Or How I learnt to drink
Or An ode to an Ogre
Or A stream of consciousness
History has, as it is want to do, forgotten that a tribe of ogres once lived among us; an unsociable, bad tempered lot with an unhealthy fascination for knives. They spent their days cooking – they where good at cooking – for other people, people known as ’customers.’
They skulked from lair to stove and back again in the half light of dawn, or between the shadows cast by a street light in the plumpness of the night! Forbidden to speak to the public, they were seldom seen; you had to be patient in your surveillance, or just lucky. As the moonlight filters through a copious, almost permanent cloud, a hunched figure can sometimes be seen, his ‘Sabatier’ close to hand, pulling on a cigarette over by the bins. You barely have time to make out his checked trousers through the grainy light when, quick as a flash he’s gone, and you, the watcher, question your eyes and damn them to hell!!
Territorial and suspicious of other ogres they tended to mix only with their immediate tribe or ‘brigade’, guarding their recipes from jealous rivals by burying them deep inside their cavernous minds. These old ogres have all but died out, liver failure a common cause of death; they have been replaced with well balanced, ambitious, even tempered chefs with healthy chaste livers.
Ogres were notorious drunkards, they had tough demanding jobs, and they worked in a hot, volatile world surrounded by an inferior species; waiters. Oh how the ogre despised the waiter. More often than not they performed the highly dexterous, adroit art of cooking in an environment rife with booze. Waiters, despite being inferior, were nevertheless annoying, they permeated a kind of slow torturous annoyance that drove an ogre to drink, to blot out the pain; it seldom, if ever worked.
However frequently you shooed them away, yelled at them or, more often than you think, pinned them up against a wall by the throat and poked a salty finger in their eye, they just kept on coming back. I’ve known ogres strip a waiter bare and throw him in a walk-in fridge with a catch of live lobsters; all to no avail. So the Ogre reaches for another bottle of cheap cooking wine, contemplates using a glass, rejects the notion and takes a long swig.
For the ogre to function properly the alcohol level needs to be maintained and carefully managed so as to not raise too much suspicion. A state of semi inebriation, drunk enough to dull the pain and yet still work, is carefully minded, if not always adhered to. This partial plane of intoxication is known as the ‘philosopher’s zone’, a place of deep and meaningful thought and where ‘eureka moments’ roam aplenty, skipping in abundance like giant… err… Rabbits!!
Here is a place of great insight and creativity, a place where the superior mind can stretch its wings and take flight. Where the ogre can wax lyrical on all matters, on all subjects, whether he is well versed or not. Oh, how I do miss those heady days of debate, of improving one’s mind through the consumption of alcohol. But I must warn you that just beyond this magical realm, no more than a sip or two away is another place, a darker place, a place to avoid if at all possible, the land of melancholy.
Many topics have been thrashed out in the philosopher’s zone, everything from farming bunnies on the moon, (was it really possible) to the plausible causes of the eventual demise of the human race, not obviously chefs, or so we believed. Chefs were like cockroaches and would survive just about anything, so would beautiful women and the burden to repopulate the world would fall to us.
The meaning of life was a theme much explored in the philosopher’s zone and one old Head Ogre presented, what seemed on the surface an adequate yet simple answer, but due to his own personal circumstances, demanded further investigation. He said that life was simply about procreation and the furtherance of the human race. No matter how society had, over the course of history, tried to criminalise, demonise or denounce fornication nature always found a way to bring new life into the world. We were, all of us men, slaves to our sexual nature, just farmers carrying seeds around in a sack ready to be sown.
You don’t need to be married to make children, you don’t even have to know each other’s names, these are not the conditions of nature just the conventions of civilisation! Illegitimate children are born all the time, more sex is had outside of the rigorous structure of marriage than within; I wager! Our only mission in life is to keep churning out more and more of our kind to secure the survival of the species. Nature doesn’t care if you are a bastard or not, it makes no difference to your ability to breed. But the establishment, those that tell us how we should live our lives, introduce structures, guilt and obedience, they care, they fell out with nature, beastly carnal nature, a long time ago. Still if we all went around obeying politicians and priests no one would ever be born!
He reckoned that to successfully pass on your DNA is the measure of your success as a human being, whether you support the product of that alliance – it takes two to tango – or not makes no odds. You could unknowingly pass on your DNA during a back alley ‘knee trembler’ after a few jars on a Friday night. Then walk out in front of the number 38 bus, zipping up your flies with one hand and steadying your chips with the other, and die a success. The product of the alliance may go on to be the next Leonardo da Vinci, Bach, Thomas Jefferson, Jack Nicolson or umm Ted Bundy! All of which were illegitimate children but managed to carve out a life for themselves; carve being the operative word in Bundy’s case.
The old ogre said it was as simple as that, no bollocks about, personal growth or expanding your horizons, no need to try and be a better person or pass on your knowledge. There is no eventual design, no great plan for us, no reincarnation, no reprisals for a life wasted. We were just limpets clinging to a rock hurtling though space, the product of an impulse with no destination other than death.
This same ogre, once drunk enough to gain entry into the ‘kingdom of melancholy’, became remorseful and bitter at fate’s cruel hand. He was the father of a severely mentally handicapped child. He openly spoke of his regret and furthermore wished that they had terminated the child at birth! A heavier burden I cannot imagine than the shame and disgust he felt towards his own child. It tore him apart, and I suspect it wasn’t the waiters that drove him to drink but his inability to make peace with the fruit of his loins.
That old Ogre strayed too often into melancholy and ended up setting up residence and staying there for good. His permanent despondency made me think about his philosophy on life and I realised that he was wrong. Procreation is not the meaning to life, procreation is the means we have to achieve it, once achieved it’s up to us to find meaning within it.
Old ogres stumbled and staggered drunkenly towards their own demise, refusing to accept the world beyond the sanctuary of the kitchen and its fountain of wine. However, whether they realised it or not they contributed to the success of future generations. I served under the patient sometimes violent hand of the old guard; I learnt their ways, their strange customs and their passion for food. They taught me the value of team work and good leadership, of organisation and goddammit friendship. But also, maybe more importantly, they taught me about the philosopher’s zone, a place that will always be there, a place where one day I can spend eternity shooting the breeze and talking bollocks with the ogres and their disciples.