Ian McMillan: Slipping up on the huge banana in the fruit bowl

Regular readers of this column have pointed out to me, usually in loud voices as they drive by in fast cars, that I write about food a lot. Well, they’ve got a point. A point like a lovely pointy carrot from the Yorkshire loam. Stop it.

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.

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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?