Monday, 8 January 2018

Hell, fire and toasted sandwiches!

Nathan and I went to Julie Clare’s house last night and played Cards Against Humanity till quite late. Sam, who lives with Julie, but only appeared right at the end of the evening, has recently purchased a vintage 1960s toasted sandwich maker which took me very fondly back to my childhood. At one point everyone had one of them, usually at the back of a cupboard caked entirely in sticky grease next to the soda stream and a potato ricer. We were obsessed with ours for at least a week. We tried most combinations of food inside. Cheese and baked beans. Mars bars. Actually that’s probably the long and the short of our imagination...

Sam’s sandwich maker was made by Boots. I had no idea that Boots had made electrical equipment like that. It certainly made delicious toasties. Back then, of course, things were built to last - even the things they sold in Boots. This one was made in stainless steel, so it’s probably no surprise that it was still in working order. I made a sandwich with cheddar, pesto and halloumi, and one with cheese and chutney. They felt decadent and exciting. I reckon I could open up a cafe selling them. If I referred to the sandwiches as “retro” and said they were filled with “Somerset aged cheddar” and “deluxe, wild basil pesto”, I’d be able to triple the cost and sell them to yummy mummies in Hackney for four times the amount. Making money in the world of food is all about the adjectives you use.

We talked about the fact that there’s a school now charging its pupils to do GCSE music because funding for education from the disgraceful government is now reaching a crisis point. We talked about the fact that most people are now predicting a massive brain drain in this country post Brexit, and the fact that the bankers (who we seem so desperate to keep here) have already oiled their escape routes and added down to their nests in Ireland, France and Germany. There’s predicted to be a major flowering of the arts, in places like Berlin, caused by a huge exodus of British creatives with tragically no other option but to leave these shores. For the first time I wondered whether it might be quite an exciting adventure to go myself, leaving the hell of Brexit and endless Tory cuts behind. If Colman’s mustard can move to Germany, then maybe so can I!

I went to the village of West Wycombe on Saturday afternoon with Michael to visit the really spooky Hell Fire Caves: a series of long, underground tunnels which were dug in the mid 18th Century as a sort of subterranean pleasure garden. They were used as a meeting place for the shady “Hell Fire Club”, a group of society figures who met for bawdy parties which involved all sorts of curious pagan rituals and, probably, quite a lot of sex. Women were allowed to attend, although they wore masks and were only invited if they had a “cheery disposition.” Which probably meant loose morals. Women of the night dressed as nuns were also a feature of these gatherings.

There are all sorts of underground chambers down there, where revellers would gather, including a dining room with an impressive domed roof, maybe 30 feet high.

My favourite part was the inner temple, a much smaller chamber at the very deepest point in the complex, which is, apparently, directly underneath a church on the hillside 100 feet above. To gain access to the temple, you had to cross over the “River Styx”, a man made pool which looks like an eerie underground river. The attention to detail is astounding. The bloke who commissioned the building of the caves in the 1700s even asked the people who dug it out to create stalactites to hang over the water. 

The complex is said to be haunted by two ghosts, one called Suki. The “Most Haunted” team (Yvette Fielding’s lot) spent a night down there and were apparently greeted by orbs of light and the sound of children laughing. They also said that it was the darkest place they’d ever visited... whatever that means!

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