Houmous hasn’t always been in the shops you know! The average twenty something probably won’t remember that Edam only shrunk itself to Babybels when we lost the ability to use a cheese knife and cut chunks off a big piece. The most child size cheese available when I was little was Dairylea triangles and the challenge was to try and unpeel the foil without losing half the cheese in an inaccessible corner and having to suck it out with the unappealing taste of tin foil in your mouth. Come to think of it, it possibly was still actual “tin” foil in the ‘60s! Cornish tin maybe….. Tenuous Link! But over the past forty odd years food has become better, fresher, cosmopolitan and utterly bourgeois!
My granddaughters looked at me in wonder a couple of weeks ago when I “made” houmous! “You can “MAKE” it?!
I had a flashback of being in the Fulham Road in the late ‘70’s at a well frequented after theatre café aptly called the “UP ALL NIGHT”. After work many theatre folk such as ourselves would decamp there and pretend that our working hours were perfectly normal as we unwound. It’s worth noting at this point that we didn’t have quantities of substances to keep us awake, just the usual post show adrenaline to work off. We drank wine served in teapots ‘cos the café didn’t have a liquor license and we ate very exotic plates of runny houmous with a sprinkling of paprika on it with strips of hot pitta bread arranged around the side. This was the height of sophistication at a time when the world was still weening itself off Heinz Sandwich Spread.
I was in the grip of my new found evangelism; having not long become a vegetarian and I was very preachy about animal rights and vivisection at the time, so it was a minor miracle that anyone went anywhere with me, but maybe it was just post-midnight lack of options.
The “Up All Night” was to the ‘70s what the Café Des Artistes was to the ‘60’s or indeed; The Algonquin to the ‘30s: A gathering place for those who considered themselves the cultural elite and a place where we could congratulate each other on making brave decisions to be fabulous and penniless rather than mainstream and solvent. In fact had anyone actually defined mainstream to me at the time as the point in a river where the water flows freely and unimpeded with the minimum of upset, I may have rethought my strategy. Or at the very least I would have had a bash at devising a strategy. To us, mainstream was accountancy, suits, 9-5, salaries, going to bed at 10 and getting up at 7.30. Mainstream was getting married and having children (in that order). Mainstream was settling for something less than fabulous.
I’m wondering now if we as Baby Boomers had been primed unwittingly since infanthood by so many stories of wartime valour and heroism, of privations of the ‘40s & ‘50s and excesses of the ‘60s that we just didn’t have a fucking clue what sort of expectations we should have had! Weirdly, I still don’t! My expectations were challenged sometime around 4.30am on the morning of Margaret Thatcher’s first victory in a general election. Unsurprisingly, in a café filled with pseudo-intellectuals and pretentious twats such as we (Pretentious enough to use “we” instead of “us”, you’ll notice!), her success was celebrated with all the delight of a Russian State funeral.. and believe me you haven’t experienced devastated gloom and doom until you’ve witnessed one of those! Seriously, Google it! Don’t bother: here’s a link, just don’t forget to come back….. https://youtu.be/PQkB8XqYKqU
Right, now I’ve thoroughly depressed you with that audio-visual treat, I’m hoping that the next revelation will be taken as a pick me up and not condemned as I’ve spend nearly all my adult life condemning myself…Its a confession actually.
The previous day, I had actually voted Conservative. Admittedly for the first and only time in my life, and not for one second would I have admitted it in that café! For fear of my life, or at the very least of vilification and being ostracised to the “Mainstream”. Not that I had any conviction for the messages of the party manifesto, but for one reason and one reason alone. I did wonder if there was any chance that a woman might not fuck it up as much as every man had before her. Well, we all know the answer to that question.
So that’s the story of why I learnt to make houmous. I really like houmous and I’m really shit at lying so I felt I couldn’t frequent the “Up All Night” so often after my brief political conformity with my family.
Thankfully now, I can take the easy option and buy houmous with any and everything on it and not bother sourcing tahini very often but I am minded to tell the twenty somethings that it wasn’t just deli items that we lacked options on. The Common Market was still relatively new to us. With forty years of experience we can now make our own houmous, quite efficiently and we all know where to buy practically anything we want and travel and work at anything we want , anywhere we want. I’m sorry kids. We’ve given you a whole catalogue of expectations. Way bigger than just merely avoiding the mainstream. We’ve shown you a whole network of waterways to explore just to dam them as you cast off.
However you voted last year, however I voted in 1979. The fact is now that things may just become a wee bit more parochial again. I hope to God we’re not expected to eat Heinz Sandwich Spread.