For skinny boys with big teeth and Joe 90 specs, danger lurks in every crevice.
When, at age 11, your antecedents pack you off to a boys-only, military boarding school, perched atop the tempest-scorched White Cliffs of Dover, unmanaged by gerontic pederasts and indifferent sociopaths … well, life instantly blossoms into a spastic sprint across a minefield under heavy fire carrying giant balloons of urine dressed as the mascot from El Pollo Loco. The odds of ending up head-first down a prewar toilet with one’s underpants round one’s ankles are about the same as having one’s breakfast sausage taken hostage, rubbed up-and-down some boy’s ass-crack then returned to one’s blazer pocket with the portentous warning that it should be consumed right here, right now, in front of everybody, unless one wants to end up head-first down a prewar toilet with one’s underpants … etc.. Year-in, year-out, across eternity; an infrangible Möbius strip of leering, juvenile savagery.
These are the fables Selwyn Lovely regales us with as he cackles over his steaming cauldron at Table on Ten every Thursday.
Expunged from Dante’s Inferno at age 18, Specky Four-Eyes is fated to spend the rest of his life wandering the desert of low-grade post-traumatic stress syndrome, flinching at burly men being boisterous in public spaces, avoiding lavatories and breakfast sausages. Given this pathology, it is unsurprising that when Nettle Soup was mooted at a Tuesday ‘what to foist on the public’ huddle, the following exchange was witnessed:
Dutchy : Eh, what’s about Nettle Soup?
Lovely : (one eye twitching) You don’t mean … stinging nettles … right?
Dutchy : Eh? Yes, yes, stinging nettles, they’re in season right now, Katrin’s mom have whole bushes up at Valley View … eh, you okay?
Lovely : (gripping the slop sink with white knuckles) Whole bushes … of … stinging nettles?
Dutchy : Yeah, once of a sudden they are everywhere. I can made nettle pesto too, for special pizza, eh!
But Selwyn’s eyes had fogged over, he was no longer hearing the lilting shh’d s’s, as he vortexed backward down the time-tunnel of his past; to Andy (Bagger) Bowers behind the cricket pavilion after third-form Latin:
Bagger : Three Benson & Hedges after chapel tomorrow or you’re going in the stinging nettles.
Four-Eyes : But Bagger …
Bagger : Don’t ‘but Bagger’ me, you four-eyed cunt. Three Bensons or the stingers. And no trousers n’all.
Four-Eyes : But I don’t smoke …
Bagger : No underpants neither. By the end of Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer. Three. Bensons. Or you’re going to be scratching your knackers with a cheese-grater for a fortnight …
Oh. Those burgeoning, raggéd bushes-upon-bushes of horrid, bottle-green angiosperms. Vast oceans of them, obscene in their fecundity, their awful urchin abundance. With their bristly stalks and hairy leaves, evilly fringed by pinking shears like the snarky mouths of halloween lanterns. And the fiery plains of white, weeping bumps on one’s buttocks and, oh, the itching, itching, itching …
STINGING NETTLE SOUP (with a nod to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who looks the kind of boy who might have ended up stuffed in a gym cupboard amongst the medicine-balls with a stalk of stinging nettles protruding from his urethra). Or ~ an opportunity to wreak pyrrhic revenge upon life, by hacking, ripping, scalding, boiling, liquidizing and ultimately eating one’s childhood enemies.
A moment’s food-for-thought: on the sage advice of Catskills foragers, nettles harvested for fresh use (as opposed to being dried for future use) should be picked young, ie before the plants flower. After that they undergo chemical changes which can lead to stomach complaints in people not blessed with dreadnought intestines.
2 full Price Chopper bags of wild stinging nettles – go for young, green growth and for fuck’s sake wear gloves
3 yellow onions, chopped
6 small leeks, washed, chopped into thin roundels
4 sticks of celery, chopped
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, sliced fine
6 tablespoons white long-grain rice
3 litres good (maybe home-made) chicken or vegetable stock
fresh thyme, fine
a little fresh tarragon, fine
plain yoghurt to finish
chives or parsley to garnish
Keeping the gloves on, pluck the nettles and top buds and discard the central stalks. Sluice off the dirt and bugs. Melt the butter, sweat the onions, leeks, celery and garlic together until soft (15 minutes). Add the stock, then the rice. Bring to a low boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir in the nettles, thyme and tarragon … it’s going to look like a lot, but nettles wilt theatrically, like spinach, and end up coiled like a dense rope in the broth. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season well with salt and cracked black pepper. Cool, blend to smooth, carefully reheat, add large dollup of yogurt and a few chives or thin chopped parsley. Serve with hearty, ripped bread.
Revenge, whilst not exactly sweet, is wonderfully robust, green, spinachy and earthy with a unique nettly tang.