You get used to disappointment in life, and come to expect it. It’s a protection, I suppose. If you except disappointment, then it’s not really disappointing. It loses its sting-a-ling-a-ling. But then there are certain things which you come to count on. Still points in the turning world. Your bankers. The things you know will bring you satisfaction and pleasure, when everything else has turned to crap. Or at the very least sources of consolation on a cold day. So after a boring hour getting injected for my allergies I went to a well-regarded fast-food establishment in King’s Cross, and ordered a portion of chips and curry sauce. I’ve spoken about this delicacy before: it’s literally my favourite food, no irony, no joking. It’s the perfect combination of East and West, the ultimate fusion. Something happens when the curry sauce co-mingles with the chips: both elements are transformed, becoming better than themselves. It’s like the improbable friendship between Gimli and Legolas. And if this is what cultural appropriation tastes of, then I’m all for it. And the beauty of curry and chips is that it’s nearly always the same, because they all use the same pre-made curry mix. So there’s that comfort element to it.
So I ordered my chips and curry sauce, and it began well. The chips looked fine: properly carved from a living potato, and thick as a workman’s thumb. And then it all began to go wrong. Rather than ladle the curry sauce from a bubbling cauldron, as usually happens, the friendly young guy bent below the counter and produced a large plastic drum, marked ‘Chinese curry sauce concentrate’. It bore a cartoon of a smiling Chinese man, wielding a cleaver. My fellow then spooned some of the concentrate into a jug, using a dismayingly short spoon, that must have involved some hand contact with the curry stuff. He then filled the jug with hot water from the coffee machine. He stirred it with the same short spoon.
‘Is this thick enough?’ he asked me. I had no idea. You don’t normally get asked these things. It’s like being asked by the surgeon if you think he’s cut all the gangrene away.
I nodded, and then he poured it over my chips, which I’d already salt-and-vinegared. I could tell it was all wrong. It was too thick. It was grainy and horrible. And I’d seen him make it, his thumb in the concentrate.
Anyway, I took it to a desolate park and sat in the drizzle, with some skiving schoolkids occasionally shouting threats at me. I ate the chips and curry sauce. It’s my way. They were horrible.
Afterwards I sat in the British Library, exuding a dank aroma of curry and defeat. Every half hour or so a gas bubble would fight its way up, and a librarian across the room would surreptitiously check the sole of her shoe for dogshit.