every year, while his sweetheart ascertained the booking at reception.

I would then lead the lady into 'The Snug'. She in turn would bark 'Walk on!' to Mr P, who would dutifully continue his furtive shuffle into the bowels of the restaurant, a respectful step or two behind his wife until he received the dual commands of 'Stop!' and 'Sit!', whereupon he would take his annual seat at the little table next to the fire.

As he did every year.


The well suckled calf would then order her usual gin and tonic “With two slices of lemon if you please...................!”

"And your husband....................?" I would enquire.

"He will have a light beer" she would respond.

Mustering all the manliness he possessed, a hesitant Mr Peabody would beseech his better half for something a little stronger, then lower his eyes as she considered his request.

The larger calf would snort loudly and stamp her high heeled hooves, leaving cute little dimples on my polished floorboards, but a resigned sigh a few moments later would indicate that the little man's request had been granted and she would order him a half brandy to replace the light beer.

"Certainly madam, right away madam", I would say and retire to the bar to attend to her order.


I don't know why it was, but on every occasion that the Peabodys attended Chez Alain, I managed to misplace my pesky spirit measure, the one that all restaurants are required by law to have to ensure that the customer receives the correct amount that he or she is paying for. Of course, under the circumstances, I had to pour the gentleman's measure by pure guesswork, and not wishing to be imprisoned by an overly zealous licensing inspector should he decide to have a snap inspection of my premises, I may have deliberately slipped an extra splash or three into Mr P's glass.

Mr P always enjoyed receiving his half brandy, and before you could say 'Open Sesame', he would grab the glass with his little hoof and make the contents disappear in a flash down his throat.

As he did every year. 


I once had a neighbour who was a racehorse trainer. He used to give his timid neddies a full pint of apple cider vinegar with their evening meal just before a big race, and I won a lot of money backing those particular horses. Unfortunately for Mr Peabody, I had no apple cider vinegar and so he had to make do with my best brandy. Though not a full pint of course. Just a half.


Being the incredibly genial host that I am, and noticing his empty glass, I would enquire as to whether or not ‘sir’ would like another?

A curt "No, he would not!" from Mrs Peabody was my cue to leave.


A calf encourages a cow to let down her milk by bumping her udder. This bumping process can be long or short depending on the attitude of the mother and the perseverance of the calf. Another response other than the giving of milk can be a swift kick in the head for the calf if it oversteps the mark or fails to recognize the onset of PMT in the mother.

Mr Peabody commenced udder bumping. 

Figuratively speaking of course.

Two things worked against Mrs Peabody giving her husband the second of the standard cow’s responses. Firstly, her movement was restricted by a close fitting evening dress, and secondly, she was in the public domain where there were several witnesses. She decided to give milk, and signalled to me to come over and take a second order for Mr P's pre-dinner drink.

"………another half brandy? Certainly madam."


Once again I looked high and low for that pesky spirit measure, but it remained lost and I once again had to resort to guesstimation.

I am usually fairly confident when estimating volume, but the loss of a liquor licence for a major infraction such as pouring a patron's measure one or two millilitres short could have spelt doom for Chez Alain, and so once again, against my frugal nature, I decided to err on the generous side as I filled the little calf's bucket with excellent brandy. 

Sometimes I can be generous to a fault.


The calf avidly accepted the bucket and thirstily plunged his muzzle into the amber liquid, drinking noisily until the receptacle was once again completely empty.


Mrs Peabody shot a glare at her husband, but he just reached over, placed his little hand on her massive forearm and gave it a soft pat, indicating that all was well. The glare was transferred to me as she felt her control slowly slipping away and the seat of my antique bentwood chair on which she sat lost a coat of varnish as she visibly squirmed. I swiftly departed, because I have bred cows for many years and have developed enough sense to give them a wide berth when they are agitated in the cattle yards.


I returned a short while later with the wine list and presented it to madame, who without consultation with her husband ordered a Chenin Blanc "to go with our fish."

Mr P expressed surprise that he was to be ordered fish that evening and tenderly suggested to his partner (with an appropriate udder bumping forearm pat) that he be allowed to have meat instead.

"But I always order fish for you," came the response, “Lemon pepper flathead is your favourite.” 

"That's right" he said, "but tonight I think I shall have meat."


The little male calf was making a concerted push to feed from the flank.


Some things in life are never forgotten. 

I remember being returned to school one day by the truant officer and deposited in the chemistry laboratory where my more studious classmates were being taught chemical reactions. Some were carefully pouring concentrated sulphuric acid into little test tubes of alkali and carefully recording the reaction. Other students who ordinarily sat right at the back of the class for other reasons, were carefully conducting their own version of this experiment by pouring small amounts of the same acid out of the window onto the roof of the chemistry teacher's car which was parked one floor below in the staff carpark. They too duly noted the reaction. Mr Borthwick took to driving his wife's car in second term.


(The Borthwicks divorced at the end of third term). 

Mr Borthwick also had the habit of trying to maintain our waning interest by telling us factual snippets of information of a chemical nature. One of these unusually interesting snippets was that an explosive substance similar to gunpowder could be made from common agricultural fertilizer mixed with one or two other easily obtained compounds. 

Plus a catalyst



It was obvious from first impressions that a lifetime of various organic fertilizers had regularly been dropped on Mr Peabody from a great height, and now, with the addition of a little brandy as catalyst, a chemical reaction was taking place.

"Steak please," he said in a firm voice, "RARE," and handed me his empty glass. Mrs P said nothing, although her eyes widened and her nostrils flared a little.

This time I looked a little harder for my spirit measure, because I also remembered Mr Borthwick strenuously telling the class that if one added too much catalyst, the results could be catastrophic (and I didn't fancy scraping bits of Mr Peabody off the walls and ceiling if he exploded).



The little herbivore voraciously ate the raw meat I put in front of him, whilst his more voluminous partner toyed with her fish. The Chenin Blanc was returned and a gutsy Shiraz was reordered. 

By Mr Peabody. 

And a more demure Mrs Peabody began to wax eloquent with her darling about his excellent choice of wine. The nose, the colour, the fruit, the lingering finish on her palate; “……..Altogether a much better choice than a nondescript white my darling”.

Mr Peabody smiled a knowing smile and reached for her forearm once more. Soft and rhythmical udder bumping began in earnest and continued throughout the meal.


I don't know whether or not it was the patting which caused the madame to lean closer to her partner, or the laws of physics which state that an object of her size and weight must eventually push one of the chair legs through the wooden floor and accordingly list to one side; however the couple became nonetheless more proximate by the minute and any thoughts of further dining were soon forgotten. Mr P called for the bill whilst his darling sat quietly and obediently by his side, albeit now at an angle of forty five degrees.

As the couple paid at the bar, I enquired as to whether or not sir and madam had enjoyed their meal, since they appeared to be departing somewhat early.

Mr Peabody assured me that as usual the meal had been of an exceptionally high standard and that the same table would be required next year. The reason for the sudden departure was that he had just remembered he had urgent business to attend to at home.

"Hurry up" he said to Mrs P as he held her coat, "there's work to be done my pet."

"Certainly, my industrious darling" she replied as she picked an imaginary piece of lint from his lapel, "there is a great deal of work to be done and it could take you all night."

She handed him the rope which he slipped gently around her neck, and Sir Aberdeen the Fourth led her to the stock transport.


As he did every year.

Tale 17. Attitude. 

Winter in the Adelaide hills is attitudinal. 

If one has a bad attitude, it is either rainy and freezing cold, with bleak winds howling through lifeless trees during interminable grey days, the boggy ground awash with muddy water because there has been so much rain the ground can't soak it up any more. Or, after several glasses of attitude modification, it is freshly washed countryside, dyed a multiplicity of dewy greens, with swirling mists that reveal intermittent teasing glimpses of fat cows puffing snorts of steam through hairy nostrils. It is little rivulets of fallen rain which run bubbling and weaving by the roadsides. And in the late evenings, it is pinpricks of light which appear like tiny fireflies dancing in the crisp night air as they escape through the heavily curtained windows of distant whitewashed cottages dotted about the steep hillsides.

Especially inviting on a cold winter's night, is the golden halo of light surrounding the entrance to Chez Alain. It extends just far enough to entice visitors with the wisps of redgum woodsmoke which curl from the brick red chimney pots, and it shows glimpses of the chiselled sandstone quoins adorned with a bottle-green patchwork quilt of velvety winter moss. It also shows the old front door with 'Welcome' written on it in big bold letters.

However, I was neither traveller nor hungry romantic. I was a restaurateur hurrying to work on a très miserable day and the annoying patches of lingering fog caused me to drive to work with my headlights on for reasons of safety, and at a very sedate pace. It was Saturday afternoon and I had a lot to prepare for that evening's session. I would be late. I felt like the white rabbit hurrying to the Queen of Hearts' tea party. There was so much to do and so little time in which to do it.


Firstly, the mulled wine with which to greet and warm my guests on their arrival had to be made.

Several litres of excellent local claret needed to be simmered for a couple of hours with a cupful of leatherwood honey and two or three teaspoonsful of mixed spice, whilst a half dozen or so cinnamon sticks floated quietly on the deep crimson pond in order to impart their je ne sais quoi, but at the same time very important flavour to the brew.

Secondly, fresh crêpes had to be made for the striated smoked salmon tiers which were to be sliced and later served for entrée as wedges, topped with both black and red caviar and accompanied by a dollop of sour cream and a smidgin of wasabi.

With both prep and service, I knew I was going to be a busy little chef that night until way past midnight, however with hard work and the right attitude, I knew I would get through. I just needed to work on my attitude a little that's all, and whilst adriving along, I somehow noticed not the multiple shades of dewy green which carpeted the meadows, nor the glistening raindrops which tumbled headlong into the roadside pools causing an ever changing art nouveau gallery of concentric tremors on their liquid canvases.

Quite poetic really, but the aforementioned Keatsian-style poesy was entirely wasted on me that afternoon. I hurried to work and pulled up in the car park a little late and flustered, although I must still have had some wits about me because I remembered to grab several stalks of fresh rosemary from the hedge as I made a dash through the rain to the sanctuary of the dry brick terrace just a few metres away. 

I would love to say that it was an eventful evening, but it wasn't. Everyone had the usual stupendously wonderful time. Wine was drunk. Food was eaten. Company was enjoyed. Music was played and listened to. Jokes were told and some people laughed. Some laughed again when the jokes were explained.

Everyone, as I said, had a stupendously wonderful time and it was past one o'clock in the morning when the last diner departed, leaving the housekeeping to myself and the staff.


Just before two a.m., when the restaurant was clean and tidy and reset for Sunday lunch, I bade goodnight to my hardworking and weary helpers and returned to the kitchen to both collect my thoughts and stocktake for tomorrow's trade, because experience had taught me that those several minutes alone in the restaurant with my thoughts (and Elvira the ghost) are worth every second. One's head clears and important items that need to be remembered, (like picking sprigs of fresh rosemary from the car park) come flooding into one's mind.

Other, more unimportant things which one might have recently forgotten also come flooding into one's mind, such as remembering to turn off one's headlights when one parks one's car and leaves one’s vehicle for an extended period. This fundamental procedure is oft forgot, more especially if one drives with one's lights on in the afternoon (for reasons of safety of course) and if one is born genetically a fool.


When my tired little body arrived at my tired little vehicle I feared the worst, and sure enough, my fears were confirmed almost immediately. Luckily for me though, a faint orange glow still warmed the filaments of my once bright headlights, indicating that I would still be able to start my car. Next week perhaps, after it had regained its strength.

It was now a quarter past two, the ambient temperature in the silent car park was fractionally above zero and my loved ones were snugly tucked up in their beds fast asleep, twenty minutes drive away by a motor vehicle that worked. I blessed them silently. I also blessed the left headlight of my car with my steel capped chef's designer boot and commenced the deep breathing exercises recommended to me by my yoga teacher. 

I returned to the solitude of The Snug and settled myself down comfortably in front of the glowing embers of the once roaring fire. There were of course no blankets. Neither were there any pillows. Not even a cuddly waitress.

And so it was that I stared into the fireplace and waited for dawn to break. In the meanwhile, I slowly utilised the total contents of a large bottle of attitude readjustment fluid plus a steaming mug of mulled wine.

It was really poetic. 

And I really like poetry, although that particular poem gave me a very bad hangover as I remember and left me with a wry cheesy smile.

Tale 18. A Little Extra.

One of the three busiest days of the year is Mother's Day. The others are St. Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day. 

John, the local health inspector, is every bit as successful as myself with members of the fairer sex and so I have never had the pleasure of his company at my restaurant on any St. Valentine's Day. Nor on Christmas Day for that matter, although I do remember his attendance one Mother's Day, accompanied by a mother at least ten years younger than himself which led me to believe that she was probably someone else's mother, not his.

By all accounts John was very fond of this yummy mummy and needless to say, he was unaccompanied by any of his siblings that particular afternoon, preferring to engage this mother in filial conversation in private. Tête-à-tête. 

On these exceptionally busy days, we generally chain the chef to his workbench in case he deserts his post, never to return and since it was my turn to be chef that Mother's day, my leg irons were shackled at 11.45 a.m., just before session commenced and the first diners started arriving. In my absence as Maître de that afternoon, Sister Sarah was assisting with waiting duties, and dressed in her black and white garb, she looked every bit the catholic nun as she attended to the 'meet, greet and seat' arrangements. 

She seated most patrons in the right places too, but since my chains would not allow me any further than the kitchen door, I had to trust to providence that somehow all would end well without my divine intervention and I had to allow her to conduct the job in her own special, quite unique way. 

Sister Sarah was not in fact a nun. She was in fact my little sister, one of the three dozen live young born to my mother shortly after meeting my father. And as is my wont nowadays, I distinguish between the sexes of my brothers and sisters by inserting the simple word 'brother' or 'sister' in the appropriate location. On other occasions in the distant past, such as periods of factional rivalry at the dinner table when teams were formed to win the favours of a half eaten potato or crust abandoned by our parents, heavier, sharper implements other than words were inserted. Anywhere. And it was the pitch of the scream by which I distinguished between the sexes. Sister Sarah, herself a victim of many stabbings in the past whilst playing for the other team, was eternally grateful that I had changed to a more discreet method of differentiation and prayed that I would stick to it religiously.

  (Unless you are from a very large family yourself dear reader, I am sure you have no idea just how much damage can be done to another's person with blunt cutlery). 

Sister Sarah is a happy person by nature, and chattily went about her duties in the reception room a-meeting, a-greeting and a-seating, whilst I crossed myself in the kitchen and attended to the first soups and entrées, unable to interfere (assist). I felt another ulcer developing.

Although in God I trust, I am not the sort of man who ordinarily leaves things to chance and in order that considerable extra attention could be given to an area that I thought might need it, I had written John's name (and job description) in the appointment book in capital letters, in red, felt tipped pen. Not even Sister Sarah could miss it.

This had two effects. 

Firstly, it drew every single staff member's attention to that particular booking. 

Secondly, it made most of the other bookings almost illegible, because Sister Sarah had a habit of resting her glass of alcoholic holy water on the appointment book and the moisture from the bottom of the glass smudged the red ink, causing a lovely damask colour to spread over the whole page and become intimate with the navy blue ink of my fountain pen in which the other bookings were written. It bled through to the other side as well and enabled many future bookings to acquire the same fashionable mauve hue. It also enabled those future bookings to be just as unreadable.

Praise the Lord.


From the kitchen, I could hear the staff at the bar, (organized by Sarah), take a vote on how many ice cubes to put in a glass of beer and discuss at length whether or not a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Sauvignon Blanc was a white wine, and whether or not it would matter anyway after a few glasses.

I blanched.

A sauvignon kind of blanch.

I wouldn't say I was frustrated, just resigned. Incarcerated in the kitchen as I was.


To tell the truth, I might have been just a little frustrated.

I'm sure you know the feeling. You are looking out of your lounge room window into the street one rainy day, and you observe your neighbour slowly reversing his vehicle down the road and into the front of your car which is parked immediately outside your house, only a short distance away. You can bang as hard as you like on the lounge room window, but it will have no effect whatsoever on the brake pedal of the aggressive vehicle. When this actually happened to me, the only thing I managed to 'brake' was the lounge room window, thus adding another hundred dollars to the total damage bill.

The restaurant kitchen was starting to feel like a lounge room.

And Sister Sarah was driving a large truck.

I muffled an anguished wail as I fingered the spot on my stomach where my ulcers were trying to bore their way to freedom and I prayed that a collision would be avoided.


I rang the service bell and the usual lifetime elapsed before any waiting staff attended. Luckily the first attendee was Sister Sarah and I impressed on her my desire that our V.I.P. was looked after and to please give him a little bit extra, if she knew what I meant.

Sister Sarah nodded and tapped the side of her nose with her index finger to either indicate her understanding, or to dislodge accumulated tissue in her sinuses. I don't really know which one it was, but at that exact point of time, the health inspector and his young mother arrived, hand in hand. John knew the way to my kitchen blindfolded because of his many annual inspections, and before being shown to his seat by my younger sibling, he popped his head around my door to say hello and ridicule my current golf handicap. He also tendered several other insults in the affectionate Australian way. 

I gave him a friendly smile, the smile I normally reserve for the tax man and the liquor licensing inspector, and said I would join him and his lady friend later. (If, God willing, my little nun hadn’t had too much holy water already and seated them both at the same table.)


Amazingly, everything went well. We ended up with just enough tables and chairs for everyone, and even those people who were accidentally or deliberately separated seemed to get on reasonably well with the stranger they were seated next to. It's nice meeting new people isn't it?

Sister Sarah thought so anyway.

Even orders and drinks that got mixed up were gratefully accepted by patrons in good moods and I was kept informed of the session's excellent progress by my waiting staff as they flitted in and out of the kitchen like butterflies, although one or two of my little butterflies might have been sipping a little too much nectar from the bar in my absence.

I concentrated on my breathing and reminded myself that it would all be over in just two or three more hours and rubbed some extra virgin olive oil on the chafe marks where my leg irons were beginning to cut into my ankles. It is a little more expensive than other oils, but much easier to wash out of my socks.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. 

Repeat. Just like the yoga teacher said.


At about one thirty, when the kitchen reached its height of frenzied activity, one of my little helpers popped into the kitchen to say, 'There's a problem', and promptly popped out again. She was an experienced waitress. That was why she left.

My head was in the oven at the time, retrieving half a dozen magnificently risen blue cheese soufflés which immediately collapsed as I banged the oven door shut and said 'Problem?' to the empty room.

One minute later, a second helper flitted into the kitchen saying ‘There's a problem in the dining room, a man's got bugs, but it's OK, Sarah's got it, it's one of her tables’. She then grabbed my deflated soufflés and raced out, leaving me similarly crestfallen.

My mind raced. Sister Sarah had four tables. One was very special.

God forbid!…..


I smashed my leg irons as hard as I could with my wooden mallet. 

I even tried to saw through the chains with my best serrated bread knife, but to no avail. I remained bound fast and had to continue to cook food at top speed while I mentally haemorrhaged as my mind replayed in slow motion the videotape of my neighbour backing his car into mine, over and over and over again.



Portugal is a wonderful country. It is securely fastened to the left hand side of Spain and prevents the rest of Europe leaking into the Atlantic ocean, causing a very real and present danger to shipping. It is also responsible for a couple of well known exports.

Portugal gave us Mateus Rosé, a beautiful, light quaffing wine that was a favourite of mine during my youth. It comes in an unusually shaped bottle. You can stick a candle in the empty bottle and give it to a young lady as an inexpensive gift.

Portugal also gave us the Portugese millipede. A horrible little insect with four million legs. This horrible little fellow is absolutely harmless and lives on composting vegetable matter wherever it can find it and from time to time they breed to plague proportions and migrate. We wish they would all migrate back to Portugal, but since they are unable to swim, this is unlikely to occur. So they remain here to pester us. And each and every Spring and Autumn when the weather is perfect, seventeen trillion millipedes go a-visiting on billions of little legs.


Mother's Day is in Autumn.


Millipedes, like Mateus Rosé, apparently also come in bottles.

Occasionally, one of these migrating little critters will somehow negotiate the doors of the drinks fridge to carry out a snap health inspection to make sure there are no bugs in there and will go mountain climbing up one of the water bottles. On reaching the summit and suffering the combined effects of altitude sickness and exposure, our intrepid little traveller will fall into the bottle through the open top, do a reverse float and drown.

I would like to say that these snap inspections by our little multi pedded friends are rare occurrences. They are. But they do happen from time to time in all country establishments that don’t have the brains to put stoppers on their bottles of water in the fridge. The problem of lack of stopper is easily overcome however, with just a little vigilance on the part of waiting staff before they deliver the water bottles to the patrons.

That is if staff are not too busy chatting with each other and sipping the holy water at the bar instead.


Whilst I was frantically trying to free my foot from bondage, my first little helper reappeared to say that the health inspector was on his way to the kitchen with a bug in a bottle.

“A bug?” I enquired.

“A big millipede,” she replied.

“And my sister?” I enquired.

“She's locked herself in the ladies toilet”, came the reply as my helper quickly left the room. 

"Good move Sarah", I thought. "Start to pray my little sister."

I stuck my head in an unused oven and turned on the gas, just as John's face appeared in the doorway. He held a half full water bottle in one hand. The other hand was wagging a half finger at me.


“You rascal” he said. “I promise never again to insult your golf handicap, only you would think of a trick like this,” and he chuckled loudly.


The little nun's prayers had been answered, because the health inspector obviously thought that this catastrophe was a deliberate prank on my part in return for the insults he had handed out to me earlier.

I joined in the fun and laughed and laughed with him. It was the nervous laugh that I generally reserve for jokes told to me by the tax man or the liquor licensing inspector, and whilst we were both laughing, I quietly slipped my best filleting knife into my pocket. When Sister Sarah reappeared from her refuge she was going to be stabbed to death, if I could ever work my way free.


And so passed another successful Mother's Day, although the patrons all had to use the male toilet for the rest of the afternoon because Sister Sarah remained safe within 'The Ladies', clicking away with her rosary beads until the end of session.


Sister Sarah had worked for me before.

Tale 19. Fare Exchange is No Robbery.

Termites at close quarters are not a pretty sight. They are funny looking little guys with soft, fat white bodies, not unlike mine really and with a very hard head, also similar to mine, to which is attached a massive pair of mandibles or forceps with which they rip apart anything made of wood. Six tiny little legs stick out from underneath their enormous little body and somehow carry the little beastie about inside narrow mud tunnels under the ground or within the material they just happen to be demolishing that afternoon. 

The reason they amble about inside these tunnels is twofold.

Firstly, they are blind and the tunnels help stop them getting lost. And secondly, sunlight tends to fry them, a bit like English people on the beach in Spain, and so the tunnels protect them from the sun's harmful rays.

I saw a late night documentary once that classified termites in the same family as alligators, crocodiles and the Patagonian tooth fish, which at the time seemed to stretch Darwin's theory a little, however the film went on to show a croc ripping the leg off a zebra and then a bunch of termites ripping the leg off a chair and I could accept the comparison. I happen to own a great many wooden chairs. 

In Australia, termites are colloquially called 'white ants' and they live in an organized colony with workers, soldiers and generals etc. They also have a queen as the head of state just like us, so I suppose they are really tiny little Australians. 


During its 150 years of existence, Chez Alain has been attacked by these little Aussie battlers four or five times and each time, different parts of the building have been eaten. White ants can be fussy little eaters, just like four or five year old children. One day the kids like pumpkin, another day they like toast and honey and another day they surprise everyone and try broccoli. For thirty seconds.

The upshot of these previous attacks was that before I bought and renovated my sad hovel, all the parts of the building made of termite chocolate had been eaten, leaving just the bits which tasted like brussels sprouts. And broccoli. Unfortunately I didn't personally taste test each piece of material with which I renovated the cottage and unwittingly used floorboards, skirting boards, doors, architraves, mantelpieces and cupboards made from the most exquisite termite ambrosia.

This was to prove unfortunate.


I believe the original cause of the problem was my patrons. 

It was their fault. 

If they hadn't childishly demanded to be kept warm during the freezing winters I never would have brought in (at great expense to the management) tons and tons of beautifully seasoned firewood (which tasted like chocolate) and stored it outside on the brick terrace against the wall in a big pile where it remained all winter like a block of ice in the sun, getting smaller and smaller until in late spring it melted away completely.

What I didn't know, was that just as my regulars would grab a log to toss in the fireplace as they entered the building, so would my little underground mates grab a log and distribute it evenly amongst the masses. Everyone was eating five star à la carte, but only the above ground group was paying for the privilege. Springtime however, saw the subterranean menu deteriorate markedly until all that remained on the blackboard menu was Termite brussels sprouts. And broccoli.


I found the broccoli detesting termite scouts looking for truffles in the Private Room. They had built a little mud tunnel along the top of the skirting board at the back of the room where they thought they wouldn’t be noticed and when I put my ear to the tunnel I could hear them tearing my expensive skirting board into little bits so they could carry it away more easily.

I'm sure, dear reader, that you have seen pictures of termite mounds in remote locations of Australia with a battered Land Rover parked alongside them to illustrate their size. These mounds are actually suburban houses that were spirited away bit by bit during the night whilst the home owner slept blissfully unaware. 

The homeowner generally awakens to the sound of schoolchildren laughing at him asleep in his bed surrounded by nothing but a large mortgage and thousands of little holes in the ground. If one were to follow these secret passages they would lead to a desert in the Northern Territory some thousand kilometres away.


I picked a hole in the little mud tunnel with my index finger and had a quick discussion with the scouts and we agreed that if they poked their heads out of the tunnel, I would squash their heads in with that very same finger. This satisfied my anger for quite a while, but as night time was fast approaching and the stream of white ants continued apace, I thought that either the purchase of a trained Echidna or the assistance of a pest extermination company was called for, because my finger was beginning to throb and get very sticky.

I telephoned five companies and set aside time to listen to the sales pitch of each representative. The salesmen were impeccably dressed in suit and tie with highly polished shoes and well combed hair. And all of them said 'sir' at the end of every sentence, which filled me with absolute confidence that I could trust them to crawl about under the floorboards amongst the mud and spiders, spraying every nook and cranny with poison.

Their quotes ranged from horrendously expensive to extortionate, so I chose the latter, since that company had the franchise to use a radically new termite exterminating hormone made from termite chocolate which was put in little boxes in holes in the ground. I was reassured that this process, besides being totally unobtrusive, would not require the use of standard toxic poisons. On top of this, the salesman added, the whole process was guaranteed and would only take a few weeks, sir. A few months at most, sir. Much quicker than the usual methods, sir.

I began to think I had seen him somewhere else, selling air conditioners.

With a fleeting glance he thoroughly inspected the site and said that the following week, two other men from "The Termite Terminator Company" would arrive to dig little holes around the building and pour termite chocolate, termite raspberry cream, termite almond nougat and termite hazelnut fudge into the holes, sir. The termite scouts would be attracted to the hormone and radio for backup from the worker ants, then together they would carry all the sugary treasure back to the queen who would issue them all with knighthoods just before she had dinner and died a violent death, sir. All the bait holes would be covered so that no one would ever know they were there sir, and in the blink of an eye sir, presto sir, no more white ants, sir. Just sign the contract here, sir. And here, sir. And here, sir.

Thank you sir.

And all this for the price of a round the world trip for two with three nights' stopover in Hong Kong for duty free shopping, I thought.


The workmen arrived as promised. Two strapping fellows in immaculate dungarees, fully equipped with the latest technical equipment which consisted of a posthole digger and a box of chocolates. They started at eight thirty in the morning and by lunchtime had one little hole nearly half dug. Just another twenty two and a half to go. They knocked on the door and asked me very politely whether or not they could use my telephone to call head office and get someone to deliver some more technical equipment. A large crowbar.

It seemed that the salesman, who was currently spending his commission in the Carribean, had neglected to notice during his thorough inspection of the site that beneath two or three centimetres of topsoil, the building rested on solid rock, and it was whilst I was casually eavesdropping on the conversation with head office that I learned of another use for a large crowbar which sounded rather painful to the receiver of said 

implement, who in this case would be the salesman on his return from holiday.


The next day and another half hole later, the workmen held a team meeting where a vote was taken to install the holes above ground. I told them that I had never heard of an above ground hole before, but something about their demeanour told me not to labour the point and I retired to the kitchen to make crêpes. I am not by nature a technical man.

On my return from the kitchen I found to my surprise that the speedy workmen had completed their arduous task and had gone home. However, instead of lots of hidden underground bait stations, I now possessed a front terrace full of big white plastic mushrooms where a brick had been removed and a white plastic box full of termite choccies had been inserted, three inches in the ground and six inches above. The bricks which should have covered the in-ground bait stations, (thus rendering them invisible), were stacked in a very neat pile by the door. For my convenience.

I made a quick call to ‘The Termite Terminators’ and reached the bulldog who stood guard at the manager's office. She bit my head off for my lack of compromise and understanding of technical difficulties and suggested a field of plastic mushrooms all around my restaurant was a small price to pay for the almost instant elimination of my termite colony with their patented system, which just happened to be the best in the world. Sir.

I threw a bone down the phone and hung up.

At the very worst I supposed the plastic boxes would be a talking point and at best, my clients could play Hopscotch as they approached the front door and work off the calories in advance, as well as afterwards when they left my premises replete.

One just needed to look on the bright side. Didn’t one?


Hopscotch continued for several months and at every routine inspection by men from ‘The Terminators’ whose sole job it seemed was to remove any termite dentures left in the treacle toffee or almond nougat by hungry white ants, I was advised to be patient. Sir. These things take time. Sir.

Unfortunately for me, my colony appeared to be a collective of strong willed diabetics who preferred the skirting boards AND the floorboards in the Private Room to the luscious treats in the bait boxes littered all around the building. Worse still, I was told by the supervising Terminator that with the onset of winter, now just a couple of weeks away, the colony would become relatively dormant and eat very little of the bait.

I noticed he didn’t say they would eat very little of my building.

It was at about this time that I began to doubt the veracity of the salesman's pitch, but since I had already re-mortgaged the restaurant to effect the cure, I had to continue the treatment. I also now had to continue to play Hopscotch with the bait boxes to and from the front door each day for the duration of a very long winter.

And so did my clients.


Spring sprang. And so did my little houseguests. They sprang into the adjoining room and commenced disassembling the pantry cupboards that I had painstakingly made out of recycled 100 year old oregon. My little hexi-peds just LOVED oregon and ate heartily right through spring, when they ran out of wooden shelves and the groceries fell in a heap on the floor.

I telephoned the general manager of "Terminator Co." and lied to the manager's bulldog that I was a new client. She put me straight through without so much as a bark and I was able to discuss my problem with him in the calm and rational manner for which I am famous. I also asked whether or not it would be too much trouble for his company to fulfill its part of our contract and get rid of my white ants. Please.

Honey dripped down the telephone and oozed into my ear.

"Certainly sir. You are our absolute priority sir. We just need a little more time sir. The termites need to start eating ravenously after their winter recess before the baits will have full effect sir. As soon as that happens, sir, ‘wipeout’ sir. No more colony sir. You will have absolute peace of mind sir. Very soon sir. We are working on your problem as we speak sir.

I thanked him profusely in words of one syllable and hung up.

Methinks he said 'Sir ' a few too many times.


The general manager was correct. 

Almost.

When he said 'We are working on it as we speak' what he really meant was that the houseguests were working on my building as we spoke. The hungry little perishers had worked their way along the floor joists of the second room and had now commenced work on the third room. Little mud tunnels appeared on the walls linking the woodwork of the floor to the window frame mid way up the wall and pieces of framework were disappearing daily, leaving just glass and putty supported by fresh air.

A second call to the chief exterminator, (again bypassing the bulldog with a clever ruse) had me believing that the termites would indeed change their diet soon.

They did.

They commenced eating the antique cedar fireplace surround in the reception room.

I frantically rang Mr T, but this time the bulldog was waiting. I told her that I wanted the white ants nuked, rotisseried on little pointed sticks, drowned, suffocated, squashed flat, anything but fed to death at a ripe old age on my building.

The bulldog was not amused. She informed me that the manager was not available and unless I changed my tone he would never again be available.

I lowered my voice an octave and tried again. 

She hung up.


Denied access by public telephone, I then wrote a letter to Mr Terminator expressing my concern and listed the damage caused over the last year and a half. This included the recent unwanted breast reduction that had occurred to a priceless mahogany figurine which used to stand on the fireplace in the Reception room and the many claims for public liability from hopscotchers who had taken a tumble and broken limbs. I refused to beg, but my letter did have a plaintive note about it. I eagerly awaited his response.


Eventually, as a gesture of goodwill, the company sent its youngest and most recent employee on a fifteen minute service call to my establishment and he went about the usual inspection, casually throwing a kick at the bait boxes with his size eleven boots to see if they rattled. A rattle would indicate that his foot had actually made contact with the box, but little else worthwhile. However the company believed that this strategy would keep me quiet for a few more weeks until they could change their trading name and address or go into liquidation.

I retired to the kitchen and began to cook myself a last supper before taking my own life. I also prepared a small tray of late afternoon tea consisting of freshly brewed coffee, a small chocolate soufflé and a few wafers of crisp almond bread for my dextrous young exterminator.


It was whilst sharing afternoon tea with the young man that I learned he was a single gentleman, a bachelor so to speak, and he had been vigorously pursuing a nubile young nymph for quite a while, but to date, all his advances had been spurned. He suggested he might commit suicide.

I suggested he take her to dinner instead at a romantic restaurant, where there was soft music, candles, beautiful food and the atmosphere of love in the air. A restaurant not unlike this very one.

He said he would certainly love to do so, but was currently quite impecunious owing to a large hole which had recently appeared in his bank account and through which all his savings had made good their escape.

I for my part lamented that no-one had yet been able to rid me of my unwelcome visitors and that the cost of eradication had made a similarly large hole in my personal account at my own financial institution. I too was contemplating suicide. However, should a person, any person, be capable of ridding me of these infernal pests then I might just be disposed to offer that same person a beautiful 4 course dinner for two (with appropriate bubbly refreshment) completely gratis at my romantic restaurant. 

On the house so to speak. 

Free.


The penny dropped, and my new friend raced to the company truck to call the bulldog on his two way radio. He told her that he had a flat tyre which he would repair himself, although it might take a little while, ergo he would be late returning to base. He then donned a full body rubber suit, a pair of goggles and a helmet complete with attached miner's lamp and struggled back to the restaurant dragging power tools, a pump, a generator, twenty metres of thick rubber hose and a large drum of synthetic, biodynamic, biodegradable, fire resistant, shrinkproof  pyrethrum poison which ordinarily costs a zillion dollars per litre. No expense would be spared he told me. But I had to promise not to tell his boss. Or the bulldog.

I promised.


He then cut a hole in the floorboards in each room and disappeared from view underground whilst aboveground, the pump and generator worked in unison to supply him with the necessary liquid with which to conduct warfare on the opposition below. 

Several thousand litres later, he emerged from the new swimming pool beneath the floor, dripping with perspiration and grinning from ear to ear. "Halfway there" he said, and raced to the truck once more, returning a short while later with another large drum, this one filled with the incredibly expensive hormone. He dug a shallow moat around the building which he filled with half the contents of the drum and then for good measure, he dug a similar moat around the car park in case the termites decided to try and escape the onslaught by motor vehicle.


A week later, there were no white ants. There were no black ants. There were no green ants. In fact there were no living insects within a two mile radius of the cottage, either aboveground or in the first three metres of topsoil. And I am fairly confident that my building will never ever suffer from the ravages woodworm or death watch beetle in the distant future. I am also quietly confident that none of my patrons will ever again suffer from intestinal parasites or head lice.


My benefactor and Miss Pursuee attended Chez Alain exactly one month later and were shown to one of my very best tables, right alongside Michael and his good wife who attended every year on their wedding anniversary. Michael worked for the local council and was only allowed to collect one rubbish bin per week from every establishment.

I had two.

Alongside Michael's table was a foursome consisting of the two workmen from the Water Board (plus wives) whose job it was to apprehend trespassers who illegally fished in the reservoir. This foursome thoroughly enjoyed their annual dinner and I thoroughly appreciated their deep friendship and understanding.

At the far end of the room was a quiet table where the government valuer and his wife always sat. It was his job to regularly revalue my premises and based on his valuation, my annual council rates were assessed.

Apparently my premises were worthless.


I had a full house that night, but I made very little money due to the prevailing rates of exchange. 

But…….c'est la guerre n'est ce pas?

Tale 20. Rainbow Trout, poached in champagne.

I spent most of my boyhood reading books about wildlife, frontier living and survival in the wilderness etc, and used to go to sleep dreaming about catching beavers, moose, caribou and other large herbivorean quadrupeds with snares made from woven grasses or overhanging lianas that I had hacked down with my trusty machete. On other more daring days I would hunt assorted carnivores with rudimentary bows and arrows and tan their skins back at my warm log cabin, to make the most fetching of fashionable garments for my squaw who was most grateful and would thank me in a way which always made me appreciate secret women's business.

My tiny mind processed all the information I avidly read as best it could and I put it into practice during my playtime and I remember once breaking my father's leg in a bear pit that I had dug in the middle of one of our favourite walking trails.

I had spent a couple of days digging the hole with one of my mother's purloined mock silver kitchen forks and had then covered it over with criss crossed stalks of thin but sturdy twigs. The camouflage was completed with a lot of dried leaves and some rabbit droppings borrowed from the neighbour's hutch under cover of darkness. 

All I needed now was a bear.

As I cast my still tiny mind back to that moment in time, I realize that a small terrier dog would have been able to jump out of the hole with consummate ease had he had the misfortune or stupidity to fall in, but to a nine year old warrior, the job was a masterpiece of both design and execution.

It was with bursting pride that I wished to show my father my laboriously acquired bush skills, and it was not by chance that I noticed he was approximately the same size and weight as a bear. And so, one evening just before nightfall, I suggested he come for a short walk with me because there was 'something special' I wished to show him. And like a lamb to the slaughter he followed, bleating all the way.

As we approached the spot, I could hardly contain my excitement and started to giggle. I foolishly believed that my father would not see the danger ahead, would fall down the hole, would be astounded by the incredible hunting skills of the seed of his very own loins, and would then congratulate me roundly on a job well done. He would be so proud of me.

I was almost right.


With ten metres left to travel, I started to skip. 

There was a devilish cunning to this quickly formulated plan - I would skip right over the hole and father, not being a skipping sort of person, would not. He would disappear into the abyss and I would not. I would then lean over the edge and help him out, being complimented and congratulated profusely by him all the meanwhile. Thus works the simple mind of a nine year old boy who has read a lot of literature which should really have been restricted to adult book shops or at the very least should have required strict parental supervision. Perhaps the censors were asleep when 'Born Free' hit the bookshops in the fifties and sixties. Certainly someone should be held accountable for what happened that evening.

Things did not go exactly according to plan. My father, a tall man, had a very long stride and as luck would have it, he stepped right over the hidden danger and continued on his merry way. I was nonplussed and several metres further down the track, I stopped and tugged at his paw. I pleaded stupidity and said that I was mistaken regarding the whereabouts of the 'something special' and that we must have passed it in the fading light. Having known me since birth, my father accepted my plea of stupidity and returned with me along the track. He really should have bought a ticket in the lottery that week for the lanky grizzly once again stepped right over the crevasse and continued to lope homeward with his little airhead son stupidly skipping along beside him pretending to search for the 'something special' by the side of the track. By now, I was almost frantic with the thought that my days of elaborate labour would all be in vain.

I decided to tempt fate. Unlike myself, father was not known for his patience and I preyed upon him yet again to turn once more and walk the original course with his brainless little boy. He looked at me as if he truly regretted the union he had had with my mother nearly ten years ago and followed me with a sigh of resignation. 

A combination of good fortune, poor light and less vigorous strides on my father's part resulted in him finding the 'something special' that I was so hoping he would find.


His right leg snapped clean in two just below the knee and what I initially mistakenly took for loud compliments at my amazing bushcraft skills, in fact turned out to be his cries of extreme pain as he fell to the ground believing he had been (a) hit by a truck, or at the very least, (b) shot with a large calibre firearm by an unknown assailant.

Oblivious to his pain, I approached my prone daddy-bear, clapping my little hands in glee, feeling every bit the successful hunter as I approached to inspect my captured beastie.

Unfortunately for me, the bear was not yet dead and it grabbed me with its front paws in a vice-like grip. I am unable, dear reader, to print the verbal accolades he awarded me when he realized that the cause of his excruciating agony and sudden loss of stature was his sudden vertical integration into a trap deliberately set for him by myself. However, suffice to say I was sorely rewarded on the spot for my efforts, just before he fainted.

In fact, I believe I was the most continuously rewarded boy in our street for the remainder of that year.



If I do say so myself, my hunting skills are legendary and although my methods are not always the most orthodox, they are nonetheless effective, and later in life I considered it my duty as a parent to impart my knowledge and skills to my own offspring so that they could survive off the land for several years in case of world famine, civil unrest or just being kicked out of home by myself if I was in one of my nasty moods. 

Snails were of course easy prey and even the most sluggardly of my children soon mastered the art catching the slippery little suckers as I had taught myself to do many years before in the wilds of France. We progressed in true French style to the capture of feral amphibians and you dear reader cannot imagine the bursting pride I felt as my youngsters returned home with their first catch. A bucketful of tadpoles. Of course, we had to wait quite a while until they grew legs and their tails disappeared  before they became edible, but nonetheless my little boys had done well. They would never again go hungry should I meet an untimely death, perchance falling down a bear pit whilst out for a walk and be unable to provide for them. At the very least they would snack well.

The hunting lessons continued and as God is my witness, I remember the exact day when I truly felt that I had done my job as a father to the very best of my limited ability. It was the day I taught the children to fish.


We had a family outing to a trout farm. That is where families go to commit financial suicide in order to watch fish take turns in committing actual suicide on a blunt hook tied to two metres of line attached to a short rod. The rod is in turn attached to an equally short child who enjoys repetitive tasks. They are trained to enjoy repetition by their mothers who tell them to do things over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

These particular trouty fish were fed daily at exactly 4 p.m., and unknown to the general public, every one in five of the fish in the dams was equipped with a waterproof Rolex and had been taught to tell the time.

We, the general public, were as gullible as the trouty fish, because after paying an exorbitant fee for 'family admission', we shelled out an equal amount for rod and line hire. I also thought that asking for a deposit on the bait was a bit over the top, but I didn't want to cause a scene in front of the children and so paid up, wondering how on earth I would get my deposit back.

What we didn't know at the time, but realized almost immediately we had handed over the money, was that the 'bait' was the fishes' daily ration, to whit standard pelletised fish food mixed with a little water to form a thick paste which would stick to the hook when applied by eager children. We found it also stuck to children’s clothing, car door handles and any other solid object that was able to be reached by small children.

Not only were we being blindly ripped off right left and centre, but the farm management was also saving on casual labour costs by getting us unsuspecting fools to feed the fish for them, and when I factored in the cost of the 'trout ice-creams' and the 'trout chocolates' that the children forced me to buy, I made a mental note to ring my broker the next day to invest in that particular farm and try to recoup some of my cash in the form of an annual dividend.


Fishing was allowed from 3.30 p.m. to 5.00 p.m.


Under the water in the ponds, the trout clustered around the more senior fish which were entrusted with the timekeeping, and they all waited just beneath the surface in nervous anticipation of the signal that dinner was about to be served.

The general public on the bank waited with equally nervous anticipation, especially the wallet holders who had been made patently aware by management that every landed fish had to be purchased and not returned to the water.

When the first line was cast by an excited child just before the legal time to commence, mayhem ensued and fish fought savagely with each other for the right to be the first to die, frightening some of the more delicate children and their parents who were used to comparatively more gentle and less vigorous animals such as rottweilers. 


I utilized the farm's duty solicitor to take out a second mortgage on our home in order to pay for the tonnage caught by my children that hour, and hired a tandem trailer to transport our catch to our abode, the title to which we now shared with an international bank and a trout farm.

Yes, we all learned a lesson that day and I am reminded of it every time I go to my fridge and see the 'Trout Farm fridge magnet' still stuck firmly to the door.


Several years later, one sunny summer's morn, I was seated on the brick terrace at the front of the restaurant deep in thought as I partook of a particularly aromatic Arabic coffee and one or two freshly baked shortbreads.

I was contemplating that afternoon's luncheon menu which was written in a very neat hand with white chalk on the blackboard leaning up against the wall. I reflected on the contributions that my progeny had made to it and the items that I had recently purchased from them at a very good price. They had caught and dressed the pigeons that now featured in prime position at the head of the main fare offering and the young rabbits that they had ferretted from the surrounding countryside were listed directly underneath. Then came the Indian doves (roasted and sold by the brace), which had been netted during a raid on the local dairy farmer's grain silo.

Yabbies too were featured. These underwater armadillos are a type of freshwater lobster and are highly prized and sought after by both international tourists and locals alike. The boys had caught them the previous day in the dams on our own farm with yabbie-pots made earlier in the week from old wire netting that they had fashioned into fairly respectable replicas of commercial crayfish pots, pictures of which they found in my old fishing magazines. I don't know where the wire netting came from, but shortly after the manufacture of these pots, a local councillor who lived nearby lost several fat hens to a fox which had managed to cut a very large hole in the wire netting perimeter fence which used to protect his hen house.

I did not purchase the fat hens. 

I believe the fox sold them to an undisclosed buyer.


There was a space left on the maincourse menu. This was deliberate and I hoped that the children would soon return with the ingredients I required to fill in the blank space.

Opposite the restaurant, just 50 or so metres away was a beautiful little river. It was smaller than it should ordinarily have been, because many years earlier, the Water Board had built an enormous weir upstream to catch the majority of the annual flow in order to supply the downstream suburbs with enough water of good quality with which to wash their four wheel drive vehicles in the street each Sunday. 

Of course no-one was allowed to trespass on the land surrounding the weir. It was private land. One was certainly not allowed to fish there either. However, if small boys wandering aimlessly in the hot sun for several hours became disoriented and accidentally happen upon my favourite fishing spot (as described on the map I equipped them with when I dropped them off that morning).........

I also included in their equipment several frozen orange juices and a bagful of orthodontically approved freshly baked shortbreads for morning tea. Plus of course, rods, lines, hooks and worms.


To my absolute surprise, shortly before twelve (as arranged) and just in time for lunch session, my little predators arrived at the restaurant bearing six or seven of the freshest river rainbow trout that one could imagine. Poissons magnifiques!