Turning on the radio the other morning I heard a man say, “If I had a banana in one hand and a biscuit in the other, I’d have been in paradise.” I didn’t recognise his voice and haven’t been bothered enough to discover his name and, as with so much in life, I suspect context is all. Maybe he was making a joke, or maybe not. Or maybe he has a very clear idea of what paradise is? No celestial virgins for him, nor strumming on harps. It’s bananas and biscuits all day long.
I imagined this man like the king in some old portrait. High and mighty on his throne, he looks out at his domain. He is capable of both beneficence and great cruelty. He holds his hands aloft, and one of his two favourite things are in one and the other in the other.
To those who have studied art history this probably means something. Context again. Everything in a painting is a code for something else. The upturned playing card, the fork stabbing a lemon, the inverted wine glass, the urchin in a crumpled top hat, the warty old lady and her incomplete word search puzzle. They all mean something. And no doubt this king of mine on the radio who selects life or death for his subjects through the code of banana or biscuit, like some Roman emperor giving the thumbs up or down, is playing at a similar game.
Of course, this painting doesn’t exist; it just came to me as I listened to Radio 4 earlier this week.
And yet, more often than not there is no context to consider. No subtext to read. No secondary meaning to fathom. Nothing to establish or make sense of other than what you see in front of you. The sun coming out from behind a cloud on the day of a close friend’s funeral is not them passing on a message, it’s just a feature of that day’s weather. And look at that person over there. The one not merely holding a banana but actually eating it, in a manner – how shall we say – of luxuriance. The chances are he isn’t practising for a private webcam show audition (as part of a varied and interesting portfolio career). Instead like most people he is just a person eating a banana. Sometimes the bleeding obvious is the right answer.
This man on the radio probably likes biscuits and bananas, and employed a bit of hyperbole for comic effect. Nothing more.
Things though can take on great significance. After the failure of my trip to Battersea Dogs’ Home I felt quite dejected. I’d assumed finding a dog would not only be easy but would make good much that then felt wrong in my life. It would deal with my loneliness above all else. I thought about the dog more and more and more. He became very clear in my mind’s eye, and the right to my every wrong.
Not so much him, but our life together. The walks, the quiet evenings at home, the sexy men who might want to sleep with me because I had such a nice dog. Even contending with the animal’s shit was proving not such a deterrent. Although I think I’d persuaded myself that in our early days the dog could hold it in. And during that window of opportunity, we would engage on a bonding exercise which was mainly about the dog learning how to defecate into a bag and throw it away himself.
And then even though I really didn’t want to go on dates that’s what I found myself doing. Despite myself, almost. But they were either lacklustre or weird. Sometimes drab and creepy. As experiences they proved sufficiently pungent to convince me that I had been right all along, and that dates weren’t worth the bother. Unlike my ex, who had treated the possibilities afforded by the end of our relationship with an enthusiasm only matched by a whippet catching a glimpse of a mechanical rabbit.
I recall a Szechuan meal with a man called Dave. His name might really have been Dave, people are actually called Dave, but the name Dave sounds to me now like my memory is lazily filling in the gaps. We met in a pub where Dave drank two pints to my one and between cigarettes pulled his fingers to crack his knuckles. Then we shared an oval dish of searingly hot cabbage and noodles and the occasional meaty fragment which the woman taking our order had described as ‘cupboard style’. My whole mouth pounded in horror at the heat, and my left eye wept copiously whilst the right one stoically remained dry.
“Great, isn’t it?” Dave said, churning through a mouthful of our incendiary meal, his face violently florid. “Like everything worthwhile two men can do together there’s sweat and pain involved,” Then he winked. Although I realise now he might not have been winking at all but instead it was simply an anaphylactic swelling I was misreading.
I kept rinsing my mouth out with beer in a futile attempt to battle the arson that was taking place in there. When we left we kissed next to a dumpster in a side street and walking home afterwards I discovered a piece of the unspecified meat in my mouth, not snaggled in a tooth, but rather lurking by a gum, and I wondered if the tongue of the man I would subsequently name Dave had slipped it across.
To be continued….