Ian McMillan: I feel oddly morally superior. Until my sandwich comes

I glance out of the café window at the rain. A car pulls up opposite the café and a man clambers out. It’s an ungainly clamber, to be honest, because this gentleman is what my mother would have called ‘big boned and stiffish’. Put it this way; his shirt sizes are covered in kisses: XL, XXL, XXXL. He ambles to the back seat and pulls something out, something vast. At first sight it could be a sack of the sort Santa would have, or it could be a pillow case. Closer examination, as I rub the steam away from the café window, reveals it to be a bag of crisps. A bag of crisps the size of a baby rhino.

The man continues to walk round the back of the car, where he flops down on a bench. He rips open the bag and grabs a handful. I can hear him crunching them through the window’s thick and solid glass. I feel oddly morally superior. Until my sandwich comes.

My ham sandwich had been described on the menu as coming with a ‘garnish’ and I imagined this would mean a lettuce leaf and an apologetic tomato, and they were there, certainly, but they were hidden beneath an avalanche of crisps. Lovely, lovely, crisps. The man on the bench carries on sticking his hand into the seemingly endless bag of crisps.

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It’s like the Magic Porridge Pot in the fairy tale; it’s the crisp packet that keeps on giving. I nibble a crisp, as though taking smaller bites renders the crisp beneficial to my health. I remember I once ran a poetry workshop for older people in a library and I based the entire session around the idea of crisps, of crisp nostalgia, crisp etiquette, crisp buying and eating. Some might say I rushed into the library without a plan and because I saw an empty bag of crisps in a bin, that became my plan. Some might say I planned the session on a series of postcards with bullet points and learning outcomes. You decide.

The workshop was an unqualified success, mind you; we talked and wrote and laughed and rewrote for ages. People recalled the crisps with the twisty bags of salt in, and one man said that he once got six in one pack; a woman remembered, in the days when you won prizes in bags of crisps.. A man described how his uncle would eat every last crisp from the packet, banging the bottom of the bag over his open mouth as he tried to get the last shard of mini-crispette from the salty recesses. Lots of the older people talked about crisps as treats, as occasional rewards, as things that were just a tiny bit exotic and sophisticated. One lady recalled that her posh auntie always put crisps out for visitors in what she called ‘finger bowls’ although they looked suspiciously like ashtrays in the afternoon light.

In my reverie I realise I’ve been eating all the crisps on the plate and ignoring the sandwich and salad. My lips feel salty. I feel the need for more crisps. Would it be naff to ask the waiter for a few more?

Or a bagfull? Or maybe they’ve got catering-sized bags of crisps like the one the bloke on the bench has got. He’s still there, by the way.

Still munching. Ah: the endless satisfaction of crisps.