A motley bunch of disparate souls shuffled themselves into a disorderly queue. Steven, always first in line, sucked in a cavernous breath:
‘There is nothing quite so exquisite and mouth-watering, as watching a pig roast slowly on a spit.’ A brief silence ensued before loud peals of raucous laughter brought the breakfast gang to life. He concluded, ‘It provides a tantalizing aroma that will set the taste buds alight.’
‘Steven,’ I joked. ‘The choice was toast ‘n’ marmalade or egg ‘n’ baked beans.’ Steven’s face remained expressionless as he pulled down the woolly hat to cover his ears.
I laughed along with the rest, but Steven’s theatrical line, apparently pulled from some latent memory cell, sparked an idea. A crazy, illogical idea! I needed to see Joe.
‘For heaven’s sake Bob,’ laughed Joe. We’re here to distribute clothing and food parcels. We’re struggling to provide a hot breakfast.’
‘Oh ye, Joe of little faith. Remember our mission statement; to share God’s love in a sensitive and practical manner?’
‘Yup.’ He eventually conceded. ‘And Jesus wasn’t averse to a feast now and then. What’s more, we’re here for friendship too.’ Joe was on-board. ‘Tomorrow, breakfast followed by client meeting.’
At the stroke of ten the doors were unlocked and the ragamuffin waifs and strays scrambled to the kitchen. As always it was a somewhat malodourous rite of passage, from the cardboard box on the street to the warmth and welcoming aroma of a sizzling fry-up.
Steven stared ahead, impassive and aloof as I voiced my idea to the group. The reaction was astonishing. Rosemary squealed and gave Graham a high five. Charlie stopped picking his nose long enough to sop up the details and Raymond jumped up and did a little tap-dance in his weathered steel toe capped boots. Punching the air with a filthy fist Graham yelled: ‘Yeah, go man!’
‘Steven?’ I asked. The face was deadpan. ‘Any thoughts?’
‘Hog-roast!’ He exclaimed. ‘The Tudors did hog-roast.’ I stifled a horselaugh and glanced at Joe.
‘A medieval banquet?’ Joe wasn’t laughing. ‘What a brilliant idea Steven! Let’s put it to the vote.’ And so the idea was birthed.
We placed an ad in the local newspaper, flyers on lamp posts and spread the invitation by word of mouth. Soon we had offers of food gifts, help with catering and the use of the High School playing field. We were on a roll.
The big day arrived and a huge marquee was erected by volunteers. Trestles were set out and the hog was unceremoniously impaled on the spit. The guests arrived later to the sweet and succulent, cholesterol fuelled aroma of a wicked feast.
‘Lords and ladies,’ Joe announced from his table-top podium. ‘Tonight will be a rather rustic affair, in keeping with the Tudor Dynasty tradition. I am the King and assume all responsibilities, including beheading the guests if the need arises.’ Boisterous laughter broke out.
‘I would like to remind you of a few medieval manners. There will be no cutlery, barring a spoon and knife. If in doubt, eat with the hands and wipe fingers on your bread. We have no plastic waste bins so be sure to throw any bones on the floor. Before we eat I will rinse my hands in a bowl of water before passing it down the line, until every person’s hands are clean – except the last!’
I saw the faces. They were hooked into the spirit of the event. The candles were lit and ‘may your appetites be voracious and extravagant,’ were Joe’s final words before he overbalanced and toppled off his throne.
While the hog was being carved, Steven, a man of substance if not charm, helped himself to pork pot pie, herb salad and spiced wine. ‘How did we do Steven? I asked. ‘Is there anything missing?’
‘Roasted swan … beef lung.’ I wiped his pie from my eye. ‘Anything else?’
‘Fillet of porpoise … ale.’ Too peckish to wait for hog, he spooned grilled apple and stewed pear into his mouth. I watched the spills nestle alongside the breakfast egg in his uncultivated beard.
It was heart-warming to see such a multiplicity of community members converging to accept and befriend the homeless and less fortunate in society: ‘Rubbing shoulders with the privileged? This makes interesting reading.’ The newspaper reporter said. ‘Tell me where the idea originated.’
I gestured toward Steven. ‘There’s the man. Our very own historian.’ The camera flashed, over and again. Steven looked up … and smiled!
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