Take Yesterday

It’s strange adjusting back to shopping for one, now that my son has started his second year at university. But Chorlton is a good place to shop for one. You still feel included. Next (and don’t tell Unicorn) I go to my local fish shop, Out of the Blue, which is a wonderful fish shop, all the fish bought from sustainably British inshore fleets. The eyes of the fish look very bright, and the men are very friendly. I buy one single Cornish red mullet, just to make me miss Matthew more, since it is his favourite fish! There’s something very sad about buying a single small fish; but I have to face up to it. He’s gone. I return home with my shopping and pull open the empty sock drawer in his bedroom. He is not here.

I decide to go back out again, and treat myself to lunch. I take Dinks, my dog, with me and head for Cafe Cilantro which is my favourite eating place in Chorlton. The chef there is a genius, and the prices are extraordinarily reasonable. Today on the specials lunch menu, there’s plantain fritters with green papaya salad. The chef at Cilantro specialises in fritters; all of his fritters are good, impossibly light and tasty. These are flavoured with lime chilli and coriander. I can’t imagine how he can make any money having this on the menu for £5.50. My favourite is on the regular menu – it’s Nepalese dhal with vegetable fritters and a delicious yoghurt dip. I usually, if I can catch the one hour of available sunshine, sit outside. They bring my dog a bowl of water. Occasionally, when my willpower lets me down, I indulge in their wonderful almond, lemon and polenta cake. There’s a slightly gruff and yet very friendly older woman who is often outside too with her dog. She usually orders nothing except a cup of tea and a slice of toast, which she shares with her dog. She’s driven by the issue of global warming and the weather, and we often get talking about that. ‘How people can think that it’s nothing to do with the way we are treating our planet, when all the evidence is in front of them beats me,’ she says, handing her dog another wee bit of toast.

Cafe Cilantro is cheering. The decor is green and there are lots of Caribbean and African wall hangings. The music is good too. It used to be called Diamond Dogs and the seats were too high and the place was pink. But it is better as Cafe Cilantro; the food is much improved. And then again, before Diamond Dogs it was a brilliant fruit and veg shop. Shops have more lives than people. It’s funny to think of their previous incarnations; if you’ve lived in a place long enough, you remember what used to be where. I’ve lived in Chorlton now for over ten years, I suddenly realise. And I love the neighbourhoody feeling of the place, how I can get anything I need in the small shops on my doorstep and never need to go into the ghastly hell of Morrisons. It’s also cheaper, if you’re worrying about money, to shop in wee shops, buy daily, and buy what you need, than doing a big bulk shop in the Supermarket, and throwing the other half of the buy-one-get-one-frees out on a Saturday.

Take yesterday, for example: I went out and came back and my son was gone. I put the fresh food in the fridge and the cupboards knowing I would be cooking for myself from here on in. My son phoned me to check how to cook a chicken. Do you stuff a lemon inside it and some garlic and thyme, he asked, and what temperature. Maybe try 200 degrees, I said. That’s hot. Then I put the red mullet in the oven with some garlic and some fresh bay leaves and a generous amount of the Palestinian olive oil and cooked it at 200 degrees for twenty minutes. And I sat in the kitchen and waited for tomorrow to come.

Jackie Kay’s short stories WISH I WAS HERE won the British Book Award; her new book The Lamplighter, has just been published.

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7 Responses to “Take Yesterday”

  1. October 12, 2008 at 10:52 pm, smith3000 said:

    Nice piece Jackie. Great to see Chorlton getting a little praise for once – it seems very fashionable to slate the place. That goes for Cafe Cilantro too, come to think of it ..

  2. October 13, 2008 at 4:24 pm, nicholas royle said:

    Lovely story, Jackie. Bitter-sweet, poignant. I love the detail of the ‘odd statuesque heron’. I’ve seen them there too. Wish I felt as passionate about Unicorn. I think it’s a great idea, but the only stuff I’ve had from there I’ve either struggled to finish (seaweed salad) or had to give to the birds (muesli). But, as you say, it beats the ‘ghastly hell’ of Morrisons. I visted Diamond Dogs a couple of times with Chorlton-based short story maestro HP Tinker, and have yet to try Cilantro. But I will now.

  3. November 11, 2008 at 4:36 pm, Sile said:

    It’s all in the detail and you observe it and trancribe it refershingly well, You could be PR person for Chorlton! I think Chorlton Ees and Chorlton Water Park and all the little byways around and between and ongoing are the best thing about the area. That and the whole mishmash of users, canine and human and the occasional dusk-fleeted hunting cat. Can you hear the owls where you live? My dog stands at the foot of a big old beech tree and barks up the owl disturbing his beauty sleep. The owl just ‘whoos ‘…
    The Unicorn does attract all sorts of shoppers, but note the cars. They come from miles around with two cucial provisoa) a car b) the wherwithal to spend at a relatively expensive shop, one where very many locals simply cannot afford to shop . I see you fell for the famous honey trap too! By that logic they shouldn’t sell apples either…

    Can’t comment on the eruption of cafés except to say they displaced such useful local shops. Wait till you need a new pair of shoes, or a fuse- such a little thing- or a small tin of paint. All those shops now are cafés…

    But the ambience hasn’t changed, nor the chatter of the dogwalkers. Have you still got your gorgeous Tibetan Terrier?…

  4. January 19, 2009 at 12:45 pm, Natalie Basnett said:

    I really enjoyed reading this Jackie. It made me imagine what it would have been like if my Mum and I hadn’t moved from Chorlton and I had gone to university in London after all.

  5. August 15, 2009 at 11:30 am, Scott Devon said:

    This is wonderful, Contains all the subtleties of a great writer but never overstates it’s point. Captivating and powerful. Thank you for this.

  6. October 25, 2009 at 2:33 pm, Julie said:

    Love your story Jackie. Makes me want to read more of your work.

  7. February 13, 2010 at 8:43 pm, Belinda said:

    I really enjoyed reading this story. It’s inspired me to finish writing my short stroy about a hill that I used to go walking with my Nan and her fat dog. It’s very simple, but the detail is what makes your story so authentic. I used to live on Ransfield Road in Chorlton, just across the road from Unicorn. I could only afford to buy little extra’s from there, like, lentils and some fruit. My housemates used to say I was a ‘mug’ for shopping there, and they used to go to Asda in Hulme. I also love Chorlton Park, is has quiet spots and I especially like the ‘jackson’s boat’ near Sale, which has a lovely beer garden.

    Thank you for this stroy Jackie



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