Dinners on Me

Monday morning, 10am. Not my favourite time of the week and today I was feeling particularly tetchy having had to endure four especially average meals in four especially average restaurants over the weekend. Sadly, as all the restaurants were advertisers with our local rag, the Costa Today, I would have to write something nice about them and avoid expressions such as “culinary abortion” and “excuse for a meringue”.

Those were the type of expressions that had made me something of a cult figure with the Benidorm News, an altogether more professional paper with a reputation for fine journalism, reasonable, honesty and…..a paper that paid its staff on time and legally. How was I to know that that particular restaurant was recently opened by the mayor’s son? Anyway, it WAS a culinary abortion! Sad, that I lost my job over those two tiny words though!

Another challenge with the Today was that it was entirely reliant on advertisers so if they spent well and forked out for the colour supplements these temples of mediocrity had to be lauded and if they didn’t advertise well they either got a crap review or more usually were just ignored. Probably, the reason I never went to the only decent Michelin restaurant on the coast. That and the fact that the editor had some obscene bar bill unpaid and I certainly did not want to be accosted for that! To make matters worse all this week’s restaurants were newly-opened in some tacky commercial centre on the edge of town so I could not even regurgitate the laudatory lines I would have had to write last time!

Oops, better introduce myself. I’m Peter (Pedro) Jenkins and as you have probably realised, I scribble the restaurant reviews for the local expat rag. Because I’m the only freelancer that seems to be able to put up with the editor/owner/lead writer etc I often get dragged in to covering the amateur dramatics (crap), the local football (worse) and, if I am really unlucky, the line-dance festivals!

Anyway, the editor sounded even more drunk than usual at the end of the phone. I did know his name once but he seems to get off on being called “Editor” and anyway I wouldn’t want to be assumed to be a friend of his so I was muttering “editor, yes, boss, yes, editor” when I realised he was asking me a direct question. “So, is that OK, Peter?” “Sorry, boss, the phone slipped,” I lied. “So, I need that book review by noon. Is that OK?”

Seems that Susan Wilson who had been doing the reviews, women’s pages, pets’ corner…and most of the local football team ….had gone back to the UK. Her Shirley Valentine months were over and the chance of our lanky keeper scoring again this season was over! Sad, I mused. I had woken up next to her a few times myself. Nice girl, too young for me but long legs, a nice pair of breasts and she didn’t seem to mind me testing to see whether they had been, shall we say, enhanced. Strange fetish for pineapple juice after sex. Whatever turns you on! Can’t see what’s wrong with a fag myself.

I was vaguely aware that the Ed was mumbling on whilst I was thinking of happier days. “So, is that OK, Peter?” he snapped. “Double Bs” as Oz would have said. I hate book reviews. At least in the restaurants there’s usually something alcoholic that can improve the taste of yet another burnt offering but xxxxx book reviews – I hate them.

Now, I can write about restaurants where I have never eaten and often report on the local football matches without ever seeing the game. God bless the online Spanish sports’ portals! But book reviews, that’s more tricky! I was just about to tell him to find somebody else when I remembered that I “should” be getting paid this week so today was not a great day to upset him. “Go on, what is it? Another expat, “Life in the Sun” or tedious travelogue?”

No, apparently Susan had promised to review, “Dinner’s On Me” by Deanna Derbyshire. “Don’t tell me ….Mills and Boon meets Benidorm. Some seventeen year old from Sheffield falls for Carlos the local camarero? That it?” I heard the chink of glass on glass and guessed he had just poured himself another large brandy.

“No, apparently it’s quite a racy story and this Donna, Dena, Deanna, or whatever is staying at the Don Pedro so please do a good job.” A good job means to lie in this business especially as the Don Pedro is our biggest advertiser – swapped against the hideous bar bills that the editor abuses and his weekly Tuesday session with a different Hungarian 18-ish year old from the local club. Anyway, telling me to do a good job is like red rag to a toro but the monthly “salary” was needed so just as I was saying ok to him, I saw the email arrive. “UREGENT – need this reviewed by 12 noon.” He never could spell – even when he was sober, I smiled.

By now, it’s nearly 10,30. I’m a bit fuzzy from that last Carlos 1 that should have taken away the taste of the over-spiced curry, I’m feeling flatulent, I’ve no fags and I have to get 750 words on his desk by noon. This had better be good, I prayed. After just the first few paras I realised that, yes, this was good – much better than the average expat scribble. I saw that I was dealing with a pro and I was almost annoyed when I found that it had been spell-checked. They usually weren’t!!

If there is one thing I hate it’s 200 pages of fiction sent by email. It’s almost impossible to skim-read or to guess the plot – if there is one! But this was different. A B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L. woman on the first page and well-presented. 16 pages, double-spaced and some other very pretty photos interspersed in these few pages. The morning was at last looking better. “Sensual Reading.Com, ‘Dinner’s On Me’ by Deanna Derbyshire.” I swigged at the still hot coffee and thought, “Mmmmm. Excellently presented and as I scrolled down did a mental word count. OK, do-able, Here you go, Peter!

So, I typed. It’s the story of some young woman on the first day of her holiday. A few sentences of breakfast table chitter-chatter with her husband was well-enough written but hardly Booker Prize. Looked like I might have to think of something nice to say but, no. As I skimmed the next few paragraphs, I began to notice words like “nipple, breast, soft skin.” Mmm, well-written, good choice of adjectives, I thought. Nice alliteration. I was vaguely aware that this was indeed well-penned and that although the clock was ticking I was now reading every word. Yes, nice choice of adjectives again. Good juxtaposition.

I realised that this was indeed one of the best short stories I had had the pleasure of reading for a long time. How the xxxx can she make a visit to the supermarket sound sensual? When I did my weekly shop – 7 pizzas and 140 cigarettes – I could not think of Carrefour as a sensual experience.

By now I was reading the text quickly. Not because I was in a hurry but because I realised that this was indeed a very talented writer. I scrolled to the bottom to check for credits, references to websites etc or even, “Now a Box-Office success with Fred Bloggs and Mary Smith” or whatever. As I kept my finger on the shift key I was vaguely aware that I was seeing words like “clitoris, erect, penis, Venus” I slowed down and realised I was reading whole paras out of sequence so went back to the top and read it word for word. NOT my style. NOT what I did for a living to get my few hundred euros from an ungrateful editor and even more ungrateful readership.

This was different. This was class. This was quality writing. I even thought that I was not really qualified to write about fiction of this stature. I continued reading, I had stopped taking notes and writing my reviews. I was reading this because I was enjoying it.

The dinner scene where he eats from her naked body is sensual, maybe not sexual in a smutty sort of way but deeply sensual. I was imaging myself there. I wondered where Susan was I rued that I’d have liked to have role-played this with her. And then…..that was it! The crescendo, the denouement.

Yes, this was well written. A beginning, a middle and an end. Unlike, her husband who had clearly enjoyed what was on offer on the dinner-table and was satisfied I pulled at the fabric of my trousers. I realised that just reading those few short pages had had an effect on me and I had to “adjust “myself!

Just at that moment, the editor rang again. Juanma had invited us both to lunch at the Don Pedro and we had to be there in 30 minutes. “I need 750 words NOW, the editor ranted.” “Damn”, I thought. I had not got time to do the short story due justice but agreed to get it off to him and meet him at the poolside bar. 15 mins to bash something out, 10 for a shower and shave and a two minute walk to the hotel.

That’s what it had to be! I rushed through a few paragraphs and realised I had been repeating myself with words like, “quality, competent, skilful, choice and adroit.” A quick spill chucker, word count and that was it. As I hit the send key, I thought how much I had enjoyed reading the story and writing the review. That was good I told myself as I soaped my body thinking how Deanna would have described that daily ablution. Anyway, no time to wonder.

I threw my clothes on and hurried to the hotel where I saw Juanma was introducing my boss to some vision of beauty. I saw that they had both come smart and cursed my polo shirt – neatly ironed as it was. As the waiter was pouring another obscenely large brandy, I entered their group. Juanma smiled welcomingly in the way hotel managers do when they are running at 102% occupancy and the editor muttered something about liking my review but I was not really listening. Deanna was introducing herself and rejoicing about being back in Spain – a country she said she loved for its colours and its passion!

Juanma beckoned us through to the restaurant and I noticed we had the best table in town. I walked next to Deanna as the two bosses talked about things close to their hearts – money and alcohol. Even for such a nice hotel as the Don Pedro she was elegantly attired. The thin summer dress was clinging to the contours of her body. Time had been kind to her or, more likely, she had made the effort to resist the ravages of the advancing years. I could not easily put an age on her but guessed she was maybe 10 years older than she looked. She talked with ease and confidence and smiled freely as if she was a woman at one with herself.

We enjoyed lunch and it was almost as if it was just us two. Juanma was talking turkey with Simon, ah yes, that is his name and Deanna and I talked like two old friends who had not seen each other for many years. I told her how much I had enjoyed the short story and I was pleased she did not seem embarrassed or even uncomfortable. She told me that she had written others and that she would send them to me. I was just promising to review them favourably when she said, “No. This is sensual reading. It is for you and not your readers!”

As the desserts were cleared away, Deanna apologised and said she had agreed to do a book-signing and that the taxi would be coming to collect her soon. I asked whether she might like a drink or a meal later. I said I could do an interview and ensure it was in the weekend edition. She declined the interview firmly but politely and said, “I want to take a few days holiday now I am here and I’d love to meet for a drink later.” At that point, the receptionist arrived and pointed to the taxi driver waiting in reception.

Deanna took her leave from us all and as she left her final words were, “By the way, Peter. Dinner’s On Me”.