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Chapter 53: In Theory
The Fens: Part III, Spalding to Kings Lynn
“You know in Cuba it’s illegal not to pick up hitchhikers?” We were on the edge of Spalding and Andy was emphatic. He had a big red van and his boy Jack was sitting between us, “So if you put your arm out with your family, and a car doesn’t pick you all up, they could literally get arrested!”
I looked it up. ‘In theory’ was the conclusion Hitchwiki came to. Andy was unperturbed, “I personally think that’s really cool.”
Andy and Jack had been to see Grandma for a cup of tea and a bike ride. It was the day for it. It was a beautiful day. Andy continued to talk about hitchhiking. He thought it teaches you to be open-minded, to not judge a book and all that.
“Once I picked up a guy and he put me right on edge, twitching and that, telling me about all the fights he’d been in. He was a proper nut job he was. Scratching his arms, being weird…but he was fine in the end.”
Andy said he liked weird people. The odd ones most people run away from. He described how he helps run a festival in Lincolnshire. Was it Lost Village, I enquired. That was the only one I’d heard of around there. “Nah,” Andy scoffed, “That’s basically a Tory version of what we do. Most people at Equinox only have one tooth! The music’s anything from techno, drum and bass, side trance, reggae, dub… Anything weird mate we’ll play it. That’s what we’re about.”
The headliner was a band with a long strange name. Something something ‘tentacles’ was all I got. It sounded pretty weird.
It was a nice festival though he assured me. They release five thousand tickets and nearly sell out every year. Andy went to Glastonbury for ten years but thought it had lost its charm. Now it was just for rich kids. He used to break in and said he’d thought about trying this year given it's £340 a ticket. If you can even get one. He was thinking of going down with the van and a load of shovels.
Well, I reported, retelling last year’s attempt, it’s practically impossible. I doubted he’d even get to the fence, let alone dig a tunnel under it.
Andy leapt at this, “What’s the law on that though?” he snapped, part enthused part annoyed. I didn’t know. “The police can’t move me off the land coz it’s only trespassing! That’s a civil crime innit, nothing to do with them. Like if I walk through someone's open front door and sit on their sofa, the police can’t touch me! They’ll say you shoulda locked your door. If the security guards manhandle me outside Glastonbury, they’re breaking the law!”
‘In theory’, I thought to myself again.
“We should get a team together,” Andy was excited now, “Get a load of lawyers and go and break in!”
“Trouble is,” I replied rationally, “suppose we did get in, they’d watch us and our lawyers climb out of our tunnel… and then kick us out.”Jack remained silent in the middle. “And even if we make a massive fuss, it’s hardly gunna be very fun is it?”
Andy huffed. He would have enjoyed sticking it to the man, exercising his right to be a pain.
They dropped me at the Peppermint Roundabout, on the edge of Holbeach. The spot wasn’t great for hitchhiking. An old lady cycled past very slowly. She had a purple mack with tiny bunches of flowers on it. She said, “You won’t get picked up there…” snidely over her shoulder as she went by.
She wheeled across the road and through the hedge. A car pulled up a few seconds later. It was full of frozen chips and crates of Coca-Cola. I couldn’t put the backseat up and in the stress of honking cars, I jumped straight in, sitting awkwardly on the folded seat, among the chips and coke.
Jammy was driving and his wife Zaynip was in the passenger seat. Like Andy, Jammy had picked up hitchhikers before, though not always successfully. Once he passed a woman at night. She was crying and said she wanted to go to Fakenham. Jammy didn’t know where that was so took her to a taxi rank. He’d pay for a cab but she said she’d rather walk and take the cash herself. He refused and she threw a drink at him.
Hitchhiking was a natural thing in Turkey though. That’s where he and Zaynip were from. Nevertheless, Jammy wouldn’t do it here, he thought no one would pick him up because of his race. Maybe two or three out of a hundred cars would stop.
Jammy broke suddenly and a box of frozen chips clattered into me rolling into the footwell. I had to grab Zaynip’s headrest to avoid joining them. I asked if he worked in a restaurant. He did, he had a peri-peri chicken shop in Kings Lynn. He’d set it up about six months ago spotting a gap in the market. Besides Nandos, which is expensive, there were no others.
It had been going well so far. The clientele often came from the Travelodge over the road. “They can be very strange,” Jammy pondered, “They come for business and can be whoever they want. You know how you can be different in other towns?”
Yeah, I thought to myself, I suppose in theory you can.
I asked Zaynip if she worked in the shop too. Only sometimes. But she did cook at home. Mezzes, soups, couscous and things like that. She’d been in Britain twelve years and didn’t like the weather. It wasn’t too cold today though we agreed, it was just right.
We were on a dual carriageway near Kings Lynn. A police car was just up ahead and I told Jammy to be careful. They might spot that I wasn’t in a seat. Jammy said they wouldn’t. He knew what he was doing.
I asked if he did kebabs, thinking of all the good Turkish kebabs I’ve had. Not in this shop he told me. He stopped doing it recently but he told me how you make a proper one.
You need lamb shoulder, that’s the best cut for a good one, and you marinate it for a few hours in the morning. Then you take a very sharp knife and slice it thinly, taking the meat and pushing it onto the skewer, stacking it until you have your kebab. Then you put it in the grill and you’re away.
The issue, he explained, was the expense. Lamb had become too expensive. His kebabs cost £10 and that was in 2014. Customers would be shocked at the price and go down the road. Istanbul Kebab would do one for £4.50. “I would say to them go!” He flapped his hand, “I don’t care. If you want good quality kebab it’s more expensive, if not, fine, go there.”
It was made harder by the fact you had to start a new kebab every day. Anything that was left was thrown away. Coupled with the fact most people in Kings Lynn wanted cheap kebabs, the business wasn’t worthwhile.
“But that’s the only kebab I’ll eat,” he admitted as we pulled into a lay-by, “Proper ones. The kebabs you buy from suppliers, that get delivered ready, I won’t eat that. You can tell the bad ones because you can’t see the slices of meat, they’re just solid.”
Jammy knew what is in them and it wasn’t nice. All the leftovers from the butchers with a load of other stuff thrown in, horrible stuff that you didn’t want to be eating. He said his brother had a kebab shop and though it was much better than most, Jammy would still never eat it. Neither would his brother.
“Yeah I agree,” I said, thinking of all the late-night kebabs I’ve had in my time, “It’s disgusting what they put in those things. At least…In theory…”
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