excerpts

Random excerpts from stuff that I've written, chosen for reasons that not even I pretend to understand.

STEWING WITH JOHN

Excerpt from Pandimensional Yoghurt for Beginners

IN ALL THE chair-bowls of unappetising broth in all the restaurants in all the universe, he sits in the one next to mine. Nigel tried to smile as the alien John John John John undressed, lowered himself into the vat of tepid soup and rubbed the thin liquid over his chest.

“So. The President has a tummy bug, you say?” came his insipid, droning voice.

Careful. “Yeah. It said it needed to go to bed and lie down.”

“Perhaps we ought to send someone to check.”

Nigel tried his best at a nonchalant shrug, which is quite hard when you’re naked and sitting up to your armpits in lukewarm Vaffazzatan Hyperbeetroot stew.

John looked as unconvinced as he sounded. This wasn’t exactly ideal, since it was absolutely-dutely imperative nobody found out Nigel had accidentally callously murdered the President. Nigel took a drink and considered the whopping great lie he’d just told. Whether something that looked like a potted dahlia had a tummy to have a tummy bug with, whether it would lie down as a result of such an occurrence, and whether or not it would do so in a bed, were factors Nigel hadn’t had time to consider too deeply before blurting it out.

Nigel shifted his position. It wasn’t just John that was making him nervous. It was everything about this place from the too-loud alien music that sounded like a recording from a cutlery factory during an earthquake, the too-crowded room, the too-low ceilings and the entirely too-eccentric culinary experience on the What’s Brown and Sticky?.

Vaffazzatan culinary tradition had a heavy emphasis on social eating. In itself, this was not unusual. What was unusual was the age-old Vaffazzatan practice of sitting in the broth one’s food-partner was eating, and by extension one’s (exceedingly) personal contribution to its flavour.

The square liquid-filled pots were known as ‘chair-bowls’, and the liquid inside them was a watery soup made from vegetables and herbs, traditionally eaten using creatures called Uzan prehensile spoonworms. These creatures, typically about a metre in length, were like party whistles that extended or recoiled when they were tickled under the chin.

When one’s food-partner sat down in the mixture, this resulted in an unrepeatable fusion of tastes. And this wasn’t all an interstellar gastronomer could expect. Another layer of taste was added by elements of the diner’s choosing, such as the cloudy, viscid, cobalt-hued lump of gloop Nigel had chosen, making each and every culinary event a genuine one-off experience.

By tradition, all of this was done unclothed, which was something Nigel, Petra and the Commander took issue with but eventually agreed to at the Vaffazzatans’ insistence; the promise of a nice hot space-shower afterwards swayed them.

At the heart of this idiosyncratic gastronomical arrangement, there were elements of interpersonal trust the Vaffazzata admire so: the fact the food one ate was from a food-partner’s chair-bowl (eating the soup from one’s own chair-bowl wasn’t the done thing) meant one developed a level of bonding and trust with one’s partner that was difficult to gain in other social situations, particularly with regard to personal hygiene.

When it came to questions such as showering and applying flavoured liquids to one’s body (the Vaffazzatan word for ‘perfume’ also translated as ‘condiment’), there were rules of etiquette that would fill a book longer than the extended version of War and Peace*.

Not washing for several weeks beforehand was encouraged, as the flavour of the broth was further enhanced by the addition of sweat, hair, dead skin cells, and any of the myriad substances produced by any biological organisms which were floating / wallowing / hibernating / gestating / decomposing in it, including the ones Nigel was trying extremely hard to persuade himself were not included in the composition of the oily, fetid, lumpy, churning, moss-coloured liquid his food-partner was currently stewing in.

Nigel flagged down a passing woodlouse-waiter and asked the first question that occurred to him in an attempt to distract John. His host might have been as dull as a dishwasher detergent designer, but he wasn’t daft. He was on to Nigel.

“Do you know what I’m wondering?” asked John.

Nigel scratched his armpit. “What you’d do if your food-partner had septic hemorrhoids?”

*The extended version includes all the deleted scenes, like the one in which Napoleon’s army accidentally rides into Wales, breaks down at a service station and has no choice but to eat something with no vowels in it.