Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Character sketches: Sue the food critic

In training for my intended future as a novelist, I'm going to write some little pieces of original fiction based on character sketches. This is really useful especially when you want to incorporate new characters.

The other day I was on Facebook and my friend messaged me to grumble about one of her pals who liked to post weird statuses and comments. So I took a good look at my friend's photos and the comments of her Facebook friend, whom we'll call Sue.  My friend was right, Sue was weird. And not weird in the gentle loopy or intellectual eccentric way, because I like those sort of weirdoes. Mind you, I know the sort of weirdo Sue is. I've seen a number of those, though they aren't really weirdoes as attention-seekers. Then it made me think of someone I know personally, who is very similar to Sue. I found in Sue's idiosyncrasies excellent inspiration for fiction, so here it is. Unfortunately I don't know Sue, so I cannot write much about her, so I shall caricature the other person instead. I can't be bothered to think up a new name for her, so let's call her Sue as well.  The character I've written will be an amalgamation of the two Sues (and no, they are not Mary Sues).

I warn you, if you hate petty small-mindedness this is not for you. For those who love to laugh at silly idiosyncrasies go ahead.

Here goes.

Sue the Food Critic

Whatever you may say against the University of Bronteshire you cannot criticise its cooking. The cateen cook had an extraordinary talent of making ordinary ingredients taste like gourmet cuisine, and so I uploaded several photos of the food on Facebook.  Sue had secured a summer job at the University of Chicklitshire where her mother taught, and seemed to be enjoying it.  I chatted with her once or twice out of boredom (being in a strange new place myself and having nothing else to do) and the chats died a natural death.  I did not exactly regret it.

Curiously she never praised the photos I put up. This would not have been surprising for a reserved character, but then everyone else declared they liked my pictures, even those who normally shunned Facebook. Instead, Sue would take this as an opportunity to inform me what she had for lunch that day, particularly emphasising on how exciting the food was. i doubt it could have been so: good university food is not so common.  I wondered why, when she was at a British university, her chosen lunch fare was primarily foreign. I prefer foreign cuisine in general but many British caterers do not always do justice to it. The dahl was odious and I refused to touch it. I usually had a more British repast, which I enjoyed exceedingly.

"I had a Chinese egg tart today," she crowed on the comments section, after I had uploaded a photo of chilli con carne with paella.  It seemed she too had a chilli con carne.  I rolled my eyes in amusement.

I pointed out that the photo in which she tagged me not long after I put up the picture of the chilli was actually depicting a Portuguese egg tart. I consider myself somewhat of an amateur expert on food, and her description insulted my notions of culture.

"No, it's Chinese."

I pointed out that the edges were too fluffy and moreover, didn't have any ridges. Therefore it must be Portuguese. This exchange at first was rather amusing and I didn't think much of it. She acknowledged that I was Master of desserts, and we parted on amiable terms.

I recall another incident when I asked her what she had for lunch, after she had commented on my photo. Clearly it couldn't have been good, because she said "Never mind." I wonder why she was so keen to portray what wonderful meals she had, that mine didn't at all seem impressive.

I became tired, however, after several incidents. I had put up a picture of spaghetti bolognese served with garlic bread - not the best, but decent enough. I suppose the cook was harried that day. The bread was better than the pasta and I did justice to it accordingly, by chomping in a most unladylike manner. Shortly after I uploaded the photo, Sue commented, "Garlic bread with herbs would be better. :("

For some reason I was mildly irritated. I had enjoyed my meal: was she trying to undermine my food?  My mother could be critical of food, being a fastidious eater, but that was something else entirely. It wasn't purely food criticism she was aiming at: she wanted to, in addition to roasting my food (in a metaphorical sense) boast about how superior her food was.

I promptly replied, "There's cheese on the bread. Suits me. :)"

"I thought it was the sort with herbs, it's what I usually have."

Well, I soon forgot the incident. I ate more lunches and uploaded more photos for the edification of my friends and my fastidious mother: she praised the cook to the skies, and so did Dad, who normally hates Facebook like the plague. "You are in Food Paradise," commented an appreciative friend. I agreed whole-heartedly.

Anyway one day I had uploaded a picture of nut roast with cranberry sauce and cauliflower cheese, with a side serving of excellent roast potatoes (one of the best meals I had at the university).  Everyone else said it was wonderful: "tantamount to food porn," observed one of my friends. Only Sue begged to differ.

"The cauliflower cheese doesn't look that cheesy though," she commented.

I snapped at last. What was wrong with the woman? "I can assure you," I said, patronisingly, "it has a lot of cheese, the creamy sort that melts in liquid."

This was not strictly true. In fact it was untrue. It did not stop me from enjoying the cauliflower, for it was tender and juicy. Anyway who cared for a little bit of cauliflower when the main dish was clearly appetising? The good overshadowed the bad. No one else would have noticed the lack of cheese: they would have complimented the potatoes. We are apt to praise food in university canteens if it is good: dull food is too common for us to condemn it soundly.

"Oh. I had roast potatoes too, but for breakfast," replied Sue. Not wishing to be outdone by my clearly crisp potatoes.

It is my policy to bear a grudge against anyone who insists on destroying my pleasure in a meal.  If she were a trades unionist, I wondered, who knew to what ends she would stir? She could be a Miltonic Satan who wishes to tempt others away from their heavenly food to hers. Her egg tart didn't even look particularly good, and I do know a little about these things.

My friend Mary was online at that moment and so I had a good rant about Sue.  Mary is of a placid, unromantic nature, and came to my defence straight away. But not in the way I had hoped for.

"I know she's like that, that's her way. But it's not like people are going to judge you. She's the one with a problem. They'll see what sort of person she is."

"That is besides the point," I bulldozed. "The point is, people are going to think what the sort of friends I have are totally ignorant of polite conventions."

This is a ridiculous thing to be angry about. It is so stupid it ought to be made into a comedy. I daresay if she had been a true conoisseur I wouldn't have cared two hoots. But I will not have people who have insular tastes in food criticising my meals.

To be continued ...

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