England is full of caricatures:
The neighbour down the road in the beige Mac (trench coat) and Burberry wool driving cap, pulling on his Sherlock Holmes pipe and eyeing me suspiciously as I post a card into the letterbox (cue “Pink Panther” Theme)… the granny on the bicycle with its sturdy basket and no reflector, wearing her pink headscarf and practical shoes, weaving into the country lane ahead of me and unknowingly dicing with death in her quest for fresh bread and the daily paper (cue “Wicked Witch of the West” Theme)… Prince Charles (cue anything “really, really dull”…Like a clock ticking. Slowly)…
I recall sitting in the Burger King in Uxbridge many years ago with my children, at the time probably 6 and 8 or so. BK was a favourite after school treat, and of course, I was always a bit of an indulgent mother. And before you spam me to death with health warnings and tell me there is horse in the burgers and I was a bad mum, let me assure you that, as much as the idea of feeding my offspring carrot sticks and wrapping tofu up in lettuce leaves for after school “treats” appealed to the “don’t-let-your-kids-get-fat” side of me, on the other side was the mum who, being a bit of a kid herself, didn’t need much encouragement to dive head first into an extra large box of French fries, and don’t be stingy on the salt, sister.
Plus, as it happens, I have tried horse steak once travelling through France, and I gotta say, it wasn’t bad. (Go ahead, spam away… but remember this was France, people. I cannot be held personally responsible for what is on the menu over there. Remind me to tell you about the time I tried sea snails…)
And, for the record, both of my children have grown up to be well-adjusted, mad-cow-free adults with normal blood-pressure, no diabetes, and whose body weights fall well within their acceptable BMI ranges.
So we had ordered our BK kiddie burger boxes and an enormous Whopper Meal for me, and were enjoying our little pack-bonding moment. Halfway through our burgers, I realized we were being watched.
It was another British Caricature.
He was sitting across the restaurant, an older gentleman sporting a plaid waistcoat and watch-chain. He was observing us intently over the top of the cloudy readers he was apparently using to scan the racing page, his coffee cup dry. I got the feeling he had been there a while.
Well, it was most off-putting, being stared at like that, but in my head I had already cued the “William Tell Overture”, so I was actually having a private laugh at his expense anyway, and therefore didn’t mind. (I have found that cynicism and sarcasm are fantastic cloaks for insecurity.) So while the “Lone Ranger” ticked away in my head, I had a fervent hope he had bet on the wrong horse that day.
Eventually, and just as we were finishing our meal, he snapped his paper shut with a flourish, tucked it up under his arm and made his way to our table. “You know,” he said in one of those ‘old-guy-who-may-be-joking-but-probably-isn’t’ kind of ways, “I find it amazing that as a civilization we have gone from eating with our hands in caves to developing cutlery and eating off of plates at tables.” His cool eyes raked the three of us in clear and absolute disapproval. “And here we are again. Back to eating with our hands.”
The needle slid off the record, my “Lone Ranger” theme was suddenly switched to “The Ride of the Valkyries,” and to that tune he stalked out of the Burger King and into the mall crowd, an old British chopper wielding napalm to clear a path to Ladbrokes.
The kids and I were stunned by both his words and his manner. Maybe I should have opted for tofu wraps after all?
But just as that snake of insecurity started to raise its ugly head, my son sorted it all out for me. Bless him. He just rolled his eyes and said in a broad American accent and with all the wisdom of a 6-year-old, “Well, of course we eat with our hands… that’s why they call them hand-burgers…”
And just like that, the dreaded Valkyries faded into the distance. The petrol fumes dissipated, and my babies and I were left happily licking salt off our greasy fingers.
I miss those days.
feature photo: Shutterstock
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