Tag Archives: food fear

My chopsticks anxiety hell

Every time I’m within 10 feet of a noodle, it’s the same. That creeping anxiety in anticipation of the inevitable; the resentful side-eye to the two slender wooden oppressors at my hand. Try us, they say, maybe this time you’ll finally get it right. My blood runs cold and my face flushes.

“Um, could I have a fork, please?”

If this were a saloon bar in the wild west, the piano player would stop abruptly and everyone would turn to face me. As it is, it’s a ramen restaurant in Kensington and apart from the Korean couple at the next table glancing over in curiosity that I choose to interpret as derision, nobody I’m with really cares whether I use chopsticks or not. They are used to me now.

I have tried. Many, many times. Before Google, I remember reading a guide in a magazine on how to hold chopsticks. Like a pen, apparently. I remember the diagram on the yellowing pages, with a tea stain just off to the right, which showed a cartoon finger deftly holding a set, with a small arrow to show the movement you could make. Every time, years later, as a grown adult, when I found chopsticks in my hand, I would remember that diagram. Everything about it in photographic detail: yellowing edges, tea stain, magazine, the arrow, the movement. Everything but how to hold them. I must hold my pen differently than the rest of the world. Like I ever even hold a pen these days anyway.

Around seven times out of ten, when confronted with them, I’ll pick them up anyway. I can manage to get gyoza to the plate without any major incident, although I am always self-conscious they will collapse when I pick them up and the other people I’m sharing them with will roll their eyes. Sushi, yes, just about OK, especially maki rolls. But bowls of noodles? Or broth? Oh, come on – we’ll be here all day.

It’s a failure, isn’t it? Like most things, it’s not just that I can’t do it which bothers me – it’s the reaction from others. Men on dates, especially. I would usually avoid any chopstick-related food on a date, but you don’t want to look like a basic, uncultured goon, so if they suggested it, I would go along. I had a speech about my use of a fork prepared – which wasn’t hard as they almost always said the same thing.

“It’s an insult to the food/chef/restaurant to eat it with a fork.” The food can’t talk, the chef can’t see, the restaurant cares only that I pay and don’t phone up tomorrow complaining of food poisoning. Next.

“It’s very typically Western to refuse to learn how to use them.” I didn’t refuse, I just can’t. It doesn’t work. Same as I can’t play a piano or suck myself off. I made a valiant effort with each but sadly it just didn’t work out. The food still tastes the same.

“You’re disrespecting the culture.” I am not at a formal banquet with the Vietnamese president, I’m on a date in Viet Hoa sharing a summer roll with what appears to be the official UK representative for the boring halitosis contest. Whether I plunge a fork or a chopstick into my food is irrelevant, and the whole point of eating is you enjoy your food and you’re having a nice time, not awkwardly spearing prawns and taking three hours to trap a noodle because it looks better.

But this is a “thing”, isn’t it? It’s part of the trend for fetishising food and the way we prepare and eat it. It’s part #foodporn and part desperate search for authenticity where previously, perhaps, you had none. It’s kind of ironic the increased pressure on food to be an experience, that you not only savour but promote as part of your lifestyle, tends to remove the very thing food is supposed to give you – pleasure. And the even more bizarre thing is that the pressure comes not from ourselves, usually, but others.

Consider steak bores. We’ve all met one. You’ll be in a restaurant, in a group, and once you have spent a good 20 minutes debating whether it is okay to order the same as someone else – it is it is it is, for GOD’S sake, just eat what you like – you will order the steak and, for some reason, this decision comes under scrutiny that somehow evades presidents, CEOs and newspaper magnates. Say you want your steak “well done” – or even “medium well”, which I notice is increasingly becoming the target of a steak bore’s ire – and you leave yourself open to another 20 minutes of huffing, puffing and, quite frankly, unwelcome opinion about the way you’re about to eat your food. I even feel duty bound to point out here I have my steak “medium”, to avoid the inevitable postbag from steak bores who will walk over hot coals – that their steak will barely touch because they are real men (always men sorry) who eat their steak rare – to tell me how wrong I am.

Once, on hearing a guy say he “couldn’t understand why someone would have their steak any other way than rare”, I decided to bite. It had been a long evening and I hadn’t particularly enjoyed his company that much. I asked him why. He said something about flavour and, I think, disprespecting a chef – so much fucking STANNING for these stripey-aproned kitchen gods, eh – and also there was some murmuring about tradition or whatever, but any now he was losing me because all he was doing was parroting received opinion on steaks when really I wanted to get to this guy’s essence. I wanted go beyond that increasingly unattractive pink mouth and bulging eyes and infiltrate his DNA to find out what he personally felt about it, and why this bothered him. He would never taste this person’s well-done steak. Those who order well-done steaks do not, as far as I am aware, carry a huge sign with them telling the world they do this, so any secondhand embarrassment a steak bore would feel would be restricted to the dinner table and, wonderfully, totally unavoidable should he decide to keep his big, slack mouth buttoned.

Someone liking their food cooked in a way that is preferable to them says little more other than they know what they like, perhaps they are not keen to try new things, but largely, it has absolutely no bearing on you whatsoever, unless you manage to hide what a grotesque snob you are and progress the relationship enough that they end up cooking for you sometime. And then you can simply tell them: “I like my steak bloody, thanks”, and if they baulk then you can actually rejoice! Because they too are basics who give more than the necessary zero fucks any of us should be giving about how other people eat.

Eventually, after perhaps seven or eight minutes of this discussion, the man saw the error of his ways – or at least, he said he did; he probably just wanted me to stop interrogating him – and conceded that, yes, someone eating a different way from him was fine, because it was better they had something they liked than sit in misery, chewing raw meat because they were bullied into thinking how they ate was wrong.

There’s no problem with encouraging people to try new things. We like to play teacher and it can be a genuine source of joy to introduced another to something you adore and see them feel the same. But it depends where the idea is coming from. It’s natural that we try to find common ground, as it’s an easy way to get people to like us, but if we like to eat noodles with a fork, or a cremated steak, or prefer poached eggs to fried, or ask for gluten-free pudding, and then do not tell us we are wrong or, perish the thought, uncultured for it. The world is not your Eliza Doolittle.

Most of the world’s problems come from intolerance of one kind or another. Start small – let me eat my noodles how I please. I’ll do the same for you one day. And with the world changing and becoming more horrific and wondrous at the same time, both at lightning speed, who knows when you’ll need me on your side?

Now, be a dear, and hand me my fork.

This post originally appeared in The Truth About Everything*, my regular mailout where subscribers can receive new writing by me before anyone else. Its not a newsletter;  I never have any news. Just writing. You can sign up for it here.

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Valentine’s Day: Say no to romance at gunpoint

Thanks to the internet and snark becoming an acceptable way of life, moaning about Valentine’s Day and deriding everyone who gets involved in it is almost as big an institution as buying your beloved a bouquet on the day.

And it’s highly monetised, with cash changing hands for a billion think pieces on the death of romance.

We mock those who simply must book a romantic meal for two on February 14th, because either their partner will give them the silent treatment from the 15th until the end of March, or, more usually, because everyone else expects you to be doing something for it. And if you’re not doing something, they want to know why not. Welcome to the dictatorship that is Valentine’s Day.

I’m not bitter, though. I don’t care about commercialisation, tacky helium-filled balloons or bright red valentines imploring you to roger me senseless. I’m unmoved by special Valentine menus and badly  mixed ‘romantic’ cocktails named after cocks and tits. Lovers inspired by Fifty Shades Of Grey and throttling themselves with chicken wire? Up to you. No problem. All good.

What bothers me about Valentine’s Day is that it’s not a day for lovers to show how much they love each other. It’s actually a chance to show off, to not-so-humbly brag about how happy and in love you are. Like a really cheap annual wedding. If nobody else were watching, you’d be on the sofa scratching your arse and arguing over the takeaway menu like any other normal day.

My least favourite parts:

People getting flowers at work
If you have ever sent flowers to someone at their workplace: fuck off. Go on, just eff right off and don’t come back. You’re shameless.

It’s awful, beyond cliché, but people can’t help themselves. I know people (mainly women, I’m afraid) who have actively encouraged their beau to send a stonking great bouquet to their office. I can only imagine the devastation caused by Valentine’s Day falling on a Saturday this year, denying many 9-to-5ers their moment in the sun.

These floral deliveries serve as a massive “fuck you” to anyone with less considerate (or less easily manipulated) spouses, plus it has the added bonus of making all the single people – who we will come to later – feel even more fantastically inadequate, dreading the endless crowing about it all afternoon long.

The bouquets get bigger and more ostentatious every year, as everyone tries to outdo each other. We are probably about seven years away from someone just having done with it and Kew Gardens airlifted and delivered to Tracy on Reception. Continue reading Valentine’s Day: Say no to romance at gunpoint

10 tests every potential boyfriend must pass before you commit

So you’ve been on a couple of dates and it’s going well, but is he boyfriend material?

Stop right there and climb no further on the commitment ladder until you’ve got him through the following ten challenges:

1. Make him chew gum
Mouth open? Drooling? Really inexplicably loud? Bubbles?! Ditch him.

2. Watch him go through a self-checkout machine
More than three unexpected items in the bagging area and he has to go.

3. Take a train or Tube with him
You will see how he reacts to standing etiquette/giving up seats etc but more crucially whether he tries to press the button to open the doors before it is illuminated. If he does, or presses the button on the Tube door, when he knows it’s automatic and is merely there for decoration, he’s a dolt and you should send him whence he came.

4. Sit opposite him during spaghetti for an exclusive preview of what oral sex will be like. Continue reading 10 tests every potential boyfriend must pass before you commit

The Plus One

“I’m going to a friend’s for dinner on Friday. Come.”

I should say “No thank you, Toby; it’s only our second date”. I don’t.

“Is there anything you don’t eat?”

I should tell him about my phobia of celeriac and meringues. I don’t.

When I ask “What shall I bring?” and he replies “Nothing, just yourself!” I should listen, but I don’t.

When Toby spies the prosecco I’m clutching to my chest as we arrive and tells me “You can’t bring that; they’re teetotal and Polly won’t have it in the house” I should hang on to it, but I don’t. I leave it by the doorstep.

Polly answers the door and eyes me with the same suspicion a white carpet would afford a dog with diarrhoea. I should scowl back. I don’t.

When Polly’s boyfriend Max sloshes elderflower cordial into my wine glass, I shouldn’t quip that it’s a waste of a perfectly good glass, but I do. Max shouldn’t laugh and wink conspiratorially. But he does.

As Polly serves up every food I’ve ever hated in my life, with the icy glare of a serial killer, I should politely decline the offer of pudding, despite eating nothing of the main course. But I don’t.

When Polly goes on and on about Toby’s previous boyfriends, all of them beautiful demigods who adored Polly and would probably have turned straight for had she asked, I should defend myself, or step up my patter in an attempt to impress her. But I don’t care what she thinks, so I nod politely and play with my napkin.

As I laugh uproariously at one of Max’s jokes and see, out of the corner of my eye, Toby’s face fall, I should tone it down and pay more attention to the date who’s barely said a word to me all night. But I can’t. Why get out of Max’s sleek limousine of a conversation only to clamber into Toby and Polly’s knackered old Nissan Micra chit-chat?

When Max and I are stacking the dishwasher and he confesses to me he’s bored rigid living with Polly, I should act surprised and encourage them to stay together. But I’m not, so I don’t.

Usually when a man tells you his problems, he’s hoping you’ll solve them, so perhaps I should pretend we’re in a film and put my hand on his leg and stroke my mouth suggestively. But I don’t want to turn a horrendous evening into an apocalyptic one, so my hands stay where they are.

When I walk back into the lounge, it is obvious I have been getting an absolute skewering from Polly, as her and Toby redden immediately. I can see Toby running back to one of those holy exes within a month – Polly wouldn’t have it any other way.

When it’s time to leave and Max says he’s looking forward to seeing Toby and me again really soon, I should tell him that’s extremely unlikely, but I don’t.

When Toby makes it clear he’s going straight home and says he’ll call me, I should feel sorry and protest a little, but I don’t. Instead I proffer my cheek and he pecks it politely, begrudgingly, finally.

Perhaps I should feel sad that I’ll never see Toby again, but I do not – I feel a rush of relief or elation. The regret may come later, but it will be brief and I’ll have probably have somebody else close to hand to take my mind off it.

I shouldn’t pick up that abandoned bottle of prosecco from the doorstep and drink it on the bus on the way home. But I do. And that turns out to be the best part of the evening.

Stats: 32, 5’9″, auburn/blue, Newcastle
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating: 3.5/10 – that score’s for me, really, isn’t it?

A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly dating column I used to do in Gay Times magazine. I now answer GT readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

The Hold-Out

A restaurant. I hate going for food on a first date, but my date suggested it and so here I am.

Leo is a student and 22 – that enchanted age where anything seems possible, but you’re still not old enough to realise none of it will ever happen.

His pictures were, to put it bluntly, deceiving and he is not very good-looking at all, but I’m here now and we can at least have a nice dinner. I can tell he’s not a serial dater, as he’s picked Chinese – nobody wants to spend two hours watching a stranger grapple with chopsticks.

He has been flirting with me outrageously since I got here – he’s all coquettish leans to one side, wry smiles and fluttery eyelashes. I am as responsive as a fridge in a scrapyard.

Halfway through a bowl of noodles that I can’t wait for him and his mouth to finish, he licks his lips and puts down his chopsticks and I know I am in trouble.

“I just want you to know – I never sleep with someone on the first date.”

Here we go. I am nothing if not a sadist, so I ask simply: “Why?”

He goes into a long diatribe about how  relationships can only be brief and meaningless when founded on sex and that he prefers to get to know someone “spiritually rather than carnally”. I wonder which rock of self-help this bizarre statement crawled out from under.

“So how long do you wait?” I ask. “What’s the magic number of dates before you do the deed?”

“About four?”

“Four,” I repeat. “And then what?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“After date five, what happens next?”

There is no response. Just a deep breath. I plough on.

“Well, here you are.” I gesture around the room. “Sitting with me, on date number one. It rather suggests that as magic formulas go, your one for having a long-lasting relationship doesn’t seem to be much good.”

He scratches his head. “Eh?”

I should stop, but I can taste blood and, reader, I like it. “Four dates. Risky strategy.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you’re giving people an awful lot of opportunities to fall out of love with you.”

He scrunches up his face, puzzled. “What’s wrong with my four-date rule?”

I rest my chin on my hands. “If your formula for starting out on a long relationship is not to have sex with someone until the fourth date, why are you single? Where’s your relationship? Why are you here, now, with me, on a first date, imparting your ‘wisdom’, when in fact it is a load of old pony?”

He laughs nervously. “I don’t know.”

“Well, no. Holding out on sex on a first date is your choice, and totally up to you, but don’t think it makes you any deeper or less superficial to keep your Aussiebums on. It just means you are missing out on a shag. If you’re happy with it, that’s great.”

He puts his hand on my arm and smiles at me in a way I imagine someone once told him was sexy. There is a bit of chive in his teeth. He looks very pleased with himself – like a bank manager cancelling an overdraft. “Are you asking me to make an exception just this once?” he says.

My gaze slides glacially to his hand.

“I do sleep with people on the first date,” I smile. “If I fancy them.” Cue dramatic pause. “You’re safe tonight, Leo.”

He moves his hand back. We spend the rest of the date talking about the weather and ask for the bill as quickly as politeness will allow.

Stats: 22, 5’7″, mousey/blue, Norfolk
Where: London E1
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating: 3/10
Date in one sentence: Bait is not taken.

Image: Zebble on Flickr 

Things I have pretended to like in order to get sex

Football
I remember a very miserable afternoon – a rainy Saturday – spent in a pub that smelled of cauliflower and dog, staring with great concentration at a TV up on the wall. I didn’t really dare look away in case I looked like I was bored and I couldn’t have given two bronze fucks about what was happening on the screen so I fixed my gaze on a spider at the corner of the TV. The spider span a web and then fell onto a table and crawled into a crisp packet. Spider, 1. Man eating crisps, 0.

Opera
Luckily, he didn’t take me to the opera, just played me one on his speakers that were bigger than Kensington and made the floor throb. I recognised a bit in the middle from an advert. He told me what it was but I was too busy wondering when I was going to get to play a concerto of my very own all over his alabaster rack. It turned out to be a very staccato experience.

Radio comedies
When asked whether you’ve heard of something, you should be honest lest you embarrass yourself and get a fact wrong. When my date asked me if I had heard of a particular comedy on Radio 4, I lied through my shiny white teeth and said “Why, yeeeess, it’s brilliant”. He used to play it to me before and after sex – never during, because “that would be weird” apparently – and when we got to the end of the first series I decided I would not be recommissioning him for another go.

A terrible food blog
Never have I pretended to like Instagrammed croissants and love hearts drawn in lattes so fiercely in my entire life.

Aaron
Aaron had very, very pert nipples and I was absolutely dying to see what they were like in the ‘flesh’, so I ignored his boring politics chat, the way he looked at every waiter’s arse as they walked by our table and his penchant for telling me how tired I looked and, when it came down to it, bit those tiny pink beauties very, very hard.

What have you faked so you could get more bang for your buck? Tell me on Twitter.

Image: Flickr