Wednesday 6 March 2019

A plate of beige

I for several years in the 90s, I was invited to teach a short course in molecular evolution in Oslo. It was good fun and I think we all learned a lot. I learned that Norwegians have lunch really early in the working day which meant having to tweak the schedule for the course. I also got to appreciate the very understated, laconic sense of Norwegian humour. Lunch and funny collide in an explanation of matpakke by Ronald Sagatun and Mads Nilsson. The idea is that the lunch-time sandwich is always made at home (to save money) in a really predictable and unadventurous way (to prevent surprises). "It should be a disappointment when you open it. You're not supposed to look forward to your lunch." Here are the boys on Kvikk Lunsj [bloboprev] it is not a Kit-Kat!

Way-hay that's my sort of lunch! I make a sandwich every morning with two slices of (home-made) bread and a smear of butter separated by some cheese. If the fridge happens to have grated carrot or a leaf of lettuce or some pickle, I might put that on top of the cheese. The other day I replaced >!frisson!< the cheese with a fragment of cooked salmon. Years ago in the 00s, I worked one day a week in St Vincent's Hospital and my postgraduate student and his undergraduate student insisted that I come down and eat lunch in the canteen "like a christian". Fortunately, the canteen always had a student special on offer: lamb curry and rice; pork and red pepper and rice; chicken supreme and rice. The youngsters used to tease me: "Bob and his bowl of beige" was how they characterised their dining companion. It was probably good for me to have that socialisation even if only one day a week. They met me half way by ensuring the lunch was at 1300 ± 5 minutes, a preference inherited wholemeal from my naval father.

I've had occasion to laugh at my old boss [when he was the age I am now] who used to let out an involuntary whimper of pleasure if his wife put a chocolate biscuit in this lunchbox. I would never countenance anyone making lunch for me: they'd be sure to put too much, or too fancy, cheese and I'd fall into a drooling sleep shortly thereafter when I should be working. The Boy, aged 11, was assumed to be capable of making his own lunch . . . which turned out to a little adrift of the reality. But it's got to be said that, although his empty lunch-box was a source of concern to his teachers, it was a long way from starvation he was r'ared.

My late lamented pal Barry worked for several years as a painter and decorator in California. When he was on the job, someone on the crew would set off for the nearest convenience store at lunchtime and offer to bring back a submarine sandwich à la Barry. It would cost about $7! Making his own sandwich at home saved him $30 a week or much more than $1,000 each year. The "convenience" of a store bought sandwich was too steep for that working man. Any Norwegian would have canaries at what went into the Sub: heaping spoonfuls of tuna salad, handfuls of iceberg lettuce; a show of tomato slices; some chopped bell-peppers; extra mayonnaise. No wonder American working men are bending the scales.

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