Small Trouble in Little China (Town)

I had planned to make something nice for dinner yesterday. Planned is perhaps a slightly strong word for deciding that I might consider cooking up something considering it was my night off. I stupidly mentioned this to Layla and at numerous times during the day was then reminded about my culinary duties. I had to be in Leicester Square for a meeting with a man I hadn’t met before and had no idea what he looked like. I often find that meeting people can be made harder by not having the faintest idea who they are. It was in the All Bar One in the main Leicester Square bit, a bar that I like to describe as a hub for people for don’t know anywhere better to go. There are lots of better places but generally the people in All Bar One just see the big bar in the main square and through an inability to let their mind venture into further possibilities, and an innate lack of adventure they are drawn into the horrifyingly bland space to be overcharged for drinks and minimalist bland food that they then have to wait an absurdly long time for because the waiter/waitress is far too busy standing around and looking like they might cut their own wrists. I find that the people who go to All Bar One’s are also the sort of people who only ever go on holiday to the same resort so they can have the same food and the same space by the pool. That way they will be reassured they won’t have to experience the culture of anywhere else and/or avoid terrorism/illness/anything interesting.

The person I was meeting wanted to meet there because he worked next door. That’s a fairly good reason to be there. He sent me a description saying that he was in ‘a pink shirt and needed a shave’. I would normally assume that that was a fairly good description and I should be able to spot someone like that amongst a crowd. However in All Bar One it appeared to be uniform that everyone wore a pink shirt and needed a shave. Even the women and the staff. After awkwardly standing up and shouting hello at a few different people I gave in and pretended I needed to text 40 different people. Luckily, the general public were completely unaware of me in any capacity and the man I was meant to meet found me instead.

It was a useful meeting, out of which I’ll hopefully be able to tell big corporate evil companies to give me some cash for my Edinburgh show or at least destroy a third world village and the environment and the economy and a trade union while thinking of me. As I was in the area I decided that dinner would be a stir-fry and get some of the ingredients from the supermarket in China Town. I haven’t had a stir-fry for ages and I am a fan of any food where the preparation is to throw lots of stuff in a wok, then stir it a bit, then eat it. Often these simple methods are the best. I always have a slight fear about walking through China Town. This stems back to a Chinese kid I was at school with whose English name was Trevor. I always wondered why he had an English name when his Chinese name was pretty cool. I suppose his parents thought it would help him fit in around all those British ignoramooses who couldn’t make an effort with pronouncing his real name. While perhaps it would have made sense in the 60s ‘This Is England’ Britain, it was actually far worse for him going to a North London state school and being called Trevor. Despite the name, Trevor was very un-Trevory, and instead he had links with some pretty violent Chinese gangs. He would often come into school with a large mark on his face or a big bruise/scratch/cut somewhere about his person before relaying a tale of hitting someone with a pool cue in China Town. These tales were our real life equivalent of kung-fu films and while we liked them, they would always be followed up by some advice about where not to go in the area. These warnings were one day confirmed when another kid at our school came in one morning after getting feisty in a shop in China Town and he had the underside of a shoe print embedded in his head where he had been stamped in pretty hard.

China Town in London is pretty small and tiny, nothing like its namesakes in NY or San Francisco. So if you are meant to avoid any areas (which I think is probably no longer relevant no that I am not 15 years old) it would be quite tough unless you stayed away from there entirely, which I wasn’t going to do because I needed tofu. The large Chinese supermarket is a brilliant place if, like me, you get easily excited by food you haven’t heard of, or have heard of, but because you can’t read the packaging, pretend you haven’t. It was fairly busy and I felt like a tourist in my own town as I bumbled round looking for tofu while everyone else barged past me knowing exactly where to go. Finally getting the few things I needed and after having done a truly terrible and partly racist ‘wait to see which black bean sauce the Chinese lady gets before I get one to see which is the best’ I queued up to pay. The queue was very long and longer still because of some idiot at the till who seemed to be causing a hold up. I’m not quite sure what was wrong but he kept mopping his brow, apologising and lifting up different items from his basket. The women at the till didn’t appear to want to help the situation and just kept staring at him and sighing. It was less a problem solving affair and more a piece of performance art that was pissing everyone off.

When I got to the till after a lifetime of waiting, I put my two items on the counter and pulled out my debit card only to be told you have to spend more than £5 to use a card. There was no prior warning of this. I had spent a couple of minutes looking at all signs en route to tilldom and nothing said anything about card limit. The evil look I was given by the till lady suggested that I should have just known about the limit. Everyone else knew about the limit, and I should have just known using my intuition and tracking skills that such limits that no longer exist in any other shops, exist here. I looked back at the queue building up behind me, started panicking and mopping my brow and suddenly realised why the man next to me was still holding everyone up on his side. I didn’t want to re-queue but I was also miles away from anything else that I might want, so I turned around and grabbed the nearest thing to me, a really cheap bottle of sake. I’ve never had sake before, never really wanted sake before and as I put it on the counter the women looked at me like I was a tramp buying a Sainsbury’s Value Special Brew. Customer service had gone out of the window long ago but now I had stooped to a level where the women would no longer even look at me. She opened up a plastic bag for me and I assumed she would pack it as well, but instead she just threw it at me and tutted. I looked at the people behind me who, if they had the ability, would be shooting daggers from their eyes into my face. I grabbed my things and ran away fearing a trainer imprint in my face. A combination of childhood fears and the worry that the imprint may be for something very uncool like Hi-Tec.

I got home and started making the stir-fry. Halfway through I added some soy sauce and as I did, the lid fell off it and the whole lot poured in. I tried to pretend this wouldn’t affect it, but when we sat down to eat me and Layla made the sort of faces a gurning raver would make if you stuffed lemons in their gob. It was disgusting. I felt like I had been trumped by Sod. That and the sake tasted like liquid shit. Tonight I think I may just have a sandwich.

Last Fat Tuesday for a few months tonight as the venue changes from ‘The Salmon and Compass’ to ‘The Compass’. I hope this doesn’t mean they are cutting the building in half. Fish everywhere must be gutted they are losing their stake on the premises and bears will stop turning up in the hope of food. I’m sure it will look ace though.