Monthly Archives: July 2016

Desperately Seeking Ritchie

Here’s the story: It’s January when Ritchie turns up in the half-frozen pond at the heart of my tiny little Bavarian village, right across from my Mum’s place. Nobody knows where he came from or how he got there.

There’ve been ducks in that pond, water voles, carp, mosquitoes galore, but never ever a swan. Ritchie’s not even a swan, not yet anyway, he’s just a cygnet. It’s still winter and kids hurl snowballs at him, only to be told off by the neighbours who watch over his wellbeing 24/7.

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Ritchie a few months ago, photo taken by my friend Peggy

Over the ensuing months, the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful big white bruiser, helped along by processions of people tossing him bread and table scraps.

Ducks keep dropping by, but they don’t hang around. Ritchie owns the pond now. He’s all by himself, a regal and lonesome presence gliding over the pond’s silvery green surface.

He likes it when people visit, he follows them round the water’s edge as they walk by. They talk to him. He enjoys their company. He enjoys it even more when they get the bread bag out. That may be part of his predicament – he’s too heavy to fly. People say they’ve watched him trying to take off, but without success. The pond, apparently, is too small to serve as a launch pad for fowl of his calibre. Other eyewitnesses report that he does take flight on occasions, but fails to gain sufficient height to clear fences, trees and other obstacles.

Once he goes missing for three days. A search party is launched, and he’s found, in a tiny little frog pool at the bottom of somebody’s backgarden. The whole village breathes a sigh of relief.

 

I met Ritchie for the first time last Thursday. It’s my first family visit since Christmas. I took these pictures:

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There’s still some grey baby plumage left on the top of his head and on his wings

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Ritchie not only owns the pond, but also the entire road! He’s proven himself as the most effective traffic-slowing measure known to man

The above is the last photo taken of Ritchie… since Sunday, he’s disappeared without a trace. It’s been six days! It’s a mystery. Everybody is worried. People still turn up at the pond every day, but now there’s nothing to feed but fat carp.

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Waiter, There’s A Moral Dilemma In My Lunch!

I did a very bad thing. No, not recently. It must have been seven or eight years ago. It happened at the end of a shopping trip in Brent Cross, North London. After trudging through the aisles like two people who only ever go shopping when they absolutely have to, my friend and I decided to reward ourselves with a nice lunch at Wagamama, which, back then, was still quite a hip chain of Asian fusion cuisine.

I’d eaten there a few times before, but my friend hadn’t, so I recommended a tasty stir fry, which she duly ordered. I can’t remember what I had, but I do remember that I only enjoyed the first two forkfuls of it because of what ensued.

The food arrived, looking all fresh, healthy and delicious. We started to tuck in.

“Oooooh! Yummmmmm!” My friend’s eyes grew wide and then closed slowly as she slipped into a trance of eating pleasure. “This is just the best tofu I have ever tasted in my whole damn life!”

My cardiac activity seized for a few seconds.

This was not tofu.

I had forgotten to tell her to substitute the chicken.

My friend had been a faithful vegetarian for the past quarter of a century. Until 40 seconds ago. How could I have made such a terrible mistake?

She clearly had no inkling that there was anything amiss. And why would she? After all, she was having lunch with no other than moi, a professional nutritionist attuned to people’s special dietary requirements.

I kept smiling as convincingly as I could muster while trying to make all the right food appreciation noises – no easy feat when your airways are constricting.

What was I to do?! My panicked monkey mind went into overdrive. Coming clean about my oversight and apologising profusely would probably be the right thing to do. But what good could possibly come of it? Lunch would be ruined, a good meal wasted. Right now, at least one of us was still enjoying it.

In fact, I’d never seen anyone take such delight in their food. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how someone, who went that gaga over some run-of-the-mill strips of chicken breast would react to a juicy slab of beef teriyaki or a soft-as-butter, slow-roasted lamb shank.

Nobody was being harmed here, I reasoned to myself. This was not a case of food allergy. (If anyone was experiencing all the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, it was me!) And the chicken had already been very dead for quite some time. I was, in fact, not only saving my friend’s stellar lunch experience, but also an animal from having given its life in vain. And it could have been worse – that could have been pork there on that plate. (My friend was not only vegetarian, but also Jewish.)

At this point, she turned to one of the servers who was rushing by, balancing several steaming bowls of ramen on his tray. “Hey, I just loooooove your tofu! So chewy! How do you get it to have a texture like that? Could I talk to the chef? I need that recipe!” (My friend was not only vegetarian and Jewish, but also American).

The bed of coals I was sitting on had just got hotter by another thousand degrees.

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The waiter, a pimply young man on the minimum wage, flashed a flattered smile in my friend’s direction, but he did not – to my infinite relief! – relay her request for a personal audience to the chef, who was up to his armpits assembling meals for the lunchtime crowd.

After what seemed like an eternity, during which I remained hell-bent on engaging my friend in spurious conversation to draw her attention away from both the “tofu” and the wait staff, we finally cleared our plates.

“Hey, how about dessert?”, I asked, staring longingly at the door. “But not here, you know what these Asian places are like – crap sweets.” A blatant lie, at least where Wagamama is concerned. But I had no intention of prolonging this torture.

We paid and I leapt into the neon lit mall, which, at that moment, appeared to me as welcoming as a fragrant spring meadow populated by purring kittens. We headed straight for Millie’s Cookies. And never has a box of hydrogenated fat, sugar and food colouring washed down with coffee from a paper cup tasted so good.

Jane, if you’re reading this, I’m really, really sorry!