Rob’s mate Z, an ex pro footballer, is carrying on where I left off with Rob’s culinary care. He always gives Rob his potato waffles having decided, correctly perhaps, that there is no nutritional value in them and he doesn’t actually like them. Rob agrees, but the Irish in him makes him very partial to potato products, and the right to eat things behind locked doors and in the relative privacy of his jail cell that no self respecting nutritionist’s husband would ever dare to put in his mouth on the out, acts as a uniquely liberating influence. Rob now eats whatever he can get his hands on: it’s the calories that count if you want to keep your trousers up.
Z also makes a mean prison cheese cake (no baking required) out of his canteen purchases. (I’m unsure whether it actually contains any cheese, as eggs, cheese and butter are considered seditious for some reason and have been taken off the canteen list on the North side, but it tastes awesome apparently). Getting it between the locked spurs is tricky however and their first attempt meets with disaster:
Z cuts a generous slice onto a plate and proceeds to propel it decisively across the open floor space between the wing cages. His torque is slightly wrong though (perhaps he is better with his feet) and the cake flies off the plate, which, having jettisoned its cargo, smashes into the opposite wall. Helpers arrive on both sides of the divide and hastily cobble together a recovery plan, whilst Z and Rob wet themselves with hysterical laughter and are no help whatsoever, but even these resourceful types can’t produce a long enough rescue implement to reach their quarry before a random prisoner, who as luck may have it is being escorted down the corridor, interprets the 5 second rule in a liberal fashion, and eats it.
Operation Cheese Cake mark 2 is more sophisticated and involves tuppaware. Simultaneously channeling Lampard, Gerard and Ronaldo, Z aims well and scores with a decisive shot under the left hand corner of the bars and Rob finally gets his benefaction.
During the strike lock down Tala was worried about how Daddy would eat. She herself, mid growth spurt, does so almost continually and has to supplement mealtimes with hourly Special K injections just to keep things ticking over. She needn’t have worried. Prisoners were issued with a pack of white bread and something almost resembling cheese in the absence of a meal, and in any case, Rob keeps a supply of tinned kippers under the mattress. Last night there was some sort of glitch with the food so the men just got carrots and rice pudding instead of the curry that should have been on. This sort of thing is a blow to the institutionalised, and even more so to Rob who isn’t a big carrot man (“They just don’t go”) ,and especially not when they have been liberally boiled into something unlikely to contain more than a memory of minerals.
The Daily Mail announces confidently that prisoners are eating steak (the lucky bastards) and wouldn’t we all like to be sitting around watching telly and living it up like them. Sadly, the overcrowding situation in British jails makes it unlikely that I could indulge the editor with a free trial at one of the HMPs, but I suspect he might find it slightly less agreeable than his bravado suggests. Prisoners are given TV’s in the way I dish out screen time to my ten year old, because I am too lazy (or occasionally hung over) to do anything else with her. It is a drug they are fed in the absence of education or rehabilitation. It is not given as a privilege, but rather as an anaesthetic. Everything else they are supposed to have, they don’t. Except drugs. Huge amounts of them, anywhere, any place, anytime, for a price… which is sometimes death.
Still, the Daily Mail were top of a league table charting the number of breaches of the editor’s code of conduct, (beating its closest rival the Sun by more than double), so perhaps someone from the paper may yet get to sample the cushy life of the incarcerated. P.S. Anyone from the Mail want to give me a column? I could use the cash and, incredibly, every one of their readers gets a vote so it might be an idea to let them know what is actually going on inside, and why.
Yes, there are a handful of very unpleasant individuals who are probably where they should be until they can be given an alternative vision of what it is to be human from that handed down to them as children brought up knowing nothing else but violence and abuse and fear as is almost invariably the case with bullies, but the majority of prisoners are, in Rob’s experience, pretty decent people, and often unusually kind, funny and even brilliant.
Prison reform doesn’t happen because it isn’t a vote winner not because it can’t be done. That is changing at the moment because of the rapid and inexorable slide of our penal institutions towards out and out anarchy. Rob is pleased that his current abode is topical. He moved out East when West was still best and was always ahead of the curve – an early adopter you might say, wearing trousers that looked all wrong to the uninitiated and then suddenly so right as the rest of us dragged ourselves wearily towards the next fashion imperative.
Although he’d doubtless rather be in N16 with us, he is currently happy again, and praying to stay put until after Christmas at least. His nightly scrabble battles with the Libor Americans (hung out to dry by Barclays for trading irregularities that were ubiquitous and widespread to the point of institutionalisation), and AJ, (an ex-Tamal Tiger for whom English is his third language and who is thus given considerable leeway with his spelling upon occasion), are a nightly source of raucous hilarity. One can’t help feeling that they might be better off doing some kind of government work at home on a tag for the next nine years, contributing to society and funded by their families: these are pretty bright guys…. but I’m sure Liz Truss knows best.
Rob never challenges the Sri Lankan on his letter arrangements and in fact argues the Tiger’s case vehemently, advocating passionately for words such as “scaringz” (multiple frights), as they have a pact to beat the Americans at any cost. He was jubilant this morning on the phone, having almost won last night. “Doesn’t that mean you lost?” I ask somewhat insensitively. “Well yes, but not by much”. Sounds a bit like us. So close and yet so far.