You Are Awful (but I like you) is one of the more diverting books of recent times. It chronicles Tim Moore’s travels in a clapped out banger called Craig around some of Great Britain’s perceived grot-spots.
The itinerary includes Middlesbrough, the place where – as the gentleman puts it – he loses his parmo virginity.
The parmo, for the benefit of overseas readers and for those with sensitive stomachs, is a sort of pattie of chicken and parmesan cheese in a bun,usually served with half a stone of chips and said to have been invented by Nico Harris, an American army chef who settled in the Boro after the war.
Let Mr Moore describe his induction, having transported his pizza-box parmo from the Boro across the Tees to Billingham: “Sensations were immediately unleashed that seemed distant from anything Nico Harris could ever have imagined.
“At the heart of my mouthful sat a loose layer of pureed fowl. Outside that a fat sheathling of oiled sponge, and outside that a crusted ooze pairing the odour of century-old Dairylea with the flavour of exhumed whey solids.
“It was like a spam fritter left outside for a year in a land where it rained fondue.”
Teesside loves the parmo, nonetheless, seeks regional protected status for its favourite food in the same way that Cornwall cleaves to the pasty and (presumably) Eccles to its cakes – and here’s the thing, the Ebac Northern League is losing its parmo virginity, too.
They sell them at Thornaby’s smashing canteen, £3 50 a shot, though club chairman Apollo Quadraego is known to wander the ground with cardboard bait boxes, giving them away – “and with Kilimandjaro sauce,” the grateful kids enthuse.
Apollo, admirable and irrepressible, is a former Burkino Faso Under-18s goalkeeper who also runs a restaurant. His parmos would doubtless themselves win international recognition but this is Wednesday night, home to Bedlington Terriers in the Ernest Armstrong Cup, and they only do them on Saturdays.
My parmo initiation must wait a little longer and no good seeking a quote frrom Mike Snowdon, the ENL’s near-ubiquitous media manager. He’s never had one, either.
Thornaby’s ground’s wonderful, improved on every visit and verdant even in the dark. They’re third in the second division, gates up by a third and hopeful of promotion – though no one, including the FA, seems to know how that’s going to work this season.
There’s pre-match music, too, blasted around the ground from a machine the size of an iron lung. “That’s nothing,” says Trevor Wing, the magnificent club secretary, “wait until the teams come out.”
What he doesn’t say is wait until they score, which Paul Blake does inside the first minute. Apollo dashes back to trigger a rap (?) serenade before breaking with several youthful acolytes into an animated dance of celebration.
By the time they score the second, after 35 minutes, I’m studiously at the other end of the ground.
When the music stops it’s 4-2 to Thornaby – and then it starts again, audible at the ten o’clock train station more than a mile away.
Parmo purists may like to note that they’re home to Heaton Stan on Saturday. It’s been a memorable evening; plenty to chew over and great good luck to them.