Setting: Present day, Devon in the UK. The butcher’s where Susan works.
Time: Day time
Character: SUSAN, 50’s, lived in Devon all her life, devoted to butchery.
SUSAN is in charge of staff training and we join her as she begins presenting her training session for new staff.
You’re not going to get nowhere without taking notice of health and safety. Mr. Arthur Barter—I calls him Mr. Barter for short. He’s very keen on health and safety. So you take notice of what I’m saying and you’ll be alright.
“Exquisite with knives!” Mr. Barter says I am and he should know, his family been in this business over a hundred years—him, his father, his father before him. That cleaver is for jointing, the medium serated knife is what we use for the fillets, the carver there is for stuff what’s cooked like the bag-u-ette turkey on the hot plate over there. Careful! Don’t touch it! You got no chance of Mr. Barter trusting you with the knives if you’m a fly be night with the hot plate.
Now watch me with this slicer. When you’m slicing beef, you want to watch you keep this bit of sinew on your wrist here, separate from this bit of sinew on the beef there. Cos if you don’t, one slip of the slicer and it’ll be you what’s red as rump and only fit for filleting!
You wants to learn them body parts on the poster like you’re life depends on it; most of what comes in here’s dead already, but you don’t want to be in any rush to join ’em. I find me bedroom wall’s a good place to hang me carcass poster; that way it’s the last thing I sees at night and the first thing I sees in the morning. Look, these hands. They haven’t ever even seen one of they blue health and hygiene plasters, let alone wore one. There’s not been a scratch on these hands in 30 years of butchery.
“Your Susan’s exquisite with knives.” Mr. Barter told me mother, she used to work here too; til she had her leg off for diabetes. She still likes a bit a meat though! Oxtail, bit of rabbit and chitterlin’s her favourite.
They don’t let ’em do their own cooking in the Care Home. Mother says it’s “Health and Safety gone mad,” but knowing what I knows about Health and Safety , I think they’m right. I mean, me mother couldn’t stand on one leg long enough to brown a onion, let alone let a pork chop cook through! But Mr. Barter’s very good to her, lets me take her home some brisket or a bit of Somerset Ham and she has a nibble on that when Coronation Street’s on. Mother don’t share it with nobody mind. Not even Nora who has the tele chair next to her. I said, “Mother, if you gives any of that meat to Nora and she stores it in her dressing gown pocket like she saved they chocolates from the cracker last year, they’ll bar me bringing stuff in for you. Remember how they melted like she hadn’t made it to the lav in time and they got the orderlies with the plastic gloves to sort her out? Mind you it was a nice surprise for they orderlies, better clean up a bit of Mars Bar than, you-know-what, from down below. A ham slice is gonna stink like a dead man after a few days in Nora’s dressing gown and it’ll be the end of meat treats for you Mother!”
Should never have mentioned dead things to me Mother, straight away she’s on about her funeral. They all says they’m on borrowed time down the Care Home. It’s a regular to-do when I takes in the Wednesday Echo. All of ’em wants to listen to the death announcements. And first to listen gets first picking of the best lines and uses ’em for their own. Mother’s got some nice lines for hers: (wistfully) “What earth has lost, Heaven has gained, Our lives will never be the same…”
It’s best to be prepared. I mean, you never know when your time’s coming. Only last week there’s a woman in the queue over there. Just when it’s her turn I says, “Yes Madam, how can I help you?” And she looks all pale and funny and says she don’t feel like a joint after all. Shuffles out the door. Next minute, she’s out on the street. Bang! Like a chop on a slab she’s laid out on the pavement! Lucky it was the pavement mind you. Imagine to having to explain a dead woman on the shop floor to Health and Safety?
Mother’s got hers all planned. “When Gabriel blows his trumpet, I don’t want to leave you a load of work, Susan, not with the responsibilities of your job—you don’t want to be asking Mr. Barter for days off to sort out my funeral do.”
They got a special room down the Care Home where they all has their do’s. Mother’s having hot turkey, leg of pork and boiled ham. No point in having Chitterlin, cos Mother won’t be there to eat it!
“Terrible!” mother said it was last year when old Eileen passed on. She had the bedroom next to mother, her daughter was one of they veggies. At old Eileen’s do there was nothing but a bit of lukewarm quiche and some limp lettuce . Some of them relations had to travel all the way back to Newton Abbot, on no more than a bit a pastry and some greenery. Mother told them all proud, “You’ll get a proper bit of meat at my do and our Susan’s gonna carve it!”
I keeps me special carver all sharpened up and ready. Mind you that boiled ham can be a devil to slice. Electric slicer’s what you needs to slice up cooked meat; that, or a very steady hand. That’s certainly not for beginners like you. You stick to studying what’s where on the carcass poster. You’ll be finding a lot of the regulars wants me to slice their livers and bone their lamb. Don’t you go taking no offence! It’s just I got experience and that’s what they wants. Exquisite with knives, I am.
copyright © 2010 Sam Randall. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
Sam Randall lives in Exeter, England and writes/teaches English and Drama. The monologue, Exquisite with Knives, was performed as part of a Northcott Theatre/Show of Strength collaboration in November 2009. Her short play Exposure (2010) was produced as a rehearsed reading at The Bikeshed Theatre in Exeter. In November 2010 her first full length play Serendip will receive a three week run at The Bikeshed Theatre, Exeter.