I’m standing in Waitrose feeling hungry. “Are you hungry for some lunch?” I ask my husband nonchalantly. I have no doubt he will say yes. His greed is something of folklore across a number of counties and I feel sure he will humour me and furnish us with a chicken, glistening with extra fat thighs. I cannot make this kind if purchase on my own. I lack the confidence to shop for anything other than milk and tampax.
“I just had a bowl of my delicious muesli” he says to me, simply. “But don’t let me stop you”.
This is annoying on two levels. Firstly the muesli is not delicious. It is deluxe, but not delicious. The two are not always happy bedfellows much to my surprise and frustration. The deluxe element I believe is down to the additional coconut slithers and pineapple chunks. This, I suppose, legitimises the I’m a bit Tropical! sticker affixed to the packet but is an abomination and involves a lengthy and disheartening manual sift to remove the offending items. It does, however, provide a small window of opportunity to pull in additional brazil nuts thus increasing the oats to brazil nut ratio and ensuring a more satisfying and consistent flavour in every mouthful which I realise defies the multi tasting promise that muesli provides, but muesli and I are fairly new acquaintances due to a recent health drive.
Secondly it is not HIS muesli. It is mine but he I know is seeking some of the warmth and light created from my healthy eating halo, so I decide to be kind to him and let it go.
“I shall buy some bread” I say lightly and strut confidently to the bread aisle.
He follows, promising to help me pick out a good one. This feels patronising but I know he means well.
I am also happy he comes along as it provides the chance to impress him with a new found adult skill. While he was losing his mind in a music festival last weekend in Portugal, I shopped for bread alone and discovered they will slice bread for YOU for FREE at the BREAD COUNTER!!!
I reach the bread aisle. To my horror nearly everything has gone. I am rendered an amateur once again. It is 3.30pm on a Sunday afternoon. What was I thinking? As the car park attendant tells us when we eventually parked up earlier “Sunday afternoon? Waitrose, Balham?? You’re asking for trouble”. His words ring in my ears as I glance from basketed section to basketed section. There is nothing left!
A woman squeezes a baguette. She looks to her husband for reassurance. He nods. In French. The fucking French are here buying baguettes. What chance do we have?
“How about that?” he asks.
He is pointing to a rustic basket with a Tricolor rosette attached. The sign says Demi seeded baguette. I doubt its authenticity and shake my head hot with embarrassment.
“Down here” he says, triumphantly. He is pleased but he has found the stuff in packets.
“Pitta?” he suggests.
“No thanks” I say as if I am a surly teenager and he has just suggested a weekend at a Christian Bible reading camp. Secretly, however, pitta is my back up option. I view it as brave and foreign and a no shame contender, despite the plastic packaging.
Well experienced mothers pick up the remaining sliced loaves. These are neat, predictable and I understand these. But I want to demonstrate my new found slicing knowledge. I scan over the Kingsmill and wheatgerm and Waitrose own brand all yellow, beige squares in smooth plastic bags.
“mmmmhhhh no. This is not the bread I’m after” I murmur under my breath. I am impressing the other women.
“How about that one?” suggests my husband.
He is becoming impatient and I fear I may lose him. The wine section is adjacent and a Chianti promotion will be like nectar to him, should he catch a glance.
He has his hand out in the universal “ta-da” pose. He is trying to hurry things along. I look. It is called a poppy seeded pave. The loaf is unnervingly square and sits in yet another rustic basket with two other paves. Together they would form the corners of a perfect square. There is one blank space. I am tempted, I reach out. I withdraw. Three left out of four on a Sunday afternoon. They’re too unpopular. The last thing my neurosis needs is a square of bread that will make me look bad.
I am running out of time. I stupidly play my trump card.
“They slice bread for you!” I say to my husband. “For free! Then bag it up for you. For free!”
I am giddy.
He shrugs. I deflate. This is not going as I’d hoped.
I see two loaves remaining. One is a sour dough. This makes me nervous. One is poppy seeded and organic. I take it to the counter and ask a pretty girl called Anya to slice it for me. I ask with confidence and gusto, though really the moment has gone.
“Does it have seeds?” she asks flatly.
I nod firmly, wordless in the moment.
“I can’t slice seeded bread, due to hygiene reasons” she inexplicably tells me.
I do not understand. What is the hygiene issue? Why can’t she slice the bread? Why doesn’t she bend the rules. When will the madness end?
I nod, as thou I had expected this response all along.
She can tell I am a ludicrous rebel and I am testing her mettle. She knows I would break the rules in a heartbeat. Hell, she knows I’d run round the counter and slice the goddam stuff myself.
I tell my husband. He nods as if it makes sense but I know he is as devastated as me.
At the checkout I pull a nubin of bread off. I do this partly out of hunger, but also to demonstrate my bread confidence. There are no seeds. None at all. It was in the wrong rustic basket. I continue to chew and force the sourdough down.
“Delicious,” I say, with wads of sourdough in my cheeks.