You don’t dine in the age of pandemic: you scuttle about in the wreckage. If you can afford food, and you aren’t afraid of your neighbours, who don’t understand the government strategy and believe that if they stay indoors for eight years they will survive, and so should you, you can eat out; or rather you can collect takeaway in the comforting dusk. It is not because I want the food. My husband, with whom I re-enact Sunset Boulevard in lockdown, each taking it in turns to be crazy Norma or Max the butler, is a superb cook. It is that I want local restaurants to survive. It is my version of painting a rainbow in a window and calling it political activism, which it isn’t. It is praying with crayons. I don’t want to emote in primary colours, and I won’t do a rain dance for anything, particularly medicine. I would prefer, and always have, to emote with food.
Unless I want to eat Domino’s Pizza, which I don’t, I have two possibilities now: the Hole Foods Deli in Mousehole, which is superb, and Mackerel Sky across the bridge. Mousehole is charming — it is all charm, it is a glut of charm, it is cursed by charm. Even so, someone called the police on me for paddling in the harbour; someone else, on hearing it, called me Typhoid Mary, which is not a comfortable thing for a Jew to hear. It’s a release, of course, under cover of pandemic; an emotional opportunity. It is payback for the romanticisation of this village by others, which is really moral blindness and greed. It is payback for the ice creams dropped for seagulls; the incompetent paddle-boarders; the traffic. They just want their country back, and I can understand that. Don’t we all?
Here, in my cowardice and my hope, is Mackerel Sky across the bridge: a small and pretty seafood cabin, bright and lovely, with a terrace on the river, which sometimes contains two swans. It is beloved by the tourists who are, for now, somewhere else. It looks, after six weeks of staring at oats and lentils, like something from a neurotic dream: almost over-bright and over-lovely.
We order via email and queue at the prescribed distance and stare inside. Soon, a woman appears and says kindly: we have run out of chips. She looks at me as if I were going to rage: how could I? Is this really a time for chip-related tantrums? Perhaps it is. I have no hope that the pandemic will leave us more conscious of suffering, and equal: that is not the way. I want to fall into her arms — which is not allowed, she is not Mr Tickle — and say: thank you. I am grateful you are here. I’m glad you have sold out of chips.
At home, in the filthy kitchen, I unpack it: fine grilled mackerel with a pesto sauce so good I actually scream when I taste it, which is my own release; battered cod with a soft heart of white fish, with crispy new potatoes; two pots of chocolate mousse with amaretto biscuit which, in my lock-down madness, seem to me absurdly jaunty. Look, I cry to my husband — to Max — restaurant food! I do not really want to eat it. I would rather look at it, so I know it is there. It conveys the symbolism, for me, of Aslan returning to Narnia.
The deli in Mousehole is out for now, but I may be braver soon. I am already wondering if I have 630 unwise words on Pickled Onion Monster Munch, and if I wasn’t prepared to face a hard stare for a pasty, I wouldn’t be your critic. I wouldn’t deserve to be.
Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar, New Road, Newlyn, Penzance TR18 5PZ