THERE ARE QUESTIONS EVERYONE HAS AN ANSWER FOR: SINGLE OR RETURN? ONE LUMP OR TWO? CARD OR CASH? YET, TAKING TENTATIVE STEPS AS I IMMERSE MYSELF INTO MY NEW LIFE IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND, I’M SERVED UP A CULINARY CURVEBALL FOR WHICH I HAVE NO RESPONSE.
I enter the eatery full of confidence. This is a social landscape I’ve successfully navigated many a time – back home, down south; in my time living in Spain; heck, I’ve even managed it at a beach hut in Brazil when I bought a coffee from a man who, to my shock and surprise, turned out to be completely naked.
I ran the other way from that, unbeknownst nudist beach with visions of his baubles jangling as he asked me if I wanted sugar. I refused just in case he used his wangle to stir it.
As uncomfortable as that awkward moment was, at least I knew the answer. The protocol. The tribal modus operandi to move forward and get out of there before he could ask me if I’ve got a reward card, he’d stamp with his Brazil nuts.
This time though, in the great, green, and often rain-soaked land of Lancashire, I’m stumped. Caught unawares. Completely thrown. And everyone had their clothes on too…
I’m in a trendy cafe. It doubles up as a vinyl record and coffee shop. A genius idea. Who doesn’t love music and coffee? Not many! If you don’t, get your head checked. And quick.
The Kings of Leon singer, Caleb Followill, is almost yodelling his way, in his distinctive, deep-south drawl, through an obscure song playing quietly in the background.
The owner is wiggling a mouse around (on a PC not a real, live one. That wouldn’t be good for custom) scanning the back catalogue on a computer for a keen customer’s request. He’s been asked to look for a 2016 ‘limited live edition.’ Cutlery is clanging on crockery. Mobiles are pinging notifications.
While I’m standing in the queue, waiting patiently and politely, a waitress comes out the kitchen carrying in one hand, a full English breakfast. On a plate, I mean not in her hand. That’d be messy business and unhygienic.
The tantalising smell of bacon dances under my nose. I’ll have some of that, I think to myself. The bacon, I mean not the waitress. I’m a happily married, one woman man these days and hope it stays that way until people are singing, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles at my funeral (You’d better bloody sing it, if you’re invited).
My turn to order arrives…
“A Cappuccino, please.” I ask a young girl behind the till.
“Want sugar with that?”
“Just the one!”
All is going well so far. I’m feeling confident. Even though I’m 300 miles and a world away from home, I can do this!
Buoyed by my success asking for a coffee, I make another bigger, braver, and bolder request. “Full English too,” I order.
“Ohhhh-keeeeh…” she mumbles tapping away at a tactile screen. “How’d you like your bacon?” She enquires.
This is when I falter. This is when the confidence visibly drains from my face. Adam and his apple poke their heads out in my neck to see how I’ll handle this. No one, anywhere I’ve ever been in the whole wide world has ever asked how I like my bacon. I’ve eaten it in Colombia. Canada. Croydon. I’ve had it in pasta, burgers, and salads.
Every single time they just put it in there. No special requests were necessary. No questions asked. Which is why, I confess, I don’t know how I like my pig.
What do I say here? In a blanket? Flying? Rolling in mud? In a tail? No wonder veganism is becoming more popular. They don’t have to deal with such stress.
I take no chances and come clean. I’ve been trying to fit in. Going about my business without causing a fuss. I’ve been asking for ‘barms’ when I really wanted to say ‘roll’. Using the word ‘toot’ instead of look. I’ve tried wearing shorts on cold mornings instead of trousers like many of the cold immune natives. But this is a moment when I’m exposed as an ‘Essex Boy Man’ out of his geographical, gastronomical, and cultural comfort zone. Found wanting.
‘What are the options?’ I ask in an apologetic, high-pitched tone. I’m really, genuinely sorry, and ashamed that I don’t know how I like my bacon.
“Crispy?” She suggests.
“That’ll do.” I quickly accept, wanting to get this over with and not draw anymore unwanted attention to myself.
I surreptitiously scan the room to see if anyone at the other tables has noticed. Young couples are lost in quiet conversation. Sole diners are thumbing messages on their phones. Vinyl enthusiasts are sifting through records in the racks on the walls. Families are keeping themselves entertained – Dads with newspapers, kids with games on devices and Mums helping their babies’ bottles in their mouths. A man comes out the toilet shaking his hands dry.
This is good. No one here knows I’m a man who, halfway through his life, still hasn’t worked out how he likes his bacon. I tiptoe across the wooden floorboards and pull out a seat at an oak table. Please don’t be the wobbly table. I can’t handle a wobbly table AND bacongate all in the same day.
It does wobble, but not enough to spill my Cappuccino when it arrives.
Soon after, my full English is placed in front of me. I try the crispy bacon… it’s… AMAZING.
These northerners are onto something. What else have they been hiding from us southern fairies up here?