"On the vanishing of my sister, aged 3, 1965": a poem by John Burnside

They saw her last in our garden of stones and willows.
A few bright twigs and pebbles glazed with rain
and, here and there, amidst the dirt and gravel,
a slick of leaf and milkstone, beautiful
for one long moment in the changing light.
Then she was gone.
My mother had looked away
for a matter of seconds
— she said this, over and over,
as if its logic could undo
the wildness of a universe that stayed
predictable for years, then carried off
a youngest daughter;
my father was in the room at the back of our prefab,
watching the new TV, the announcer
excited, Gold Cup Day
and Arkle romping home by twenty lengths.
Maybe we have to look back, to see
that we have all the makings
of bliss – the first spring light,
the trees along the farm road
thick with song;
and surely it was this
that drew her out
to walk into the big
wide world, astonished, suddenly at home
no matter where she was.
It seems, when they found her,
she wasn’t the least bit scared.
An hour passed, then another;
my mother waited, while our friends and neighbours
came and went, my father running out
to search, then back again,
taking her, once, in his arms, and trying
vainly to reassure her,
she in her apron,
dusted with icing and flour,
and he too self-contained, too rudely male,
more awkward, now, than when he knew her first:
a marriage come between them, all those years
of good intent
and blithe misunderstanding.
It was Tom Dow who led her home,
tears in his eyes, the boy we had always known
as the local bully, suddenly finding himself
and when they brought her in
and sat her down,we gathered to stand
in the light of her, life and death
inscribed in the blue of her eyes, and the sweet
confusion of rescue, never having been
She’s married now, and Tom is married too,
and I, like my father,
given to discontent,
not being what was wanted, strange to myself
and wishing, all the time,
that I was lost,
out at the end of a winter, turning away
to where the dark begins, far in the trees,
darkness and recent cold and the sense of another
far in the trees, where no one pretends
I belong.

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For the last time, please, bring back the plate

The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place.

The much-vaunted tech revolution is not without its casualties, as I discovered first hand last weekend. The album format, creative boredom and now my favourite skirt: all collateral damage in the vicious battle for our waning attention span.

The last met its end in a pub, when it found itself on the wrong side of a slate slab full of Sunday roast. Once gravy got involved, things turned pretty ugly; and when reinforcements arrived in the form of a red-hot jar of plum crumble, I abandoned all hope of making it out with my dignity intact and began pondering the best way of getting a dry-cleaning bill to Tim Berners-Lee.

I lay the blame for such crimes against food entirely at the feet of the internet. Serving calamari in a wooden clog, or floury baps in a flat cap, is guaranteed to make people whip out their cameraphones to give the restaurant a free plug online.

Sadly for the establishments involved, these diners are increasingly likely to be sending their artistic endeavours to We Want Plates, a campaign group dedicated to giving offenders the kind of publicity they’re probably not seeking. (Highlights from the wall of shame on the campaign’s website include a dog’s bowl of sausage, beans and chips, pork medallions in a miniature urinal, and an amuse-bouche perched on top of an animal skull – “Good luck putting those in the dishwasher”.) Such madness is enough to make you nostalgic for an era when western tableware was so uniform that it moved an astonished Japanese visitor to compose the haiku: “A European meal/Every blessed plate and dish/Is round.”

The ordinary plate has its limitations, naturally: as every Briton knows, fish and chips tastes better when eaten from greasy paper, while a bit of novelty can tickle even the jaded palate at the end of a meal. Watching Jesse Dunford Wood create dessert on the tabletop at his restaurant Parlour is definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with an arctic roll (there’s a great video on YouTube, complete with Pulp Fiction soundtrack).

Yet the humble plate endures by simple dint of sheer practicality. The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place, rather than slipping on to the tablecloth, while the flat centre is an ideal surface for cutting – as anyone who has ever tackled sausages and mash in an old army mess tin (“perfect for authentic food presentation”, according to one manufacturer) will attest.

Given these facts, I hope Tom Aikens has invested in good napkins for his latest venture, Pots Pans and Boards in Dubai. According to a local newspaper, “Aikens’s Dubai concept is all in the name”: in other words, everything on the menu will be presented on a pot, pan or board. So the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars is now serving up salade niçoise in an enamel pie dish rightly intended for steak and kidney.

Truly, these are the last days of Rome – except that those civilised Romans would never have dreamed of eating oysters from a rock, or putting peas in an old flowerpot. Indeed, the ancient concept of the stale bread trencher – to be given to the poor, or thrown to the dogs after use – seems positively sophisticated in comparison, although I can’t help seeing the widespread adoption of the modern plate in the 17th century as a great leap forward for mankind, on a par with the internal combustion engine and space travel.

Which is why I have every faith that all those tiny trollies of chips and rough-hewn planks of charcuterie will eventually seem as absurd as surrealist gazelle-skin crockery, or futurist musical boxes full of salad.

In the meantime, may I recommend the adult bib?

Felicity Cloake write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide