Trade Document #1

Brad delivers cakes to the surf shop
All buns iced in the style of crashing waves
Rolling in and out with the changing moon.
Sounds like witchcraft and probably is,

Sounds like witchcraft or maybe lupine
Mad-dog-full-moon surf technology.
Baking for the ocean to take away,
Bushels of windfall riding in on the tide.

Brad collects apples at the surf shop,
Wooden buckets full of the best fruit
You’ve ever had for your shivery bites
Riding the line to a polystyrene full stop.

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Day #9847

The Toasted Sandwich Handbook, Part One

I had been out of the game for a good long while.  But last Wednesday night I got out our new second-hand toastie maker and gave it a spin (not literally).

Section One (Enthusiasm & Nostalgia):  “The first thing that came back to me on re-entering the toastie sphere was the smell.  Obviously, this was after I had plugged in the toastie machine, performed pre-assembly and assembly on my sandwiches and popped them in the machine.  But the smell, the same smell no matter what kind of toastie you are making, is unique…  When I was little, toasted sanwiches (ham and cheese) meant that it was Sunday night, that I had had a bath and that Dr Who was on the telly (if I remember it right)…  Years later they were a staple foodstuff whilst I was at University (cheese with Uncle Ben’s sweet and sour sauce) and in the first house I lived in in Manchester I armed myself with a camera and a load of ingredients and set out to make a toasted sandwich recipe book that I never finished.  It included a creme egg toastie (which I did make) and a Christmas dinner one (which I never got round to)…  Now, in our own flat, the smell is the same as the toastie sizzles and the smoke rises from the machine.  As a nod to the passing years and some kind of growing up I make what I call ‘A Toastie Supper’ which is a toastie (cashew, pesto and cheese) with a salad at the side (rocket, pepper, apple, more cashews)…  And then you bite in to them, cautiously at first – contents may be hot, ingredients may have moved in transit…  The taste, that basic toastie taste always seems to be a happy constant, no matter the ingredients – almost as if the toastie machine itself (no, all toastie machines themselves) have this same power to infuse any sandwich with that special toastie umami…  Nibble first around the edges… I always like the bit where errant cheese may have bubbled and seeped out of the side and then cooked and fused into a hardened yellow crust like escaped lava…  Which reminds me of the most dangerous toastie experience I have ever had.  The most dangerous toastie experience I have ever had was a foolhardy purchase of a baked bean toastie from a shop in Ramsbottom.  The toastie came in a paper bag, and as any experienced toastie eater will tell you if you’re tackling that kind of heat you need to have a plate and possibly a knife and fork handy…  But I escaped without burning myself and retained my love of toasties, which I will continue to write about on another day…”

Section Two (Instructions):  “A brief description of how to make a cheese, pesto and cashew nut toastie followed by a summary of its delights…  Take two slices of bread and butter on the outsides (as per usual), cut thin slices of cheese (standard cheddar or whatever you have in the fridge, nothing too soft or distinctive) and place them on the other side of the bread.  Now chop cashew nuts (plain, not roasted or salted) in half and place them across the cheese in a pattern of your choice.  Glob pesto across, but not too much.  Place in the toastie maker and allow to cook until such time as it is cooked…  I have always found that general advice with regards handling toastie machines is to do so with caution but I believe that the best way to approach a toastie machine is firmly, safely and with respect.  You may have to wrestle your sandwich from the machine but if you spend some time with it and build up a good understanding, you will come away unharmed…  Anyway… Since inventing this toastie I have made it for a number of people, all of whom have praised it (they may just have been being nice).  Here is a selection of comments:  “It tastes a bit like ravioli,” Rach.  I find that the pesto melts nicely into the cheese and the cashew nuts add a bit of crunch to the toastie experience… Try it for yourself and you’ll see.”

About The Underground Biscuit Network

“He’s here,” says our girl on the inside.  “We’re on it,” we put the phone down, get out of the van and walk quickly across the car park, pick up a trolley and make our way through the automatic doors.  Our girl nods to us from her seat at one of the tills.  “I’ll push the trolley,” I say.  “No, I’ll push.”  We squabble for a bit and then decide we’ll both push.  “Come on,” I say.  “Concentrate.”

We track him from a distance.  For a while he is looking at tins of soup and you can just tell that he isn’t interested in soup at all.  “Look at his hair,” we say to each other.  “Look, he’s got his satchel.”  He is at the other end of the aisle, picking up bacon and putting it back.  Writing words on frosted-up boxes in the freezer section.  This is all just stalling.  And then he is in the biscuit aisle and he is doing his thing.  Without looking around to even check whether there are any supermarket employees around, he puts his hand into his satchel.

Before this we have already debated how he is able to perform this trick.  “It is some kind of magic, he has learned how to hypnotise people en masse so that they do not notice.”  “No,” I say.  “I don’t think that’s it.”  My theory is that he has convinced himself that what he does is so completely normal and thus he does it as naturally as anyone else would buy a pint of milk.  It is all in his mind.  He has allowed himself to relax and to perform the switch with a blank and blameless poise that he does not even notice.

From his bag he takes three packets of biscuits and places them on the shelf.  With his other hand he takes some other biscuits from the shelf and slips them into his satchel.  And then he is away as if he were never even there at all.

As soon as he is gone we are at the shelf.  I take out the notebook and write down the names of the biscuits he has left this time.  They are not biscuits we have ever heard of.  They are not biscuits which the supermarket usually stocks.  They never are.  This is the point of the scam.  The beautiful point or perhaps the beautiful pointlessness of it.  Again, we have discussed this.  We believe that he is part of a some organisation, some movement, which hopes to introduce obscure brands of biscuits to the shelves of large supermarkets.  “What do we do?”  “Lets buy the biscuits.”  “What about tracking him, finding out where he lives?”  “Next time.”

We take one of the packets of biscuits to the check out, choosing the till next to the one at which our girl is working.  We are not buying anything else.  The check out girl scans the biscuits and then gets confused.  “We don’t stock these,” she says holding them up so that we can see.  “How much are they?” I manage to keep a straight face.  She looks at me like I’m stupid.  “We just found them on the shelf.”  She calls a manager over to the till.

Our girl is watching all of this with interest.  She has told us previously that, “they’re beginning to notice.  The managers can’t work it out, these biscuits appearing from out of nowhere.  There were some Australian biscuits the other week.  We don’t stock any Australian biscuits.”

The manager apologises to us and explains that we cannot buy the biscuits.  “Why not?” I ask.  “We don’t stock them.  We don’t have a price.  You can’t buy something that doesn’t have a price.”  To us, they are priceless.  I offer  a pound and the manager sighs.  This is all highly irregular.  We can see him glancing around, at the check out staff, at us, at the biscuits, like he expects someone to jump out at any moment and explain the joke.  He thinks long enough for us to notice grey hairs.

Eventually he concedes defeat and we buy the biscuits.  This is the third time we have managed to buy some of his switched biscuits.  We never open the packet.  We treat them like souvenirs.  Collector’s items.  Our connection to the biscuit underground.  “Next time, we track him home,” we agree.

Next time.  Same again.  Just as he does, we have our performance practiced to within an inch of perfection.  Again we follow him undetected.  We watch him, noticing like no one else does as he makes the switch, sure that part of his act is that he is so completely unaware as to not know whether anyone notices or not.  We are giddy with his genius.  When he leaves, shoplifting supermarket biscuits with him, we leave too.  In the van we drive slowly, following him as he walks on the pavement, his hair, his satchel, his disinterested air of complete indifference to the world around him.

Of course, we know this is all a facade.  When he gets home he will whip off his disguise and dial up another agent of the underground network and log the successful mission.  He will open envelopes receive that day, stuffed full of biscuits from other countries, other time zones.  He will pack up his English biscuits and send them across to other agents so that they can smuggle them onto the shelves of other supermarkets in other countries where such things are not normally stocked.  We will offer to help.  He will test our resolve and our commitment with a short and daring test.  We are ready master, we are ready to join the network.  We will become his proteges, he will teach us to do what he does.  We will be in.  It is what we have always wanted.

Meanwhile, we follow him to a part of town where the pavement breaks up and houses sulk under clouds.  He reaches his house and opens the door without need of a key or a knock.  The door closes.  We sit in the van for a moment, listening to our own breath, our own heartbeats.  “Wait a moment.”  “Now?”  “Not yet.”  “Now.”  We get out of the van and stroll casual-as-you-can to his front door.  Knock twice.

He comes to the door and for the first time looks at us.  He has never seen us before.

His look is more confrontational than we expected.  More defensive.  There is no vacant indifference on his face.  “What do you want?” he asks.  We feel like we are standing too close, we feel uncomfortable on our feet, there are more of us but we feel outnumbered.  We press ahead.  “Here,” I show him the biscuits.  “We, we bought… I mean, we…”  The moment we are waiting for and I find my tongue tied in knots.  I stop and just look at him.

“Are you from the supermarket?”  We trip over ourselves to say no and once he has heard this he turns and goes back into the house, leaving all the doors open like an invite with no warmth.  We nudge each other and one of us goes first, following him into the house.  He is in the kitchen, lighting a cigarette on the hob.

“We’ve noticed you before,” I say now, now that his back is to us.  “We started collecting your biscuits, the ones you leave behind,” I tell him.  “Not all of them, I add hurriedly.  “We leave some of them.  It confuses the supermarket.  You’re really getting to them.  They can’t cope with it.”  I hope that I am getting across how impressed we are with his scheme.

He turns around, looks at us.  “What do you want?”  His words are less fierce than before, now he just sounds irritated.  We look around the walls of the unfamiliar house, trying to locate ourselves.

“We want to help.  We want in.  We want to join the network.”  We say all this, all in a rush, deciding that now we are here we have to.

“Boys,” he says.  And then he coughs, hacking and long.  The air smells stale and flat.  “You’ve got the wrong man.  Network?”  He looks straight at us, through us, into us.  “I don’t know what you’ve been smoking…” he laughs long and hard and hacks some more coughs straight from his lungs.  “But if you’ve got any more…”

We say nothing.  This is not us.  This is not what we have worked for.  We stand stock still.  We do not know what to do next.

“Cat got your tongue?”  We do not want to be here, we do not want to ask any more questions and we do not want anyone to ask any more questions of us.  We want to go home with our tails between our legs.  “Network?  Bleedin’ network.  Listen, you’ve got the wrong fella.  I’m just an old man with too much time on his hands and I like to cause a bit of mischief.”  We look at his hands and then we look at his face again and for the first time we notice how old he actually is.

“Come on with you,” he stands up.  “Leave me in peace.  You can come round next time I want a good laugh.”  He is smiling now, ushering us towards the door.  The worst has passed and the ordeal has ended peacefully.  There will be further low points, later on when we rake over the evidence that the scheme we have invested our time in was nothing more than an old man’s mischief.

“Go on.”  He pushes us gently into the street.  He closes the door firmly.  Once we are outside everything seems clearer.  We have to think hard about what just happened.

Keep trying boys.

“What did you say?” we ask each other, but neither of us has spoken.  We turn to look but the door is shut.  We look at each other.  We go back to the van thinking, keep trying boys.

Several Untruths By Beardlight In Seventy Words, Or Less

And when the electric lights went out we continued by beardlight, several spectators setting light to their own whilst others brushed the spent electricity into recycling bins at the side of the room.  We were cooking by gas, competing to see who could make the crispiest bacon.

The competing smells of bacon, sweat and torched hair, the excitement, the thrill of the game and the anticipation of the outcome.

The Whites

On a long list of things which the man was hopeless at drawing, eyes would not be included.  He was really quite good at drawing eyes – eyeballs, eyelashes, pupils, etc.  But that was not important at the moment, what he had to focus on at the moment was searching for the correct lightbulb to replace the one that had blown.  “Did you know that every lightbulb is unique?” the custodian told him as he swept hundreds upon thousands of winter-white bulbs into some kind of order.  The man began picking through them, trying to find one as similar to the dead bulb as possible.  “You’ll get one pretty much exactly the same,” the custodian told him, “but,” he winked, “it won’t be.”  He carried on searching and the custodian carried on sweeping and the lightbulbs carried on tinkling under his broom.

After a while the man stopped for a rest and made his way to the back of the establishment where the custodian would sometimes go to smoke and watch the canal, though on this ocassion he just carried on sweeping the bulbs into order.  The man stood at the edge of the canal and watched the old longboats in the water, the first one tied to the waters edge and the others all connected together after that.  In each longboat were laid to rest pretty vespa crash victims, still with their helmets on their heads, visors up so that their eyes were gazing skywards.  All of the helmets were painted green, white and red,.  All of the eyes were rollback large and empty.  All of their lashes were thick and long and black.

The custodian came out for a cigarette and the man hurried back inside to continue his long and arduous lightbulb search.