Thursday, 26 April 2012

Life in the Freezer

Some old friends and I have a long running competition to nominate candidates for the world's worst job award. I believe that my inaugural entry, on behalf of the guy employed to scrape human faeces through a slot in the rear wall of a brick shit house on the shores of Lake Volta in Ghana, is ahead by a nose. My friend S avers that the equivalent of the graduate trainee position at the Addis Ababa abbatoir is worse. This post requires incumbents to haul the skeletons and inedible - even in Ethiopia, where bits of an animal are prized in exact inverse proportion to their comestibility - offal of slaughtered beasts to the top of a vast mountain of rotting flesh and bone. I suppose that in the end there is little to choose between these and countless other extraordinary affronts to human dignity and I sometimes think that the people who complain about hard working Eastern European immigrants taking 'our' jobs and doing them well and cheerfully for the minimum wage should be sent to do a stint as a toilet scraper in Kete Krachi. What it would teach them I'm not sure, but I'm sure they'd learn.

The closest I have come to being in a position to nominate myself for this prestigious gong came this afternoon when I embarked on a task I had unwisely been putting off for several days, emptying the contents of a chest freezer into bin bags and dumping the dripping, reeking sacks into several wheelie bins, most of them belonging to my neighbours. When you defer a task of this nature for several days, during which time the freezer is unconnected to a power source, it becomes infinitely more painful than it would have been if tackled while only the most superficial layers had begun to putrefy.

I considered, I confess, softly closing the lid and tiptoeing away. But in the end I decided that being responsible for pebble dashing the entire street with lumps of putrid flesh following an explosion caused by methane build up in the freezer would render me even less popular in the village than I am currently. As I worked my way swiftly through the Pleistocene, disinterring the remains of what had been a hare, several rabbits, a pheasant and various other still extant animal taxa, I concluded prematurely that this was going to be easier than I'd thought. Beneath the geologically recent deposits however, stacked as neatly as strata in the Grand Canyon, were layer-upon-layer of tupperware boxes containing solids and liquids identifiable only by virtue of the fading labels on their lids. As I reached, gagging, into the noisome pre-Cambrian depths of the cabinet I swear I could hear David Attenborough murmuring 'and here, in the unlikely setting of a dimly-lit garage in Wiltshire, are the astonishingly well-preserved remains of creatures never before seen by human eyes. To capture them on film, our crew had to endure conditions as extreme as exist anywhere on the planet.'

The worst, of course, was to come, for I felt bizarrely obliged to empty and wash the boxes. This experience resulted in the discovery that a deep freeze, while slowing the rate of bacterial multiplication, does not halt it altogether. I can report that a container of my wife's mussel soup, which smelt as bracing as Grimsby harbour in the teeth of an onshore gale when it entered the sarcophagus in 2006, had become considerably more pungent by the time of its exhumation. As an aside, and for fear of reprisals, I should add that my wife has many talents, including great virtuosity in the kitchen department, but her recipe for mussel soup (scrape all the revolting bits of molluscan gastro-intestinal tract left at the bottom of of bowl of mussels after the good bits have been eaten, add water and a tin of tomatoes and blitz) is an abberation. Just as I was sluicing the last of the deliquescing freezer contents down the plughole, my daughter came into the kitchen to complain that the program she and her brother were watching on TV was a bit scary. Since the channel in question was CBeebies, where the scariest thing that ever happens is Iggle Piggle having a domestic with Upsy Daisy, I decided not to invite her to look into the sink.

When Elsje grows up, I hope she has the good sense never to buy a chest freezer, the only function of which is to defer the feelings of guilt that accompany throwing away vast quantities of perfectly edible food. Whoever dreamed up the idea of freezing the stuff for years (decades in our case), thereby pointlessly consuming yet more of the earth's finite resources, must have been an evil genius on a par with the inventor of the Vacu-Vin. As I discovered this afternoon, guilt can be deferred but it can't, in the end, be evaded.

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