I like our local Chinese. They’re very welcoming, the food is lovely and, best of all, they allow me to make the kind of mess which would have any highchair-seated inmate at Mrs Tinkle’s Nursery For Gentle Tinies nail-gunned to the naughty step for life.
As the owner whisked away a black bean-bespattered tablecloth that, steeped for an hour, would have made a nutritious soup – or, framed and mounted a fair Jackson Pollock – I indicated my chopsticks, balanced military-style on top of my rice bowl in the 12 o’clock position, and asked if there was any cultural significance to such precise post-sizzling beef behaviour.
‘Oh that,’ she smiled. ‘That means death’.
Or, as a twitchier person might have heard it, ‘That means DEATH!’ (lights dim, a candle flickers, a crone cackles, a bell tolls, a wolf howls, one door creaks open, another slams shut, dogs bark, children scatter, shutters go up, the air chills, and a sulphurous yellow mist hiding who knows what coils into town).
Having apparently committed temporarily-delayed suicide by cutlery, I wondered how else I might have inadvertently called the gods of misfortune down on my head at the dining table.
For example, you know that foul green stuff that appears on top of restaurant food if you leave it for any length of time?
Well I’ve disdainfully flicked enough of the stuff to the side of the plate in my time to make several pairs of leafy mittens for the overly-chilblained vegetarian. Should I expect a plague of boils?
I’ve drunk white wine out of the red wine glass. Come to think of it, I’ve drunk red wine out of the white wine glass, lager from a soup ladle, brandy from a chipped saucer and Bailey’s from a rather roomy cruet, but does any of this mean my seventh child shall be a cloven-footed spawn of the depths?
You’ve got to be careful, because just asking for raita can mean being infected by cucumber, but am I risking death by a thousand cuts when I specify ‘more of the greeny minty stuff’ instead?
I’ve passed the port to the left. I’ve passed the port to the right. I’ve passed the port out of the window to a waiting accomplice, and Christmas at our house was much nicer that year, but in doing so have I condemned myself to an eternity of being French-kissed by a nightmare demon? And not a pretty one either?
Best to ignore the whole mealtime minefield and, within the bounds of good manners of course, carry on regardless.
It’s either that or eat, drink and be wary.by