Periwinkle and friends look ahead to 2017 and contemplate a new tranche of entrepreneurial activity.
Amid the straggly remnants of last year’s Christmas decorations, which the landlord of the Glamper’s Retreat could not be bothered to take down, Tubby, Chuffer and I blew the froth off a couple of ales and mused about what 2017 might have in store.
Chuffer reported that a rural development grant he’d been waiting four years to arrive, had finally come through. He bought a round to celebrate. We had agreed that none of us could think of a resolution which was not doomed to fail before the end of February, when Chuffer announced that he’d use the grant to revive an earlier entrepreneurial project – the conversion of an old barn into an adult soft play area. “I’m thinking exotica,” Chuffer enthused. “Old Constantinople, the bazaars, the mystery, the intrigue. Work up a sweat on the bouncy castle then chill with a communal water pipe. We could use herbal tobacco. My target market will be people lying between the two packs a day crowd and committed vapers. I reckon they’ll thrill to the water pipe experience.
“If I make enough money, I’ll be able to settle the insurance claims for the hot tub incident.” Chuffer explained that his insurers had cautioned him that another hot tub debacle might quadruple his premiums.
Was this crackpot scheme number 86 or 87? I couldn’t remember. Anyway, in the spirit of reconciliation, Tubby offered to help, and we all took up Chuffer’s invitation to try the water pipe later that day – he claimed he’d brought one back from a cruise trip. We supped up and went our separate ways, agreeing to meet again around three.
In the meantime, I had other things to think about. I had to find caterers for Woodstock 2 for starters. Now that the year had turned it wouldn’t be long in coming around. Spurred on by Chuffer’s talk of the exotic, I wondered whether paella might fit the bill. Ms Meadows passed me on to an acquaintance of hers, a Spanish chef called Miguel. Miguel offered to fly to Andalusia to personally select the seafood ingredients, at my expense. A fag packet calculation showed that I’d need to charge £200 a portion for the paella and I dumped both the idea and Miguel without ceremony.
Tubby, who featured a number of low-lifes in his circle of friends, suggested an outfit called the Gallagher Brothers for the paella — ‘Low class food at high class prices!’
‘Not the other way around?’ I asked when I talked to the Gallaghers on the phone.
‘No, the elder Gallagher said sniffily, it’s our business model.’
‘Ingredients?’ I enquired.
‘Depends what falls off the back of a lorry that week. German sausage, pasta, salmon, corn flakes.’ I was getting nowhere and Ms Meadows had of late become as elusive as the Snow Leopard. Would Woodstock 2 actually happen?
Chuffer told us that his trip to Turkey involved daily promenades. At various spots along the seafront Chuffer found groups of old men sucking on their water pipes. By Tuesday of his first week, he plucked up the courage to join one of these groups and was soon puffing away like the smokestack of the Lusitania.
Bedazzled by what he saw as the sheer sophistication of the device, on the way home Chuffer bought a water pipe he spotted in a souvenir shop window at his embarkation point. Chuffer, Tubby and I now sat around this contraption in one of Chuffer’s reception rooms.
Something was wrong. It was clear (to me at least) that this water pipe was to all intents and purpose, a toy: There appeared to be no receptacle for water through which hot smoke could pass and cool. A sticker could have been stuck to the side, proclaiming, in Turkish, English, French and German: ‘THIS IS A TOY’.
‘That’s a toy,’ Fatty said, somewhat superfluously.
Chuffer would hear none of it. ‘This is the real McCoy,’ he said. He set to packing 200 grams of rolling tobacco into the bowl designed for this purpose. He stuck the flimsy pipe into his mouth, lit the tobacco and simultaneously forced his lungs to their elastic extremity, producing enough suction to pull the wool off a sheep.
The searing smoke turned Chuffer’s bronchioles to broccoli. Straightaway he was panting like an octogenarian rickshaw driver trying to overtake a Toyota Prius on the Okayama freeway on the promise of a 50,000 yen tip.
His hands tried to grab random chunks of space in front of him. He looked as if he was milking an imaginary goat in slow motion. There were dark satanic mills that belched less smoke than Chuffer did at that moment. I half expected plumes as black as Casey Jones’ boiler suit to erupt from his mouth.
Were these the first stages of spontaneous combustion I wondered? Would Chuffer be consumed by fire, reducing his eventful life to a Tupperware container of soot? He staggered about the tent, desperately trying to hoover up cool air. If the scorching of his lungs didn’t kill him, I thought, then surely the impact of that amount of nicotine — enough to kill a shark — would end his days.
In short, this was not a good start to the year. January, and already the outlook was bleak. No resolutions, looming insurance claims, indecision over the caterers for Woodstock 2, not to mention the highly speculative idea of bouncy play equipment for adults. It might shortly be time to countenance sucking up to Twistleton-Penge should everything start to go pear-shaped.