Here I am, sitting on a train somewhere in West Yorkshire. It’s mid afternoon which means that the carriage is fairly quiet, as opposed to sitting in the Quiet Coach which is always noisy, with people bellowing into their mobiles “I can only talk for a few minutes because I’m in the Quiet Coach and people are staring at me!”
I decide to take a risk, to get my apple out of my briefcase and eat it. Those of you who know me will know what a huge risk this is, because I’m officially Barnsley’s Loudest Apple Eater, a dubious honour which I wear with a mixture of pride and shame. After all, it’s good to be the best at something, even it’s only the deafening chomping of fruit, but on the other hand you’d think that a chap would be able to munch a Cox’s without the Noise Abatement Society getting involved. Not me: I can’t. Put it down to the shape of my lips. Or sheer greed.
I gaze at the apple; so round, so sweet, so innocent. At this point so silent, like a saxophone in its case. I take a bite. I find it’s always the first bite of the apple that’s the noisiest. I reckon Adam and Eve got chucked out of the Garden of Eden not because they saw they were naked, but because they made such a row as they bit into the apple. My first bite echoes round the train carriage like a small explosion. My fellow passengers look out of the window as though something terrible has happened. A slumbering businessman wakes with a start, his glasses awry. A little girl looks as though she’s about to sob and looks to her shaken mother for comfort. I try to make my face make reassuring shapes but the bite of apple I took is so huge that I look like a hamster at a gurning contest.
That’s the thing with the first bite: it’s always bigger than you think. You intended to take a small mouthful but you’ve ended up with about half the apple in there. You can hardly breathe. You’ve got to chew as hard and as fast as you can. Now the noise builds: your mouth is so full that you have to chew with it open, so you sound like a combination of cement mixer and tumble drier. The other people in the carriage look on in horror. An elderly woman frowns at me: I guess she used to be a teacher and that frown would bring a classroom to a silent halt but it doesn’t stop me chewing because, to be honest, once I’ve started I can’t stop.
The train enters a tunnel and the lights dim, apart from one which lights me up from above. It’s as though I’m on stage or being interrogated. I take advantage of the fact that the rest of the carriage is in semi-darkness to take another bite, then another and I’m trying to eat the whole apple before we emerge into the light.
Too late. We’re out of the tunnel and I’ve still got a bit left. Let me confess here that I like to eat the whole apple: the core, the pips, the stalk. I regard it as a three-course vegetarian meal. The little girl looks at me in horror: “That man’s going to get apple trees growing in his tummy!” she tells her mother. Yes, and it’ll serve me right if they grow at 200 decibels. Crunch!