Do You Remember?

I sometimes eat Butterkist Toffee Popcorn. It was the sort of thing we would normally only get when we went to the pictures when I was wee. We didn’t often go as a family because there were lots of us so it would have been expensive and dad worked shifts as a polis so we would seldom have weekend evenings together for a trip to the cinema in Edinburgh. Finally, my mum only learned to drive when I was in my early teens. Still, we’d go to the NPH in St Andrews when we were on our hols in Fife and the weather was too Fifey to do anything outside.

I remember one trip across from St Andrews to Lundin Links in a more than usually Scottish thunderstorm. There were almost two very Catholic families crammed into a Volkswagen Beetle. We were like one of those record attempts where students would see how many people they could cram into a small car to raise money for charity but we were doing it to get fish suppers. Anyway, one Beetle, lots of noisy kids, several stressed out adults, rain stotting knee-high and arm-thick off the road, lightning flashing all over the place, and my grandmother yelling at us not to touch the sides of the car in case we were struck by lightning.

There is something about the smell of Butterkist. It has a sweaty, sweet smell sometimes that reminds me of something else and I can’t quite place what that is. There are loads of things like that, smells and tastes which trigger a hazy memory and nothing you do can drag the rest of the memory out into consciousness. The synaesthesia doesn’t quite kick in all the way. You taste the madeleines and there’s something there but it’s not enough. The messages go from the tip of the tongue to the back of the mind and get stuck.

There’s a spice I can’t quite identify but it’s in some curries and it’s another of those subtle tastes which almost trigger memories. Maybe it’s not a single spice. Maybe it’s a combination of them. Asafoetida does odd things to other tastes but I like adding it to my curries. I just have to remember to keep the jar tighly sealed, inside a Tupperware box which I bury in the back garden. I can’t describe the flavour because it flits chaotically across my memory, a butterfly sent hither and yon by the currents of other, stronger thoughts. I can’t even tell you the last time I tasted it or what I was eating, just that something almost tripped the switch in my head.

Do you ever feel something in your shoe on a long walk on a cold or wet day? You put up with it because it’s not quite annoying or painful enough for you to go through the faff of finding somewhere sheltered to remove your boot and sock. Nonetheless, finally you find somewhere out of the wind and rain, remove your rucksack, loosen the laces on your boot getting mud all over your hands in the process, take off the boot, waggle your foot in the air so you don’t get your sock wet in the puddles on the ground while you take it off only to find bugger all there. That. That’s the search for that memory. I’m not sure there’s anything really there at all.

I am sometimes surprised that really obvious things aren’t more memorable. Scotch Abernethy biscuits are much sweeter and crisper than ordinary digestives but they leave a particular paste and taste across the roof of my mouth and it’s not completely pleasant. It’s why I don’t have them very often but every now and again I’ll forget that and buy a packet because they go very well with a glass of milk as a nice wee afternoon snackette. I remember I like that but not the slighltly offputting mouth feel.

The trouble for me with talking about memories is that mine isn’t great. I forget names and titles of books very easily. I have picked the wrong sport to follow. Athletics is one sport but it’s so many different disciplines. I have trouble remembering the names of even my athletic heroes. It took me ten minutes to remember Michael Johnson’s name yesterday. I had to go an look stuff up to be sure of his name. I can’t always remember who does what, even if I have a vivid visual memory of an event or a perfomance. I’ve talked before about all the labels falling from the memory so I can’t tell you the identity of someone even if I know exactly who they are and what they’ve done.

I’m off to reinforce some memories now by rewatching The West Wing. That’s apparently what we need to do to make sure memories hang around for longer. While I write, I’m listening to The Buena Vista Social Club which is triggering memories from years ago when my ex used to sing along to Omara Portuondo singing Besame Mucho on a Saturday evening in the house we shared in Oxford. It’s a surprisingly sweet memory to end on.

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Pie And Chips

I know that as an athlete I really need to have a nutritious diet. It’s important to have the correct balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, salts and micronutrients to fuel performance during and sustain recovery between sessions. That’s all well and good but I am an afflete sometimes what I really, really want is a pie and chips.

The previous post about chocolate really should have been a clue to my attitude to food. Food isn’t just fuel. I’ve written before about the complex relationships some of us have with food. I enjoy it – cooking, thinking about it, preparing it, even peeling potatoes. Food for me is a celebration and how do you celebrate something as mundane as getting to the end of a Monday? Pie and chips.

It wasn’t even a good pie and chips. It was a dodgy chip shop pie and really ordinary chips but it hasn’t really been a very good Monday, as far as Mondays go. A better day would have meant I might have been more inclined to make some pastry, blind bake the bottom while I stewed some beef and onion before assembling the pie. Double- or even triple-cooking the chips so that the insides are fluffy and the outsides are crispy? A task for another day when I’m not knackered from work and then training.

And there’s the thing. If you’re serious about your training and performance (or you’re just not fit enough for what’s on the plan) then you’re going to be completely spannered at the end of the session. The last thing you can really cope with is putting together much at all. I had planned some grilled chicken accompanied by puy lentils and spinach tonight but leaving circuits with Mary I knew I was too tired to cook even that much. The chip shop would be open and they would sell me a sad pie and reasonable chips and I could at least fill my stomach with cheering food if not exactly good food. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

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Food, Glorious…

I want to talk about food. It’s so much more than just nutrition. We have a complex, complicated, infuriating relationship with food. It’s bound up in external power structures and personal struggles for freedom or control.

There have been times when I just couldn’t be arsed to eat but that’s depression for you. Hunger failed to overcome lassitude until I could summon the oomph to toast some bread or boil a kettle for tea. There was just the smallest feeling that I might not be able to move my arse from the bed or the sofa but I could overcome the need to eat. Sometimes even the smallest and most stupid victory is all you have. There could be something of a much larger magnitude going on for some people living with eating disorders. I don’t really know.

In a more positive way, there is food as celebration. I’m an awful one for cake. It’s a code for a small luxury or reward and not just a confection of flour, eggs and sugar. It’s notable that we celebrate with cake and not, say corned beef sandwiches. (Other sandwiches are available.) We have birthday cakes and wedding cakes, cakes at Christmas and Easter and to mark every other celebration. Cake is acceptable when alcohol just isn’t and not just when children are involved.

I’d like to know why. Why it’s cake, that is, and not bread or cheese or fruit or honey or anything else. A birthday sausage is somehow almost completely wrong and not just for vegetarians. Sugar has been a luxury and indulgence for centuries. It’s very expense made it a means to display the wealth of the person laying on the spread. The depth of a man’s purse on display in the delicious shape of a very sweet slab of cake.

Celebratory cakes are an evident hangover from those times. We have a cultural memory of hand-crafted display and indulgence even if we can buy some mass-produced, iced confection from a supermarket for a couple of quid. I’m still not sure why it’s cake and not another expensive foodstuff like squid ink pasta, for example.

All those beautiful, tasty, sweet and sugary calories in cake bring me back to  the complex emotional relationship we have with food. There is that slight tang of guilt that some of us swallow with every mouthful. If food is a reward for “good” behaviour then starvation can be a punishment for “bad” behaviour and there we have a very simple and probably completely inaccurate explanation of the origins of eating disorders.

I don’t want to talk about them and not only because I don’t know enough about them. Whatever I say about anorexia or bulimia or dysphoria would probably upset someone for no good reason and I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to link to Beat’s website and point you there. Whereof thou knowest nought, thereof thou shouldst keep silent. Nevertheless, if you know someone who would benefit from help, please point them or their loved ones in the right direction.

Remove the joy and the fellowship from food completely and you’re left with food as nutrition. The only place I’ve ever heard of food only as nutrition is from the founder of a company called Soylent. I can’t find the reference here to the interview. The attitude lying behind this product is that food is just food, a means to keep physiology running. I disagree completely, of course. A shared meal is an opportunity to bond and talk, to exchange ideas and news. When you do it, where you do it and what you eat while you’re doing it are all less important than the people you share the meal with and that you talk while you’re doing it. I don’t think you’d have much of a shared experience over a vat of concocted food powder. You’d have a better meal of porridge. The emotional connection goes through the food somehow to the other people.

All food comes from somewhere of course. Its production and distribution is increasingly complex. There are geo-political implications involved for nations in considering their food security. Meat production uses up land and resources and demand for meat is increasing as more people become wealthier. We’re going back to food as display here. I really want to talk about GMOs in food but that’s probably another post when I’ve had a chance to do more research. I’m not going to talk off the cuff about that. I will say now that I can see the value in using as many different technologies as possible to meet the challenge of feeding the billions of people living on our planet. The rational thing would be for us all to farm maggots or eat Soylent or its like but we’re not at all rational about food and that takes me back to where I started.

Sorry for the lack of swearing this week. Normal service will be resumed soon when I talk about fuckwits or falling over.

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