“What’s it to be, lads? Bag of meat for a quid?”
Hull market. Five o’clock, Saturday afternoon. The year? According to my children, just after the Boer War.
“Yep. Pound bag’s fine.”
“There you go. Freshest meat we’ve ever had. Pulled-up in the two-thirty this afternoon.”
We all laugh. Ha ha. As if Mick the Meat Man would sell some students horsemeat.
The trouble is, we don’t know. But there are three weeks to the end of term and our grants have run out.
We’re desperate. Obviously we’ve enough for life’s essentials – getting drunk in the Student Union. But the trivialities of life – food, textbooks – are proving a bit more challenging.
So it’s down to the market last thing on Saturday when Mick the Meat is selling off whatever’s left. And we’ve no idea what we’ve bought. The bags are ready made up and we don’t have the courage to ask what’s in them.
But it doesn’t matter. It’s going in a stew. And the stew’s going to feed us for three days. At least.
I start off by browning the meat. I’ve convinced myself it’s stewing steak. Rob’s managed to beg some carrots and onions from the depressingly well-organised girls next door.
Paul’s found a couple of stray stock cubes. There’s half a glass of Bacardi and coke left over from the party. That should give it a kick…
The stew does its job. We survive until Wednesday. We gradually thin it down.
Re-heat it. Scrape the mould off the top. Dunk bread in it. Another week closer to our mums’ home cooking.
I occasionally think back to those stews as I casually knock up a rack of lamb with a red wine jus (Shepherd’s Pie). And I wonder about Tom and Jessica at university.
“First week of December,” I say to Jane. “Shall I drop them an email? Tell them not to worry about the mould on the top?”
“No” is the answer. Students in general – and my daughter in particular – appear to be coping quite well without resorting to Mick’s 21st successor.
My wife came back from town. “Christmas shopping,” she said. “Bought one of these for Tom and Jessica.”
A cook-book. Nosh for Students. I fell on it eagerly. By Tuesday your stew will have a few spots of mould. This is a good time to add extra Bacardi…
But what was this nonsense? Spinach and Feta Frittata? Rainbow Trout with Thai Sauce? Chorizo Couscous? Where was the proper student food?
Ah, here we are. Page 158. Beef Stew. As I said, it could have been beef… But no mention of thinning it down. No suggestions of what bread to dip in it on Tuesday.
And only £1.95 a portion according to the book. What? How much? “Two quid?” I said to my wife. “Two quid? When I was at university - ”
“Yes, dear,” she said. “You could live on two pounds a term and still have enough left over for your Christmas presents. I’ve forwarded you an email from Jessica.”
I scanned through it. Won 6-0 at hockey. Really good social. Done some cooking. Chicken breasts stuffed with mozzarella and wrapped in Parma ham…
I re-read the sentence more slowly. Eight weeks ago our daughter was living on cheese spread and KFC. She seemed to have skipped the mouldy stew stage and gone straight to… I was going to say Nigella, but perhaps a different role model might be appropriate?
It dawned on me that I might be slightly out-of-touch with today’s students.
Then again Jessica would be home in three weeks. Time to keep quiet. And look forward to my chicken breasts with mozzarella…