A Word From The Mayor
Good day, my sweet friends! We thank you for choosing our humble corner of the globe, Winkdale, as your latest pleasure destination - or just going with the decision, if it was ultimately out of your hands. Maybe you’re a wee baby, and everything is out of your hands. If you are a baby, you’ve done well to read this far. Have a lie-down.
My name is Elgin Cork and I am the Mayor of Winkdale. I’ve lived in or parallel to this village for more than half my life - and all of yours, if you’re younger than 28, which you will be if you’re the baby I mentioned. When I arrived all those years ago, I have to admit the village was on its last legs. I was instrumental in lying it down and giving it mouth to mouth. I am proud to say that this is the relaxed and prostrate position in which the village has remained for the last few decades.
Here in Winkdale we rub shoulders with my big wet friend, The Sea. There are a handful of marine creatures indigenous to Winkdale that make swimming irresponsible but as an activity it is still categorised as ‘legal’. We have what I would describe as a beach, which, if we can trust the testimony of the people who have accessed it, is very pleasant indeed. In fact, there’s so much going on in Winkdale that your to-do list might start looking like a novel! (Being a novel with only a few words per line, it would probably be an experimental one, or perhaps more like a long poem akin to Beowulf.)
As Mayor, let me say that I hope you enjoy passing through our unique village and learning about its surprisingly violent history. You never know - you may find that you want to be here that little bit longer. Some people come to Winkdale and decide to stay forever! (This category of visitor is what would be described as ‘statistically non-significant’.)
Whatever brings you here, I want you to treat the village like your home. Winkdale isn’t a place you remember in a hurry. Yes, it’s not perfect. Yes, the number of murders is staggeringly high for its tiny population. But when you walk down the street, you can be sure of a smile. If you fall to the ground, you can be sure of a helping hand. And if you spend more than £80 at any newsagent, they’ll give you a free balloon.
Elgin Cork (Mayor)
Next to each other on Winkdale's busiest street stood two fromageries, sworn rivals in the village’s cheese trade. On one side, the oily Mervin Undulous – known in the business as Mr Pong – presided over Yes This Is Cheese, a traditional establishment serving traditional cheese to traditional people. On the other stood Fromage Fuckbois, an altogether edgier alternative that served fromage to fuckbois. This shop was presided over by the lugubrious Len Sprigg – known in cheese circles as The Stinking Bishop.
A vicious rivalry had been percolating between the pair since March 1998, when the two cheesers moved into their respective premises. Within days there were two fromageries where previously there had been none. Each of them lived above his shop and through the thin walls could hear each other, beavering away on their cheesy schemes. Undulous, the first to arrive, wasted no time sending the newcomer a 'welcome wheel' that made his position clear: a vast sphere of cheese filled with his shit and some of his girlfriend’s shit, it was more revolting than anything hitherto described in fiction or history. Stapled to the atrocity was a note, written in molten gruyere: “Go peddle your Parmigiano elsewhere, kiddo. You've entered the territory of Mr Pong.”
Len Sprigg, who hadn't been sure whether his move to Winkdale was going to be permanent, decided there and then that he would run his fromagerie on Prandle Street until Mervin Undulous died or was killed. To prove a point, he even ate the welcome cheese and everything inside it. This was a massive error, in retrospect.
The only other fromagier in the town was Winston Grobb, the proprietor of A Surprisingly Strong Smell, a cheese establishment on the periphery of Winkdale. Far from the cheese-hungry tourists who did so much to keep the other fromageries afloat, Grobb's shop languished in the shadows and troubled Undulous and Sprigg very little. His decision to drill holes into the walls - “like the Swiss do it” - had simply driven customers away and caused havoc with his building’s insurance.
“What the bloody-?” Len Sprigg said one day, picking up a letter from the floor. He never received envelopes addressed to him in handwriting. He could only assume this was a ransom note or a love letter written by someone born in the 19th century. He peered down at the ivory envelope and exquisite calligraphy:
12 Prandle Street
In Yes This Is Cheese, as though he were Sprigg's reflection, Undulous scooped up a letter from his hallway as well. This too was handwritten and it, like Sprigg's, was perfumed with lavender. Undulous slithered a razor-sharp piece of Red Leicester into the paper and prised apart the envelope as though he were taking off the corset of a young dame. This image caused the blood to race to his penis and he staggered slightly, clutching his umbrella stand for support.
Undulous mouthed the words at the top of the letter, his lips struggling to keep up with his darting eyes. “Dear Mr Undulous … always interested in high-quality fromagiers … come to my attention that Yes This Is Cheese … one of the very best in a highly competitive … care to make a special birthday cheese … for my 97th birthday … Buckingham Palace ...”
In his hallway next door, Sprigg reached the bottom of his letter. “Sincerely yours, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” He couldn't believe his mole-like eyes. If he excluded that day he once saw a horse chase an old man down the street, this was the greatest moment of his life. Then he scanned the letter again and saw something that his initial enthusiasm had caused him to overlook. “Given that there is no discernible difference in quality between the cheese produced at Yes This Is Cheese and Fromage Fuckbois, I am requesting that both you and Mr Mervin Undulous make a birthday cheese in my honour.”
Next door, Undulous finished the sentence. “Whichever cheese should be judged to be superior will be served at the ceremony.” He was incensed. “Oh I am incensed,” he muttered. How could the old girl not see the gulf between the quality of his fromage and the fromage of that Sprigg git?
Next door, Sprigg leapt out of his house and pounded on Undulous' front door, his face the colour of pomegranate flesh. “Undulous! Open this door.”
Mervin Undulous swung open the door with such force that it bounced off the wall and slammed shut again. “Goddamnit,” Sprigg heard him mutter from behind the door. He opened it again. “What do you want, Sprigg?” Both of them were in a foul mood, like a man who’s been unexpectedly knocked over by a large dog who then proceeded to hump his leg.
“Tell me you didn't get the same letter,” Sprigg hissed.
Undulous lifted his own letter level with his face and, unblinking, looked Sprigg dead in the eyeballs. “Looks like I did, Sprigg. Looks like I did.” Then, for reasons best known to himself, he shut the door and pissed out of his own letterbox into the street. Sprigg, disgusted by this rancid behaviour but impressed at the speed at which it was carried out, marched back into his own house, slamming the door.
Undulous zipped his trousers back up. Damn that lugubrious Len Sprigg to Hell, he thought, casting a sideways look at the dividing. God damn that slippery little goblin. If the Queen needed a birthday cheese, Undulous was going to make her the best damn fromage that had ever passed her royal lips. He rolled his sleeves up and walked over to his work station.
Mervin Undulous didn't make cheese like other fromagiers. It was one of the many reasons he was feared and revered. Most professional fromagiers added acid to milk; mixed in a coagulant; cut the curd; cooked and washed the curd; separated curds from whey; then aged the cheese. Undulous was renowned for doing things “a leeettle bit differently,” as he told customers whenever they hovered, uncertain, at the entrance of the shop. Profiling him in the Winkdale Herald, one journalist described his method as “like a man frantically trying to find his way out of a car park”. Sinking his forearm into a tub of Vaseline, he began.
Racing down the stairs, Len Sprigg flipped the sign on the shop door – he wouldn't be doing business. When an elderly couple pushed the door open, he realised the sign had already said ‘CLOSED’ and he'd turned it around to say 'OPEN'.
“No, not today, sorry,” he said, carefully lifting the old man into the air and carrying him out of the shop like a cat that had just peed on the floor.
“Blackberry!” Sprigg shouted, seemingly out of nowhere. He had decided that the cheese he made for the Queen would incorporate blackberry. He'd once made a blackberry-flecked Muenster for Elgin Cork, the mayor of Winkdale, and the cross-eyed look of confused pleasure on the Mayor's face was a freeze-frame that would forever be etched into the cinema of his mind.
Sprigg leaped onto and up the stairs, sprinting to his bedroom, where – to the shuddering dismay of his ex-girlfriends – he concocted his cheese creations. Dipping into a velvet bumbag, he sprinkled blackberries onto his work surface like a bridesmaid throwing confetti. He could hear Undulous next door, pounding away at his creation, saying things like “Left! LEFT!” and “Oh, it wasn't supposed to be this large.” He ignored him – having discovered long ago that these were recordings intended to make Sprigg think that Undulous' cheesemaking was going badly – and set about his work. He toiled in a frenzy into the early hours when at last, with blackberry-stained fingers and covered in milk, he toppled headlong into the manhole of sleep.
Mervin Undulous had always wanted to be a cheese man. Where other boys played cowboys and Indians, he played a game called 'Let's make some cheese' in which, alone, he would make some cheese. Romano, Parmigiano, Pecorino – all three of his closest Italian friends fruitlessly invited him to football matches and theme parks until they realised that he was only ever truly happy when dancing the dance of the midnight fromage. He was always an oily child, little Merv, a very oily boy indeed, and there were seldom any interested girls to impress with his creations. “When was the last time you had a genuinely superlative paneer?” turned out not to be the mouth-watering chat-up line it seemed in his bedroom mirror. He was a virgin till 36 and a bachelor till 51.
Before moving to Winkdale, his first fromagerie had been a little shop called Now That's The Cheese That Pleases Me, Now That's The Cheese I Like. He'd all but bankrupted himself setting it up, and ran it with his wife Tamsin. He'd lost count of the number of times they had grated blocks of Grana Padano together, feeding the pungent shards to each other in their pants as the sun rose. It was probably four. They’d done it about four times.
“I love you, Tamsin.”
“And I you, Mervin Undulous. And I you.”
But mould develops on relationships as surely as it does on cheese. One night, as he came home with a bunch of tulips, a Blu-ray of I Am Legend, and a tangy wheel of Limburger, Mervin saw something he had always feared he might: Tamsin giggling and kissing another fromagier. It was his father, Ranulph Undulous.
Mervin looked through the window, the colour draining from his face. The wheel of Limburger dropped from his loosening grasp into the street and rolled down the hill.
To this day, Mervin wonders if it's still rolling.
Cheese found Len Sprigg late in life. Like most men, he embarked on adulthood as an actor who vastly overestimated his abilities. Sprigg's problem was that he brought an unambiguous air of mediocrity to everything he did – whether that was an advert for cat food, an intense love scene, or an intense love scene in an advert for cat food. Once, he was three-quarters of the way out of an audition for Pot Noodle when he heard the casting director mutter that he had “brought shame on the Noodle”.
In researching a role for a yoghurt advert, however, he had fallen asleep while watching some videos about dairy. He awoke to discover that he suddenly knew a lot about cheese. Once he checked his phone, which his saliva had plastered to the side of his face, he realised that six hours of YouTube cheese videos had been playing while he lay asleep on the coffee table. At 8am he had reached 'From milk to cheese in 10 minutes, without rennet!' The information had seeped into his mind like water through a sieve. Now he was evangelical about fromage. It made no difference to the yoghurt casting, during which he managed to bore the director so intensely that she faked a heart attack and called an ambulance, but it heralded a new beginning for Sprigg, who at the age of 38 promised to dive into the world of cheese. On a cheese retreat in Provence, he met a woman who poured milk and sliced feta with such ecstatic finesse that he had to have her then and there. She rejected him unambiguously and he met his wife six years later in Winkdale.
Undulous worked through the night on the Queen's creamy cheese. The ceremony was in only two days. It was odd, he thought, that she had given them such short notice. But that was the royal prerogative, he supposed, and goddamnit he respected it.
While he worked, the tape he had made to mess with Sprigg's mind continued to play. “Oh, that is s– NO!” it said. “I wish I could undo what I have just done, but I cannot.” He smirked. The tape was a piece of genius, and Sprigg had no idea it was a recording. Undulous realised, briefly putting down the can of Cherry Tango he had been pouring into his mixture, that if he beat that stupid little Sprigg rat he might actually die of pride.
He looked at the cheese mixture. How obscenely creamy, he thought to himself. He took off his waders, slipped into his nightie, and sleep embraced him like a favourite grandchild.
In the morning Undulous woke up, the ingenious tape still playing (“This isn't cheese, this is A NIGHTMARE!”). He stretched, opened the curtains, and looked out over Prandle Street, inhaling deeply. The pong of homemade cheese filled his hungry nostrils. He looked over at his workstation. The cheese was gone.
He looked back out of the window, thinking th– wait...the cheese was gone? With a turn that almost gave him whiplash, he looked again at the workstation. “Where's me cheese?” he bellowed, hurling himself over his bed and scrabbling at the table. Where once there was cheese, there was now no cheese. “Where's me cheese??” He pounded on the wall that divided him and Sprigg.
“Sprigg you lugubrious little shithead! What have you done with me cheese??”
Caring little for how he looked, he sprinted down the stairs and out into the street. He hammered on Sprigg's door. “Let me in, Sprigg, you stupid bastard!”
“Uh-oh,” said Madam Klotto from Madam Klotto's Risotto Grotto, opening her window. “Trouble in the cheese world?”
“Get back to your wet rice, Klotto.”
Sprigg flung open the door.
“You knew how important that cheese was, you complete arsehole,” spat Undulous. “You're going to regret stealing it.” He barged into the house. “Where's me cheese?”
“Undulous, calm down.”
Only now did Sprigg appreciate how large Mervin Undulous was. He lunged around Sprigg's living room with legs as long as lampposts, terrifying his highly-strung cat Garth, who ran headfirst into a table leg.
“Her birthday's tomorrow, Sprigg. What have you done? Why have you hijacked me cheese?”
“I haven't hijacked your cheese, Undulous, you mad clown. I've been asleep.”
“You haven't hijacked me cheese? Then why's cheese all over you?”
“I...I mean, I make cheese.”
“Oh. Oh, how convenient. I suppose that's why this whole place stinks of cheese, is it??”
Undulous looked lost for words. “Gimme me cheese!” This noise startled Garth, who, still discombobulated, ran full tilt at Undulous' legs. “Wuf-hnggggh” was the noise the fromagier made as he tried to lunge out of the way of the cat. Instead he managed to lose his footing and crash headfirst into a metal model of a rhinoceros which Sprigg had picked up in Bhutan. The horn caught his chin and his chin hit the ground. On its way down, his sprawling body landed on Garth.
“Garth!” moaned Sprigg, hopping over Undulous' comatose body and rushing to his cat's aid. It was a sorry sight, watching an adult man try to give mouth-to-mouth to a dead Nebulung, but any pet owner would have done the same. It was futile, of course; all 224lbs of Mervin Undulous had landed on Garth's head.
Sprigg towered over Undulous' body. “You clumsy ghoul,” he hissed. Just as he was about to wrap his hands around Undulous' throat, Undulous regained consciousness and saw a shape ominously lunge at him. He reached for the nearest thing he could find, which was the Bhutanese rhinoceros, and struck Sprigg in the flank with it.
“N'argh, my flank!” Sprigg grunted, rolling onto a pile of M. Night Shyamalan DVDs.
Undulous staggered to his feet, blood pouring from his chin so consistently it looked like a long red goatee.
“Don't step on the cat!” Sprigg shouted. Undulous had stood on the cat.
“I'll step on whatever I like, mate.” Undulous stomped repeatedly on the floor like a toddler in a tantrum. Unfortunately for him, the floorboards were slick with blood, causing him to fly upwards into the air and land on the Bhutanese rhinoceros. “N'argh, my flank!” he screamed.
They made for a sorry pair. In Sprigg's living room at 8.12am there was now a dead cat, a copious amount of human and cat blood, and two bruised fromagiers.
“Look...Undulous,” said Sprigg, panting. “Let me take you upstairs. I'll show you I didn't pilfer your cheese.”
Undulous was sceptical. But he was also tired. He took Sprigg's outstretched arm and followed him to his bedroom. When they arrived, Undulous could clearly hear the recording of himself through the wall, saying things like “I'm ashamed of my creation” and “I am forced to admit that Len Sprigg is a superior cheesemaker to me.”
Sprigg turned on a monitor. “I record everything that happens in this bedroom,” he said, “in case they ever want to make a film of my life. Look – there's me.” Undulous watched as a fast-forwarded Sprigg set about making his cheese, throwing his arms up in the air, dipping his finger into the mixture and tasting it, and doing the robot in celebration. “And...we're coming up to the point where I fall asleep...” They watched together as the action played out at normal speed. Suddenly the picture went dead. “What?” he said, putting his hands to his head. “Where'd it go?”
“Well well well,” said Undulous, folding his arms. “How incredibly convenient.”
“What the hell was that?!” Sprigg was banging the monitor and checking its connection.
“That was the truth, Sprigg. You snarfed my cheese, big boy. You pilfered it because you know you don't stand a chance in this competition.”
“Look, you old loser. You can't just come into my house, get blood all over my living room, and besmirch my reputation! You killed my cat, for God's sake!”
“That was self-defence!” Undulous shrieked. “He came charging at me!”
Sprigg laughed. He laughed so hard a blood vessel popped in his eye. “Oh, you've always been jealous of me, haven't you, Undulous.”
“Ha!” Undulous' head flew back. “Ha! What the hell makes you say that?”
Sprigg put his hands on his hips. “It isn't normal, Undulous, to record yourself ranting and raving for hours on end so that your closest rival will think that your work is going badly. That’s not normal.”
“Don't know what you're talking about,” said Undulous – too quickly, really. The words “Oh, this cheese-making is going SO BADLY” rang out from next door. “Why'd you snarf my cheese, Spriggy? Worried, were you? Wanted to use my cheese to impress Her Majesty?”
“Someone's clearly messed around with the tape.”
“Yeah – you. Covering your tracks.” Undulous picked up a rolling pin from the side. “You can't make a better cheese than me with two broken hands, can you?”
“Was that a rhetorical question, because I definitely could.”
“We'll see, shall we.”
“You know,” Sprigg said as Undulous bore down on him, “I'm not your father.”
“I know what happened with you and your dad. Don't turn me into h-” The rolling pin hit him squarely in the nose, instantly breaking it (the nose). He staggered back into the wall, clawing at a poster of a young Nigella Lawson.
Undulous smiled. “What do you think of that, Spriggy? That strong enough for you? That got enough punch for you?”
At the mention of the word 'punch', Sprigg pushed himself off the wall towards Undulous and kicked him hard in the bollocks. Undulous folded in like a frightened hedgehog and lay face-down on the ground, nursing his testes. Sprigg wasn't going to let him convalesce. He brought the rolling pin crashing down on the top of his head, sending Undulous sprawling across the milk-stained floorboards. Kneeling over him, he lifted the rolling pin into the air. Just in time, Undulous came to. He rolled away as Sprigg's arm came crashing into the floor and through the wood.
Sprigg's arm was now stuck, and Undulous had risen, staggering around the room in a daze. He'd lost an unusual amount of blood that morning and it was at this point that he decided that perhaps giving blood wasn't in fact something he wanted to do in his spare time. The room seemed fuzzy, pixelated. He lasered in on Sprigg, that horrible little man, and looked around for something to attack him with. At that moment, just as he was picking up a pillow, Sprigg bounced upward as though being rewound. The two faced off.
“You've got a pillow and I've got a rolling pin,” said Sprigg, rolling up his pyjama sleeves.
“The most sensible thing you've said all day.”
“Do you fancy your chances?”
“Do you fancy that woman?” said Undulous, gesturing over Sprigg's shoulder. Sprigg turned to see what the hell he was talking about. It was the split-second Undulous so desperately needed. He ran, low and hard like a ram, hurtling towards Sprigg's body. Sprigg saw him too late, a hunched, screeching oddball launching himself into his midriff, and they crashed together into a rocking chair.
Their combined weight, however, was sufficient to send the chair and their bodies hurtling into the glass doors behind the chair. They burst open the doors and found themselves on the balcony outside, 30 feet above the street below.
Their tussle was far from over. They got to their feet. Bellowing “HOW COULD YOU HURT ME, DADDY?”, Undulous rammed the pillow into Sprigg's face while Sprigg cracked the rolling pin into his ribs. Madam Klotto was watching from her window. And she was still watching as the pair clutched each other and then, in a few silent seconds, toppled over the balcony headfirst onto the concrete pavement below.
There was another person watching all of this play out. Across the street, in a room he had rented for the purpose, sat Winston Grobb, the owner of A Surprisingly Strong Smell. Satisfied that the pair had both died from their horrific injuries, he brought his binoculars down from his eyes and let out a sigh.
“Well well well,” he said. The smell of lavender still hung around him. “I'd call that a success.” He clapped and skipped around the barren room, his assistant watching all the while. “And you said it wouldn't work,” he told him.
“I shouldn't have doubted you,” said his assistant.
“And now,” said Grobb, “I shall make the cheese for the Queen's birthday.” His assistant reminded him that the Queen hadn't asked anyone to make any cheese for her birthday and that the whole thing had been his invention.
Still, Grobb thought, sliding a slice of Edam into his mouth. It was a good day.