Foie gras? Sure, it tastes quite good. Horrible way to make a snack, but it does melt on the tongue. Lobster? Fine, but fiddly. Truffles? Well, yes, they’re Ok, when they’re grated and sprinkled over home-made pasta, but only if there’s plenty of parmesan. According to writer and broadcaster Christina Patterson, there are times when only a crisp will do….
I like posh food. If someone wants to offer me gourmet food, and even better pay for it, I’m certainly not going to turn it down. As a journalist, I have been lucky enough to eat at some very fancy restaurants and stay in some fancy hotels. I once had the tasting menu at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. I was there to interview a ‘poet in residence’, but was so embarrassed by the palaver – the running commentary by the waiter, the flourishes, the foam, the dry ice – that I found myself longing for beans on toast. When the chef swaggers out of the kitchen and asks about the food, I can’t think of anything to say except ‘very nice’.
Eating is one of my favourite things. I still can’t quite believe that every morning I wake up, and I don’t just get to eat, I have to eat to stay alive! For a while, when I was a child, there was talk of people in the future wearing silver space suits and swapping food for packets and pills. My mother was already trying hard with the packets. I was shocked when I went to primary school and found lumps in the mashed potato, and discovered that mashed potato could be made from real potatoes. And not just, you know, Smash. I didn’t mind Instant Whip and Angel Delight, but I panicked when I heard about the pills. I liked stuff you could chew on: Penguin biscuits, roast beef, the cheese sandwiches we always had on our picnics, and roast chicken crisps. I didn’t want to live in a future that didn’t have crisps.
I still love crisps. I love them so much that a boyfriend used to call me Crispina. How do I love them? Let me count the ways. I love the colour of them, golden like a holiday, of sand and sea and sun. I love the shape of them: the soft curves, the curls, the sudden slopes. Crisps, for me, are like snowflakes. No two are the same. If William Blake saw a world in a grain of sand, why can’t you see it in a crisp? I love the sudden shock of salt when you’ve felt that itch on your tongue. I love the snap and crackle and crunch. Crisps make me think of celebration. They make me think of parties and wine and fun.
At a push, I’ll grab a bag of Walkers, ready salted or salt and vinegar. They’re not in the premier league, but they fit the job description of a crisp because they’re salty and they’re crisp. Then I discovered Kettle chips. Potatoes grown in rough earth by a jolly red-faced farmer and sliced up in his rustic kitchen by his jolly red-faced wife. Then chucked in a copper kettle full of bubbling oil until they are – well, crisp. Of course I know that’s not how they’re really made, but I don’t want to think about big, ugly factories when I’m biting on a deep-fried sliver of potato any more than I want to think about a slaughter house when I’m eating a bacon bap. Kettle chips. Tyrrell’s chips. ‘Real handcooked’ crisps, which, amazingly, appears to be a trademark. Whatever else is happening on the global stage, I think we can all now agree that we are thoroughly spoilt for crisps.
It was only when the copy editor read the manuscript of my new book The Art of Not Falling Apart that I realised crisps were such a central theme. She hadn’t, she told my editor, been able to read it without nipping out for a bag of Kettle Chips. The book isn’t meant to be about food. It starts with my dramatic departure from The Independent five years ago and moves between bits of my life over the next two years and interviews with people whose lives have gone wrong. I talked to Ken, the first person to be publicly fired from a FTSE 100 board. I talked to Winston, who broke his back when he fell through a ceiling and on to a purple coffin. I talked to Louise, whose baby was seriously ill, but who still worried about being fat. I talked to all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, and through it all I ate an awful lot of crisps.
Now, whenever I meet anyone who has read my book, they offer me crisps. I’d like to say that I’m getting sick of them, but I’m not. New every morning is the pleasure, or perhaps I should say new every evening, when the sun hits the yard arm and it’s time for a nice glass of something chilled and a nice bowl of you know what.
‘May you be dull,’ says Philip Larkin in his poem Born Yesterday, which I quote as part of the epigraph to my book. He goes on to talk about the ‘catching of happiness’. I am not joking when I say that ripping open a certain kind of packet is one of the ways I catch mine.
The Art of Not Falling Apart is published by Atlantic Books: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0747591059/ref=nosim?tag=1786492741
You can watch a short film about it here: christinapatterson.co.uk/book/