The Worst Thing I Ever Ate: A Terry And June Prawn Cocktail

They may have been the height of culinary sophistication elsewhere in the UK during the 1970s but prawn cocktails only reached some parts of Wales recently. If only they hadn't.
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I’m not a particularly well travelled man so the worst thing I ever ate was never going to be anything exotic and dangerous. I wish I could tell you it was a dodgy corndog from a street vendor in Queens or some truffled whale’s penis served in a Helsinki ice-bar by a midget on skates.

Instead it was a simple starter, made by my own fair hand, that stopped being popular in Britain circa Terry and June.

The Sabotage Times hierarchy often rip me for being a hick from the vales but in 2009 we’d sufficiently caught up with the times to incorporate the sophisticated combination of prawns, lettuce and thousand island sauce into our culinary range. It was this tasty cocktail that proved to be my undoing. In hindsight I should probably have stuck with kelp and coal.

I’ve always loved seafood and favoured surf over turf. If I was being poetic I’d suggest it was because I lived near to the coast, looking outward rather than inland at all the boring cattle. In reality it’s because our freezer was always well stocked with Findus products when I was a kid.

One crisp Autumn evening I chucked together some hearty kedgeree and, as is my want, sprinkled some thawed prawns into the mix. I later phoned my mate to make plans for that evening. This nondescript vignette suddenly turned interesting halfway through the conversation when I informed him that I was about to throw up. I then proceeded to chunder half my body weight down the toilet for the next twenty four hours. It didn’t take the deduction skills of Poirot to figure out who the chief suspects were. I’d obviously consumed a dodgy bag of the little blighters.

A couple of weeks later and it was time to get back on the seahorse so to speak. I cannot recall what the meal consisted of but again it contained prawns and once more the ensuing evacuation was of Dunkirk proportions.

In hindsight I should probably have stuck with kelp and coal.

To continue the war metaphor there was no armistice that Christmas Day either after I scoffed down a few rolls of smoked salmon for a posh breakfast. Though I’ve never been a fan of the royal family I feel an apology is long overdue to Her Maj for interrupting her televised address to the nation that year by retching up some gut lining into a bucket whilst screaming out obscenities like Regan MacNeil in a bad mood.

So now any reasonable, intelligent person would conclude that I had somehow developed in my mid-thirties an allergy to certain types of seafood.

Alas I am not that man. As feeble as this sounds I did not want to have a food allergy. I wanted all the evidence to be wrong or at least I needed to be sure.

So the following January I rustled up a decent three-course spread and made sure that prawn cocktail was the starter. I then settled down with a heavy heart and much reluctance, hovered my fork over the small dish of glistening pink crustaceans, all smeared in a delicious tangy sauce, and threw myself at the mercy of fate. Such was the level of trepidation there might as well have been Dr Crippen standing over me, holding a gun to my head and smirking. I slowly chewed every mouthful with a consigning fear in my belly, knowing that soon enough that same salty-sweet meaty pungency that was perfuming my tastebuds could be returned with venomous interest.

In hindsight it was a ridiculous, masochistic experiment that was doomed to failure. To exacerbate it further I then headed out to my weekly poker game.

On a Sunday evening the pub where I play (for points in a league structure) can be packed with weekend life. Lads on all-dayers banging out Oasis b-sides on the jukie, a few pissheads stumbling about, plenty of noise and chatter. Not the best environment to be knocking on death’s door. But initially all was well. Amazingly I doubled-up on the very first hand with a flukey full-house and, most importantly of all, all was calm within.

Disgusted punters backed away and gave me space while I chundered copiously, moaning out a new invented language.

Twenty minutes in however I begin to feel a now familiar cold clammy sweat plastering across my forehead and a swirling nausea in my head and guts. I remember folding pocket jacks pre-flop because I just didn’t have it in me to play a hand.

I staggered listlessly to the bogs where – to continue the war analogy yet again – I unleashed the blitz. Disgusted punters backed away and gave me space while I chundered copiously, moaning out a new invented language like a deranged chanting monk. I attempted to resume playing poker – hands shaking and the foul residue of sick around my chops – but to no avail. At the next smoke break I ended up in the far corner of the pub car park on my hands and knees, literally as sick as a dog.

The drive home was eventful too; at the first set of traffic lights I wound down the window and puked some more, splattering the side of my car. Once home the relentless torrent continued.

Two hours later I am curled up on the sofa watching Family Guy repeats when my phone rings. It’s my mate informing me that I’m still in the poker game. Not only that but I’ve somehow made the final table.

The guy who runs the event decided not to take away my chips because I’d left through illness and instead I was blinded away. Only I wasn’t blinded away. Every time ‘I’ was forced all-in my hand would triumph, even winning a four-way pot by getting quad tens. I’ve never had quads before. At least, not in person.

Ultimately I finished fifth - a far better result than my usual early exit – which prompted a raft a piss-taking about how I’m a better poker player when I’m not there.

That all happened two long years ago. A fortnight back however I’m again playing poker, this time a fair few miles from home and against guys I do not know. A guy in his fifties knocks me out of the tournament and I reach across the table to shake his hand and wish him all the best. The stranger extends his hand, takes mine and looks me in the eye. “You should have eaten prawns before you came out tonight son” he said.

As legends go it’s a pretty poor one but I guess in life you have to play the hands you’re dealt.

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