As published in this month’s Leither magazine.
In 2012, food got on my nerves. This is not to the extent that I have stopped eating and am dictating these words via the power of thought, but I have lost respect for it. It has, you see, frequently disappeared up its own arse, a phenomenon previously thought impossible given the shape and structural integrity of, say, a crisp.
The crisp, handily, is a perfect example. I presumed that one benefit of austere times would be the retreat of gastro potato chips. Their sea salt and balsamic on hand-reared Wessex potatoes watered by the tears of angels does not seem right in a time of food banks and Wonga.com. Yet they are here, there and everywhere: Tyrrell’s with their Ludlow Sausage and Mustard from bags that rustle like sustainably-sourced sheet metal; Burt’s Hand Fried Parsnip Chips – hand fried, how the fuck does that work? Have they never heard of basic fire safety in Devon?; Marks and Spencer and their Hand Cooked Parmesan, Asparagus and Truffle Herefordshire Potato Crisps – that’s not a flavour, it’s a personality disorder.
None of this would matter if these crisps kept themselves to themselves and only hung around in the kind of larcenous delicatessens whose patrons deserve every eight quid crab baguette they get. But they’re everywhere. It is almost impossible to get a proper bag of crisps in a pub. ‘You want some artichoke and whale skin shavings with yer pint mate? The artichokes are well grazed. And they’re hand fried in organic oil.’
In unison, the language and content of menus has gnawed at me. For years dishes have been ‘on a bed of’ or ‘drenched in’ which was bad enough. Now, we learn of the method by which their ingredients are gathered (‘line-caught mackerel’) and the means by which they are prepared (snigger, ‘pulled pork’, snigger). There is an obsession with geography that goes way beyond Ludlow’s famed sausage fields. If an ingredient does not have an attached location it is suddenly suspect, liable to be stopped and searched, its papers examined by someone who swirls wine around in their glass and thinks drink is for enjoyment, not getting hammered. As that last exaggeration, one in a series of many, tries to demonstrate, this is almost entirely about social class. It is a means by which the bourgeoisie separates itself from the rest; in austere times the linguistics of food are a cheap means of feeling superior.
Christmas is a fertile time to begin the backlash. I had best go: I need to talk to a man about a cage-reared Armenian turkey.
We are the toffee pennies left over at the bottom of your Christmas chocolates tin. You didn’t think we had feelings, but we do. You pushed us aside, day after day until January came. Your whole family, and your guests, rifling through, sometimes picking us out and hurling us back in, disgusted. Occasionally we got as far as the menu stage, checked against a graphic and then discarded, incorrect, unloved. Imagine how this made us feel, the complexes we suffered. And what did you think we were, given our shape? But we are not helpless. Our ostracism has bred steely resolve. We talked to our fellow unloved, us and them, the seasonally snubbed together as one. When you least expect it we will strike. Eat Me Dates and exotic cheese will rise, novelty slippers and last year’s baubles too. When the turkey leftovers cast off the shackles of their Tupperware prison and the candy canes march as one, and when the bottle of advocaat finds her courage, there shall be fireworks. Music, too. And dancing. For we will have a party far greater than your ‘Christmas’. You are not invited.
This season brings thoughts of people gone by. Lately, I keep dreaming of my Grandma, who died at Christmastime two years ago. In the dream, she is always sitting in the same chair, as in life, peacefully working through her puzzle books, a crafty fag burning in a novelty ash tray. I am not there, just watching. This was her near the end, when vibrant yuletides of grandchildren to buy for and their parents to cook for had slipped into the past. Grandma, though, lived with her memories, each of which brought a smile that made West Yorkshire glow. Most stories were funny, even on the 743rd telling. ‘I love the Jews, Danny,’ she’d say. ‘Oh that’s great Gran. How come?’ ‘Well, if you went up posh parts in Leeds they were only ones who gev ye tuppence for cleaning their shoes.’ She is the person who came closest to summing up my own political philosophy: ‘we never vote blue, Danny. Thems not for likes of us.’ If you’ve still got a Gran, listen to her this Christmas. If you’ve not, no matter: her words are here to stay.