Any healthy man can go without food for two days - but not without poetry. CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
After a monotonous, unvarying childhood diet of roast beef on Sunday, cold cuts of beef on Monday, beef stew on Tuesday etc., all accompanied by vegetables freshly picked from the garden and freshly boiled into watery oblivion, tea at a friend's house came as a minor revelation. Instant rissoles, fried straight from the pack! No doubt containing all kinds of additives, preservatives, flavour enhancers and minced-up, mangy bits of offal no self-respecting butcher would dream of tendering. These exotically wrapped, factory-produced, gunk-filled pastry shells seemed at the time so excitingly different from my mum's wholesome and hearty offerings. I liked the artificial, extra salty, sugary, oily piquancy of them. More crucially, my friend relished them. So I relished them too. Later I breathlessly praised their tasty virtues to mum who, bless her heart, did buy a few packets from the Co-op especially for me, though it must have pained her to do so. She must have thought this was the start of a slippery slope towards culinary degeneracy.
Once two friends and I cycled with camping gear to Woodhall Spa, a small nondescript resort east of Lincoln, whose glory days had long vanished. (One of these friends was a vicar's son, a maverick and an outsider, who played guitar, wrote songs and later drove a bright yellow Hillman Husky with a gaping, rust-rimmed hole in the floor beneath the foot pedals and a huge circular compass mounted on the steering column. The father developed gangrene in one of his legs and had to have it amputated. Sadly he died soon afterwards, whereupon his son bid farwell to the Anglican church and joined a weird, manipulative cult called The Emin. I didn't hear from him again after that.)
It rained the whole weekend - as it tends to do on camping trips - and we spent much of the time in the tent reading newsapapers from cover to cover and fantasising about the girls at the other end of the field who amused themselves by parading around in wet T-shirts and giggling constantly. But the big highlight was the food we bought from the nearby Spar shop: boil in a bag Vesta curry and rice! I'd never eaten curry before, and this first humble experience of it sparked a lifelong craving. I suppose, were I to taste the synthetic Vesta version now - if indeed it still exists - it wouldn't pass muster. But then - we were ravenous young boys, remember - it tasted like the very ambrosia of the gods. (A quick check on the Internet has just revealed a plethora of comments on the Vesta curry, the concensus being 'truly disgusting'!)
Needless to say, this liking for processed, packaged food was merely a transient novelty, and soon gave way to a more serious and subtle appreciation of the taste, texture and terroir of nourriture. (It's appropriate I lapse pretentiously into French here, for my adolescent self was now undergoing a massive transformation. Juicy snippets of French, German and Latin kept slipping into my everyday speech - probably in a vain and laughable attempt to impress girls - and I fell into the habit of self-indulgently scattering names like Verlaine or Baudelaire or the Marquis de Sade into my one-sided conversations at the chute of a chapeau. Oh oui, la honte! Un tel jeune homme sans plumes, sans expérience!)