Canal Street Blues

Desmond Cartier had spent 15 years in the catering business, building up an enormously successful chain of tearooms. (He had been the only person to forecast that, after the coffee craze had peaked, people would move back to tea and demand a genuine English tea experience.) Then he had sold the whole company for a lot of money, and bought a barge in order to get away from everything.

He cruised the length and breadth of England, enjoying the watery solitude, and relaxing by learning to do woodcarving and turning. With the timber he picked up along the canal he made his own furniture. Having furnished his barge, he made some more tables and chairs, and whenever he stopped, he’d put them on the canal bank to tempt people to buy them.

One summer day, near Devizes, he came out from his barge to find several walkers sitting round one of his tables. “Tea for four, please,” they said. They had mistaken his furniture display for a canal café. Desmond smiled inwardly and sold them some tea and biscuits.

But by that time, some more people had sat down wanting tea. One of them, unbeknown to Desmond, was the food correspondent for a Sunday paper, who described his find the following Sunday under the headline, “A Canal Tea Experience To Treasure”, and even gave the name of Desmond’s barge.

Desmond’s barge became the mecca for tea-hunters. It became so bad that Desmond had to sell it, and buy a caravan, but not before making a day trip to London and murdering the man who had killed his canal dream. The police knew that the food critic had made many enemies through his criticism, and investigated everyone who had suffered one of his bad reviews, but as they never thought to examine his good reviews, they never did find the culprit.

Moral: It is a mistake to rule out ingratitude as a murder motive.

(Miles Kington – Wednesday, 30 April 2003)

Permission to print (reproduce in electronic format) applied for and (as the Independent ignored my e-mail assumed to be) given.

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