It's a rainy Monday evening, and even the tube is on strike. I am invited to the finals of the Taste Awards in Fortnum's - that pompous dinosaurs of a store that manages to be both eccentricly archaic and tenderly up to date. I have been a judge before, but on this occasion I am wearing high purple heals and gipsy dangling earrings.
This is a psychological vomitorium, with me imagining starving African children on the background. Heck with it. My feelings of nutritious happiness will purvey the world and make everything all right.
Fortnum's know how to do high class and kitsch.
Surrounded by the impossible dream of a fat store, full up to its bream with exquisitely branded goodies and exotic packages, all lying, standing, kneeling, all around you, all having their price tags carefully tucked in. They tempt you to forget that not all of them here is for you delectation. Not them. There is so much that you can put your lips around.
...I start with a pig, of course. A big and curvaceous leg of a pig lounging sensually on a crisp white linen. A man with a thin and sharp knife and knowledgeable hands (this skill requires years of practice and a certificate to proof) smiles innocently and offers a sliver to try.
Iberico ham, burgundy and almond colour, roll it and put my tongue over it. Oh hell. If there is a re-incarnation, I know I want to be an Iberico pig, leaving on acres and acres of free land, feeding myself silly on acorns and occasional grass and roots. So Russian of me really. They say these pigs endure extreme temperatures and survive any weather.
Oh, and the fat.
The woman selling the ham started briskly telling me how this fat is actually good, I glanced back and she stops. I do not need to be told that. This fat is so fucking good. I want to put a thin stack of these warm, grainy, fat slices in my bag - for all its £12 per 100gr price tag - and fish out one by one three times a day, to remind myself of the woodlands, smell of mushrooms and wet soil. And this ludicrous over-indulgence.
...After stall after stall of - the best but expected - cheeses I spot a modest little plate full of warm fishcakes (thanks to Moxon's fishmongers). The fat of the Iberico ham is brush and lush, these cakes of cod, lug (?) and wild garlic, are like old-fashioned, flower-patterned pottery laid out on a sunny day.
The man explains that the lug (apparently a forgotten, back of the ear, part of the fish) gives the cakes a more grainy, salt-cod like texture and flavour. Perhaps. I just think they are good and clever - in that they are the only ones on display tonight that are warm and home-made-like. I keep nagging the man about the unsustainability of the cod (he says that the stocks around the UK have actually 'replenished remarkably' - hmm, who knows), whilst putting a blob after blob in my month. I feel cheery.
Then there are rows and lines and stacks of bacon (maple syrup layered), mini baps with sausage (Northumberland, pure pork), ice-creams and sorbets (Bloody Mary and Bloody oranges), more wine, more looking for more, avoiding the glances of lust around - they are for another sausage, no doubt, not for me.
Eventually I get to a quiet plate of pale biscuits sandwiching cream. I like these. They are the essence of Englishness (perhaps the way the way tourists see it). 'Honest' all-butter biscuits, holding a naughty centre.
I imagine this is something I could make - or rather put together - at home. Proper, expensive oatcakes, say spread with a mixture of high-volume cream cheese mixed in with icing sugar, or caramel, or dark honey. These on display are not like this at all, but I like the feeling of connection to the guy-producer (I seem to think it's a man) who is at the same biscuit wavelength as me.
...I need to go. Words and gazes slur. People's voices are slightly hysterical (or is it my ears?) and so are they months. They keep chewing, munching, slurping. The displays are cleared but they continue moving their lips and teeth as if in a trance. I feel myself saying a whisper of a goodbye to someone, whilst patting my warm, expanded belly, but maybe I am not saying a thing, maybe I am like them, just keep moving, digesting, consuming.