Greetings dear readers! Have you recently seen something infuriating? Have you read an article that has irritated you so much you could gnaw clean through a robust park bench? Has a product or service rendered you partially blind with rage? Has an incident filled you with pant-wetting ennui at the state of the human race? Yes? Well, fume in silence no longer! Make a nice cup of tea, crack out the party rings and tell us all about it. Submissions can be daft or serious and can take the form of articles, open letters, poems, drawings, cross stitch creations…we’ve run out of suggestions, but you get the idea – wang ’em over to: email@example.com.
This week, though we both love olives (Iris forced herself to like them before she went on holiday to Italy in 2002 and she’s not looked back since), we’re giving Colin Trowell his say on a food stuff which gets his goat.
I have a problem with olives. The eating kind I mean, not the Aunt Olive kind. I had an Aunt Olive once, not an actual Aunt but a “living round the corner and sometimes babysitting” type of Aunt. She was very nice, had an extensive selection of Mr. Men books and, much to her credit, didn’t like olives either. She also owned a very large dining table which, with the addition of a tartan blanket held in place by the weight of Encyclopaedia Britannica, served very well as a camp from which I could plan my next Spying Mission. My Spying Missions were never very daring, I should confess, as at the age of seven I had neither the patience to execute them fully nor the diplomatic connections and funds required to be a true international man of mystery. My missions, therefore, mostly involved watching to see what my next door neighbour was putting in his bin. It was bin bags mostly.
But I digress. Let me try again.
I have a problem with olives. And it’s not just that I don’t like the taste of them. There are many things I don’t like the taste of, and I simply avoid them with minimal fuss. Stilton, for instance. Passion Fruit. Lambrusco Light with a Hint of Loganberry. Truck drivers.
But the Olive Issue is more problematic. Olives carry a vortex of pressures around them, wherever they go. I feel the dread, cold hand of Social Judgment upon me whenever I am in their presence. And so should you.
Never noticed it? Well, you can experience what I mean for yourself, very easily. Next time you’re in the supermarket, observe the olive section. Everyone there, you will notice, is beautiful, well-dressed, confident. They have expensive watches, exquisite shoes, and the intriguing scent of tasteful, exotic spices weaving subtly around them. They swap quips and their teeth flash with the brightness of the sun. They discuss amongst themselves, with light and easy wit, whether they prefer the Kalkidis Olives with Provolone or the Nocellara Olives in the Don Gioacchino Terra de’Donno dressing. They decide to take both. They’ll decide which to eat later, while they watch that performance of La Traviata by the National Opera of Romania which they recorded on BBC4 and their friend Giles told them was much better than you might expect. This exact thing literally happens in every olive section in every supermarket in the world. All the time. LITERALLY!
And, as this goes on, as you watch, listen very carefully. Because, if you’re lucky, you will hear the olives whispering to you. “You should be more like those people,” they’re saying, “They’re amazing. Why are you not like them? What is WRONG with you?”
And when you buy the Sunday supplement, it will remind you, regularly and with absolute certainty, that olives are something that you Should Enjoy Regularly If You’re A Proper Grown Up. There is a universal assumption that olives are something you will grow to like, or at least tolerate, in the same way one does with gin, cigars, good coffee and bad sex.
“You still don’t like olives?” people will ask you at dinner parties, as you politely wave away their prissy little pure white ceramic bowl (£6 half-price from Sainsbury’s). They will look incredulous that you have reached your grand old age while retaining the fussy eating habits of a three year old. Their expressions suggest that they’re wondering whether they have a Scooby Doo Cola Flavoured Freezepop that they could offer you as an alternative. It’s an unpleasant moment, and for the rest of the evening, your opinions are received with a condescending smile as if people are impressed you can form words at all.
Perhaps you succumb, sometimes. Perhaps you’re on a date with somebody you want to impress. Perhaps you’re at a work event and want to be seen as a Serious Player. Perhaps you’re just in that mood where you wake up feeling a bit like Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn and want to act sophisticated. Or perhaps the fiendish marketing of Big Olive has worn you down and you think to yourself “Maybe, just maybe, I HAVE grown up at last. Maybe this time, I will like them.”
(I knew a Big Olive too, once, but that’s for another time).
So, you eat an olive. With an insouciantly arched eyebrow, you pop one into your mouth while carrying on your description of that one time you drove a campervan with two busted wheels across Death Valley, or took peyote with a Chilean albatross, or won a karaoke competition in Seoul by singing “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” although the lyrics made you feel uncomfortable but you’d had a few glass of soju and it was the only song you knew in your vocal range anyway.
And, BANG, the olive flavour hits you, just as your story reaches its long-awaited climax. You feel as if an anchovy that perished in an oil slick a month ago has sludgily drifted up from your throat. You stifle your gag reflex. You try to swallow. But you can’t, it’s too late. There is no escape now. Your companions look at you, they already thought your anecdote was too long and now here you are doing long dramatic pauses. Come on, their eyes implore you, come ON. They have their own clever story to tell, and it’s much better than yours, and they’ll enjoy topping you, and they’ve drunk too much gin and they might forget what they were going to say if you don’t just hurry up and finish your boring, long, incoherent, inconsequential, crappy EPIC.
Finally, gasping for air, eyes watering, you choke down the olive. You take too big a swig of Pinot Grigio (inoffensive, hints of sherbert, not enough alcohol) to wash away the taste. You hastily splutter out your denouement which is received with a silent, pitying sneer because now bloody TIMOTHY is saying that actually he just came back from helping rescue blind bloody dolphins off Tierra Del bloody Fuego or something. And now everyone loves Timothy. And everybody hates you. Everybody hates you now because of olives.
Olives did this to you.
You must each make a decision. Do you want to be like my Aunt Olive, who didn’t like olives but was warm, welcoming, fun to be with and saw the value of Mr. Men books and Spy Camps? Or do you want to be like the Audi-driving, Coldplay-listening, teeth-flashing ding-a-lings at the olive counter? Do you want to be Bloody TIMOTHY? I know which I would rather be, and I think you do too. We must rise, together, proudly, and reject the smug tyranny of olives.
Olives have ruined my life, and this is my vengeance upon them. I hope I have ruined them for you too.