Once upon a time you used to be able to buy these little triangular wedges of cheese. They were wrapped in foil and arranged in a round cardboard box. I can’t remember the name of them, and I haven’t seen them for years. I don’t go near the part of the supermarket in which they might dwell if they still existed – because the very thought of them sends a chill down my spine. No doubt the Warrior Queen will be aware of their name, rank and serial number – and if she reads this, I would like her to know I do not wish to be reminded. And I think she knows why.
Somewhat hilariously, the Hunter Gatherer and I went on our honeymoon a good year after our wedding … and we took my parents. We had all decided we really fancied a houseboat holiday on the Murray River – so the four of us tootled off down to Renmark in a little old Triumph Dolomite, driving all through the night. At that time we were all smokers – so the interior of the car was a choking fug of fumes for the entire several hundred kilometres – and after a while, the WQ and I (who were in the back) mentioned we thought there was a petrolly kind of smell happening. For some reason this was uproariously funny. We all lit up again, for the forty-eleventh time, and made comments such as, ‘wouldn’t it be HILARIOUS if the whole car went BOOM …’ and just about wet our collective knickers in hysterics while considering the possibility.
On arrival in Renmark we discovered to our horror there was, in fact, substantial fuel leakage seeping into the back of the car just under where the WQ and I had been resting our arses – and the fact the car hadn’t gone BOOM was rather miraculous in the extreme. There was a bit of nervous laughter in the, ‘oh my goodness, the chips!’ vein as we unpacked our provisions and abandoned the car to the ministrations of the friendly, but rather aghast, mechanic.
It was very nice indeed on the Murray River. Beautiful weather, gorgeous birdlife, nothing to do but potter along in our own time, phone in daily for supplies and pick them up from designated numbered locked boxes at intervals along the riverbank – and eat. With eating in mind (as it’s always about the food), the WQ had packed a box of things she thought we might chow down on whilst pottering. And one of these things was the aforementioned Cheese’o’Tragedy. I can’t remember whether she actually said, ‘Have one of these,’ or whether it was I who asked. It matters not. I remember tasting it and finding it utterly repugnant. Like trying to chew the discarded remnants of a horrid old man’s rotting underpants. Or a rotting old man’s horrid underpants, even.
It should have been reasonable – nay, normal – for me to have just hoiked the offending morsel starboard. End of. But the WQ was having none of that. Oh no. She stared me down, nostrils akimbo, pointing a quivering arm. ‘You’ll jolly well FINISH IT,’ she declared. ‘You took it – you’ll eat it!’ The lads were trying desperately not to laugh, snorting into their hands with their backs turned. There were pelicans on the water, a pale blue sky which went on forever, the steady chug of the motor … and everything should have been intensely right with the world. But it occurred to me the WQ was deadly serious. Memories flooded back of a school I’d attended in England where I’d been made to remain at the table until I’d chewed and swallowed a piece of unchewable, unswallowable meat. It also occurred to me I was now a GROWN UP. A married person, even, who was old enough to vote. It’s strange I can’t remember now whether I actually ended up eating the thing or not. I think there was much howling and gnashing of teeth before the matter was resolved. There were seven more of those grim wedges in the little round cardboard box … their fate, also, is unknown.
A lasting legacy of the cheese experience is that to this day, when the WQ says, ‘Have one of these,’ in crypt-curdling tones, I feel a cold sweat trickle down the small of my back. The hairs on my neck prickle with horror. It might have happened 28 years ago, but like horrid old underpants, some things are destined never to die.
Blessed are the cheesemakers for they shall inherit the earth …