Wiping out the memory of kebabs I've known
I listened to David Bowie’s new single the other night while my reading glasses were steaming up over a pot of lentil soup (which was a disconcertingly dull yellow, had the consistency of baby food, and didn’t look half as appetising as the picture in the recipe book). I’ve been feeling a little irritated with the holier-than-thou attitude and smugly arched eyebrows of various vegetarians in my vicinity this last week or so.
While the rest of us attempt to come to terms with just how much horse we might have devoured over the years (a shank, a hind, a plaited mane, one small angry girl in a gymkhana competition), the non-meat-eaters among us are slipping into their running shorts and mouthing “I told you so” as they skate out the door.
It must be nice to have consumed nothing more suspect than a wrinkled beetroot over the years.
I can’t pretend I don’t envy the tofu tribe, all smooth-thighed and cholesterol-free, their innards glassily transparent, their bowels a squirrel’s paradise, their minds precise as a well-swabbed laboratory.
Meanwhile, a sizeable proportion of the rest of us are trying to wipe out the memory of kebabs we have known and luminously pink sausages we have sniffed and fried over our long and not always proud lives.
I lived in King’s Cross in London on and off for a couple of years, way before St Pancras got a makeover and the area went through its subsequent brisk gentrification. I was hauling my prodigious waitressing skills around those dank streets long before some young thang called Minty or Arabella decided to use her trust fund to open an organic juice bar underneath the archways; long before the residents snacked on almonds and ginseng balls and short courses in modern literature; and long before a shiatsu massage actually meant a shiatsu massage.
There were fluorescent burger bars at the end of my street in which you would have been deeply grateful to be served something as sophisticated and wholesome as horse meat. Christ, those burgers were so full of steroids and ground dog carcass they could have flipped off their buns, lashed over to Holyhead, hopped on the mail boat and been the bookies’ favourite in Harold’s Cross the next morning.
I certainly didn’t live on them, but there were nights when no matter how hard we rubbed the sticks together we couldn’t get a flame, and if there’s one thing you can say for fast food, it’s that it’s fast.
However, they say it’s never too late, so now, along with all the other healthy options that sit in my cupboards like prim schoolgirls, I find myself gazing at packets of lentils, split peas and little pellets of dried cannellini beans.
Anyway, fortified with a vigorous ladle, I was wrestling the contents of the soup pot into a bowl when Bowie began to sing. He sounded kind of tentative, and terribly, terribly sweet; he sounded like a man who has known a lot of tofu and guru in his lifetime; he sounded like a man who had sprinkled a lot of lavender oil on his tantric sheets (oh, hang on, that’s Sting, isn’t it).
I grew up on Bowie, loved him like you were supposed to love Jesus. He seemed like a modest, intellectual man, one who certainly never asked for deification by a bunch of skinny teenage girls in Dublin in 1970-something, yet there we were, a meek cabal of girls with mousey hair who thought that he had read our minds, who sat around rolling up tea leaves in cigarette papers and trying to smoke them, while listening to our putatively devastating and enthralling lives being spun out on the turntable.
In a new century, in a steamy kitchen, he’s singing about enduring elemental love, about sun and rain and fire and you and me, and I’m spraining my wrist on the soup spoon and wondering if I’m convinced.
Maybe it would be nice to be a teenager again, not for the acne and anxiety obviously, not for the bewildering unravelling of the adult world, but to believe again, passionately, in someone’s gentle poetry.
Bowie sounded pretty happy, optimistic almost. Damn it, if he’s still writing love songs rather than tinkling dirges about the human race evolving into blind gnomes, fishing in hot ice for toxic fish, then maybe there is hope. Maybe he believes in ingenuity and creativity and the power of the human spirit, maybe he believes that it’ll all be hunky dory. At this point I’d probably settle for believing that there is a point to lumpy lentil soup.