It was a Sunday night in early January when I called Dynasty Cantonese Cuisine, the Chinese takeaway housed in a little freestanding stone building in our market square. The phone rang and rang. No answer. They must be too busy to pick up. I persuaded husband to bundle up and accompany me on the block long walk to place our order in person. This is when we first noticed the sign:
We are closed until further notice. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
How disappointing. There was no food — well no food we wanted to eat — in the fridge, which led to the usual range of accusations from husband about my deficiencies as a wife, including my lack of ambition in the domestic art of grocery shopping. We retreated into the comforts of a new season of American Idol and cheese toast, my trusty standby dinner.
Another week passed and the sign remained. Theories abounded. “They’re just on holiday. They went away last year this time for a few weeks. They’ll be back.” Or, “Probably just some trouble with Immigration. They’ll be back.” Every theory ended with “They’ll be back.” I was skeptical. If the owners were going on vacation why not just say so? Vacations end on a date, not “until further notice.” The sign was ominous.
January came to a close and the Chinese failed to open. Panic started to spread in the village. People who had been known to snobbishly refer to Dynasty as “Die Nasty” looked thin and stricken. Toff and townie alike mourned the loss of barbequed spare ribs and chips on demand (French fries being a legitimate rice substitute in England).
There was a brief period last year when I swore off the Chinese. I found that a bottle of Gamay finished off with a 10PM meal of prawn toast, veggie chow mein, and Kung Pao chicken invariably resulted in me waking with a start at 2am, eyes wide and heart pounding, fuelled by the sugar and sodium bomb my body was attempting to digest. But by and large the Chinese holds a special place in my heart. It’s been with us since the beginning of our Cotswold adventure when we used to stop off in the village on Friday nights en route to our rented cottage in G.P. We’d natter over a glass in the wine bar with R. the barman while waiting for our takeaway feast to be readied. And it’s rescued us on occasion over the past year when guests have come to visit and somehow the dinner reservation was missed because another bottle of Prosecco at the wine bar seemed like a good idea. It’s even been the epicentre of village intrigue and scandal, including the tale of the local aristocrat who attempted to get a meal gratis and a rumored drug bust.
The charm of Dynasty was its anti-charm. It was a brusque, efficient, cash-only kind of place manned by a steely faced, thirty-something, presumably married Malaysian couple. The wife, a slight woman forever in an oversized t-shirt and baseball cap, ran front of house from behind a tall counter. Decoration was sparse, consisting of some peeling wall paper dotted with gold Chinese characters, an oversized calendar, and a shelf displaying soda cans on offer. Was there also a large waving ceramic cat on the counter or am I imagining that? Her husband fired the food in the kitchen behind, which was separated by a doorway that was hung with a plastic shower curtain liner cut in half. That day’s Sun newspaper was always on the front counter to provide entertainment while waiting for your food, which was just as well since conversation with the woman was hard work. Once, feeling chatty after a few glasses of wine, I thought I’d managed to forge a bond by coaxing out of her that she was from Kuala Lumpur, a city where I had also briefly lived years ago. After that I was convinced she had started to give me free prawn crackers until I realized everyone who spent £15 or more got them.
Now February is drawing to a close, the ominous sign remains affixed to the window, and the door locked. Around the village the mourning process is moving from denial to acceptance. Goodbye Dynasty. You fed us well. You will be missed.