He had a long chunk of writing tattooed on his skin. It looked like Greek or Chinese or something. He said it was ‘so I never forget’.
‘But it’s over your shoulder,’ I blurted. His shoulder was massive, like a pig carcass.
He looked at me like he wanted to kill me. ‘It’s back to front so I can read it in a mirror,’ he said at last. I never found out what the words meant. But he taught me lots of other things.
He showed me how to fix my kettle, so it didn’t switch itself off any more. Why do I want to do that? I said, on my first day. ‘How else are you going to do noodles or bacon?’ he said back.
I found out his nickname was Power Cut. But I don’t think anyone called him that to his face. They said he was a psychopath with a Bible.
We never had bacon, but I always hoped for it. But he showed me how to make ramen taste better with some bits of chilli and garlic nicked from the kitchen. How to make porridge in a syrup tin. How to boil spaghetti in a bin bag.
‘Always save the plastic from your breakfast pack and the clingfilm from your sandwiches,’ he said. ‘Those are your tools.’ Then he went back to his Bible. When he wasn’t cooking, he sat for hours flicking through the pages.
‘Why are you always reading that?’ a guard asked him once.
‘It’s got good recipes,’ he said, not looking up.
He had been in many places, and he always compared the food in each one. He said his best day inside was the time he was at a place with a farm and he caught a duck. He told me about that meal so many times it was like I’d had it myself.
Him and another lad, they snapped the bird’s neck and shoved it through a basement window. Someone got it up to the wing in a mop bucket. They cut the breasts out with a prison razor, then boiled them in plastic bags with some sugar, jam, a can of tomatoes and some crisps for the salt.
Best meal he ever had, he said, inside or outside. The smell was so good people wanted to fight him for a taste, he said.
But I never saw anyone want to fight him.
I think he always wanted to make that meal again, or something like it, because he spent days trying to catch a pigeon with a piece of string tied to a window handle. He put some digestive crumbs on the sill, and when the pigeon started munching, he was going to smash the window down on it.
But whenever a pigeon came in, he always waited too long. He didn’t have the killer instinct.
My favourite tattoo of his was a picture of a kitchen knife with a long blade. It ran right along the inside of one of his arms. Inside the blade, there was a colourful collection of foods – sweetcorn, purple grapes, red peppers, shiny fishes, a red crab.
The blade was spurting flames. There were words too: ‘Whether therefore ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.’
Someone bought him a rat once. They said he’d know how to cook it. He threw the bag back at the bloke’s head, said it was disrespectful. I thought he was going to kill him.
He showed me how you can get cooking oil by leaving a jar of mayonnaise out on the sill in the cold. Half of it froze, but the oil stayed liquid on the top, and you could just pour it out. He taught me what the word remand meant. Showed me how do the app for my cleaning job. Never let me go near the spice.
When there was a lockdown and we were stuck in our cells for hours, he pulled out these amazing cakes made of raisins, Angel Delight, sugar, jelly, tinned fruit, crumbled biscuits, stuff like that. People called them bunny burgers coz you could go twice as hard in the gym after a couple. Once he made a summer pudding thing from bread and jam.
He could make porridge about 17 different ways, adding different things like nuts or raisins or chocolate to get a bit of a different taste. We used to eat that in the evening. You need something then – the last meal of the day is over so early you’re hungry again a couple of hours later.
‘At my last place we had cheese!’ he always shouted at the guards. He was always talking about the different kinds of cheese. He said he could tell a good bit of cheese because it always gave him a funny feeling just behind the ears. He dreamed of cheese, he said.
Someone else told me his nickname was Cheese Flaps. I never heard him called that either. They said he’d strangled a couple in their sleep. Broke in to a house somewhere, off his head. He never said anything about it to me, never told me how long he had. I never asked him. You didn’t.
I never told him when it was my last night, but he made me this curry. Garlic, onion and peppers. Spices smuggled in from outside by someone in their boxer shorts. Oil from a can of tuna. Rice, flour. Salt and curry powder. Condensed milk.
He stirs for hours. Doesn’t let me near when I try to help. The smell fills the whole wing, but people know better than to ask.
‘Good riddance,’ he says to me as he hands me my plate. I sit on the crapper and he’s on the bed, inspecting his own food with a plastic fork. He grunts. ‘Now you can fuck off out of here and leave us all in peace.’
Another nickname I heard for him was Duracell. ‘He’ll be here longer than the cons,’ people said. ‘He just goes on and on.’ I found out later he’s one of the ones with no release date. Been knocked down for parole three times already.
‘Can I get the recipe for this?’ I say. He still looks like he’s about to kill me. But it’s the best dinner I’ve ever had.
From The UK Guardian, 3.3.20: Introduced in the UK 2005, imprisonment for public protection sentences (IPPs) were ‘designed to detain indefinitely serious offenders who were perceived to be a risk to the public. The government expected about 900 people to be jailed under an IPP; it peaked at more than 8,000. […] They were used far more widely than intended and issued to offenders who committed low-level crimes. There were 2,134 unreleased IPP prisoners as of 31 December 2019; 93% of IPP prisoners were post-tariff.’
Image – duck breast – pixabay.com