It’s true, though; I do mention food a lot; I wrote about the different names for bread rolls and teacakes the other week, and a while ago I related my humiliation when, as a young man, I just ate plain rice from a takeaway. That rice memory has haunted me since, and it keeps dragging other food embarrassments in its wake. Like the day I was offered a peanut in its shell at a schoolmate’s house and because I’d never seen a peanut before I thought you had to eat the shell. My last words, apparently, before I lapsed into a dry-mouthed silence, were, “It’s a bit brittle.” My first visit to an Indian restaurant as a student where I amazed my fellow undergrads by trying to eat the hot towel they give you to wipe your hands on. My last words, apparently, before I rushed from the room in tears were, “There’s not much flavour to it.”
So you can imagine my caution the other day when I went to see my mate Luke in Sheffield. There are many things I like about Luke but the thing I like about him most is that he has a very well-stocked and constantly replenished fruit bowl. I reckon that when you first visit a person you can tell what they’re going to be like by the state of their fruit bowl. I call it McMillan’s Theory of Apples and Pears.
If you’re in a house that’s very minimal, where a trendy young couple tell you they’re sorry about the mess when there really is no mess, you’ll often see a perfectly presented fruit bowl that looks like a still life in a gallery. Apple just here. Pear just here. Other apple just here and banana just… here. In houses like these I often request an apple just to see the looks of horror on their faces.
If you’re in a careless house where they’re always rushing, the fruit is in the bowl but it’s often still in the supermarket bags. And if you’re in a house where they’ve got small children there’s certainly fruit in the bowl but there’s often Lego bricks as well, and doll’s hats and the leg of a cuddly frog.
Luke put the kettle on and gestured towards the fruit bowl, which was like a harvest festival. “Want some fruit?” he said. I did! Luke takes his time buying his fruit from market stalls and he grows quite a lot of his own so it’s nice and misshaped and lumpy. I gazed at the bananas. I really fancied a banana.I picked up one huge banana, peeled it and bit into it. Chewy wasn’t the word. It was like eating a toy rubber python. I masticated manfully. Luke looked up in horror and said a sentence I’ve never heard before in all my 57 years: “You’ve eaten Simone’s plantain!”
I was devastated and I had a mouth full of raw plantain. Leading food websites say they’re inedible raw. They’re right. Sorry Simone: you were planning to cook with that plantain. An unsophisticated bloke from Barnsley turned up and spoiled your evening. Where’s that hot towel?