I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this but hell, I’m a writer, it’s what I do, and in any case things happen …
My good friend Hugh Paton died earlier this month. His funeral was last Friday, a dignified affair (even though, or perhaps especially because, they played ‘Gimme Shelter’ as part of the ceremony). And the wake was held in Sevendoorg Castle in Shooter’s Hilll.
Life being as it is, this was also the place that went I to with Hugh and his dog Fergus towards the end of last year, when Hugh seemed to be in pretty good health as far as I could see, though it wasn’t a gourmet outing. If I remember correctly we just had a cup of tea.
Then not so long ago Hugh was diagnosed with cancer and there was an increasingly pessimistic prognosis. Hugh was a smart man and a realist, and decided he’d like to enjoy himself while he could. He decided to some eating in good restaurants. We had a plan to go to St John but Hugh ran out of time.
And - nothing to do with me – Hugh contacted Jay Rayner, explained his position, and asked what restaurants he should go to before he died. Rayner was very forthcoming and helpful, provided a list, and some of the restaurants gave Hugh freebies, which was all very generous and moving.
And then Hugh died and Rayner wrote a piece in the Guardian, which in parts ran like this, ‘I had recently lost one of my closest friends to a similar cancer and knew full well that while you hope for time, it’s not a commodity you can bank on. “Carpe diem and all that,” I said.
‘He took my advice. “OK,” he wrote back, “carpe diem it is.”’ That sounds completely and utterly like Hugh.
And I do have one small, trivial memory of trying to feed Hugh many years ago in my horrible flat in Shepherds’s Bush. After he arrived he said there were only two things he didn’t eat; mushrooms and nuts. Since both of these were involved in what I was making it it resulted in a rather unsuccessful culinary evening. Later Hugh said he’d softened a bit on these matters and I, of course, have learned when cooking for people to ask people in advance if there’s anything they don’t eat.
Anway, I still wasn’t sure I was going to write about this, but then on Sunday I went to The Mistley Thorn, in Mistley, former home of Matthew Hopkins the (unofficial) Witchfinder General.
We had some decent fish and chips,
And when the bill came they there was one of those little folding cards for comments and suggestions, and there on the front was a quotation from – you guessed it - Jay Rayner.
It read ‘the Mistley Thorn is too damn likeable.’ A little research reveals that this was from a review published in 2011, but hey, we’re all being generous today.