Not a grape

Long time ago, when I was ’bout 9, my family and I went on an extended vacation around Europe and Asia. We needed to take quite a few flights to get from place to place and I (even though I’d never flown before this trip) was starting to think of myself as a ‘jet-setter’; a ‘woman of the world’; a ‘burgeoning sophisticate’, if you will.

The routine and rhythm of flying was something that I found both comforting and exciting, and I especially looked forward to mealtimes – the whole ‘sssh’ of the cart down the skinny aisles; the hoping they hadn’t run out of chicken by the time they got to me; the quick bathroom break before the stewardess reached my seat; the clearing off of one’s miniscule table; and, most specially, the perfectly-packaged, neatly-designed, compartmentalised meal-tray.

The whole meal-delivery process just filled me with joy. It was so efficient and wrapped and little – all specially purposed for lots of people in a tiny space. Each time a meal arrived (which is VERY often on a long flight) I would carefully and gently unwrap the cutlery and the food packets, and eat every morsel, even if the food was not something I would usually be that fond of. It was all about the experience. Somehow it tasted more interesting, more grown-up, more … just more.

Two particular meal incidents stand out from that overseas trip as a child. Unfortunately, they stand out because they both introduced a fly into the delightful aeroplane-meal-ointment.

The first meal-time that I recall so clearly proceeded uneventfully until the point when I decided that I was finished…  I must introduce an aside here: One of the things that I loved/love about flying was the fact that I had a large chuck of time that I could use however I wanted. I could get up and go to the bathroom, I could watch the movie, I could listen to the looped music channels, I could wander down the aisle, I could have a snooze – all when I chose (pretty exciting for a 9 year old).

After my meal was finished I thought about what I might like to do next in my grown-up flying journey. I didn’t have to ask my parents if I could leave the table, I didn’t have to clear said table of dirty dishes, I didn’t have to wait till my little brother was finished eating… On the other hand, it wasn’t that convenient to get up and go for a wander either, as the stewardess hadn’t yet cleared away the meal-tray, but I could stretch out and read and have a bit of a nap. I extricated my book, leaned back and reclined my seat.

There was a yelp from the seat behind me. As I’d pushed my seat back I hadn’t quite thought through the fact that there would be another passenger who was eating his own meal, which was balanced on HIS miniscule tray table, which, unfortunately, was attached to the back of my seat… The first course of this meal had been soup, which, needless to say, had ended up all over this poor gentleman, along with the remains of his second course.

I was, of course, hideously embarrassed as my, also mortified, parents tried to help the stewardess clean this man up. The rest of the flight was quite spoilt really, what with the not feeling game to recline my seat again, the shame every time I went for a walk and had to glance at the man, and the feeling very much like a child again.

When I went on another flight some years later I noted, with satisfaction (mingled with some righteous indignation), that, these days, the tray tables seemed to be attached to a common swivel point below the row of chairs, not directly to the back of the seats. I’m still nervous every time I recline though… 

The second of these stand-out meals was, if I recall correctly, on a flight into Greece. To prepare us for the spring weather – it was May – we were served a meal soon before descending which mostly consisted of a large salad. This was one of those menu items that I wasn’t normally keen on, but, when served it on a plane, I ate with gusto.

I’m usually an ‘eat-what-I-least-enjoy-first-and-save-the-yumminess-till-the-end’ kinda person. The yummiest part of this salad, I had decided, was the delicious black grape garnishing the top of the green salad. It was plump and dewy, indicating how recently it had come from the fridge. I ate my way through the lettuce and cucumber and tomato and cheese, looking forward to the lovely burst of crisp sweetness at the end.

I finally had nothing left on my plate but the grape, and so I popped it into my mouth and bit down, expecting the flavour of perhaps a muscat or seedless flame. The next thing I was aware of was that I was, involuntarily, spitting up/vomiting all over the gentleman in the seat in front of me. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what had happened until my, again mortified, parents shot out of their chair and tried to clean up, while questioning me as to what had made me do it.

I, at that point, realised that what had previously been in my mouth was not, in fact, a lovely grape, but a disgusting black olive. My very-first olive. On the way to Greece. All over another passenger – along with the rest of my lunch. How sophisticated was I?

I’ve never really been able to appreciate olives, as an adult…


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