I was about to post a piece concerning Jeremy Corbyn when the doorbell rang. On the doorstep were three well-built men in trenchcoats. I invited them in and offered them each a cup of green tea. The former offer they accepted but the latter they disdained. Their leader indicated that publication of my piece would be looked on unfavourably. How they’d found it goodness knows: something to do with Google I suppose.
“Looked on unfavourably who by?” I said.
What about free speech, I asked.
“We don’t prioritise free speech.”
I tried a different tack.
“I do say that he has twinkling eyes,” I said.
“Jeremy’s eyes do not twinkle. They are stern but kindly.”
“Just like Uncle Joe.”
“Mr Alablague,” said the leader, “there is an easy way of dealing with this and there is a hard way. Which is it to be?
The other two goons were fingering my soft furnishings in a menacing way. One of them moved to a painting and started to pick at the surface with a grubby finger nail – one of ten. I am no coward, but I do value my soft furnishings, and so does the better half.
The leader grunted and left the house. The others followed him. As they did so one of them said, “Why does he call him ‘Uncle Jer’?”
“The enemy of the people. What does he call him Uncle Jer?”
The leader turned through ninety degrees and hit him on the ear.
We live in perilous times and there is always a risk of causing offence. That is the last thing that I would want to do, even if there were no goon-linked risk to my soft furnishings. I looked through the curtains to make sure that they had gone. Sure enough they all got onto their bicycles and peddled off, no doubt to correct Error wherever else it had arisen. Bicycles: in the Eighties they would have been in a Mondeo. Today’s goons would be healthier as a result. The Blairist Terror had not been without all benefit.
I wondered what I might innocently write about and settled on marmalade.
When I was a child there was a brief time in the year when my mother would buy great quantities of oranges and boil them on the Aga so as to produce our year’s supply of marmalade. There was no Frank Cooper for us. Marmalade was compulsory at breakfast, so a year’s supply was a lot. Mysteriously she referred to them not as oranges but as ‘sevilles’. Inevitably I linked this with my father’s otherwise inexplicable habit of shouting:
Let us bang these dogs of Seville
The children of the Devil!
Sometimes instead of shouting this he would sing it. The words are taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s long poem The Revenge: a Ballad of the Fleet and my father was also familiar with its musical setting by the composer Stanford. This became one of my favourite poems: top five I’d say: beats Keats & Shelly into a cocked hat. Once, years later, I entertained my fellows on a Southern Region train, held outside Waterloo for fifty minutes in the rush hour, to a recitation of the work, assisted by two friends, who handled the oratio recta.
Years more later I encountered Seville itself, accent on the second syllable and one of the most magical places in the World, and a year after that our satnav failed on its by-pass, which was less magical. Indeed, it nearly resulted in a fatality, when the better half decided that it was all my fault.
But marmalade, as I say, was an essential part of my childhood diet.
Recently it has become more, in two respects.
The first was a sort of double whammy. We went to St John’s, my favourite restaurant. It was St John’s Bread & Wine, in Spitalfields, because the main restaurant in Smithfield was fully booked. They had Marmalade Ice-cream. I almost didn’t have it, because of course I was full. Thank goodness I did. It immediately became one of my best-loved dishes: top five I’d say.
I say that it was a double whammy. I went to St John a few times thereafter and it was not on the menu. Maybe it had been a one-off, I thought, to dispose of unwanted sevilles. Then one day it was available in the guise of Marmalade and Brown Bread Ice Cream. Words at this point fail me.
The second was on the occasion of my birthday. My eldest daughter presented me (among other gifts of a more sturdily artistic nature) with a small bottle. It was of Marmalade Gin. This is made by Slamseys of Braintree, in Essex. They infuse their gin with Seville oranges and it is enormously delicious. You wouldn’t dilute it with tonic or even ice:it is best taken neat, in tiny intense sips when no one else is looking. It is like a perfect breakfast without the stress of the day to look forward to.
It’s not available in supermarkets, but you can buy it online.
I sat back daydreaming of marmalade and how it has enriched my life. My inbox pinged officiously. Heavens, it was the Jeremy Corbyn campaign. What had I typed now that was inappropriate? Was it the Seville by-pass? Is that racist? I can take it out if you like.
No, it was more emollient. Reference to Uncle Jer’s twinkly eyes was not after all black-listed, so long as they were also referred to as stern but kindly. And – this was stressed – the sternness and kindliness were to be prioritised.
The email ended with the hope that they had been of assistance, and there was a picture, in colour, of Himself in his cap. There was nothing however about my piece, which I suppose is still embargoed. I am grateful in a way. If he does come to power it would be a shame to have anything incriminating on the record.