Chapter 9: Château Gestapo
Gladys developed such a strong bond with Kiran that it actually scared Kiran a little bit. She wanted Kiran to go everywhere with her. She tried to get Kiran to have her hair done at the most expensive hairdressers in Yorkshire.
'If you want Botox,' she said, 'you can get that at the same hairdressers. I've had it, all my mates have had it.'
'You are joking! Aren't you?' Kiran said.
She was an extremely well-kept woman. Neither she nor Jake had an ounce of extra fat on them. They were both seventy odd, both went dancing but, again, were birds in a gilded cage. The two occasions they baby-sat for us, were both particularly confusing and extremely enlightening for them. The first time they child-minded was because it was suggested that a highly paid nanny come in so Kiran and I spent an evening dining out.
Midweek we were driven to an expensive 'restaurant', except that it was not a 'restaurant', folks, it was a Gestapo Château. You could not have expected a more stereotypical set for a Hollywood World War Two film. It looked exactly like the castle in The Dirty Dozen. From the look of the cars in the flood-lit area at the front of the building the income and beliefs of those inside were probably not too far removed from those of the SS.
We went in. Kiran was dressed in a tight purple satin skirt and I wore a black suit with a garish psychedelic shirt with a purple & mauve paisley design. Kiran wore a purple cotton top with a set of spiral designs over it. We were festooned with pagan jewellery, as always.
We were led to our table and seated in our own room. The door to my left opened to a lower area where a large party of fur and white shirt millionaires looked up at us with interested expressions on their faces. They must have assumed that we were not only richer than them but that the presence of the film crew meant that we had some celebrity status. I made sure this was dispelled as quickly as possible. Speaking loudly and honestly about the menu I was looking at I pointed out that the price of the dishes was outrageous.
'No food on the goddamned planet is worth this much money. The rich are getting screwed just like everyone else! The only difference is that they are doing it to themselves, for reasons of status, and their employees do it to us as an act of robbing low earners of their survival money. We're all being ripped by people who are even ripping each other off.'
Kiran responded in a similarly appropriate manner.
'Each bottle of wine is about the same as our weekly income!'
Those in the room next door turned away in disgust and desperately pretended we were not there. For the most part they succeeded. The rich have this uncanny ability to walk the world, witness some of the worst human suffering and ignore it completely, erase it from their minds. This technique is used everywhere. It was being used in this situation, although finally one of them did crack at one point and asked a waitress what was going on.
'Ah, it's a reality programme called Life Roulette.'
This seemed to cheer them all up. They had obviously been worried that we were an example of people that had come into money they did not deserve. Now they knew we were obviously far further down the economic tree they all started grinning again. What on earth would the rich do if there were no poor people? They would all be most unhappy.
The starters, complementary nibbles and wine were now on the table. I said nothing in earshot of the waitresses. I could not upset a bunch of teenage girls, regardless of their prejudices. They had barely got out of childhood, desperately doing their job in front of a camera crew who kept getting them to go back and serve it again and again and again and again in order to get as many different camera angles as possible. The waitresses took it in turns because they had obviously decided that they should all get a chance of being on telly. We ended up being served by about seven different girls. We made them laugh, though.
'We are not only in the most expensive restaurant either of us has ever been in,' I said, 'but we don't speak French, so the menu is meaningless to us.'
They were amused by this, because hardly any of their customers knew what was available either.
'Most of them just pretend to know,' the waitress said, quietly. 'They have to have it all explained anyway.'
'So,' I said, 'you're having to pretend that you're merely informing them as a point of etiquette and not because your punters don't know what to order?'
I find it interesting that the British establishment look down on the French and yet still act in a way as to suggest that French is a more civilised culture. It was contradiction after contradiction that week.
We finished our starters and our plates were removed. I'd used all the wrong cutlery. I was expecting that one.
Luckily there was only one vegetarian meal on the huge menu so we did not have to embarrass ourselves asking what the bejesus everything was. At least, that was what we thought.
When the main meal was served we still had to ask what the bejesus it was. The answer went in one ear and out of the other because all I had room for in my brain was a very loud word as I looked down at the contents of my plate. That word was 'Lilliput!'
The waitresses slid off chuckling.
'It's a mini-meal!'
'It's nouveau cuisine dear.' said Kiran looking delighted that I was about to blow another gasket.
'It's a load of old bollocks!'
'Well it certainly looks like it is.'
'Are you sure there's no meat in this?' I turned to the cameramen. 'Because if there is, I'll hold you all responsible!'
They laughed, reassured us and continued with their food. They were sitting there eating hundreds of pounds' worth of sea-food on the Armada TV expenses ticket, although that did not mean that their plates were any fuller than ours.
Eventually they over-ordered and left half of what Armada had paid for. It occurred to me that this expenses culture leads to a lot of waste. Watching staff binning lobster, crab, mussels and squid tentacles drowned in a hundred pounds' worth of twenty year old plonk made me feel a bit sick in the face of child starvation around the world. I always clear my plate, even when I do not have the faintest idea what I am eating. Even when it tastes like a donkey's arse, as the starter I had in this restaurant certainly did. What surprised me was that the taste of it affected me so much. My palate has been desensitised by extreme drug use and a daily alcohol compulsion. So why is it that a man who can drink Vindaloo sauce like a weak cup of tea physically recoiled at the merest whiff of this muck? This food would have been too rich for Henry the Eighth!
It hit me like a bullet. The Establishment do not have refined palates. They have over-eaten so much rich food that a lemon probably tastes like an ice-cream to their confused taste buds. Although, as lemons are healthy, if this mob ate a lemon it would have to come in a sauce with so much sugar that the plantations would all double in size!
'What's this stringy stuff?'
'Don't know.' replied Kiran.
'This glazed effluvia looks a bit suspect.' Regardless of almost putting myself off, I tucked in.
'What's this sauce taste like?' asked Kiran.
'How'd you know what piss tastes like?'
'Can tell from the smell when I'm having one. Admittedly this doesn't taste like rich, dark yellow piss. This tastes like the lighter watery kind. Shame there ain't any alcohol in it.'
The director was grinning madly. He had got what he had come for. An expensive nosh up and footage to die for. Nothing short of a food fight could improve on this.
The desserts in this place did at least cheer us up. When I say 'cheer us up' I mean in the same way that smack cheers up someone suffering a heroin withdrawal. That is what desserts seem to be for in places like this. When the dessert finally arrived, we, again, had to ask what the bejesus it was. The answer went in one ear and out of the other because all I had room for in my brain was another very loud word as I looked down at the contents of my plate. That word was 'Mount Olympus!' No wonder the Romans needed sputariums. Cargill the cameraman nearly had a coronary just looking at his.
This was the kind of finale that was designed to ensure some strong tipping. After a sugar-inspired endorphin rush like that it was a wonder that some punters do not just hand over their motors to the chef! It would certainly be safer than driving with the contents of one of these meals in your gut.
I ate mine as quickly as possible because I had no choice. My will-power had been catapulted out of the window and was now making its way back to West Wales without me.
Something has got to be wrong with a culinary experience where the dessert is bigger than the main meal. Did the establishment have the same attitude to food as a badly brought-up child? Perhaps the main meal had shrunk so that they did not injure themselves during the pudding. You could put a pudding like this where the hare goes on a dog track and just sit back and watch a load of corporate bosses sprint after it.
'There goes Lord Rothschild into the lead but, oh, he's down with a massive heart attack! Into the lead goes Lord Sainsbury but oh he's down with some glazed double cream fudge stuck in his throat! He's choking to death while his competitors jump over him in their bid for the electric pudding!'
Call me a sick monkey if you like but you try and visit a place like this, blow a whole month's wages between four people and tell me you do not feel ripped off.
We were trying to spend as little as possible of the thousand we had been given as spending money for the week. We wanted to give Armada TV back as much as we could to show people that you do not need that kind of money to live on yet here we were, being forced to spend a couple of hundred quid on a meal that takes five minutes to eat.
Apparently the captain of industry that I had swapped with didn't even eat here, or so he claimed when we finally met him. He reckoned the media had set us up. Evidently he preferred going for a pizza. Maybe he just thought 'pizza' is the kind of language Kiran and I understand.
The journey home was interesting. We got a cab on our own. It was the first time we had not been accompanied by a film crew. This was a shame because the conversation between the cabbie and ourselves was a peach.
Without us telling him what kind of week we were having he got a full run down on what we thought of the food in the chateau. We did confess that we were not used to expensive places but did not say why we were at that one.
'I'll tell you a story that confirmed my belief that the rich rip everyone off whenever they can get away with it,' he said. 'I was giving a lift to a punter from this very restaurant some years ago. The fellow produced a mobile phone and this was at a time when nobody under a certain income would have had one.
This millionaire then proceeded to sell some stock. "I won't accept less than fifteen million for it! No, not ten, fifteen million or you can go to hell! Okay, okay. You can have that thrown in. Deal? Deal!" What do you think happened after that? I got no tip at all. The fellow even tried to suggest I was over-charging him!'
'It could be the phone call was a ruse,' I suggested, 'so that he could then say that your knowledge of his financial worth was an excuse to bump the fares up.'
'I could hear the voice of the other fellow,' the cabbie said, 'and the price of the fare had been agreed when they left the restaurant. The guy was super-rich, all right, because he had me drop him in a field next to a DC10. The fellow got out of my cab, got into the cock-pit of this vintage passenger plane and flew off in it in the dead of night!'
We then told him about our life-swap and, when we pulled up at Ingols Hall, the cabbie refused to let us pay.
'I've never heard of anything more exciting than a class stand-off like this,' he said. 'Just the knowledge of it happening is fare enough for me!'
We then could not get the electric gates at the hall to open. He got out and tried to help. It was impossible. I tried using the intercom to prove we were not breaking into the place. No reaction.
Kiran paid him the fare we owed him. He resisted but she put it into his pocket and tipped him twenty quid. He was gobsmacked.
'I've never had a tip like that off a rich man.'
He said he could not wait for the show to be aired and asked what it was to be called. 'Life Roulette' we replied.
He left as we jumped over the gates and walked up the half-mile drive to 'our' mansion.
When we came back in from the meal, I gave Jake and Gladys two bottles of champagne that were worth more than a week's income for me and they tried not to take them. They'd been left over from our initial welcome.
'You're joking,' I said. 'You take them!'
'But they were bought for you.'
'Everything's being bought for me,' I said. 'I'm sick of this shit, have it! They've been buying me fifteen percent bottles of wine that cost like forty five pounds a piece. I normally spend two pounds ninety nine on wine.
They were pleased, but they were confused. No-one had treated them like this before, certainly not people in the positions we have been given. I would not let her do the housework without helping. She did take offence at first but after a while just let me do it.
'I've been a cleaner,' I said. 'I've been a cleaner by profession, years ago. I understand it.'
I could not believe that she does everything for Gerard, washes his all his clothes, irons them, cooks all his meals, cleans the house, dusts, sorts out the mail, who gets what, makes sure his kids know where they are supposed to be, constantly chases people up on the phone, probably has not sat down and relaxed, ever since she programmed herself to get this money in to support her daughter's entry into the class that she has been working for. She did not understand. She knew that we were different and did not believe in these things and I had them both on the fact that really I stuck with the Trade Union path in life and working class solidarity but they thought that they were doing the best thing by making a deal with the bosses.
They were secondly very confused after the polo club ball because they baby-sat for us then and they did it willingly. They could not believe we had been given the opportunity to do this and by the end of the week they were firmly on our side. There were suggestions of them packing it in as soon as we left the manor and we told them about things we had found out that week that they did not know about the people they see every day. They told us things about Gerard and people there that would definitely get them the sack if it ever went out on television.
'He smuggled money in his shoes into your flat, Craig.'
'Oh really? In his shoes? That's exciting for him.'
'He is cheating, Craig.'
'Blokes like him always cheat.'
'But if you met him, you'd really like him. You and him are so similar. You both like a laugh.'
'Heinrich Himmler must have liked a laugh, but that does not make him right, does it?'
Jake and Gladys, of course, were children of the Blitz.