Longing for corned beef and rationing books


A white haired couple walked into the community shop yesterday, asking if we sold daily papers. 

“Yes, just outside, to your right” 

As he went back out to fetch a paper, she started shopping. He came back in with a folded Telegraph, checked on his wife to help her carry her findings, then walked back to the till by the entrance with his paper, a potato and a tin of corned beef. 

Pointing at his wife with his chin “She’s looking for biscuits” he placed their shopping on the counter.

“We’ll have one baking potato, we’ll share it, and corned beef for lunch today”. 

“Sounds nice” I replied, lying, corned beef not my favourite, but it sounds nice if they like it, so not entirely lying. 

“I love corned beef” he said in that tone of voice from somewhere deep down people use when they want you to understand that they really love something, or someone. I loooove corned beef. He paused looking somewhere towards the back of the shop, his wife, maybe, or something else he was trying to remember. 

“It reminds me when I was a child, after the war when we had rationing. Love it. Have loved it ever since”. 

“Ah” I managed to reply, despite my mind feeling strangely empty and my stomach feeling a whoosh as a window had opened onto his feelings, the associations of thoughts in his mind, his eyes still lost as if looking at an empty space. I nodded, in a kind of, what am I supposed to say to this, kind of way. I opened the folded Telegraph to find the barcode, found a smaller Daily Mail I had not noticed until then hiding inside it, and zapped both. The couple share a potato, not the newspapers it seems. 

I have all sorts of questions now I wish I’d asked. How old were you? Where did you live? Did your home get bombed? How many tins were you allowed a week? Do you wish that after all that rationing, the UK would be stronger than Germany now? OK, maybe not that one. Too far, right? 

It is fascinating though to see a whole generation of people who did not go to war, few are those alive today who did, sadly, who fondly remember the after war, who in the process of remembering their youth remember rationing as part of a time that was good, part of a time when the body was strong and the future was ahead. 

Youthful memories leading to happy feelings stirred from the mind of those who are no longer economically productive as they used to love being, a raison d’être vanished in so many retired men, nostalgia settling in with a certain anger at the memory of what used to be taken for granted and eternal now fading if not already gone, strength and decision making no longer a daily demand, being a provider, the frustrations of the aching ageing body, the attachment to the memories of old, more easily retrievable and recollected for longer than what happened in 1992, 2008, or 2016 is everywhere to be found today. 

The Telegraph excels at stirring many an old man’s feelings, as the Daily Mail keeps their women on similar lines of thought, with headlines and articles skilfully keeping alive their marvellous memories (or stories) of the good times of togetherness when the nation had an enemy to fight, a land to rebuild, a spirit not seen in decades. Greatness lost in a puff of acrid European smoke. Corned beef, it seems, can also bring back these feelings of better days gone by. I understand, for all my French food snobbery I love Nutella, haven’t eaten it for years because of the damn palm oil, but still check the unmistakeable pots once in a while, hoping one day they’ll make it palm oil free with the same taste, so I too, can dive back into the warm, safe memories of my mother handing me a chunk of soft and crusty baguette with nutty onctious chocolate for my goûter snack.

Everything was so much simpler then.

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