15. Shredded Wheat bought in Wakefield


“Did you know you can make nettles into beer?” Brian Clough divulged, as a conversation concerning edible wild plants gained traction among the six marooned leviathans of British culture. Fortified with alcoholic curios from Central and Southern Europe, they walked in single file through a low-ceilinged dimly lit passageway like schoolchildren. Clough, unafraid of the dark, led the procession, with Mark E Smith, who kept an open mind about supernatural shenanigans and believed himself psychic, bringing up the rear. “It’s crackers, isn’t it?” Clough continued, lifting a finger to emphasise his point. “With a bit of yeast, lemons, a bag of sugar and some other ingredient that I can’t bloody remember, you can have bottles of beer within a week! And eh, it’s lovely! Bloody lovely! It doesn’t sting your mouth like you’d expect and it’s very refreshing on a hot day after you’ve been gardening. Now! There’s tons of nettles near our football ground. Tons! Obviously it’s not free booze in the strict sense because you’ve got to get your wife to buy you your sugar and lemons down at Fine Fair, but half your ingredients are growing by public bridleways!”

“Dandelions are edible,” Tony Wilson added. “Every bit of them – stem, flower, root, the lot. Full of vitamins. Not so cool on a Didsbury driveway. Ian Curtis detested dandelions. He was a fan of a neat lawn. But I would certainly consider eating a fucking dandelion now if I could get my hands on one.”

“Wet-beds?” Geoff Boycott cried. “That’s what they call ’em. White stuff in stem makes you lose control of your bladder in night. That’s a scientific fact datin’ back years. I’ll pass on your salad, thanks.”

“Genesis name-checked Fine Fair in one of their records,” Smith spoke. “‘Aisle Of Plenty’, ages ago, back in the Seventies. It’s probably the nearest that lot’ll ever get to Fall territory, reading out prices of Fairy Liquid and jelly. Good if it’s done properly.”

“Oh, very interestin’!” Boycott bellowed. “You’re not in youthie now, you know, comin’ out wi’ all sorts of nonsense!”

Smith stomped forwards to Boycott with a contorted face: “Boycott, you’re a balding bag of contradictions. Mr White Rose all the way, yet you’ve sold out your fellow Yorkshireman by supporting Fat Ron’s Reds. How did that work out, then? It makes no sense. It’s a geographical abomination.”

“Here we ’ave it… I take it you’re a Man City fan!” Boycott sneered. “I support Man United because I appreciate quality and decent application, simple as that. I idolised Denis Law. What a striker ’e was, a master of ’is craft. No sulkin’. A real trier.”

“Law, who sent you down to Second Division when he played for City!” Smith cackled. “Without trying! Little-dink back-heel. Fantastic! What a great day that was! Like winning FA Cup!”

“And look at face on ’im when ’e back-’eeled it into net!” Boycott shrieked. “Devastated! He didn’t run off cheerin’, did he? It were agony for ’im! Anyway, you’d not make much of a pundit, mister. You get relegated over course of a season, not a single game.”

“You ought to be supporting a local set-up like Barnsley or Leeds!” Smith responded. “Proper sides, them. Liverpool, they’re a proper side an’ all.”

 “Well, clever dick, I played for Leeds – you didn’t know that, did you?” Boycott rallied. “Only one appearance, for under-18s, I’ll grant you. Belle Vue, Doncaster. Guess who was alongside me in midfield? Bremner! So I weren’t all that bad! But me ’eart weren’t in soccer, it were in crickeet. I mean, you say you’re a pop star, but I’ve never ’eard of you! ’Ave you even been in ’it parade? I shouldn’t think so!”

“We topped the indie chart a while ago.” Smith bristled.

“Indian?” shook Boycott. “Well that counts for little!”

Tim Healy, nearing total exhaustion, eyes bulging with wrath, pushed himself between the belligerent batsman and defiant singer to divert a potential altercation: “You two, pack it up, man! We’re looking for something to burn here, right, and the sooner we’re back in that hall getting the fire ganning, getting warmed up, the happier we’ll all be. Quick nip of tha booze and we’ll be in dreamland in no time. So let’s cut all this crap out, eh, and get on with the basic job of surviving the night!”

“You get this invective with City fans,” Wilson smiled sullenly. “Study their history and you can understand it to a point. Most of them are from Wythenshawe.”

“Shut up you an’ all, right!” Healy scolded and pointed a digit in Wilson’s face.

“My esteemed acquaintances, we’ll wake up the dead at this rate,” Peter O’Toole chortled. Despite their grave predicament, he was rather enjoying the evening.

Another door and another ghastly creak: waaaaaaaah.

“I’ll do the honours, eh?” Healy sarcastically smiled and tapped a nearby wall to locate a light switch. Bingo! He flicked and, to his consternation, the space remained a black void.

“Looks like the bulb’s done a runner,” O’Toole commented.

“Mark Smith, man, we’re gonna need your matches again,” Healy called out.

“Well, I’ve not got many of these left either,” Smith complained. “We’ve got to be thinkin’ long-term, not waste everything willy-nilly.”

“Here we go, acting the goat again,” Boycott said. “You’re in a team now – start thinking what you can do for it, not what it can do for you!”

Swiiiiiish-shaarrr. The struck match’s yellow glow gave outline shapes to large items of furniture. There was a centrally placed long wooden table with drawers, tall cabinets against the walls and, bizarrely, the ruined remains of a bed’s iron headboard. Beyond were a good-sized cooking range and the silhouette of a large fireplace. Pots and pans were hung from rails, but there were various items of cutlery and smashed cups littered on the worksurfaces and floor. Smith winced, “Oooh yer ffff…” as the flame licked his finger ends and the dead match fell to the ground.

“Looks like the kitchen to me,” Clough stated. “And do you know what kitchens have?”

“Kettles?” wondered Boycott.

“Kettles? Candles!” Clough said. “So let’s get them bloody cupboard doors flung wide open and drawers hanging out, and we might get some light in here.”

“Eh Mark, you come wi’ me,” Healy beckoned. “Bring ya matches cos if this place is dry, and I can smell no damp here, there’ll be more matches somewhere, so you can have your last smokes all to yaself in peace – what do you say to that, eh?”

“If the odds are tasty, I’ll have a Lady Godiva on candles being near the sink, by the Brasso, grate polish and Mr Sheen,” O’Toole ventured.

Smith struck another match but to his dismay the flame extinguished the moment he and Healy moved forwards.

“I’m not doing that again,” Smith said. “Not wasting any more matches. It’s too draughty to bollocks about. So we’ll move together, linking arms like a blind Charles and Lady Di until we reach the sink. Then we’ll slap around to find cupboards and open a few doors. Let the bats fly out – ha-ha! Then I’ll strike a match. Got that, cocker?”

“Right you are, bonny lad,” Healy replied, taking hold of Smith’s elbow.

 “And if I’m holding the match, it’ll be you has to go through the cupboards, alright?” Smith affirmed.

Healy sucked his lips then looked sideways at Smith: “Orkee, let’s just get on with it then. I’m gonna put my biker’s gloves on for this job though mind. You never know, under the sink could be rodent shit and all sorts. Don’t want to come down with diphtheria or the black death! Lead the way, your royal highness.”

Rough Riders, 4×4, you can trrrryyyy to stop ’em,” sang Smith. After some extended foot shuffling, they reached a sideboard, found the sink, felt the shape of taps and from there, lowered themselves into a crouching position to investigate nearby storage space.

“You give me light and I’ll see what I can find,” said Healy. “It’s darker here than down a bloody pit!”

Swiiiiiish-shaarrr. Another match was struck. Glorious flickering illumination arrived. Healy slowly opened a cupboard door to prevent a current of air that might kill their precious flame. Smith shielded the matchstick like it was a new-born kitten, and, using a cupped hand, gently moved the light forward.

“Hurry up, I’m getting’ cramp,” Smith warned.

Using an entire arm, Healy dragged a cupboard shelf’s entire contents in one sweep onto the stone floor. The match went dead. Smith lit another, and Healy cleared a lower shelf. The pair rapidly studied their booty with what was left of their light.

“Candles,” Healy laughed. “And look here, two boxes of kitchen matches!”

There came a cheer from the back of the room.

Smith struck another match and grinned while reading the labels. “He’s right enough. Price’s Candles in an old box. Not seen them for years. They’ll probably be made out of whale oil, ha-ha! And a big tin of Diamond Matches. There’ll be a hairy tarantula inside but worth the aggro, I suppose. It’s like being a bloody kid again with these packaging designs. The older generation were so much better at this sort of thing.”

Smith struck the last of his modern dry matches to get a candle started and passed it to Healy. Smith then carefully took a light from Healy’s candle and stood up, surveying the surroundings.

“Aggghhh, fuckin’ pins and needles,” Smith growled. “Urgggghhhh… Wait, wait, wait, wait… I’m OK now.”

Taking hold of more candles, Smith and Healy soon had the kitchen bathed in a flickering Victorian warmth. O’Toole, Clough, Boycott and Wilson gazed in dismay at the wrecked room around them and were startled to discover twisted cutlery lying on the worktops.

“Maybe Uri Geller pops in from time to time to practice here,” Wilson frowned and lifted a deformed spoon for the others to view. “Look at that. Bent at 90 degrees. There’s loads of them. ‘Nothing useless is truly beautiful’, as William Morris once said. Maybe I should have got Uri Geller in on the Haçienda opening night instead of Bernard Manning. The London crowd who’d come up on coaches would, I now think, have been more disposed towards a cutlery bending con artist. But Manning was right for the moment. He belongs to Manchester, and we’re here to create life moments, not just put on events to please Southerners.”

“He lasted 15 seconds,” Smith reminded.

“And waived his fee,” Wilson said.

“I was there and that was the best part of the night,” Smith added. “You’re best off not trying to think things out too much. Go for the immediate and the present, and then leave it for other daft bastards to figure out.”

“I were only talkin’ about Bernard Manning earlier,” Boycott proclaimed. “He’s brilliant. Me mother liked ’im, as do a generation of ’ard-workin’ people.”

“Bloody hell, we might not have such a bad night after all,” Smith tittered.

Clough, having taken a candle for a tour around the wrecked kitchen, opened a cupboard directly above a sideboard and smiled. He began removing tins as if he was filling a shopping basket. “Look at this bloody lot!” he called out. “Libby’s Red Alaska Sockeye Salmon… HP Baked Beans… St George Corned Mutton… Taistbest Casserole… Anchor Dripping… Walls Pork Sausages. And see this here – tinned cake!”

Healy arrived to view Clough’s historical unopened-can banquet. “You’re not thinking of trying out any of this nosh,” Healy frowned then widened his eyes. “These have not been touched since Vera Lynn was last on Top Of The Pops!”

“I’m sure I read somewhere that tinned food lasts indefinitely,” O’Toole recalled. “I’ve rarely been hungrier and the treacle pud would be a proper treat, but to come down with a dicky tum miles from brandy or a nursecake to wipe my feverish brow would be unthinkable.”

“It would be utter madness,” Wilson nodded. “Dandelions are one thing… these tins will have spoilt over 40 years. Saying that, I saw a documentary on BBC2 the other night about Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition and they came across tins of food in one of the shelters they’d used. I was nodding off – I’d had an argumentative day with New Order manager Rob Gretton – but I think they took a tin opener to it and had a few forkfuls of 75-year-old beef. Apparently, low-acidic food can last a long time. Canned meat, soup, peas. Freeze-dried canned food lasts longer. I’m usually up for experimentation but for the want of a square meal, I can hold out till tomorrow.”

“Is there no bleach under the sink?” Boycott asked.

“Why’s that, like?” Healy wondered.

“I’ll need to clean the loo before I use it,” Boycott stated.

A small pile of chopped logs was located by the kitchen fireplace, along with a scuttle that was full of dusty-topped coal and a bundle of kindling. These, along with the previously discovered bottles of European alcohol and a good selection of glassware were transported back through the dark passageways to the main hall.

“I’d suggest for now we piss in the fireplace,” O’Toole said. “No wandering off. We keep together at all times until we know whether this home is as deranged as Hitler imagined, or is merely derelict and ramshackle.”

Boycott was deeply troubled by this idea. “What if we need one of other?”

“Other of what?” O’Toole questioned, before the penny dropped. “Ah… well,” he smirked, “a bit of self-control might be the best action for now.”

“Self-control?” Boycott continued. “I eat Shredded Wheat every mornin’, like a lot of sportsmen do. I’m regular as clockwork.”

“So you’ll be needing the facilities available at sparrow’s fart,” O’Toole replied. “Do not fear. At first light, we’ll set out to map Hangingbrow Hall and I promise you, Geoffrey Boycott, you fine, fine Yorkshire cricketer, that we’ll find a shitter you can be proud of.”

“Well, I’m so busy in day that I’ve set meself up to go before bed,” Boycott sheepishly said. ‘About naaarr, actually.”

Even Clough, busy getting the fire going with the assistance of Mark E Smith, rolled his eyes at this. “Just hold it in Geoffrey,” Clough called across. “Mind over matter.”

“Well, I’ll try,” Boycott conceded. “I’ll tell you what, there’s a right draught from that window we broke earlier in ’allway. I think I’ll ’ave a look and try and board it up with somethin’. That’ll keep me mind wanderin’ from matters of unmentionable.”

“Have a shit through the gap in the window while you’re there,” Smith called from the fireplace, as assorted detritus and kindling accepted the flame from one of the ancient kitchen matches. ‘Wipe your arse with the curtain. That’s what I’d do – ha-ha!”

Boycott, who was rummaging through the contents of his kitbag to find his contact lens solution, tutted, then said, “You dirty Arab! There’s too much of this sort of conversation nowadays.”

“You brought it up!” Smith reminded.

Wilson noticed that Boycott was having difficulty removing his contact lenses beneath the poor light of the chandelier and brought forward a candle on a saucer. “Does this help?”

“Much appreciated Tony,” Boycott thanked. “They’re tricky blighters are contact lenses. They’re a real ’andicap. I bloody loathe them, to be honest. But I dislike spectacles even more!”

“So what are you going to board the window up with?” Wilson enquired.

“I’ve got a big box of Shredded Wheat in my ’oldall that I picked up in Wakefield this morning before fog came down,” Boycott stated matter-of-factly. “I bought some carpet tape an’ all. I’ll use card from cereals box to fit gap and tape it in.”

Healy swung round with a furious face. “You’ve got what?”

Wilson appeared confused and almost dropped his candle: “Did you say a box of Shreddies?”

“Shredded Wheat,” Boycott corrected.

“Shredded Wheat, my apology,” Wilson said. “Is the box full, empty…?”

“I said I bought it in Wakefield this mornin’. Has everyone got cloth ears?”

A cacophony of swearwords was hurled at Boycott from many directions.

“Well, I din’t think anyone would want Shredded Wheat wi’out any milk!” Boycott defended. “They’re too dry by ’alf!”

Another barrage of abuse followed, which rapidly turned into disbelief and finally roars of laughter.

Clough walked from the fireplace, which was already beginning to provide some warmth to the hall, and handed out glass tumblers. Filling each receptacle with a good few fingers of peach schnapps, he declared. “Gentleman, I propose a toast: to Shredded Wheat!”


Go to Chapter 16: War and peace.