Ian McMillan: How to raise a stink with a holiday snack

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Funny how your mind works, how various words can have invisible threads that link them to each other in a way that would make no sense to anybody else. For instance, if we were playing a game of word association and you said ‘nappy’, I’d say ‘cheese’. Obvious, really. Well, it is to me.

This took root many years ago when the kids were little; one (or maybe more) of them was still nappy-bound and we made sure we had a plentiful supply of disposables when we chugged off on holiday to a gite in a part of France that could best be described as remote. In fact, if there was a word beyond remote, like re-remote, that gite was it.

The only other thing I remember about the gite was that the cottage next door was guarded by enormous dogs that seemed to have something against English people. As soon as they heard us talking they’d set up a chorus of Gallic barking that you could almost hear across the Channel, but when they heard French people speaking they’d just wag their tails and do canine versions of that old Parisian shrug.

The area may have been remote, but it was very good for cheese. Now, I love cheese but, as my Auntie Mabel used to say about piccalilli, it doesn’t like me. It fills me up and makes me feel fat and sluggish. I love it, mind you, and I kept treating myself to obscure fromages from obscure shops in villages that were, you guessed it, obscure. If my wife said anything to me in a warning way about the cheese I’d laugh and say, ‘Well, I’m on my holidays!’ and the hearty laughing would make my cheeks wobble in a way I’m sure they hadn’t before the trip began. In one particular cheese-cavern of a shop I remember requesting a variety that looked innocuous; it sat there, cheesily, in the window. I just bought a little bit. Not too much. Just a tranche to have with my late-night baguette once the kids had nodded off and the dogs had stopped barking and (once the Moon was out) howling. I should, I now know, have taken more notice of the shopkeeper’s raised eyebrow, of his amused glance at his mate in the apron who was slicing the cheese for me. I didn’t. I took the cheese from the shop and we put it in the car boot then drove to a beach or a beauty spot or perhaps both. That was our first mistake. We forgot about the cheese. That was our second mistake.

Later that afternoon, on our way back to the gite my wife and I began to notice a bit of a miasma around the car. A whiff. A pong. A slight alteration in the air. We turned round and grumpily accused one or more of the kids of having a dirty nappy. We stopped in a layby and checked: clean bottoms.

We drove on. The pong became a smell. The smell became a stink. The stink became a stench. We stopped at another layby. The kids were almost passing out and my wife and I didn’t feel too crisp. I was sure it as a discarded nappy that was lurking in the car. We searched high and, believe me, low.

And, of course, you all know what it was. It was the cheese. Mind you, I got my own back: I threw it to the dogs.