I went for lunch in the canteen today. First with a heavy heart, soon with a heavy and unhappy stomach. As I tucked into my spaghetti and unidentified flesh with little cheer, I realised what was odd about the day's dining experience.
In the metal box of cutlery were the usual assortments of battered institutional knives and forks, bent and twisted. Yet amongst these humble, proletarian items was a mutant fork, small, delicate and strangely thickened along one edge. It seemed familiar, a mute reminder of autre temps, a suggestion of a place and time when food wasn't a commodity to be shovelled down in obscene quantities before the 'taste' assaulted your senses, yet I couldn't place it.
The madeleine-moment struck once I was seated and attempting to enjoy my repast. This curious utensil was… a pastry fork. No, really. A lone survivor of the days in which different foods required customised tools, a distant relative of the fish fork and the grapefruit spoon.
How does such a nostalgic curio reach the canteen of a tired and abused institution like The Hegemon? Is there a secret dining club, a cabal of plump managers being fed dainties by bow-tied flunkies? I now dream of turning a corner in some obscure campus building and finding my senses assailed by the aroma of fresh pastries, meringue, tarte tatin and fine pain au chocolat. A kindly gentleman will relieve me of my marking and my paper cup of unconvincing peppermint tea ('not today, monsieur, not today') and guide me to a plush armchair with a side-table groaning with delicacies on fine Staffordshire china. As Debussy wafts gently from the quartet in the corner and the flunky offers me a choice of periodicals, my cares and waistband ease.
Oh well. A vole can dream.
(Anatole is the temperamental culinary genius of the Jeeves and Wooster novels, by the way).