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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Aunt Alice's Chutney

Perhaps, with the light of hindsight, it had always been an ill-starred romance. Wayne had been just a working class lad whilst Rachel had been raised in the culture of the affluent, English middle classes.

Despite these differences, love blossomed and Wayne was soon invited to join Rachel’s extended family for dinner.

It had been a small misunderstanding, but a portent of the tragedy to come, when Wayne initially believed this to be an invitation to join the family for a sandwich or a pasty in the middle of the day.

‘No, silly,’ said Rachel, giggling, ‘dinner is in the evening.’

‘What do you have at dinner time, then?’ Wayne asked.

‘In the middle of the day, we have lunch,’ she explained.

‘So you call dinner, lunch,’ Wayne summarised, ‘and you call tea, dinner.’

‘We have tea in the late afternoon,’ said Rachel. ‘That’s usually bread and jam, or cake, with a pot of tea.’

‘How strange,’ Wayne replied. ‘We only have breakfast, dinner and tea, at home.’

‘You’ll need to get used to breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper,’ Rachel explained.

Wayne wrote down the unfamiliar terms on a piece of paper. Now he had understood that the dinner to which he had been invited was actually tea, he would be prepared for his burger and chips at six o’clock.

Wayne missed his normal lunch (dinner) so he would be ready for a bigger dinner (tea), but arrived at the home of Rachel’s parents a little late for afternoon tea (no equivalent). He was already, therefore, quite peckish.

He forgot the pangs of hunger for a couple of hours, however, as Rachel’s family chatted with him and made him feel at home in this alien middle-class environment.

It was around six in the evening when Rachel’s mother appeared in the sitting room (front room) to announce that dinner (tea) would be a little delayed, probably to nine o’clock, as relatives from Australia were planning a Skype call at eight-fifteen.

Wayne could not recall a time when his dinner (tea) had been that late. He was attempting to demonstrate his best behaviour on unfamiliar territory, however, so he did not mention the slight feeling of faintness that he was experiencing from lack of sustenance.

Somehow, he managed to maintain focus and subdue his desire to snack on the pot-plants through seemingly endless anecdotes about amusing family incidents. Wayne was proud of his own fortitude when nine o’clock eventually arrived and all were summoned to the dining room (no equivalent).

As he sat down at the dining table, he imagined that in just a few moments full plates of grub would be served. He was thrown into confusion, therefore, when a pile of empty plates were brought into the room and distributed to the diners.

Wayne prodded his plate as if to check that that he was not hallucinating, and then quickly withdrew his hand, suffering what he feared might be third degree burns.

‘Be careful, everyone,’ warned Rachel’s mother, somewhat belatedly, ‘the plates are very hot.’

The bizarreness of the situation and the pain from the burn to his finger distracted Wayne from his hunger and feelings of faintness. He was used to dinner (tea) being served on a plate ready to eat. What possible purpose could there be to giving everyone empty plates that seem to have been brought to the temperature of a Space Shuttle heat shield on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere?

His question was partly answered when various family members brought bowls of meat and vegetables into the room and placed these on the table. It appeared that middle-class dinners (teas) had to be individually assembled by the diners.

The passing-around process thus began. Low blood sugar was causing Wayne’s vision to blur by this time but he somehow managed to engage in what seemed like half an hour of cautiously and inconveniently manoeuvring dishes of food around the table - dishes that had clearly also been heated by an oxy-acetylene flame.

Wayne feared that he would not be able to maintain consciousness until this pointless passing-around ritual was over, but eventually everyone had a full plate and several family members picked up items of cutlery to begin to eat.

Wayne reasoned that a few mouthfuls of vegetables might be enough to help him maintain consciousness. He quickly filled his fork and raised it towards his mouth.

‘Stop!’ screamed Rachel’s mother in a tone of alarm.

Everyone immediately aborted their plans to being eating.

‘We haven’t got Aunt Alice’s chutney,’ Rachel’s mother continued by way of explanation. ‘We can’t start a meal like this without Aunt Alice’s chutney!’

In reality it took less than ten minutes for Rachel’s mother to retrieve a jar of the critical preserve from its storage location in the loft, but it was precious time that Wayne did not have.

By the time that she returned, triumphantly holding aloft a jar of Aunt Alice’s chutney, Wayne had already passed out and fallen from his chair. His head had already struck the hearth and, despite the ambulance also having been called, he had sadly, died.


‘Looking at all the circumstances of this tragic case and others like it,’ said the coroner, ‘I believe that, in our modern, socially mobile society, much greater education is needed amongst the working classes in respect of middle-class culture. Particularly,’ he concluded, ‘in the grave risks associated with middle-class eating habits.’