Monday, January 27, 2014

Convict Curry Three-In-One: A Murdering Child, a Benedict Cumberbatch Movie, & My Move to London

The next time someone asks me why I don't want children, I will lower my voice, lean in, and whisper these two words: Mary Bell. To those who maintain that children are angelic bundles of joy, Bell stands as the exception that proves there really is no such rule at all.

In 1968, just a day shy of her 11th birthday, Bell strangled a four year old boy in her home town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne; just a few months later she (possibly with the assistance of a friend)  murdered a three-year-old boy, Martin, by the same method, afterwards inscribing the letter "M" on his stomach with scissors. These are horrible murders to be sure; but perhaps even more disturbing was Bell's apparent lack of remorse or concern, a psychopathic trait that should be familiar to regular readers of my Macabre Meals  and Serial Killer Supper series.

Disturbing as this is, here's something downright frightening: You may live near Mary Bell and not even know it. She was convicted of manslaughter because of her age and "diminished responsibility" and though she received life, she was released at 23 and granted an order protecting her anonymity. And if you think that psychopaths are born, not made, consider that Bell is a grandmother. Maybe it runs in the family.

But why feature this curry dish? Have I become hopelessly random, you ask? Not at all. I always have my reasons, as you'll see. In the Mary Bell biography Cries Unheard, Bell describes her life  at Askham Prison, which she liked because "the food was good." In the rotation for lunch? "Curries, rice, spaghetti, and fruit."

I've called this dish "convict curry" also as a shout out to the film Stuart: A Life Backward, a true story (based on the book of the same name) about Stuart, a mentally ill homeless man played by Tom Hardy, and his biographer, Alexander Masters, played by one of my favorite Sherlocks, Benedict Cumberbatch. (My other favorite Sherlock is Jeremy Brett but try as I might I couldn't come up with a curry connection. Though I suspect I just didn't try hard enough.) The film explores issues of class, privilege, violence, and mental illness, and it's deeply disturbing and sad at times.

One of my favorite scenes centers on (what else?) food. Stuart cooks for Alexander in his council flat, the first time we really see the pair begin to form a bond that reaches beyond the assumptions and preconceptions they've brought to the relationship. Stuart dips into his rather bare cupboard of generic government-issued foodstuffs to create his dish. Into a pot he plops bricks of frozen chicken, a tin of mushrooms, and a curry spice, among other things, telling Alexander that this is the sort of thing he ate in prison, and in fact calls it his convict curry.

 My curry uses fresh, not frozen, chicken, coconut milk, tomatoes, peas, and cilantro as well as an eclectic mishmash of spice blends, some homemade, some not. If you've read this far looking for a proper recipe I am terribly sorry to disappoint. I made this ages ago and literally tossed a bunch of stuff into a pot - much like Stuart. But you probably have your own go-to chicken curry recipe. Besides, the internet needs another curry recipe about as much as it needs more iterations of muffins.

Not content to leave my convict curry with a meagre two meanings, I went for it and culled a third: Poppa Trix and I are moving to London, where I expect we will eat a lot of curry. I am insanely excited but also ridiculously busy managing the move. Poppa is going ahead of me, and I'll be on my own for awhile, so don't expect much in the way of posts over the next 6 weeks.

I am, however, thinking about brief posts revolving around the inevitable Eating of the Strange Things that will occur as I clean out my cupboards and cook for one.

Until then, your assignment is threefold: read the book and see the film Stuart, a Life Backward; read the Mary Bell biography, and create your own chicken curry. That should keep you lot busy until I get back.


  1. Wow! I loved reading your post & am so excited for your move to London. I wish you every happiness & look forward to more intriguing stories from there. Definitely looking into the movie & books you've recommended.

    I used to get bugged all the time about having kids. The truth is, most people don't realize it's a choice, not a mandate. One day, I got fed up and asked one particularly persistent guy how he even knew that I could have children..well, that at least shut him up!

  2. You know how jealous I am of your move to London. I do hope, however, that you find that a swiftly acquired flat in Clapham is not a prison of its own. But should it turn out be so, I know you will be eating a wonderful curry like this which will provide the necessary symmetry to make it all a worthwhile experience for you. Godspeed!

  3. Well, that's one to keep you up at night... I don't think I have ever characterized either of my girls as angelic bundles of joy - especially once they hit junior high. My youngest used to tell me that she was my eternal punishment. There were many days I agreed with her.

    The move sounds exciting, albeit hectic. Best wishes on whittling down the cupboard and the million other things that have to be done between now and then.

  4. Just last weekend I was watching Killer Kids (I think that was the name of the show) and the story of Mary Bell was featured. Weird. Anyway, I hope that you love London. It is my favorite place on earth and I hope to move there eventually.

  5. I am with you on Brett, he was also soooo handsome. A classic face. His illness was so terribly sad. Every time I watch the old Sherlocks I marvel at his performances which became edgier with time. Not to say anything bad about Cumberbatch -- lovely actor too. Really wish I had seen the Frankenstein he did with Jonny Lee, 2 Sherlocks on one stage a couple of years back, they shared the leading roles.

    I am terribly jealous you are going to live in the UK, now you can get all that great BBC library that we can't watch.

    PS One of the things I always used to say when asked why I didn't have kids was something like "with my luck I'd have an ax murderer" Some things are better left alone, why take chances when you really really aren't crazy about kids.

  6. Great other post for the macabre meals series. So happy for you for your move. I would go to jail just to enjoy this great curry.

  7. Convicts should only have it so good!

    Btw, you may kill me for this, but I still like Basil Rathbone the best. I know, I know, but his will always be the Sherlock for me. And even worse, I still like Nigel Bruce.

    Can't wait for your dispatches from London!

  8. God bless your mother who obviously saw beauty in life and others and had a wonderful, productive daughter. I'm sure you've heard the wise saying "you are what you eat"? Hopefully what we choose to focus on and digest in our brain doesn't constitute what we center our lives on, unless of course, it's the beauty in life and goodness in others. Spotlighting evil and making life-changing decisions based on other peoples bad behavior is tragic! What a wAy to live and think after having the beautiful gift of life.

  9. oh my word, you're moving in with the brits... can't think of anything lovelier... so excited for you and Poppa, now you'll only be a hop-and-skip to your many favorite places...

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