Whelks

I

 It is a truth universally acknowledged that every cloud has a silver lining and, indeed, the tumultuous events leading to Rob’s sudden passing had at least removed the stumbling block to Bartle McClocken’s taking up residence with Poopbert in the flat. On the other hand, Rob was dead, so he was still one flatmate down.

For a while, of course, it seemed that that was the least of his problems. Along with Messrs McClocken, Shaggadonki and MacRennie, he had clearly been in flagrant violation of the Duelling Act of 1840, resulting in the death of a hale and hearty young man (the supplier of the fatal implements had prudently high-tailed it off back to Belgrade on the first flight from Heathrow). However, once Poopbert had shown to the police Rob’s email issuing the challenge, all parties to the duel had been let off with cautions, the constabulary agreeing that the ill-starred cosmologist had clearly gone in with his eyes open.

Poopbert had hoped that McClocken’s illustrious poet friend would move in, but young Mr MacRennie had stunned both students by suddenly, and without warning, sodding off to Northampton (which, as he subsequently explained, was the only place for a poet to be in this day and age). So, for this month at least – term being under way, and most students having sorted out their accommodation for the year – Poopbert and Mr Bartle McClocken would have to split the whole of the rent between the two of them. The former was able to take some extra shifts at the kebab shop to absorb the burden, while the latter was emphatically a gentleman of leisure, especially since his course had a middle-of-term ‘study week’ designated shortly after he’d moved in, leading to what was something of a reversal of roles, from Poopbert’s point of view.

I might go to the supermarket later” he said on the Wednesday morning, as he prepared to head off to campus, “do we need anything?”

As a matter of fact” said Bartle, lolling on the sofa leafing through the latest edition of Zoo, “I happened to notice that they had some proper London jellied eels there last time I went. I have a yen for some jellied eels.”

Alright, I’ll pick some up on the way back.”

Poopbert returned, loaded up with shopping, at about four o’ clock; as well as having taken care of his new housemate’s request, he’d got some basic essentials: milk, eggs, bread, Fridge Raiders.

Did you get my jellied eels?” asked Bartle eagerly, still in the same position on the sofa, as Bargain Hunt blared away for the benefit of no-one in particular.

Uh-huh” said Poopbert, handing him a shopping bag, “check it out.”

What the . . ?” cried Bartle, stunned, as he opened up the bag, “Rowntree’s jelly?”

Yep. Buy one get one free, like you said. I got loads, man – loads!”

But I asked for jellied eels!”

I know. You said they had jelly deals at the supermarket, and you were right. So I took advantage.”

What are you blithering about? I wanted jellied eels!”

I KNOW!” shouted Poopbert, frustrated, “and I found a deal on jelly, and bought some for you. What’s your problem, man?”

No, you idiot – jellied eels. Eels. In jelly. Traditional Cockney grub. God help me, what have I got myself into?”

Ooooh!” said Poopbert, the penny finally dropping.

‘Jelly deals’” sneered Bartle, shaking his head in disgust, “do I look like Ronnie bloody Corbett, or something?”

A little.”

Well, what are we going to do with all this sodding jelly? What are we, five years old or something? We’ve got the party coming on Friday night!”

We’ll look like idiots” said Poopbert, gloomily.

We will! No thanks to you.”

II

 Poopbert spent his whole shift that night cursing himself for his stupidity, and, the next day, he didn’t bother going into campus, but instead wandered the streets and rode the tube at random, moping around. He ended up in central London and, as he was walking down Millbank, suddenly espied a grizzled elderly gentleman attending a seafood stand. Redemption!

Hello there!” he said excitedly, “you don’t happen to have jellied eels, do you?”

Sorry” replied the man in a thick West Country accent, “we’re all out of eels today. Got some lovely fresh oysters, though?”

Poopbert eyed the articles curiously.

No, thanks” he said, repelled but fascinated.

Naah” drawled the merchant, “didn’t think you liked oysters. You’re a whelk man, aren’t you?”

Yes” whispered Poopbert, as if struck by a bolt of revelation, “yes, I am. I’m a whelk man!”

Two hundred grams do you?” said the man, shovelling them into a tub.

Make it three hundred!”

He returned to the flat in high spirits, sure that his purchase would restore him in Bartle’s good graces. His mood, though, sunk once more when he saw the state of the flat.

Oh man, you could at least have done the washing up!” he complained, as Noel wittered on about the banker.

After the ‘jelly deals’ fiasco, you should count yourself lucky I didn’t just pack my bags and clear off” sniffed Bartle.

Yeah? Well, I think that’s a bad attitude – a bad attitude! Anyway, while we’re on that subject, look what I got today!”

He held the tub aloft, proudly.

Jellied eels?” smiled Bartle, clapping his hands.

Sorry, the guy was all out of eels today. But I did get some delicious fresh whelks. How about that?”

Oh really?” said Bartle disappointed, “no, I’m not a whelk man, myself. You’ll have to polish them off yourself.”

Fair enough, more for me.”

Aren’t you going to have them now?”

Erm” said Poopbert uncertainly, putting them on the top shelf off the fridge, “no, not right now. I’ll finish them off later.”

With that, there was a knock on the door.

Come in!” said Bartle.

Hi, Mr Shaggadonki” said Poopbert amiably as the landlord shuffled into the flat.

Hello guys. Who’s this one?” he asked, pointing at the poster that had recently deposed Megan Fox in the sitting room’s prime position.

Jessica-Jane Clement – his favourite” said Poopbert.

I didn’t say she was my favourite” retorted Bartle testily, “I have very refined and sophisticated tastes, that couldn’t possibly be reduced to something so banal and mundane as a ‘favourite’.”

Oh right, the chick from the jungle” said Mr Shaggadonki, “very nice. Hey, what the blahdy ‘ell? Jelly? What are you, six years old or something?”

His eye had just been caught by the stack of Rowntree’s boxes piled up next to the fridge in the kitchenette.

Yes, we have Poopbert to thank for that” said Bartle.

It was a mix-up” explained Poopbert, “I was supposed to be buying jellied eels.”

And now we’re going to look like idiots” said Bartle, “I’ve got my party on Friday night. What are we going to do with all this jelly?”

Well” shrugged Mr Shaggadonki, “it’s a not so bad. You know, chop up some bananas and mangoes with it, could be quite nice, like a conversation piece. You know, quirky, like.”

But I don’t want to be ‘quirky’!” cried Bartle, “I’ve got graduate students, people from the faculty, coming over – including girls. A very refined and sophisticated crowd! This was supposed to be my entrée. I don’t want to be quirky, I want to be aloof, mysterious, enigmatic!”

Well you’ll just have to make the best of it” said Mr Shaggadonki curtly, “anyway, I came to say that the gas man is going to be checking the place over tomorrow morning, so someone will have to be in.”

No problem” said Poopbert.

III

That evening, having done a more than passable job of clearing the place up ahead of the party, for two such typically feckless individuals, Poopbert and Bartle settled down to enjoy take-out pizza and a few beers while watching West Brom’s famous triumph over AC Milan in the Europa League.

I notice you still haven’t finished those whelks” observed Bartle, “aren’t you going to have them now? I should have thought they’d be jolly nice washed down with a couple of cold ones.”

No, not right now” said Poopbert, “I might have them later on tonight, if I’m still hungry.”

I should” said Bartle, “wouldn’t do to let them go to waste.”

After Bartle had gone to bed, Poopbert got the whelks out and opened up the tub, pondering them cautiously. He cursed the fact that the curious articles appeared to him to be no more appetising to his predilections than snails, or sprouts. He drew one to his lips but, in spite of his mild inebriation, still could not bring himself to try it. Sealing up the tub, he stuffed it down to the bottom of the rubbish bin, making sure it was concealed beneath the rest of the waste.

The next morning, the day of the party, Poopbert rose late, and was surprised to note that his flatmate was dressed, and had made, and dispatched, a full English breakfast.

I see you finished the whelks, old chap” said Bartle cheerfully, “nice, were they?”

Delicious” said Poopbert, “I’ll have to get some more soon.”

Yes, you will” said Bartle, “there’s nothing like a favourite seafood, is there? Anyway, I’m going to pop out and get some more booze for the party. Can you make the jelly today?”

Sure, no problem.”

Great. I might as well take the trash out while I’m going” said Bartle, pulling the black sack out of the bin and hefting it over his shoulder.

See you later.”

IV

The party seemed to be going off swimmingly. Much to Poopbert’s surprise, a couple of lecturers had indeed graced them with their presence, cramping themselves into the small flat and mingling sociably with the students. And, even more significantly, there actually were girls, some of whom Poopbert had conversed with, being characteristically non-committal about the nature of his own studies at the university as he did so. The jelly was a hit, and, oddly, the only downer on the evening seemed to be Bartle himself, who had retreated into a wallflower-like mode, having singularly failed to ingratiate himself with the brains with his awkward attempts at shop talk.

Sensing this, a fetching young lady in a pink mini-dress, with green eyes, long auburn hair and an engaging smile, wandered over to come to his rescue. Bartle recalled her from a seminar group from last term, but had not taken the opportunity to make her acquaintance properly.

Would you like to dance?” she asked brightly. Deep Purple’s ‘Super Trouper’ blasted out on the stereo, and the middle of the sitting room had been cleared for the benefit of anyone who wished to divert himself thus.

Dancing” replied Bartle sniffily, “is how people who can’t play musical instruments express their frustration.”

Suit yourself” she shrugged.

I’ll dance with you!” said Poopbert.

Great, what’s your name?”

Poopbert.”

I’m Carol. What are you studying?”

Oh, this and that.”

As the pair bopped away merrily, Poopbert’s gangling contortions greatly amusing his new friend, Bartle looked on sulkily. Towards the end of the song, he marched over to the fridge and, having retrieved a small tub, turned the music down and tapped on his glass with a fork to get everyone’s attention.

First of all” he began, “I’d like to thank you all for coming out to our little soirée. It’s wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues, and I hope you’re all having a great time.”

Applauding, the throng cheered their assent.

Most of all” continued Bartle, “I wanted to thank my dear friend Poopbert for allowing me to share this fantastic flat with him. And, as a token of my appreciation, I’ve bought him a little present – a tub of his favourite seafood, some delicious fresh whelks.”

Oh, thanks man, you shouldn’t have” said Poopbert, taking the tub, as the guests warmly applauded.

So” said Bartle, “be civilised, then – eat some whelks.”

Shame-faced, Poopbert stood there, staring apprehensively at the tub.

Go on, Poopbert!” cried one of the lecturers, “have a whelk!”

I don’t want one!” he spluttered.

No” said Bartle, pacing around him triumphantly, “it’s just as I thought. You don’t really like whelks, do you? You just like the idea of eating whelks. The truth is, you’re just not a whelk man!”

I am!” cried Poopbert tearfully, “I am a whelk man!”

And with that, he ran straight out of the door with the tub, as the gales of laughter, from all except Carol, rang around the flat.

V

The next morning, with Bartle having made his way across the city for Millwall’s early kick off, Mr Shaggadonki popped around to check up on his favourite tenant.

I’m telling you, you’ve got to get rid of this guy” he counselled, “I mean, Rob was a bit of a bell-end, but this McClocken guy, he’s poison. First he kills Rob, and then last night with this whelk thing . . . pssssh!”

You’re right” said Poopbert, shaking his head, “you’re absolutely right.”

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