Sunday 21 April 2024

The Sunday Reflection #10 - A reflection on my relationships with Steak and Kidney pies!

I had a Eureka! moment this morning. Yesterday I went with my son and my Godson to watch Manchester City beat Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi final at Wembley. We drank far more beers both before and after the match than is sensible and we felt might fine for it. This morning was not quite so fine! We had some rather interesting conversations, including one on the topic of religious belief. Maybe it was the beer, but not for the first time, I found it impossible to lucidly sum up my relationship with organised religion. I was trying to find an analogy that suitably worked and ended up burbling nonsense. 

This morning, I was thinking about steak and kidney pies, and I realised that this was just the analogy I need. Ever since I've been a wee nipper, in my mind, the perfect food is the humble steak and kidney pie. First of all, lets start with the perfect pie. It has crispy pastry, that is properly cooked, not burned, not soggy on top and that sort of soggy, gooey pastry on the bottom. When I go to a pub and it's served in a tin, with no bottom layer, to me it is not a pie and is a failure. Then there is the meat. It should be proper chunks of steak, no gristle, no bits that are chewy and look like macaroni. It should have about 3 parts steak to one part kidney. Again the kidney should not have gristly, chewy bits in. The kidney should taste properly like kidney, but not be over firm. Finally, there is the gravy. This should be slightly gooey, with the consistency of wallpaper paste, not runny. So that is the perfect pie. I dream of such a dish.

But then there is the reality. These days, the only time I tend to eat pies is at football, washed down with a beer. Any football fan will tell you that they are lethal. They are heated to the temperature at the core of the Sun and if you are not careful, you will get third degree burns. Often, you are starving hungry, as the alcohol tells your tummy to eat. You have to devise a strategy to eat it without inflicting damage. God help you if a gooey lump falls on your hand, or leg if you are wearing shorts. It is more destructive than napalm. And as for the quality. These days, many pies are mostly gravy and globs of gristle. They lack chunks and the kidney degenerates to a rather unpleasant sandpaper like material that is simply not pleasant in texture or taste. Occasionally, I'll see a "Special pie" in a pub, sometimes with the words "Homemade". They come out and what should be a really simple dish is spoiled. There is no bottom layer, the top layer is dry and unpleasant. The gravy is like water, the steak has gristle on it and the kidney is simply not properly cooked and smells of wee. In truth, I don't know if I've ever had the perfect pie. In my mind, I know what it is, but have I ever had one? Was there ever an era when they really did make proper pies? Don't get me wrong. I almost always enjoy them, but there is always something wrong. Just when you think you are there, you hit gristle. 

The worst experience I had was in a rather pretentious restaurant. There was a special steak and kidney pie. When it came out, it had runny gravy, the top was slightly burned and there was no bottom layer. The steak was nice, but there was no kidney. I queried this with the waiter. He said "customers don't like kidney in the pie". I pointed out that it was called a steak and kidney pie, therefore it should have kidney. I then told him all of the other things that were wrong with it. The next thing I know, a burley chef appeared, with a snarling demeanour. He demanded to know what my problem was with the pie, so I told him. His response? I am a qualified chef, I've worked in some of London's best restaurants, who the **** do you think you are telling me how I should cook my food? I replied "The bloke who is paying your wages, and if you don't know that a steak and kidney pie is supposed to have kidney in it, then it's no surprise that you no longer work in London's finest restaurants and are selling defective pies here. At this, we were asked to leave. I refused to pay the bill, they threatened us with the Police, I said "Call them, I'll get them to do you for fraud for selling a mislabelled pie". We left, our wallets unopened. When we reached the pub down the road, my mates told me that it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. As we'd actually all polished off our dinner and a couple of bottles of wine, and in truth it was quite tasty, it was a result. I could see other diners sniggering as myself and the chef argued. 

When I got home, I made the mistake of telling my wife. I thought it was a victory, but she told me that I was an embarrassment and an idiot. 

I was mulling this over. I realised that in many ways, I feel the same abut organised religion. I have this idealised view of what a religion should look like, what it should deliver, what priests should do and how they should make you feel. When I was a kid, I went to a faith schools. They told us that Jesus was the prince of peace, who came to the world to save us, died for our sins, so we could be free of death and open the doors to heaven to us all.  The Priests were seen as beyond reproach. They nuns were ladies of faith, working hard to help save us. It was a compelling story, but like so may a pie, you hit a bit of gristle. We all know of the activities of certain members of the clergy. Then there is the dollop of molten pie that lands on your leg and scars you forever. I carry a lot of scarring and baggage with me as a result of my upbringing in a faith. Then there is that moment when you find, when you lift up the pie crust, there are no lovely tasty chunks of meat, just sandpaper gravy, it looked great but there is no substance. I had that moment when I was 16. I went to see our parish priest, to rent the Church Hall, so that the False Dots could do our first gig there. He sneered and said "Go and see the Union church, they need the money". So we did and our first gig was at the Harwood Hall instead. I didn't go  back to The Sacred Heart until my Dad died and we had the funeral there. I had genuinely thought the priest would welcome local lads playing music in the hall. I decided he was a snob, uninterested in doing things for youngsters. He also abolished the youth club, where we played table tennis and snooker. To me, all the church was, was a tasty looking crust with nothing inside. 

It took me a very long time to realise that despite the fact that I've spent my life being disappointed with pies, without the belief that there is, somewhere, that perfect pie and one day I will find it, life really is not worth living. I've come to feel the same way about religion. Maybe I am just fooling myself, but I need the concept of some sort of bigger picture. I've also come to accept that one piece of gristle, doesn't spoil a pie if it is tasty. Just discard the overly chewy bit and enjoy the good bits. There will be people who don't like steak and kidney pies, thinking WTF is he droning on about. Just as there will be people of no faith who ask the same thing. That is the great thing about life. To me, finding that perfect bit of kidney, amongst the juicy tender bits of steak, is better than finding a pearl in an oyster. But if you don't like pies of kidney, then you just won't get it. If you don't like it, do your really care if I do? That should be like faith. We should leave each other alone to work these things out and not get the hump when other people like things we find unpleasant. It's a pretty good mantra for both pies and life.

BTW,  at the top of this blog is a picture of a Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney pie. I had one last week, for old times sake. For me, the experience was pretty much the same as when I go to Church these days. I can just enjoy it for what it is and accept it. If I do, I'll finish it happy and full. Or I can look at the numerous things they get wrong and feel cheated and irritated and not enjoy it at all. After I finshed it, I vowed that next time, I'd get some proper chunks of meat and kidney to add to it and make it perfect. But there would still be no bottom layer, once you start trying to fix things, can you ever really stop?

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