Sunday, January 13, 2008

3. The Price of Food

"What's the most expensive food you've ever eaten?" says Pete.

There are a number of them sitting at the bar, sipping on the various drinks ranged in front of them. The barman is polishing a glass nonchalantly. They all look at each other, mildly bemused.

"Dunno," one of them volunteers. "Lobster, maybe. That's expensive."

"I had Caviar once," another one says, "only it wasn't worth it. Tasted like salty axle grease to me."

"Me and the Missus went to an upmarket Indian Restaurant in London, and they put gold leaf on the food. I don't know if it was expensive or not, but it was certainly tasteless, in more ways than one."

Pete is, by his own admission, mad. He's pumped full of all those drugs they give to psychotic patients, which makes his eyes watery, and his walk stiff and awkward, like a puppet from a Gerry Anderson TV serial. He holds his arms clumsily at his sides, curling the fingers, as he wanders from pub to pub looking for company. He's also the victim of an unhappy divorce, and these days he's been looking even worse. His clothes seem more battered and stained, he always seems to have tears in his eyes, and sometimes he looks as if he's about to fall over. I asked him if he was all right.

"It's these new drugs," he told me, "they make me depressed."

"Don't you resent being made a specimen in a psychiatrist's drug-experiment?" I asked.

"I'd rather take the drugs than not," he said. "Not taking the drugs is much worse."

So anyway: back at the pub. Eventually they'd all run out of expensive foods to discuss. They'd been through all of the obvious examples, and anyway, it was beginning to seem like a pointless question. It wasn't as if he was asking them what meals they had enjoyed, which would have got a much better response. One of them turns to Pete.

"So what's the most expensive food you've ever eaten then Pete?"

It was what he'd been waiting for.

"Wedding Cake," he said, and walked out.

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