Like many of the Irish at Writtle University College, I had been raised on an unadventurous diet. Some of my peers were even suspicious of pizza. When the Writz offered chicken madras on its menu during our first term, one of the boys who remembered his primary-school Irish sent the word back down the queue, only half-jokingly, that we were being fed chicken dogs.
Pubs that offered good, reasonably priced food were a revelation to many of us, as were the Italian and Greek and Indian restaurants that we gradually discovered. Ag engineering students Hammer and Berry built a sturdy barbecue, which was the focus of many’s the splendid party at Freaks’ Cottage.
Writtle’s contingent of white South African and Zimbabwean students, known to one and all as “the Zim Boys” were always assured of an invite on these occasions. They knew everything there was to know about grilling meat outdoors, and as long as no one distracted them with a rugby ball, they could be relied upon to keep dishing up the steaks and sausages all night.
Club Zeus in Chelmsford was a contender for the title of Europe’s Worst Night Club. In an earlier incarnation it had been a cinema, and was full of ramps and strange half levels so that you would find yourself dancing at the same level as some other lad’s knees. All this was dangerously disorientating after a few tequilas, but for our safety the management had thoughtfully provided floors that you stuck to like Spiderman.
The main reason I endured Zeus was the visit to The Kebabery across the road after closing.
Dukes fancied itself as a more up-market club than Zeus, and had a strict dress code. Finnegan, from Co Louth, found himself refused entry one night because he was wearing jeans. Resourceful lad that he was, he nipped down the street to The Kebabery to see if he could borrow a smart pair of trousers from the owners. The boys in The Kebabery didn’t bat an eyelid; a suitable pair of trousers was produced and Finnegan was directed to the staff toilets to get changed. Leaning against the wall in the toilets was a big cone of kebab meat on a spit, waiting to take its turn on the rotisserie.
Not only would The Kebabery lend you a pair of trousers – for a paltry fee they would even deliver your dinner. In my middle year at college I shared a ramshackle student house with my friend MacBoy and a group of arty garden design students. We phoned in an order to our friends on Duke Street one night, and among the culinary delights that were presently delivered was a burger with a shard of glass in it. We got back on the blower to express our displeasure to the manager.
He promptly drove to our house and explained that there had been a fight on the premises the previous night. A window had been smashed, and the broken glass had evidently not been extracted from the burger meat as thoroughly as he had hoped. He could not have been more charming or apologetic, and as well as replacing the offending burger he insisted we accept a free bottle of Coca Cola. When he had left we shared our bottle of coke and congratulated ourselves on not letting The Kebabery get one over on us.