By Pete Wolstencroft
I had always imagined my ablutions took place in a room that I simply thought of as being green. A quick look at a colour chart confirmed the diagnosis. This particular shade of green could indeed be prefaced by the dreaded avocado. Thankfully, I regard my house primarily as a place to live, rather than an investment. All of which got me thinking about the peculiar concept of taste.
The whole idea of good taste versus bad taste presupposes the idea that the speaker or writer has the former and is thus able to hold forth on what constitutes the latter. And as for: “No taste”? How does that work? Surely we all have taste.
Back in the days when such horrors as night clubs featured in my life, I had a friend who would deliberately go against all fashion trends in a vigorous, and it has to be said, very noticeable manner. He would wear a duffle coat and bow tie combination even in the trendiest night spots. The lads all laughed at him, but let’s just say – I hope in a tasteful manner – that he did not lack for female company.
Lapels looked like some sort of misguided attempt at wind powered navigation.
Many of my tastes are governed by my constant state of penury. If I buy a pair of shoes, I care nothing for them being on trend. They must be comfortable and they must be good; not for one season, but for at least ten years. Back in those aforementioned night club days, I noticed that, with regard to the lapels on jackets and the width of trouser bottoms, only two movements were possible. Just like the tides, they either went in or out. With the tide fully out, lapels looked like some sort of misguided attempt at wind powered navigation. At the other end of the tidal scale, it looked like the tailor had simply run out of cloth. Given the ephemeral nature of these trends, I sussed out that, lapels of a medium width, whilst never being on trend, never made me look like an idiot: a result with which I was more than happy.
All of which brings me to the thorny question of sophistication and, in particular, the way in which this phenomenon manifests itself with regard to food. Full disclosure: I am a massive foodie. I love to cook, eat and read about food. Yet I have never been tempted to go anywhere near one of those so-called fine dining restaurants. Artful swirls of jus casually arcing across a plate and pointless, insubstantial foams only serve to raise the hackles on the back of my neck.
Fifteen or so years ago, when the storied El Bulli held sway as the world’s number one restaurant – doubtless elevated to this culinary Valhalla by those with better taste than me – I saw a documentary on this temple of molecular gastronomy. The thing that struck me most was, that when the staff wanted a get together, they went to a little Mom and Pop place down the road, where the menu may just as well have read: “You get what you are given.” Fresh fish was the mainstay and most of it was simply grilled and accompanied by a few chips and some basic salads.
Sophisticated food demands equally sophisticated wine about which to pontificate. Now forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought that wine was fermented grape juice that was meant to taste nice and to bring about a certain pleasing change in the nature of your consciousness. All sophisticates know that Chardonnay is to be avoided at all costs – leading to the abbreviation ABC: anything but Chardonnay. But if offered a nice crisp class of chilled Chablis our sophisticated friends would accept with relish; this despite the fact that Chablis is made entirely from the much-maligned Chardonnay grape.
Since that day, I have devoted myself to collecting fridge magnets.
Some of the best wine I have ever tasted came in unlabelled bottles, was barely identifiable beyond some basic description of its colour and had been made from grapes trodden in stone troughs by bare human feet. What I wouldn’t give to go back to that place and time and to open another bottle of this nectar of the gods.
All taste is personal. If I want to eat seafood accompanied by stout or rough cider, that is my business. My comfortable shoes might not be the season’s choice as dictated by some fashionista in a garret in Hoxton, but I can guarantee they won’t have fallen apart by the time the next season rolls around.
I once heard an off the cuff remark which suggested that, for a certain class of people, fridge magnets were regarded as a social faux pas up there with pairing your lobster thermidor with draft Guinness. Since that day, I have devoted myself to collecting fridge magnets, so much so, that our fridge no longer belongs in the category of white goods. They are brightly coloured, often amusing and remind me of our travels. As inanimate objects, they can’t be hurt by cruel remarks about their naffness. And as for me, I am far too busy trying to pay my bills and enjoy my time on this earth for me to worry about what somebody else thinks about my taste – or lack thereof.