Ian McMillan: The next rubber tart is just round the corner

They say that good things come in threes. And bad things come in threes. And mediocre things come in threes; I made that last one up, of course, but three does seem to be a magic number. And that’s why I’m on the lookout for rubber tarts because, between you and me, I’m due for one.

The rubber tart in question is a very specific one because it looks just like a tasty jam tart but when you bite into it, guess what? It’s made of rubber. Yes, it’s a joke tart. And I reckon there’ll be one coming my way pretty soon.

Let me explain: my Uncle Jack from Hillsborough would always get the plastic biscuits out when our family went to visit him and Auntie Mary for tea in the 1960s. And the big fake spider on the settee and the sugar cubes that made your cup of tea foam with what looked like vampire’s blood. He liked a practical joke did Uncle Jack and over the years we became wary of his biscuits and his sugar. One year, though, he did us good and proper. He put us in the keep net and kept us there, flapping, to coin a phrase. He offered us a plate of jam tarts that he said Auntie Mary had just baked. They looked lovely, I must admit: the pastry shone and the jam gleamed with what I now know to have been an artificial luminosity. I reached forward and picked one up and bit it. And my teeth bounced off the tart and it fell to the floor. I thought Uncle Jack was going to die laughing. “It’s a rubber tart,” he said, as though I hadn’t guessed.

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Now, by my reckoning that would have been in 1967. I would have been eleven and I thought I was a big lad so being caught out by a rubber jam tart was pretty humiliating.

Fast-forward 25 years to 2002. I’m in North Yorkshire doing a bit of filming for a telly programme about antiques and I’m interviewing a bloke who knows all there is to know (and a great deal more) about doors. We spend all morning talking about doors and in a break in the filming before we spend all afternoon talking about doors he offers us a cup of tea and some jam tarts that, he says, his wife has just baked.

Alarm bells rang faintly down the end of one of my mind’s dustier corridors. It was as though I knew, in some odd way, that history was about to repeat itself. It’s a phenomenon that scientists know as déjà tart. I bit into the tart. My teeth bounced off and the tart rolled across the floor. The door bloke laughed and laughed. I made some gag about feeling a bit unhinged but he didn’t appreciate it. It was as though I was eleven again and sitting in Uncle Jack’s back room.

So now it’s 2011 and I reckon, if things really do come in threes, that I’m due to another rubber tart. It’s been nearly 10 years since I bit into one and I know I had to wait a quarter of a century between tart-based incidents last time, but I can feel it in my bones. There’s a rubber tart somewhere waiting for me to bite it. I’m trying to avoid any tart-based situations where the problem might arise, but I reckon it’s a hopeless task. If a rubber tart’s got your number on it, there’s nothing you can do.

Plastic biscuit, anyone?