Eating with Jan-Erik: Burdock and Betrayal in the British District

By Jan-Erik Asplund ’14

Bennington, these nights, has a provincial meanness that only bright lights expose. After dark, she is like a governess gone to the bad, all tarted up in a Woolworth tiara. A man and a woman stood talking against a lamppost. In this pre-spring cold snap they had chosen to make a long summerlike pause, hesitating like ghosts with no beat, like conspirators. What to do?

Dandelion and Burdock, Cloudy Lemonade, Bitter Shandy. Are these A) English codenames for various intelligence projects throughout the Cold War; B) nicknames of football clubs; or C) flavors of soda available at Lil’ Britain Fish and Chip Shop (116 North Street, Bennington)?

Everyone has a story, an incident about the war. The minesweepers on the lake. The hundreds of barrels of paint in a burning warehouse going up like rockets. The woman with her skirt blown off staggering down Pleasant Street in her suspenders. At the close of these reddened evenings one especially trembles, feels the proximal dark.  The answer is C.

“A spot of something?” she asked.

We struck our boots to the lino floor like matches, bones alight with what seemed the onset of spring, a break in the bombing. Dennis Rodman was making an appearance on the television with Kim Jong-un, but the set was muted, there was only the sound of BBC1 coming in over the radio. Cans of Heinz spotted dick and baked beans. Raisin-filled candy bars. Bisto, “the Nation’s favourite gravy.” Could Rodman diplomacy really work? We were skeptical.

Fish and chips ($7.75) comes with a side of pickled beets, a roll with butter, gravy, coleslaw or mushy peas. Expensive for a simple beige meal, but war rationing has the best of everyone. $10 for a large, but who can justify that. The choice between tartar and cocktail sauce is a false one – get both, they make the meal. Consider the chip butty ($4.00), because one does not come into these shops to lounge, and maybe one only really even needs a Freedom fry sandwich these days.

“I am thirsty,” she said. The tea was served in Styrofoam but good. A bomb fell somewhere across the middle distance and we looked pensively at our dishes.

She ordered the vegetable curry pie ($5.50), an item not on the menu, and perhaps for good reason. Irritably hot and lacking in spices. How many thousands of men lost their lives in the Merchant Navy and you can’t put together a proper curry pie? We shudder at the injustice. We look to the sodas. The flowery fizz of Dandelion and Burdock is pleasant, and one rarely is allowed the experience of a flavor for which one has absolutely no context. I am curious to try the other varieties.

The telephone rang as we mulled over the last scraps of pie and fish. The staid, inexorable woman at the counter briefly lifted her eyes to me before turning back to her hands. I wiped a spot of batter from my chin before making my way to the booth and picking up the receiver.

“Yes… no, it’s all there… yes… might be worse…bye”.

I left the booth and she already had a cigarette in her mouth. “I think the raid’s over,” she said. “In that case…”

Dump your garbage in the bin by the door and pick up a candy on your way out. They’re all foreign, so take your best guess. Le dernier acte est sanglant, quelque belle que soit la comédie en tout le reste: on jette enfin de la terre sur la tête, et en voilà pour jamais.

Malia Guyer-Stevens