While I was invited to dine and get drunk with good friends in Battersea and, thereby, remove the need to do anything at all on Christmas day – I decided to spend Christmas at the Staterooms-on-Sea so that I could be conscious during daylight hours tomorrow. I shall see my friends next week, when I can simply hop on a train back at 8.00 the next morning.
I am fully equipped, however, to withstand the siege conditions. This morning I took a trip to Rochester to have a quick wander and had a look at the Castle and then back to Chatham, two of the Medway Towns – an area steeped in history. I don’t know the area well having only moved down here fairly recently for a short time. I have, however, been on HMS Cavalier, a World War II warship and I have been on HMS Ocelot, a submarine. Rochester is the home of Charles Dickens, or was when he was alive – but they do manage to recreate ‘Dickens World’ to great effect at this time of year.
I like Chatham. It is being regenerated. Chatham suffered from the closure of the naval dockyards some years ago and, inevitably, from the recent credit-crunch – but to an outsiders eye, it has interesting buildings, a good waterfront, St Mary’s island at Chatham Maritime (where I am currently based) and the people are friendly – in fact, very friendly as I discovered at lunch…more of which later.
Arriving in Chatham, I went to the Pentagon, a shopping mall, with the aim of getting a haircut. I enjoyed a few glasses of rosso last night, went to bed pleasantly over refreshed and woke this morning to see King Lear in the bathroom mirror staring back at me. The hair had grown mysteriously in recent weeks. The ‘salon’ has a curious system, rather like the Barber shops of old – one queues. So I did. I got bored with that so wandered off (losing my place in the queue) to get in the way of shoppers, bumble about at the entrance of Sainsbury’s (like OAPs do when they get a blast of hot air from the overhead heaters) and went to see how stressed out people were. I had seen the BBC’s Grumpy Guide to Christmas and had been much taken with the narrator, Geoffrey Palmer, describing the panic buying that goes on at Christmas (The supermarkets are closed for all of one day). Geoffrey Palmer was right. I saw many people with trolleys loaded to the brim with food and satsuma oranges – catering, no doubt, for the possibility, as Palmer had suggested, that ‘Napoleon and his army might pop in on Christmas Day’.
Sainsbury’s exhausted my limited attention span fairly quickly – although I made a point of asking a very busy shelf stacker if he, or Sainsbury’s, had any brandy butter – being fairly certain that it would be sold out. It was. This gave me a perverse pleasure. He seemed quite crestfallen and apologised as if he, personally, was responsible for the lack of brandy butter at Christmas. I didn’t have the heart to ask him if he had thought of applying to run Eurostar (I did think of doing so) wished him well in the hours of hell ahead and a good Christmas and walked out.
I then had the extraordinary idea of having lunch in Chatham. The main High Street is full of retail shops. I found a Chinese restaurant ‘nearby’. For reasons of discretion I won’t identify by name or location. It was, without doubt, the worst Chinese meal I have ever had. Billed as providing a Chinese, Thai and Malaysian cuisine, and knowing Malaysia particularly well, I ordered chicken satay and some sweet & sour chicken. It was a very limited lunch menu and it was either sweet & sour ‘something’ or ‘something in black bean’ sauce. I realised, fairly quickly that I was going to have to apply my ‘What is the thing they can fuck up least rule’. I chose chicken satay and chicken sweet & sour. The satay arrived. It had been stuck in a deep fat fryer and was like leather. Satay (as in the picture) is cooked over an open charcoal fire in Malaysia or on a very hot flame grill in restaurants. It is not embalmed in batter and deep friend. I didn’t eat it. I explained to the waitress, when she asked why I was not eating it, that it was, in fact, inedible and that I don’t like satay being battered and lobbed into a deep fat fryer. She seemed quite satisfied with my explanation but asked me if I wanted batter on my sweet & sour chicken. I thanked her for her prescience and chose not to have batter on my chicken pieces. The sweet & sour chicken and egg fried rice arrived. The chicken was suffering from nuclear radiation burns and had gone a most unwelcome shade of orange. I ate a mouthful or two and gave up. It was terrible. God knows who was doing the cooking – I suspect it could well have been a recent visitor from Eastern Europe who just happened to have a tin of pineapple chunks in his rucksack. A gentleman seated nearby, who was struggling with his ‘something fucked up in black bean sauce’ – asked me how I was getting on with the the orange coloured chicken. We commiserated and chatted for a while about the history of Chatham. This, I found very enjoyable and interesting. I paid the bill – £7.20 (Christmas: did not have the energy to make a fuss).
I returned to the shopping mall and my eye was caught by a stall selling plastic models of football fans in various football strips. They had fans from Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea. Each plastic football fan could sing five songs. I was absolutely fascinated by these. People nearby started laughing because I was laughing maniacally. I even sang along ‘Arsenal’…clap, clap, clap‘. I mastered the lyrics in no time. I truly regret not buying one now and may go back to do so on Boxing day or order one from Amazon. £20…. worth every penny.
Enjoyed my haircut. In the bunker for the next two days – adequately provisioned. I have a large festive red stocking stuffed with cigarettes and Rioja… no satsumas. Have a good day tomorrow…whatever you do with it.
I shall be tracking Santa on Norad – to ensure that I get him this year. I am reliably informed that Santa will be in British airspace shortly before 12.00 am