In lockdown, things to look forward to are vital. Lunch is one. The delivery of whatever useless tat you’ve been suckered into buying online is another. The anticipation is the main thing: on delivery days I use my second screen while I work to track the driver’s progress, watching his little van icon inch closer. When he’s two or three slots away, every load-bearing vehicle noise outside gets me craning my neck to look out of the window.
Once I’ve established it’s him and he’s on the way to the door I move away in case he sees me and thinks I’m desperate. When he rings the bell I stand by the intercom phone for three or four seconds before picking it up. It’s crucial somehow that the driver think me a casual recipient of his delivery, fitting it into a busy day of which it’s far from the high point. What have you brought me? Oh, that Lacoste polo shirt I’ve wanted since I was sixteen but never previously bought because I struggle with the idea of spending money on treating myself to nice things? Fine, fine, just leave it on the doorstep, I’ll get it in a bit.
It reminds me of buying WWF wrestling figures in Argos as a kid, when you’d put in your slip with the code carefully pencilled into the little grid and then after a few minutes, thrillingly, watch it push its way through a doorway of hanging rubber flaps and come down a conveyor belt before being placed on the shelf to be brought to you. I never understood why Argos started concealing the conveyor belt. It was the best bit.
Some things I’ve had delivered during lockdown:
- Silicon chair leg caps to prevent further scraping of the wooden floor area where I’ve been sitting for eight hours a day for four months
- This fruit bowl
- In a single bumper delivery, a new colander, rolling pin and toilet brush
- A vinyl copy of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On
- Bluetooth-enabled bathroom scales
- The remaining Patricia Highsmith books I didn’t own, having created a spreadsheet of her bibliography and ticked off the ones already on the shelves
- A year’s supply of vitamin D.
On receipt I’m elated up until the point I’ve put the item in whatever cupboard it’s going to live in, and then the high is over and it’s all comedown from then on in.
Making lunch is new: before the war I generally got a £3 Tesco meal deal most days, something about office life I’ve no longing to resume, and I didn’t and still don’t eat lunch much at the weekends beyond a few crackers and some hummus. Now there are choices; things to buy to make sure there’s something in for lunch, things I never used to have in stock much, like bread and cheese.
A grilled cheese sandwich, made in a pan with a plate pressing it down, is somehow more satisfying than its edge-sealed Brevill cousin. Within the cheese sandwich arena your panfellows tend towards the traditional items that commonly find themselves cheese adjacent: your hams, your tomatoes, your pestos. The cheese, mustard and sauerkraut variation below on the right is such a bold break with this orthodoxy that it might as well be a picture of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire.
Inevitably, given the need for variety having sat in one room for four months, I’ve looked beyond bread. The packet noodle is much maligned as a meal choice, but it’s become such a roaring success at lunchtime that it’s now often promoted to dinner status. After a while I tired of the broth sachet flavours on offer in the local shops (broadly: chicken, indeterminate curry, and beef) and took to the internet. I happened on Thai Food Online, which bears endorsements by Rick Stein and Samantha Fox. Within minutes I’d ordered fifteen packets of noodles at a total cost of only £13.36. An otherwise dull Thursday two days later was enlivened by tracking online the noodles’ journey to my door. A noodle van, driven by a noodle man, fuelled by pho, with a beansprout chassis.
My general approach is: it’s mainly a vegetable dish, but if I’ve got some leftover roast chicken it can go in too. Heat some sesame oil and briefly stir fry whatever vegetables are lying around, like pak choi or greens, with a red chilli, then add a teaspoon of ginger and garlic paste. Give it a couple of minutes then add the water, the noodles and the contents of all the sachets, including the weird paste one that’s always there but everyone’s too polite to ask what it is or who invited it so everyone just sort of smiles at it on their way to the fridge but doesn’t engage it in conversation, until it corners a woman and talks to her at length about the screenplay it’s writing about the Spanish Civil War before getting aggressive because she doesn’t want to exchange phone numbers and being firmly asked to leave.
The best of the packets I’ve cracked open so far is the Thai tom saab, a spicy sour pork rib-based broth that I do with some broccoli stalks and spinach. On a whim I crack an egg into it, which doesn’t turn it into a wat tan hor-style egg gravy as I’d vaguely envisaged, but more just a thing that was already delicious but now has an egg poached in it, thus making it more delicious. There are thirteen packets to go but I’ll probably order fifteen more next week just so I can track the noodle van again.