Me: ‘I’m practically a vegetarian.’
A: ‘Yeah, right.’ (Those two little words, both in the affirmative, tacked together in local vernacular become a loaded judgement, which is altogether negative and gently withering.)
Me: ‘But I am!’ (Indignant)
A: ‘What about the steak you had on Tuesday night?’
Me: ‘I only eat meat in restaurants.’
A: ‘And the shoulder of lamb round at ours on Easter Sunday?’
Me: ‘When in Rome…. I was your guest, it would have been rude to refuse.’
A: ‘Bacon rolls then? What about your bacon roll habit?’
Me: ‘Again, I only ever go to cafés to eat them. I never fry bacon at home.’
A: ‘That’s like calling yourself teetotal if you only drink in pubs.’
Me: ‘Now, there’s an idea…. ’ (Stare thoughtfully into the corner of the room… am I teetotal? Not even nearly.)
Bacon Rolls will always remind me of Edinburgh. Moving here, specifically. They taste of salty loneliness. Back then I developed a habit, you see. I would get up, paint a section of wall for half an hour in my pyjamas, then make a cup of tea and stand back to watch the paint dry as the steam from my tea swirled into the cool March morning air. It’s a lazy simile – watching paint dry – I’ve done it, and there are more boring things, many more.
Paint dry (somewhat), I would get dressed and slip out for my bacon roll. ‘Baps’, we call them at home, ‘buns’ in North American, I believe, and here in Scotland they are called ‘morning rolls’. Not sure why; maybe a simple descriptor of when to eat them: if possible, still warm from the early morning oven batch. The last thing you want to eat is yesterday’s morning roll. White bread – maybe the size of a miner’s hands cupped together – dusted with flour, slightly crispy on top, soft and airy inside – not doughy. A consistency designed to drink in bacon fat, which, to write sounds disgusting, but to taste is delicious.
Before I kicked the habit I frequented three cafés in rotation. There was the one with the Polish man with the pastel tattoos and the Rasputin beard. Except comparing him to Rasputin makes him sound like a charlatan, and my man’s nothing like that – his beard is similar, that’s all. He serves the bacon crispy. Did so straight off, never needed to tell him and every time it was the same. I admire consistency.
Then there’s the place tucked down a residential street, no other shops nearby. Man with a local accent serving, appears gruff, but isn’t really. He’s hiding (I always think) some vulnerability. ‘Yes, I know, crispy,’ he’ll say quickly before I ask, not looking at me. His face registers something that might be misinterpreted as irritation, but I decide it’s shyness.
And the third place? Well, he’s from Malta. Said I reminded him of a girlfriend he once had from Fermanagh. Face lit up when he told me. Placed the emphasis on ‘Fer’. I told him, ‘you stress the ‘man’ in the middle.’ We batted the name of the county back and forth, laughing when he jokily gave weight to the ‘agh’. ‘Not long enough for her to have taught you how to pronounce it properly,’ I said. It was really a question, but instead of answering he just said, ‘You like it crispy, don’t you?’
Did I say I’d kicked the habit? It’s partly true. As true as me calling myself a vegetarian.
How Shall I Dine? By, Jonathan Swift
Gently blow and stir the fire,
Lay the mutton down to roast,
Dress it nicely I desire,
In the dripping put a toast,
That I hunger may remove:
Mutton is the meat I love.
On the dresser see it lie,
Oh! the charming white and red!
Finer meat ne’er met my eye,
On the sweetest grass it fed:
Let the jack go swiftly round,
Let me have it nicely browned.
On the table spread the cloth,
Let the knives be sharp and clean:
Pickles get and salad both,
Let them each be fresh and green:
With small beer, good ale, and wine,
O ye gods! how I shall dine