First published in The Lifted Brow Issue 22, 2014.
This is a story about life and death. It’s about a meal that has helped shape who I am today. This meal caused divides and rifts between loved ones while simultaneously cementing fraternal bonds and family dynamics. In my family’s micro-history of embarrassing moments, major spats, loving support, and only three average family holidays, I still recall this meal as a stand out. Not only has it gone down in familial folklore as a momentous, catastrophic and cathartic event, it’s been recited again and again – our very own rendition of a Homeric ode.
This is a story about the time I choked on bacon while watching Milo and Otis.
That’s right, this meal isn’t memorable because I can recite titillating descriptions of textures and tastes. There won’t be any sticky fingers, fancy fusion, or excited sensory explosions here; this is not food porn. This is about some smoked, cured and fried pig flesh getting lodged in my oesophagus.
And while there’s some wonderful deep throat/pork sword puns to be had, please stop. I was an eight-year-old child for heaven sake. An eight-year-old child with a terrible gag reflex.
I have digested some truly life-changing meals in my time and finished them in full with a side of laughter, peppered with frivolity. From fine dining in New York City to KFC with besties on the way back from Meredith Music Festival, I have countless fond food memories. But this particular meal wasn’t only life-changing, it was almost life ending. And accordingly I remember it.
I remember it well.
And I remember it fully.
The television was black and white because we weren’t rich and someone had gifted it to us. It was the early nineties so most people didn’t want a black and white TV anymore. It was beloved by my little brother and myself: “Television! Teacher, mother… secret lover” was never so apt.
The box had a misshapen coat-hanger aerial stuck in the top and every time you changed the channel on the dial, the clunking was balanced by static that created an uneven, anticipatory beat. Sometimes, if you were lucky, the TV would give you one of those little electric shocks that thrilled like licking a battery. Look, we didn’t have much to do, so don’t judge us.
The TV was set up in the corner of the dining room, which kind of doubled as our playroom. Being a Brit, Mum used to make us bacon butties and tea for Saturday lunch. There was nothing like the delicious, comforting smell of bacon cooking on the stove or the way white bread would stick to the roof of our mouths.
Paul, my brother, and I were always excited when Mum and Dad didn’t sit with us at the oval oak table for lunch. Rather than seeing a marriage crumbling before us, our innocent eyes saw an opportunity to spend lunchtime shoving food blindly into our faces while lovingly staring at the TV. This meant we could squirm excitedly in our rickety chairs without being punished. It was the best.
This particular day, The Adventures of Milo and Otis was being broadcast as the daytime weekend movie. Remember Milo and Otis – the 1986 film about a live-action tabby cat and pug dog? If you don’t, basically all you need to know is the animals are best friends, they face a stack of danger, it’s narrated by Dudley Moore and it’s fucking cute as shit. For an eight-year-old and five-year-old who were animal-obsessed yet not allowed pets, it was goddamn exciting (and I will say no more because as an adult I’ve learnt the true horror behind that film… let’s just say many of the animals used in the making of the film ‘choked on bacon’ and didn’t live to tell the story – the horrible reality that saw Australian animal activists call for a boycott of the movie upon release here).
And so, transfixed by the adorable suspense created when Milo and Otis try to cross a raging stream, I forgot to chew. I choked on an otherwise delicious streaky cut of crispy pig for what felt like hours.
You know the feeling: when you can’t breathe and your eyes are bulging out of your head. You gasp at air but it’s useless grasping at it; you are at one with a fish flopping out of water.
It was terrifying. I would say that my life flashed before my eyes but I was eight years old so it would have been less an ‘end of Lost’ epic flashback-and-fade-to-white than a panicked ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die and I’ve never won a prize from Saturday Disney’ gurgle.
The rest is, understandably, a blur. Mum threw me over a chair and smacked my back while my brother stared on like a wide-eyed Muppet Baby.
Eventually I spat the bacon out of my dying body. Afterwards I sat terrified, silently weeping while watching the rest of the movie.
So with this meal, this lunch of comforting bacon on soft white bread, I faced my own mortality.
Deep, right? Is that why this is such a memorable meal, so important to me that I’m writing this?
Nope. Not a chance that’s the reason.
This, right here, right now, is about being stubborn, about believing in yourself, and about proving a point. And generally, it’s about the rights of being an older sibling. Because when I say that this meal, this memory, is a definitive and integral part of my life, I mean that sincerely.
But when my brother says that this meal and his memory of choking on bacon while watching Milo and Otis is a definitive and integral part of his life, he means it too. I may have lived to tell the tale, but my brother claims, to this day, that I’m living a lie. That in fact, it’s his tale to tell. Helen’s face may have launched a thousand ships, but I lunched and launched a twenty-year war with my brother.
To be clear, this isn’t some kind of fucked up sibling rivalry. I love my brother. One of our favourite things is to fondly remember the dumb stuff we did as kids, often revolving around food. Like the first time Mum brought her new boyfriend—now my stepfather—home for dinner and how we couldn’t stop laughing at nothing. Under pressure to be something we weren’t, we combusted, exploding cordial from our mouths into our bolognaise.
We relive these memories because, to be honest, we’re not super close as adults and don’t really have a whole lot in common now. I can list the things we have in common: parents, an overly fond affection for television and food, and my face. (Seriously, throw a picture of me into one of those Internet face-morphing machines with a shot of a handsome but generic footballer and bam, that’s what my brother looks like. Frightening stuff.)
And the final thing we have in common is the time we both think we choked on bacon while watching Milo and Otis. So we gleefully tussle over it. A few times in the past twenty years the arguments have got heated but mainly it’s more of a pride thing.
The fact that this memory is argued time and again makes it all the more memorable. Anytime someone mentions bacon—which is surprisingly often—we verbally spar about it.
But recalling childhood is like that. And life is like that – full of refutable and debatable moments viewed through a kaleidoscope of perspectives. Memory is fragmented and personal, prejudiced and flawed. Which is a concept that’s super interesting and intrigues me no end.
But let’s cut the shit.
I don’t care about that just now. Because I’ve proclaimed the Truth. Publically, in print.
Choking on bacon while watching Milo and Otis is my most memorable meal and now you all know it.
Sorry Paul, the war is over.