Grafting Haddock in the George
Haddock, haddock, haddock, all I ever see is haddock. My life revolves around haddock. I'm haddock-grafter at the George, which is an intensive role. The shifts at the George are 42 hours long. That's 42 hours constant work, with no breaks, even a trip to the toilet is frowned upon. And don't even think of asking for 30 minutes for lunch - we're told to savour the smells of the food served in the restaurant in lieu of actually eating.
We used to have to work a 24 hour day, but Bronte Glorious-Hounslow, the restaurant owner and head food scientist, found a way of manipulating the space time continuum within the George, slowing time to allow for 42 hour days, thus enabling more customers to be accommodated.
I work entirely with the haddock. Not just preparing them, I am responsible for their upkeep, making sure they're healthy and happy. My training included a five-week course on sea-fish entertainment skills. Nothing is left to chance at the George, all menial staff are forced to attain a level of extreme specialisation, skills so unique and non-transferable that we can never find another job, meaning I am stuck, working 42 hour shifts, dedicating my life to haddock. One single unhappy haddock would mean the end of my career, let alone an unhappy customer, the very thought of which chills me to the bone. Bronte is not forgiving of such things. The jelly chef once made a jelly with insufficient wobbliness and was never seen again. Some said that for a week afterwards the chef's special tasted very familiar.
I had to wait five years for a table at the George. It was for six in the morning, and in a dingy basement corner, next to a table of shouty Australians, and £5,000 a plate, plus extra for food and drink, but god was it worth it. I'll be dining out on the experience for years. Even compared to the most expensive and exclusive restaurants, the George is in a league of its own. It is the greatest restaurant, the most extraordinary food experience in the world, and I have been there.
The first course is called Imagination and is in many ways Bronte Glorious-Hounslow's finest dish, an empty plate covered in pictures of food-fragments, visual clues to fuel your imagination. This is combined with ventilators filling your corner with food-smells and sound systems pumping out food noises, the sizzle of frying sausages, the crack of broken lobster claw, the silent leafy shriek a lettuce makes to itself as it is munched. The intensity of the smells, sounds and images is overwhelming, the picture you form in your mind of the dish you might have been served is a thousand times more intense and wonderful than any actual dish you could have been served. It is perfection.
I am tagged with a microchip and my activities are monitored at all times. Even outside work I am only permitted to engage in a restricted range of activities. I am tested for drugs and alcohol at the start of every shift. I'm allowed to drink in moderation, but any haddock-grafter who has over-indulged in booze or drugs is likely to upset their haddock, hence any failed test results in immediate dismissal.
My contract bars me from working for any other food establishment (or McDonalds) for a hundred and three years, that's if they would have me. The George has a reputation for excess, for over-obsession with scientific creation, for an almost total indifference to whether or not the food tastes nice.
And as for writing about my experience, that's out of the question, Bronte's PR team were reportedly recruited from the mafia, the last journalist to write a bad review had his legs amputated in mysterious circumstances, that was for merely suggesting the custard was below ideal temperature, a reveal-all expose of the reality of the graft of a haddock grafter would mean certain death, and knowing Bronte, a bizarre and painful death.
The second course is the hedgehog sandwich, also available as a stand alone lunch item, though the wait for a table at luncheon is now several hundreds of years. The living have no chance of a lunch table, the best you can do is put down the possible names of your possible great, great, great, grandchildren and hope. Consequently most only ever sample the hedgehog sandwich as part of the taster menu.
Every hedgehog served at the George is an English hedgehog which has been flattened by a French lorry driver. Post-Brexit, with a shortage of French lorry drivers, it has become harder to find French-flattened hedgehogs, so Bronte employs refrigerated lorries to follow every French trucker in the country and collect fresh hedgehog roadkill straight from the road. A lesser chef would simply employ French drivers to drive his refrigerated lorries and collect any hedgehog they killed as they drove around, but for Bronte the fresh French roadkill is a like a work of found art.
The hedgehog sandwich is served in a Bronte Bap, made from 43 separate wheats, with cheese made from hedgehog milk, turnip fries and sliced red onion.
A unique experience, and without doubt the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten.
The haddock at the George is grafted onto the customer at the start of their meal. I carry out the surgery in a special operating room at the back of the kitchen. I had to undertake a seven year medical degree as part of my training, many aspiring haddock-grafters fail the medical training.
Before being led to the operating theatre, customers are asked to choose the haddock that will be grafted on to them. The process is not rushed, the haddock will spend the rest of its life grafted on to the customer, so it's important that it's a good fit with a compatible personality.
Once the fish has been chosen I carry out the operation, placing the customer under tulip-smelling-anaesthetic. The haddock is kept awake through the process, as the shock of waking up finding yourself attached to a stranger's neck is too much for some haddock. This makes the surgery extremely difficult, as the haddock is wriggling and wrestling the whole operation through, but I have grafted tens of thousands of haddock in my time so I have the knack for it, it's all about swiftness of knife and needle, at the same time total alertness to the fish's needs. A haddock-grafter who ignores his fish isn't any sort of haddock-grafter.
Before the main course, it was time to have a haddock grafted onto my neck. The haddock enhances the sensory experience, as haddock have a number of senses lacking in human beings. That's the unique thing about a meal at the George, everyone can see immediately that you've been there because you have a live haddock grafted on your neck. It's impossible to pretend you've been there by quoting reviews and menus, either you've been grafted with a haddock or you haven't.
My haddock is called Billy. He's two months old and comes from Southend, where he was line caught. He needs to be bathed at least every half hour, for which I have a special haddock-dip-tank.
Billy's hobbies are swimming and watching the Onedin Line. We go swimming four or five times a day now. For Billy's birthday next month we've booked a week on a Swedish island for seven days of solid swimming.
I'm thinking of quitting my job, taking early retirement and moving to the sea. Frankly, the land bores me.
I'll be working 'til I'm in my 80's. With the 42 hour shifts I just about make enough for a fifty year mortgage. Once I've paid off my mortgage I'll be a free man.