When I wrote for a sort of living it was on a freelance basis so I never got luncheon vouchers. But I do remember going with the LV crowd to our favourite Italian family run caff in Holborn. I was living on next to nothing and so ordered the same thing, which was more or less the cheapest thing, every day. This was an egg and salad sandwich and a frothy coffee, before we knew what cappuccino was and it was all done by Kenco. The sarnie comprised: two slices of bread ( brown or white, they really didn’t taste any different) spread with marg, a wilted slice of a very floppy lettuce, I can’t remember the type, maybe Cos, not iceberg or romaine, just something that was on its last green legs, the lettuce version of Greta Garbo in Camille. Half a very cold tomato, two slices of cucumber and some sliced hard cooked egg, the yolk covered in a greyish pallor which put me off egg yolks for life.
The frothy coffee was over-boiled milk whipped up into a frenzy, with a small bit of coffee sort of stuff at the bottom. This filled me up til dinner, which was sometimes nothing at all, sometimes a tin of soup and Jamaican water crackers, the appetite dulled by a ten quid wrap of sulphate, or something purporting to be sulphate but you never knew until your nose felt Vimmed and you weren’t really feeling up to staying up all night.
I write this now firmly on the other side of the caff counter. Firmly on the other side of drugs. I make food , I make lunch, often the high point of the day for some desk-bound, boss hating, uni grad saddled with bills, both present rents and old uni fees. I haven’t been to work in a while so I forget that anticipatory smile of “Hey, mediocre lookin, whacha got cookin” that sort of gladdens my heart and has me reciting our menu like an Our Father… This is serious shit. Lunch may be the last time this person feels OK until it’s time to clock off.
I think that caff in Holborn is still there. The sandwiches are now American style, way too big to get your gob around without making a mess. And my mind is cast back to one of my series of very shit jobs after a spell in, let’s just call it a facility. I was at a big restaurant. My main job was washing and polishing glasses which had been full of stuff I could never drink again, but did, still, sometimes anyway. And then I thought, let me have a go at the kitchen, maybe this is where my talent lies, if I have any left. And I was working with this pregnant lady, and she was jaw droppingly beautiful. And she had been to a really good catering school. My job, funnily enough, was washing and spin drying all the lettuce. I say funnily enough because I was sent recently, by mistake, eleven heads of lettuce. I like lettuce, but really not that much , not eleven heads of it.
So there I was with beautiful pregnant lady, sticking all this lettuce into a gigantic sink and after that, a gigantic salad spinner. It really took rather a lot of arm power to spin all that lettuce.
I asked the beauty, “How do you know like, what size chunks to rip the lettuce into, what is too small , what is too big, what is clearly, I’m doing this in a big hurry and don’t give a shit?”
She said, imagine you are on a date, and you order a salad ( the salad in this restaurant was just lettuce and dressing, none of your cukes or strange leaves or cabbage or radishes, just lettuce, and dressing) and you are trying to eat the lettuce but still be ladylike, and to be ladylike you don’t want this big piece of lettuce hanging from your mouth. You want to get a forkful in there and chew and swallow without the guy thinking “Oh my God, look at her, with that lettuce hanging out of her mouth.”
And I said to her, you know, I would never have thought of that. But I would have thought, why are we eating here? All they serve is steak and chicken and some strange patty thing for vegetarians, whom they clearly hold in contempt. And so the chef will hate me, for ordering cheaply, and the date, if I ever have one again ( which I did, and we went on a boat and heard music so lettuce did not come into it) will be thinking, look at this lady with this green stuff hanging out of her mouth. That’s disgusting. And I’d be thinking, look at this guy, eating a bloody steak, served not even on a normal plate but like a wooden board, with all the blood seeping into the wood.
And then maybe I’d stab him. I would say look you bloody meat eating guy with blood drippin out of your mouth, who’s gonna be able to tell if that’s your blood or the cow’s blood. It’s the perfect crime.
Only I don’t believe in violence so that would never happen. We’d probably make small talk and we’d split the bill and I’d never see him again.
I liked the people in that job. I didn’t like the job so much. Now I hardly ever eat out except with my son, who likes Nandos. At home if I cook for my boyfriend I make five different vegetables and something with protein in it. I have a very small salad spinner. I buy bottled dressing. I wish my salad spinner made some sort of musical noise. Then my dining life would be almost perfect.