Sometimes destiny gives you a collection, whether you want one or not. It seems I have started to collect other people’s odd eating habits.
I had better explain …
The Once family were eating lunch at a restaurant last weekend, when I found myself watching someone at a nearby table eating a burger.
That might sound a tad creepy, but please hear me out. It took on the quality of a ritual.
First he disassembled the burger. With the careful expertise of a surgeon he removed the greenery from the burger and laid it to one side of his plate.
So far, so humdrum. Lots of blokes don’t like astroturf spoiling their dead animal flesh. I mildly wondered why he didn’t order it without the green stuff, but – hey – it’s not a biggie.
Then he reassembled the burger. Bottom bun (if I can use that indelicate phrase), chunk of fried cow, crispy bacon strips.
He took the upper burger bun in his right hand and proceeded to douse it liberally with vinegar. And I do mean liberally as in “a lot”, not Liberally as in a somewhat discredited UK political party.
With the top bun well-loaded with acid, he reassembled the burger. Then he sprinkled on an industrial quantity of salt over the top of the bun. If the salt had been sugar you might have imagined that he was icing a cake.
By now I was transfixed. I couldn’t take my eyes of his burger. If you will pardon the expression.
But then the tease. He ignored the burger and grazed the chips around it. The salty and acidic monstrosity stood proud on his plate while he cleared the vegetation all around it. The suspense was starting to affect me. Was he going to leave it to the bitter (literally) end?
Nope. There was another delight to come. After a few minutes of chip eating, he takes his knife and fork and cuts a very precise triangular wedge from his burger. It looked almost exactly like your gran cutting a piece of cake. A perfect triangle which seemed to have an apex in the exact centre of the burger.
It looked for all the world like a cross-dressing burger, with manly beefy and baconny bits masquerading as a delicate sponge cake.
And that reminded me of an incident which had happened a few years ago in a hotel in the Cotswolds. I was eating an evening meal with the good lady wife when I spotted a married couple of advanced years sitting at another table.
The thing that caught my eye was that the lady had a rather large handbag on the table in front of her. And that was odd.
The couple then proceeded to eat a meal, each of them with their own very particular habits.
He ate a piece of battered fish which he subjected to torture by seasoning. First, he picked up the fish by its tail. Then he applied a huge amount of salt and pepper to the underside of the fish.
Laying the fish back down on the plate, he continued to season the top. By now a small cloud of salt and pepper had gathered around his plate and was drifting towards nearby diners.
He did all of this slowly and methodically. He was in no rush.
Meanwhile his wife was doing something amazing and quite possibly kinky with chains. She reached into her handbag and drew out a length of silver chain with bulldog clips on either end. I swear I had never seen such a thing outside of the Ann Summers catalogue.
She then draped the chain around her neck so that one loose end dangled over each of her particularly large bosoms. By this point my imagination was doing backflips.
She attached the bulldog clips to either side of a napkin, which hung across her chesticles like a mighty sail in days of Nelsonic bravery on the high seas.
It was at this point that I noticed that she had several other chains around her neck. At least one was attached to a pair of spectacles, but several others disappeared in the darkness of a prehistoric cleavage. We can only imagine what they might have been attached to.
The chains seemed to be her way of exerting control. Everything was tied down and in its place. She carried out her ritual slowly and deliberately, like an ancient Japanese tea ceremony.
What struck me about all three was that they had developed their own personal rituals for eating a meal. I got the impression that this was how they ate every meal. It had to be “just so”.
Some of these issues were connected to taste. Burgerman and Fishman clearly liked a little bit of food under their salt. But some of the rituals were about neatness and things being right – Chain Lady’s bosom napkin sail and Burgerman’s neat triangle wedges.
Perhaps that is how we deal with a chaotic and dangerous world. We impose our own rituals and processes. It may not be the only way to eat a burger. It may not be the right way. But it’s our way, damn it, and that means something to us.
Come to think of it, does it really make the slightest bit of difference whether a vodka martini is shaken, not stirred?