It wasn’t just for the fact that I was struggling to operate with one hand that I decided I was going to dine predominantly on food from my freezer for most of the week. Although onions, peppers, garlic, and ginger had become a real chore to cut – as was evident in the exceptionally chunky curry I had painstakingly prepared on Sunday – it was a discussion with a colleague that truly forced me into sourcing my meals from items I had previously frozen. It had always seemed quite easy to just throw the spare chicken breasts from a packet of four into blue bags and find a space for them in the freezer, almost like some Disney-themed game of Tetris. There never had to be any thought about how or when I was going to use the chicken in the future, because the freezer was just a place where food could be stored indefinitely. My colleague disputed this logic, insisting that meats especially would still deteriorate in the freezer, and he would throw away anything that he knew had been in there for more than a year. Upon hearing this I was feeling like a semi-defrosted salmon fillet as I imagined all of the pieces of fish, poultry and beef I had been stockpiling since becoming a single occupant being consigned to the bin.
Unwilling to give up on the meal I might someday enjoy at some unspecified date in the future, I sought clarification on the frozen food matter from my dad one Saturday when he, my brother and I were sitting in Wetherspoons. It was like any other weekend night in the pub chain, which always seemed to be packed full of people and somehow almost all of them were strangers. Even the staff appeared unrecognisable from one visit to the next. The place always had an unfathomable smell. It was by the pier but never smelled of the sea. There were dozens of different dishes on the menu, yet you couldn’t pick out one from its fragrance. It could only be described as being a bouquet of disappointment. Whenever we went to Wetherspoons for dinner, it always made me think that a great calamity must have taken place somewhere, and the body of a pub had been built but accidentally filled with the soul of an aircraft hangar.
We were sitting at table number nine, although it could have been six depending on how you looked on it and the number of drinks consumed. It was the deepest into the place we had ever sat. Usually we liked to be as near to the entrance as possible, because it was closer for leaving for Aulay’s at the end of the meal, but the place was so busy that we had to go all the way to the back of the great hall, closer to the bathroom than the bar. Right in our eye-line was the only television in the joint. It was broadcasting some talent show or other, and it seemed a blessing that the volume was muted. As was often the case with my dad and my brother after a glass or two of red wine, the conversation soon turned to politics. It seemed too much to ask that there would be a sudden fire alarm, so I sat nursing a pint of Innis & Gunn and my useless injured fingers, until I remembered about my frozen food dilemma. Considering that in our house growing up there were almost as many freezers as there were children, I was convinced that dad would be an expert in all things frozen. And if nothing else, it would serve as an icebreaker from the numbing political chat.
I interrupted the ensuing debate and asked dad how long food could be kept in the freezer. He immediately contradicted the advice I had previously received, stating that food would keep for thirty years when frozen. I pressed him on whether he was sure about this, because I had heard differently, but he strengthened his position.
“How do you think Birdseye discovered frozen food?”
It wasn’t something I had ever considered. It took me all of my might to summon the possibility that Birdseye was a real person, let alone contemplate the idea that there was a time when frozen food had to be discovered. Dad seemed to be very familiar with the story of Birdseye, however, and retold the vital aspects to my brother and me. As far as I understood it, the man known as Birdseye was out fishing on an icy lake one day, when from deep within the bowels of the water he managed to retrieve a fish which had been frozen over and was perfectly preserved. It wasn’t mentioned which species of fish had been caught, but I didn’t suppose that it mattered. The purpose of the anecdote seemed to be that since nobody had any way of knowing how long the fish had been frozen in the lake, it could be assumed that food could be frozen for many years and still be safe to eat. I was unconvinced, and even more so when I later read the history section of the Birds Eye frozen food company’s website. It seemed that the truth about frozen food was probably in between the two theories, so I took the decision to start using some of the goods I had stored away.
Amongst the excessively chunky pieces of vegetable I had haphazardly cut for a curry were chunks of chicken breast, the edges of which were slightly freezer burned and reminded me of the scabs on my fingers from the horrible accident I had recently suffered. As time went on my two injured fingers were slowly healing, though for a while they resembled the colour of the new traffic lights which had been installed a few yards from my flat. They weren’t quite red, nor even green, but somewhere in the middle. They were sitting there, waiting to move on.
The last weekend of February was traditionally reserved for the Royal Rumpus music festival, which took place in the Royal hotel every year. Although the variety of music wasn’t to my taste, I usually liked to go for at least one of the nights. Next door in Aulay’s, the diminutive barmaid was trying to talk up the event for mine and the plant doctor’s benefit. She spoke of how there was always a lot of women who attended the festival and that many of them were from the islands and “hadn’t seen a man for months.” Apart from wondering where these offshore places were that had populations of nothing but single ladies and how I could go about relocating, I found myself thinking about what must have been going through the minds of the island women who had had no contact with men for such a long time.
“What do you think you’ll do when you find your man, Amy?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s been so long that I don’t even know what I’d say!”
“What do men talk about these days anyway?”
“I wonder if they still look the same.”
“I can’t wait to see how they dance.”
Then I thought about the disappointment they would feel if I was the first man the women encountered in months, and even though the entire thing wasn’t even real, I had a tinge of guilt about it.
Upstairs in the Royal, it was difficult to tell the island women from the locals. There was nothing to distinguish them, and no-one was going to come out with a sticker indicating their place of living plastered over their party dress. I ordered some drinks at the bar for my brother and I, having to dig deep into my wallet for the £8 and change that they were asking for a bottle of Budweiser and a Jack Daniels and coke. We were informed that the bar was about to close, and with the music coming to an end it seemed that we had left it too late to enjoy much of the Royal Rumpus. Soon a bombastic, wild-eyed work colleague bounded across the room to talk to me, and like a force of nature she accidentally knocked the drink out of my hand. The bourbon sprayed across my tan shoe, painting it with the likeness of a pissed Picasso. It wasn’t the connection with an island woman that I had been hoping for. I had often been told that there was plenty of fish in the sea, but when I was standing on the dancefloor in the Royal hotel at the end of the night it was reaching the point where I was wondering how long they were going to stay frozen.
Links & things:
The history of the Birds Eye frozen food company can be read here.
There are 28 other days in February – my Spotify playlist for the month of Valentine’s Day
This week I have mostly been listening to the following song…