Phil and Margaret had more work than they could cope with and were, like us, considering downsizing. Actually, we were planning dinner at La Fragua, so food entered the conversation and pushed downsizing to one side, except for downsizing being the sort of clever thing what you can do with recipes when you are pushed: "I mean, I never use hands when I can use a machine, and I never work to seconds when a minute will do." Talking about food is almost essential when Phil is around for, before retirement, he was a chef with Cunard. His ship put into Santa Cruz. He decided he loved the place and retired here with Margaret. His war stories are small behind-the-lines experiences linked to German and Italian prisoners of war, but widely interesting for all that.
"We brought them across the Channel in small ships; one of them was said to be so fast it could outrun a torpedo. The Germans weren't stupid. A torpedo would have drowned their own people. So the buggers would allow us to feed them and put greater strain on our ships bringing food from the States... So that's what we thought, a sort of insurance. Truly we never heard of a POW boat being attacked. We gave them ciggies and sandwiches and were nice as pie, just to show 'em we got the stuff even in wartime. Anyone caught spiking POW food with engine oil was jankered. I mean these poor sods hadn't seen real coffee for fu... Sorry Lizzie - for ages. They had acorns. Can you imagine what acorns tasted like? You can also make flour with the right kind of acorn - like wooden bread! We had loads of frozen bread and a few tons of Spam and margarine made from whale oil. One of them actually complained: 'What is this?' So I told him, made from whale oil. 'In Deutschland there are no whales. We use Jews.' This guard sergeant heard him, came up and belted him across the mouth. Our blokes had to come in and sort the buggers out. The kraut came up afterwards and apologised. I think he was made to apologise by this guard sergeant who was a really hard sod. Well you gotta be hard with bloody POWs in case they do something to foul up your war effort. So you kick em around first so they know who's in charge, then you can be nice. Anyway, it turns out that before the war this kraut bloke was a chef on the Hamburg America Line. 'It is the way we are taught to think about Jews,' he said. So I said, 'think yourself lucky you didn't get a good kicking, mate. I'm Jewish!' So he went and sat in a corner and was seasick. One of his own blokes threw a bucket of seawater over him.
"Funny thing. My brother was in the Home Guard. There was a POW camp at Woolaton. The cookhouse was full of Italians. They did all the food. They also made toys for the local kids and they repaired the big East window in Christchurch after a German land mine blew it out. They went round collecting all the bits of stained glass and put the whole fu... well most of it. And they cut plain glass to fill the missing bits. They cut the shapes with tin shears. Dead cunning! You can cut glass with shears, you know. Do it inside a bucket of warm water. It's like cutting cardboard! Dead easy! Anyway, Joe liked the Italians. They worked on the land, sang in the choir. They wouldn't speak to the Germans. The lady who played the organ told Joe these Italians changed the words and sang 'Please for us the war to win.'
"We had coffee at the camp. It was called Camp Coffee and had a picture on the front of the bottle, a soldier in a kilt and an Indian servant and a tent. Do the Germans get this, I enquired? 'Camp Coffee is on their list,' I was told. 'But don't worry. One of us is going to win this war. And it's going to be us! So we psyche 'em by giving them Camp coffee, and fish cakes."
Cutting through Phil's chunter I remember at home we had a sort of barely edible fish, I think it was called flake. Nothing my mum could do would make it decently edible. "Eat it," my dad said. "Don't waste. Hallams told your mum there will be cod in next week." But it was the cheese that really upset my mum. She came home shaking with rage. After queueing for her ration at the Maypole the girl behind the counter carefully weighed the cheese. Slightly over weight she cut off a thin slice - then put the slice in her mouth. "I could have had that slice!" my mum yelled. "I've got four to feed. Bring me the manager!" There followed a racket that could fairly be described as unholy, all the women in the Maypole waving their ration books screaming blue murder. The girl disappeared through the back yard.
"There is no respect for food at Cunard. The officer of the day would be round wearing white cotton gloves. If they were as clean when he left you were OK for the day. But the waste! It was pretty bloody awful for a lad who'd come through the war. I mean, a tin of salmon was worth its weight in gold and any food waste went into the pig swill, but where do you dump waste on a whacking great cruise ship? Either the incinerator or in the oggie! I could'a wept, I tell you."
Now we have the Big Portion People. Something happens to peoples' brains when they land here. Not just the lower social groups but the upper professional people. They go to restaurants where the biggest portions are served. The quality doesn't matter so much, the size of the plate and the quantity it bears are paramount. It's almost comical. They are getting the most out of their cheap holiday deal. That family in Los Angeles 204 gave to me a feeling of unimpeachable superiority. They were so... common. Yes, common. Yet who am I to feel superior? And yet I felt it. Those fat ungainly parents, their tee shirts hanging like curtains from wide bellies, their two children very little better. I was expected to take them to big portion places, where they could help themselves and keep going back for more. The Cricketers' Arms where they served The Big British Breakfast All Day was one of their favourite places until the owner complained to me. Why Me?
"Because they said you had recommended my place!"
I wanted to silence the noisy little pigs. I wanted to disown their disgusting father who blew his nose without using a handkerchief. And when they left they took from the wardrobe ten rolls of toilet paper, though what possible good ten rolls of toilet paper would do to enhance the quality of their home life I can scarcely imagine. Ten rolls of toilet paper take up a hell of a lot of room and their cases were stuffed to the limit when they arrived. Maybe they use squares of newspaper threaded on string! Please don't come back you unlovely people! In the meantime I'll phone Bernard, tell him not to send such disgusting people here again. Sand was everywhere. They ignored the rules about not taking towels and bed linen on the beach, the bathroom washbowl was blocked solid, beer bottles under the beds - one of them half empty knocked over. "I'm not cleaning it!" Lizzie declared. "Not till they're gone home. Have you seen all the food in the rubbish bin?"
Conversationally we told Phil about our Big Portion People. "Right," said Phil. "I get those sort. Come back pissed and puke all over the floor. I won't let Margaret go in and clean it up, and I certainly won't. It stays there till they go home. They get right upset about it too. So I say 'You made the bloody mess. You clean it up!' They steal towels too, my lot."
We don't get that very often. Once La Compostela phoned to ask if we could take this couple. We assumed LC was overbooked. We went to collect them and put them in Paloma Beach 132. They wanted a reduction because the accommodation was too small. I refused. We had gone out of our way to find them a place to stay and we were certainly not giving them a discount. Every time I saw them they pursued their claim for a discount as firmly as I refused it. They stayed for ten days then announced they were leaving for a bigger place in Eucaliptus. They didn't actually throw the money at us but made it plain they were being robbed. Then we went in to clean and found two of the Foxes beautiful blue bath towels were missing. Common sense should have told our skulking pair that a close cameraderie exists between apartment managers. A quick phone call to Lynn Forman and our lightfingered duo were located at 26 Eucaliptus. Lynn brought her keys and let us into their apartment. They were out when we called but we rummaged and found the towels neatly packed one inside each travelling case. "Lynn, tell this bloke that if I see him around in Los Cristianos I'll have his ears! That should help him enjoy the rest of his holiday."
Les and Lynn are gone now. We did receive a holiday card from - would you believe - Skegness. "Of all places!" said my Lizzie. "From the sheer sublime to the totally ridiculous!"
"Let's be kind, petal. Her sister lives there." But for me the knowledge that the Foxes beautiful blue bath towels had been recovered mainly due to Lynn's diligent searching and her lyrical description of Fred Bear and Ted Bear to our chastened snatch team was sufficient to quell any future thieving or disputes over the rent.
"We do get hot plates now Phil."
"Should bloody well think so. Food on cold plates at Cunard gets you keel hauled."
"So let's bring a smile to Pussyfinger, tell her we shall be dining at La Fragua."