Belize Town

Jose Mecorda sat taking a rare break staring at the spire of the St John’s Church. The Church had always held Jose’s imagination. When they had started building in back in 1812, he had been a young boy and he wondered when those markings in the ground and piles of materials would actually be turned into something. People around him, including his parents, had told him that men would come and they would rearrange to materials into a grand Church. As can often be the case with some children, Jose was not convinced. Even when his dad told him that he would be working on building the Church, Joe was still not sure. On the one hand, he did not believe that his father would lie, but it was all to surreal for him. Meanwhile, his twin sister, Noemi, took it all at face value. She had other things on her mind.

Time moved on and Jose could see the Church slowly forming. Now he was sure that someone was doing something, but he couldn’t believe that it would ever be completed. At least not in his lifetime. Sure enough though, eight years sailed by bringing people in on boats and lumber out and the Church was finally completed. It was something that stuck in his mind, this Church. Not for any religious reason. It was just that something he did not believe could happen did. People told him that it was true. Still, he refused to believe it until his eyes confirmed it was so.

Since that time, Jose had reevaluated how he looked at certain things. Some things had to be taken on faith and then confirmed. That was the way of life.

The spire was just a point. It announced far and wide that the Church was there. Then, as you looked down, you saw the yellow brick. Jose had found out when he grew slightly older and as the construction continued that the bricks had come from England abroad ships as something called ballast. Once a sailor had explained this concept to him, but he allowed it to go in one ear and out the other. Still, the idea that material had been transported over such a distance and then turned into this, with its tower, spire and fitted wood interiors was an amazing thought. Jose knew things about timber as was not uncommon in these parts. He couldn’t name many things that he was terribly good at though. His place in the world was uncertain and this Church both reminded him of this fact and reinforced the idea that anything is possible. One day there was no Church there and now it was hard to remember what the area looked like before it.

As the sun continued its trot along the mid morning sky, the heat began to increase and Jose knew it was time to get back to his errands. He enjoyed taking a moment. Reality beckoned him back to his station though, working under a clerk who was assisting in the export of lumber. Like almost everyone in Belize City, Jose had little choice but to work in logging. He did not mind it. Yet satisfaction was out of sight.

Belize Town was not a place of scale, but it was the centre of all things in the region, so life wasn’t nearly has hard as it could be. Jose reflected on this as he wandered down from the Church to the port. Along the way he picked up some food for the clerk. Classic food of beans and rice. Nothing fancy, but what they got by with in this part of the world. He hurried his pace to a quick trot in order to make up for the moment he spent admiring the Church.

John Carston had his head in a book as usual when Jose came quickly through the back entrance of their small clerks office. Exporting was not exactly done by the books, but someone always needed to keep record even if it was not entirely accurate to an objective observer. A log of mahogany left of the manifest here and there never hurt anyone. Jose did not feel the wrath like the sorry souls that were taken as slaves that were forced to work collecting the lumber. He was, after all, a free man. His station was not that of John’s though. There were clear lines between master and apprentice.

Without looking up from his book, John dryly asked, “And where have you been Jose?”

Jose hesitated. A poor hesitation for his sake.

“Day dreaming on my time,” John answered himself. He had already made up his mind. The only question now was whether there would be a punishment.

His hesitation dispersed and Jose quickly interjected, “It’a the truth Master John. I stood for a moment admiring the spire of the Church. An act which could most certainly be construed as day dreaming, sir.”

A quick reply is what John always liked best. It had to have level of humble and defiant. What good was a wimp when the tax man came to question the books and what use was a scoundrel that simply got people’s backs up. This one just about passed.

“Ah, the Church again. Very devout, I see.”

“Yes sir. Though it’s more the fact that the Church exists out here at all that spurs the day dreaming.”

Typically, Jose never expanded beyond a simple statement such as this when speaking outside of his family. If people wanted more, they would ask. On this occasion, John couldn’t help himself.

John looked up from his book to Jose, who was playing up food and asked, “please do expand young Jose.”

“Well, for instance, when I was a young boy, the building did not exist at all. The mere fact that such a structure can be built is worth dreaming of. How was it done? Who were the people that built it? Why did they do it? For the glory of God? For their livelihoods? For their own glory?”

John nodded in a way that indicated he was paying attention and reflecting on all these questions, but not necessarily agreeing with them. When no comment came, Jose continued.

“Then there are the bricks. They’ve come from London. Somewhere near by at least. They’ve come all the way here, to Belize Town, in ships from your fatherland. I know nothing of London and yet the fact that we had to use bricks brought from there makes me in awe of it. All of that is worth dreaming about.”

“I see, my boy. Well, I can quite confidently tell you that it’s simply a Church, built for the Glory of God and to allow the congregation to worship him. Everything else is of no interest. How is that food coming along.”

John didn’t understand. It was OK. In fact, it was better that he didn’t understand too much. Jose didn’t know and understands John’s dreams and there was no reason he should understand Jose’s. So, he quietly finished up his work with the food an handed John his plate. They quietly ate while returning to their work.

As with most other days, this one lulled on at the pace of a diligently scratching pen. Sometimes moments would whoosh by in the excitement of a visit and others would pause in excruciating contemplation. Jose wouldn’t have minded so much if the ‘exciting’ points were only exciting because they made the time disappear. His day dreaming was so frequent that people noticed, but no one quite understood what it was he wanted. They were out on the frontier. All of the British said as much and none of them yearned for home despite the seeming pressures of life here. That was all well for them. For Jose there had to be something beyond what he was doing.

Money came to Jose through his work with John and then promptly exited out into the basics and care on his uncle. He did not for one second resent his uncle in this respect. It was a joy to have him in his life, together with his twin sister, given that their parents had died so many years back. Neither he nor his sister liked to speak of it and instead they pored their energy into work and taking care of their uncle. That was life and it suited when you didn’t have time to day dream.

After looking down at papers for so long, Jose looked up at the clock that John kept on the wall of their little office. It was almost time to pack up and head home and his heart rose. He knew that it was highly unwise to rush the packing up, so he moved some of his papers into their proper homes and then took a separate stack into the small back office, while John carried away near the front entrance. There was nothing to actually do with the separate stack of papers, but it looked like he was doing something and he assumed that John thought as much. The door was ajar and he could hear John when a man entered the front door, even though John’s back was to him.

“Hello, sir, how is it that I can be of service” John asked the gentleman that entered. The gentleman was of medium build with dark hair, clean shaven face and impeccable clothing. There was no doubt that this man had made his turn on some industry or other.

“My name is Daniel Perez, I’m in from London. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?” The gentleman asked so eloquently that Jose could sense John blushing with embarrassment over the fact that he had not properly introduced himself.

“Beg your pardon, sir. John Carston, sir, at your service.”

“Very good, Mr. Carston. I’m not from around this immediate area and I was hoping to be introduced to some fine young men who may be of assistance to me. This appears to be the most populated area around here. Is that so, Mr. Carston?”

Jose was utterly intrigued. What could this Mr. Perez want. He says he is from London, but he looks nothing like a Londoner. Nothing like a British gentleman at all. It didn’t make sense, so he listened further whilst pretending to work.

“That’s a relatively fair assessment, sir. May I ask, you don’t seem to be a London native. In fact, I would have guessed that you were from around these parts. Where are you from exactly, sir?”

The man breathed a light sigh, like he had been asked to tell the coming story a million times.

“Nothing gets past you Mr. Carston. A fair question indeed and one I relish in responding to at every occasion. You see, I’m originally from Venezuela to the South. After fighting under Bolivar and surviving all that came, I was lucky enough to come into the employ of one of the English General’s who offered their services to the cause. I helped him extensively with some shipping business and was able to make a significant turn myself. With that, I made way to London. The place I had heard so much about and yet had no understanding of. You may find me crazy for having such a strong desire to find my way there, but it was calling me. I found London a captivating city and such an adventure compared to the relative outback we find ourselves in here. Well, at least where we find ourselves now. Once upon a time I believe my forebears had a great city here.”

“I see, how fascinating. What brings you here then. Despite the stated intention for young men to help you with some scheme?”

“It’s really as simple as that, Mr. Carston. I know shipping, so I found the place where I could interact with one of my own. A man who understood how the world worked and where I might find some young friends to help me with my endeavour.”

Daniel came closer to John at this point and said something in such a low voice that Jose could not make it out. Even without the final piece of information, Jose was extremely excited. He couldn’t possibly talk to this Daniel man in front of John, but he had to find him.

For now, Jose resolved, it was best to get back to pretending to work. When Daniel left, he would go and enquire to John about him, in the most subtle way he could possibly muster. After all of the talk of day dreaming, there was no point in startling John. It would serve no purpose and likely make John even more closed about the subject.

Jose heard the door swing shut and he finally allowed himself to look up again. John went straight back to his books as he was always bound to. How could he not be intrigued, thought Jose. It’s not as if he was that old. There could be adventure in it for him as well. There was no point in trying to persuade the cow to fly as Jose knew too well.

Shuffling papers and making his way towards John’s desk to take away and rubbish, Jose casually as he could asked, “Who was that master?”

“Oh, just some man.”

“Did he want anything specific? Anything I can be of assistance with?”

“He was a shipping merchant, just looking for some advice. Nothing that I think you could be of great assistance with.”

It was infuriating for Jose. He heard what Daniel said. There was almost no way he could have been clearer but to print an advertisement and positing it around town asking for young men to come and adventure with him. How could he get John to tell him so that he could find out where Daniel went. His blood boiled and it made it impossible to think of any constructive answer to his problem.

Then a Godsend. Daniel’s purse was left on the counter of John’s desk. There was no way that John would ever seek to deliver it to the man himself. That was the kind of job he delighted in delegating to Jose. Perhaps he was in luck. His boiling blood subsided.

“What’s that, Master? Is that the man’s purse?” Jose inquired as he continued to clean.

“Ah, indeed it is. The poor man will likely be desperate to be reunited with it as he mentioned that he was heading to the tavern.”

Jose wanted so much to volunteer, but he knew it was the wrong way to get what he wanted. So, he collected the remaining rubbish and papers and put everything away in their spot. When he was all done he walked back up to John to say goodnight.

“Goodnight, master.”

“And to you Jose,” John responded, before continuing, “perhaps you could take the gentleman’s purse down to him. I believe the tavern is on your route in any event.”

With a little patience and knowing his mark, Jose had achieved exactly what he wanted. As he grabbed the purse and trotted off towards the tavern he would not have been so excited to learn that John had a purse of equal size tucked away under his desk. A reward for instilling the right behaviours in his juniors. Something for having patience and for knowing his mark.

Two to four cheese mac’n’cheese

I’ve had a real issue at not getting final images of the food because I’ve dived in before I think about it! This one is almost there, just in the need of a little time under the grill to make the top all nice and brown and crispy.

In the recipe below I use two cheeses, but I would use any strong cheese or a mixture of multiple strong cheeses to make this.

Inspiration for this one cane because I wanted to give my pregnant wife a ‘Hawksmoor’ at home with steak and some mac’n’cheese. For the cheese sauce, which I didn’t really know how to do I used a slightly modified version of this BBC Good Food recipe.

Two cheese baked mac’n’cheese (makes enough for 4 decent helpings)

Ingredients

  • 250ml almond milk
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 100g cheese cut into 1cm cubes (I used Parmesan and strong raw cheddar)
  • 5dl macaroni/pasta
  • Breadcrumbs and extra Parmesan
  • Chopped fresh basil or parsley

Method

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and then cook pasta per instructions on pack.
  2. Heat butter on medium heat in a sauce pan and when bubbling add flour. Stir to form the roux.
  3. When all combined, add almond milk, paprika and salt/pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil and then add cheese.
  5. Continually stir at low/medium heat until combined and smooth.
  6. Turn on the grill at a high temp.
  7. Place macaroni in the oven proof dish.
  8. Cover with cheese sauce, stir together with fresh chopped basil/parsley.
  9. Top with grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs until a later forms on top.
  10. Spray/drizzle a bit of oil.
  11. Place under the grill till golden brown and crispy.