By all means, you’re welcome to eat any way you see fit; I’ll just use the spoon…

Neither electricity nor pomposity is the silent servant; it is manners—

Recalled with the assistance of Conrad, The Wine Wanker

nouvelle_cuisine_cartoonThere are people who mean what they think, then say what they mean; and some are just mean and don’t think, then say whatever they damn-well please.

I am not renown for being pompous. It is however a useful tool to have in your armoury, particularly when it needs to be pointed out in others. As a communication method, it is practically impossible to take seriously, thereby lending its itself perfectly to other more declarative forms of expression. But under no circumstances would I advise for, the pompous rhetorical question: that would be in shockingly poor taste. Especially when it involves food.

When used for bringing volume to one’s airs in a manner more supercilious than enlightening however, I find the very register of immediate comic effect. It can sound so aloof and so lofty that I’d have little trouble receiving the positions of cannibals, revolutionaries, reactionaries, nuisance-callers, even vegans owing to the very towering nature of their argument. This is something I fail to see as bad thing, because in the end gravity always wins.

It’s actually a style I like to frequent from time to time, as it puts me in mind of a more civilised time and affords me the use of a lexicon that would otherwise look out of place and silly. Add to that an inwardly facing superiority, whereby rendering only myself as little foolish and it makes the business of remembering things a somewhat pleasant jolly. So with that throw-back in mind, I’d like to cast back some twenty years to Rheims, the world’s champagne capitol.

Rheims was hosting a week long, sister-city ceremony with the Germans, Austrians and Italians and of course the Britainnians for sporting events, drama, frivolity, art and food, with the intention to bring together the very best of our national and cultural identities and celebrating our differences. The Maastrict treaty was in its infancy, so it was a all a bit of a to-do.

Anyway, I had been selected for Canterbury’s cricket team and we had been selected to travel with the rugby squad— a term I use lightly: not before nor since have I ever witnessed beer-swilling quite like it in a bus, nor the heckling; as not a single lady escaped the collective cheers of Nicole Papa along the route, as our burly continent appropriated the same side of the bus to suck the windows. The driver was certainly nonplussed, harvesting fears, as some of us were, that we might at any moment capsize; fears, in no way allied by my impression that rugby was supposed to be a game played by gentleman. My dad however, was just praying they didn’t burst into the chicken song.

Upon arrival, we checked in to our hotels then made our way to the town-centre to be entertained by a gathering of troupes from our respective homelands. It was magnificent, the costumes, mediaeval weaponry, assorted acrobatics, the costumes and colour. It was pageantry at it’s very finest, all meticulously choreographed and splendid— until we found the British.

For all of the rich and vibrant history we boast, our contribution to this culturally dynamic affair, was Morris dancing: a side of black-faced, befeathered men and women in boiler-suits trying to brain each other with big sticks and bells. I cringed. There wasn’t a canon or spadroon in sight, just Morris dancing— and not even the type I mind least. Not only did it have an improvised feel to it, but when the mascot attempted to juggle with one ball, he dropped it.

To describe it as as a bit of a let down would be gross, but with the banquet at the mayor’s residence to look forward to, not to mention the cricket, the gala and evening laser-show— there was plenty potential to wipe the disappointment bare and salvage the experience. That was the hope anyway. Actual hope, and then the dinner happened…

You’ll have to imagine the dining hall for yourselves: hundreds of years old, a vast ceiling laden with gold leaf and quite the most exquisite carpentry. The tables were round and we were seated randomly for the most part— I found space for our group so we could dine as one and alighted with genuine excitement. It just so happened we ended up sharing a table with the chairman of one of the Arts Committees— no doubt the chap responsible for the fiasco earlier; and it wasn’t long before all the hopes and joy began to seep away.

If you’ll permit me, I must impress upon you how noisy his style was. He spoke loudly, his word choices thunderous. I think without labouring the point, you’ll know the type: he wanted to be in charge of the dinner table; in fact, left to his own devices, I’m sure he would’ve eaten our meals for us too. Unfortunately for us, he made it so we could hear everything he said, and the next table and quite possibly the table next to that.

I have mellowed a lot since then in a number of ways— I have become more tolerant of things others may say to me, about me or even near me— now whether or not these things are in the best of intentions or otherwise, what I do object to, now, just as I did then, is having manners thrust upon me. I deplore rudeness you see: it takes the same amount of time and effort to be pleasant as it does to be a dick; it never ceases to amaze me why certain fellows would choose the latter?

So, long before even the starters had been served, it had been impossible— quite impossible to ignore all the chat about etiquette. It was etiquette this and etiquette that and etiquette, etiquette, etiquette. To be fair to him, I had considered he may have been overcome by the splendour, but as long as he kept himself to himself. I may have been young, but I certainly knew not to eat from the inside out.

Suffice to say, I was taking an ever increasing dislike to him and his nose. When they are decidedly upturned, endearing yourself to another is quite the gift, and nostril-hair is the last thing you want to be thinking about before tucking into a posh meal. So when this chap leaned over, obviously mistaking us for riff-raff and reminded us exactly where we were and not to forget our etiquette, I turned to him and smiled and with as rounded and precise a smile as I’ve ever made, and told him ‘bollocks!’.

Then proceeded to eat my entire meal with a spoon..

Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential

True story…

Image: Royston Cartoons

In what must’ve been the second worst journey in the world: patting the journeyman & 12 hours on a coach…

Coaches are the devil

Satan himself must travel this way.

Horse-drawn_coach,_Tolaga_Bay,_Gisborne_Region,_c._1880sI’ve often wondered if I’d look back one day and consider the following twelve hours of my life with amusement or horror; and whether or not the experience had been a terrific one. And this is that day— it was as I feared, a long time in the coming— I do however, still have nothing but the most hostile opinion of it. I detest coaches, hate them, they’re the very ass of public transportation— I hate them almost as much as travelling on them and this particular 588 was no exception: Unless of course the horror of this journey could be classified as exceptional, which it was, but only in the loosest possible sense.

Not only was I stuck for prolonged periods— actually stuck— wedged between safety glass and a guy determined to fill all the space available to him and a large proportion of the space purportedly mine. But, I also found myself sitting atop a heating element hell-bent on melting me; no doubt ensuring that if he’d wanted to— my immediate neighbour could’ve taken over the entire bench, with barely the minimum of fuss.

The heat was also clearly upsetting a few of the other passengers; and it wasn’t just owing to the smells of searing flesh. I may not have been able to see them through the sweaty mist that had been steadily accumulating since our departure at Victoria— but the groaning was unmistakable, no doubt related to the unusual climate we were amidst. There were grunts of dismay and the occasional thud I attributed to the simoom whirling about us causing passengers to either faint; or lose their way and walk into something— something I had no intention of doing myself— even if I’d wanted to.

I valued my pride you see, and with it firmly intact, albeit lacking a few hundred pounds where my sweat had been, for lack of a better word: leaking through the very minimum of clothing I felt comfortably decent in; I maintained ‘decorum’— in its most ‘primitive’ state you understand, until Keele— and this was some six and some odd hours into the ride. It was round about this time I decided, decorum be damned, and negotiated the corpse to my right and headed for the higher ground of the central aisle only to find myself surrounded by a litter of unluckily-plucky fellows who had clearly got lost en route to the chemical toilet at the rear and fallen over. It was here I stayed until we disembarked for the grand duration of thirty minutes into the chilly northern evening…

Feeling the need to take matters into my own hands, I approached the driver with my concerns regarding the ludicrous state of affairs taking place behind him, to which he merely asked whether or not it was because it was too hot or too cold. Obviously, I found the resolve to smutter loosely at his hutzpah; informed him that I quite fancied most of us had reported seeing camels since our departure and if he wouldn’t mind and could muster it— could he please turn down the heat…

Whether or not he complied is beyond me, but the sand laden winds deceased and there were fewer individuals cluttering up the walk way. I occupied the inside seat this time, which I soon discovered, came with its own set of problems. Unlike my companion, who was at times using my shoulder as a dribbling mat, I couldn’t really bring myself to lean excessively— I could tilt backwards or forwards, something I did-so thoroughly and decided: while it may be fine for the upper body, comfort was of no avail for the lower extremities; something I couldn’t forget with my legs now letting the rest of me know all about it whenever they possibly could. And though it was frighteningly annoying, this— I could have coped with. Constant jostling is something that can be ignored with a practicable ignorance; a leaky roof however, is completely different…

So there it was, one of life’s little ironies. Since I had already been cooked for all intents and purposes, crushed and changed seats— and despite my best efforts completely unable to discover any reasonable means of establishing comfort— it was decided that my insult was to be to rubbed further by a steady stream a water from which I was powerless to escape.

My sighs, as you can imagine, became more pronounced and the onset of snow at the journey’s end seemed to be a fitting accompaniment to the heat, dampness, discomfort and sleeplessness…

They may go round but they drive me up the wall—

Such is the way of the wheel…

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