I had a brainwave while I was stoned and tired, a lethal combination when it comes to making food decisions. As the plane descended towards the Rock of Gibraltar I decided that I'd pick up a takeaway sandwich at the modest canteen in Gib's modest airport terminal. The choices seemed to be egg with a lot of mayonnaise, salad with even more mayonnaise, or a Coronation Chicken sandwich:
Coronation Chicken was created by florist Constance Spry and chef Rosemary Hume for the Queen's Coronation in 1953. Spry subsequently published the recipe in her popular stodge bible, Constance Spry Cookery Book (1956). Essentially cold chicken in a mayonnaise and curry powder sauce, it's popular with planter sandwich makers all over the Commonwealth. The curry is supposed to symbolize the globe-spanning nature of a British Empire on which the sun could never set.
But the sun was setting admirably - a bright fluorescent orange hitting the Rock - as I crossed the border into Spain, the sandwich packed away for a ferry journey I was about to undertake from Algreciras to Tangier. At that very moment in time they were breaking the Ramadan fast all over Morocco.
In the Algeciras ferry terminal I got talking to this middle aged Moroccan guy who proved amiable company for the next few hours. He exported goods - legit goods - from Morocco to Spain and used to hang out with Hamri The Painter of Morocco. He also knew Hamri's wife Blanca and had recently read in the papers about their daughter Senna, now a top notch NYC pop promo maker working with the likes of Mariah Carey and Prince. This guy had also been pally with Brion Gysin, Paul Bowles, and the rest of that Beat Generation gang, so we had loads to talk about. He'd met Jagger which His Satanic Majesty was working on Steel Wheels in Tangier and Joujouka.
Coronation Chicken, done right, is a perfectly respectable concoction. If you enjoy low rent cuisine - Quarter Pounders with Cheese or Fish and Chips - then you'll go for Coronation Chicken. Made using chunks of flaky organic chicken breast, creme fraiche, a nice racy curry powder and a few roasted almonds, its almost worth looking forward to.
I was looking forward to my sandwich because i was hungry. I left my companion in the lounge and went up on deck where two Islamic Elvises, complete with black leather jackets and elaborate exuberant pompadours, were sharing a joint.
I lunged into the wake-the-dead coffee they were serving in the ship's best cafe. Then I pulled the cling film off the triangulated Coronation Chicken and had a go.
The sad thing was not that I ended up with shit to eat on the good ship Ibn Batutua north of Africa and south of Spain. The sad thing was that some tragic bird (probably several) had to die before the vile white slice of stuff inside my food could be shaped and sliced. And the bird's death was probably a good thing after its life of existential awfulness inside a cramped shitty cage which never saw sunlight.
In between the meat and the dried out (but not entirely stale) white bread was a gloopy colonial mayonnaise with the merest shadow of curry powder throw in for authenticity's sake. This vomit-yellow mess oozed out of every end of my sandwich. I took one last look at the thing and then I threw it to the friendly dolphins of the Straits of Gibraltar who must get to dine on a lot of discarded junk food and on the remains of Moroccan boat people who die trying to make the opposite journey to the one I was undertaking.
It was getting cold so I went back inside where a handsome, shoeless, uncouth fifteen year old boy, handcuffed to his chair, offered to share his food with me. Discovered hiding inside a container lorry, he was one of the reasonably lucky ones. Unlucky insofar as he didn't escape into the promised land which is Europe. Lucky that he'd not died making what is a recklessly perilous journey.
I shared a taxi into town with the old guy who'd known Hamri.
"What will happen to that boy in the handcuffs?" I asked him.
"Nothing will happen to him. He did nothing wrong. Police will just send him back to his people. Poor boy."
"Poor boy." I concurred as the taxi turned onto Boulevard.
Joe Ambrose wrote 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe sadly passed away in 2018. Visit Joe's website which was completed just before his passing, for more info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.
about Joe Ambrose »»
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