I was a chubby kid. I wasn’t fat, I was bubble-written. I was curvy like a ‘real’ model. My mum dressed me in a pair of flesh coloured shorts between the ages of three and twelve. I looked like a raw sausage.
My parents moved house a few years ago. We had to clear the loft. The loft at my childhood home was the same as every other loft in England. Packed to the spiderwebbed rafters with suitcases, old vinyl records, dead relatives crockery, dried baby clothes, forgotten school projects: “Oilrigs!-How They Work” or “The Egyptians!”. The exclamations of schoolkids. The pretend-excitement of learning something. Bad colouring in with felt-tip pens. Decorative borders and long dried glue smears.
While we carted boxes of ancient cassette tapes; Hall and Oates, Prefab Sprout, Deacon Blue, ‘Nebraska’, out to a van headed for the tip, I sat on the front step and read through my first restaurant ‘review’. Shame became me.
A box of oranging photos spilled across the driveway from the maw of the van. There’s me; peach shorts, big thighs. A perfectly spherical face. There’s my brother, looking miserable, long fringe drooping over one eye. Ma, Princess Diana with a perm. Dad with hair. My younger brother a day after he nearly drowned twice in the space of twenty-four hours. Once in a algae choked pond, once in the pool. Idiot.
These photos of holidays in France in the mid 1980s, I was a rotund little PacMan gobbling escargots, crabs, moules, grenouilles. Multiple wet things? I’d eat ‘em. When it came to eating out, I was the Little Fatty Who Could. I look over at the spilled snapshots across the tarmac, the maroon curls of negatives, the envelopes from photo printing places long gone under, bust and bankrupt. One of me grinning with crab flesh all over my chin. A napkin jammed in the collar of my polo shirt, sweet floral design across the shoulders. A strong look in combination with some baggy chinos and ‘wet-look’ gelled hair. I see one from the Manoir D’Something I can’t remember. This was the place. This was where the young chub understood the wonder and glory of good food. The ‘review’ I’m reading is of this place. There I am. Another napkin wedged in another neck of a another polo shirt, lemon yellow this time. Still the hair, spiky and reminiscent of porcupine twills and ugly kid’s TV presenters. In front of my red and perfectly spherical face, that fucking chicken. That unbelievable chicken with that super-rich cream sauce. That goddamn chicken that made me write this awful embarrassing, precocious ‘review’ in felt-tip pen with a terrible inept felt-tip pen drawing of the place. It looks like the White House as rendered by a fingerless blind person. What is that? A tree? No, it’s a spear of asparagus. That same asparagus you pretended to like to impress your parents. You thought it tasted gross but you had to be the little eater of note. Baby Foodbag. Piggy.
There’s that chicken. Photographic evidence here. Proof of how much a single plate of nouvelle-cuisine poulet avec something sauce could move an irritating little lunchbox like me. God it’s shameful this little ‘food diary’. It causes involuntarily cringes which wrack, they actually wrack, my entire body. I’ve underlined the word ‘delicus’ (SIC, SICK SICK SICK!) in three different colours! Guess which colours? Yes that’s right appalled onlooker, IN THE COLOURS OF LE TRICOLORE! I didn’t have a white pen so I left a gap instead! Urgh, there is another terrible drawing of the dessert. Is it a pile of dead bees? No, it’s a fucking madeline with I don’t know, rum soaked bits or chocolate or Hell’s own beetle army hordes crawling all over it. I can’t tell, it’s such a bad etching.
It’s no wonder my brother and I rucked. He’s there pushing a pomme around and looking annoyed and me, Little Lord TuckShop, is grinning like a smug sauce splattered wanker. He’s Judd Nelson in ‘The Breakfast Club’ and I am Bernard Matthews.
My Dad catches sight of what I’m reading before I can hide it. He takes a look at clear evidence of what a disappointment his son was at such an early age. He says:
“Ah. I remember this”
His face says:
“I cannot believe I am responsible for this. Being reminded of your awful greedy precocity is shaking my soul to its very marrow! God my son was a loser. Oh Jesus Christ! What is that?!? You even gave the place marks out of ten for ‘Waiter’, ‘Food’, ‘Room’ and ‘Atmospere’ (SIC? Even SICKER because instead of a numerical rating for ‘Atmospere’ I put a Tricolore coloured question mark! I was so busy stuffing my face with creamy fowl I didn’t trust myself to give a considered, informed ‘atmospere’ rating) I am unsure if you are genetically connected to me in any way whatsoever”
As I watch my Dad’s disappointed eyes scanning the dreadful pamphlet of hate my face burns as red as it is in the photo. I gather a handful of the images from the driveway and throw them into the van along with the ‘review’.
My Dad is so affected by what a loser his son was, he accidentally throws my Mum’s wedding dress out.
As I swing the van doors closed I see a balled tee shirt, size large, in a curly font it says: “I finished the clam chowder mega-bowl! Clam Champ!”. That was me, aged nine, Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco. As the van pulls away I hear a thud as a gold plastic trophy falls against the wall of the van. I know what it says across the base: “Sir Burger: This brave knight beat the Burger Tower!”. Me, Orlando 1988. I know that as Dad began emptying the van at the tip he would try and avert his eyes from the poster of his second-born son smiling out from behind a pile of gnawed rib bones at Cowboy Ranch, Welwyn Garden City, 1989. Above me in a rickety ‘barnyard’ style font it reads: “Welcome to the Big Rib Round-Up!”. Why am I giving a thumbs up?!? Why is my tongue out of my mouth a bit? I’ve got sauce on my face. I’m probably planning my “review”. My parents should have left me there.