Make war, not supper.
17 December 2001
Thhhunnkk! As the colander whirrs through the air I catch sight of its intended victim, cowering at the far end of the hall. Rooted to the spot, blue eyes shining through the pallor, he makes no attempt to dodge the missile aimed at his left temple. It hits home: Keith falls lifeless to the floor. Seconds later I discern a rivulet of dark blood trickling from his ear.
Schhhlopp! Close combat now, Paul's demise. Jan is riding around on his shoulders, yanking his head back to expose his face. Brandishing a melon baller she endeavours to insert it into the right eye socket, her golden ringlets hanging down in front of her victim. The weapon finds purchase under the lower eyelid; Paul tries desperately to throw Jan off, to lower his head out of harm's way, but she is already in - twisting, levering, gouging. I expect it to pop out, roll along the floor. It doesn't. It is suspended, attached by nerves, string, elastic. In a Looney Tunes moment Paul endeavours to push it back in.
An unknown charges at me with a grapefruit spoon. As I parry his onslaught with a flourish of my two-in-one potato peeler and apple corer, Alan calls out for help. He has been set upon by the twins, Amy and Geraldine. They are both armed with family sized cheese graters, in the process of exposing his upper arms and knees. Trousers around ankles, Alan howls as the skin collects on the outside of the grater. Formidable tools, expertly wielded - the two-pronged attack renders poor Alan incapable of fending off either one, whilst the sharpness of the grater on all sides prevents him from grabbing hold of the offending utensils in an attempt at removal. There is nothing I can do to save him. I have to look out for myself.
In comparison to Clare I have got off pretty lightly. Scott has pinned her down on the parquet floor. With his right knee pressing on her windpipe he applies a battery- operated tin opener to a spot approximately three inches above the nape of her neck. As he makes his way further round the screams subside. Scott is disappointed to find that Clare has already passed out by the time he begins peeling back her cranium.
It is only now that I wonder how we have got to this. I know why we are here in this hall. It is the culmination of a long weekend's training in the art of self-defence.
Captain Handy McStab had told us his history: of Worcestershire stock, he had lost his chef father and mentor at an early age in a whisking accident. Traumatised by grief he had tried his hand at a number of schemes including petty theft (pans, food mixers) until it was suggested that he join the army. He seemed to have found his niche in the SAS until the storming of the Iranian Embassy - he was given a dishonourable discharge in 1982 for endangering the men in his unit (instructing them to frisk the terrorists for saucers).
In the midst of mounting personal resentment McStab hit on an idea that would marry his two loves - cooking and combat. He determined to instruct members of the public to use kitchen utensils in self-defence.
Why had we decided to enlist? The onset of terror in the western world, a profound and mutual sense of vulnerability which had dogged my group of friends since September. It seemed highly probable that I would open my door to an international rascal in a tea towel ready to blow my children sky high. It was time, I had reasoned, to defend my domestic environment.
As the weekend progressed we witnessed amazing feats of discipline and culinary skill. McStab showed us how to skin a live sheep in thirty seconds, to cause brain damage with a strategically placed pastry brush, to disembowel with tongs. But we were all itching to get down to the practical stuff, to get a feel for the implements. And, God, did it feel good. The touch of the cold stainless steel in my hand aroused urges in me which had lain dormant for generations. I thrilled to imagine what it would be like to beat one of those bastards with a fish slice. I constructed scenarios in which I heroically protected my family and my freedom from the Eastern threat to democracy.
Keith never really took to it: always the gentlest of the lot of us, he had never been able to make the leap. I tried to encourage him, fearing that he would be left behind, but to him kitchen utensils were just that. To the rest of us they are now much more.
After three days' intensive training we were looking forward to the end of course celebration: dinner and dancing, the usual conference set-up. But as we sat down to the soup starter we realised that dining would never be the same. I grasped my spoon: the guests either side of me tensed up. George lunged for the cruet set; Melanie for the butter dish; Nat (unwisely) was frantically hoarding toothpicks. There was a sudden rush to the kitchens, shelves and cupboards stripped in seconds. I thanked my lucky stars that I had concealed the potato-peeler-cum-apple corer on my person as a precaution.
In my pause for thought I am caught off guard. George is hurtling towards me with a silver pepper pot. I stand my ground. Catching his raised right arm with my left I thrust the point of the peeler into his chest. Twisting then removing as instructed, I stare into his eyes and realise that I have at most five seconds in which to renew my assault. In one deft curve I turn the tool round to expose the corer and plunge it into the old wound. I push down, twist again, remove again. George slumps. As he falls from my hands I clutch my prize - a dainty morsel caught in the corer, a slice of George's heart. A trophy.