Lost in space

A hungover Victoria Moore makes a meal of it

"Why are you talking pidgin English?" demands a colleague. "Have you taken up with a Colombian or something?" I have not; my latest love assures me that he is of Anglo-Saxon extraction. The trouble is that I drank too much last night and this morning I am still light-headed, in pre-hangover humour. To speak, I must hook a word like a plastic duck from the babbling stream of nouns and verbs in my subconscious. This makes sentences difficult - almost impossible.

I am advised to get some breakfast, but nothing could be less appetising than the residual solids in the work canteen. At the pre-language stage of our development, when it is generally considered highly irregular to give one's child anything containing the ethanol compound, we feed on our mother's milk and assorted sloppy confections. That is the state to which I am reduced.

Fortunately infantile food and drink has become highly fashionable. Where once we drank fine wines and sturdy beers, now we turn to the fizzy sweetness of the alcopop. And the latest drink to be touted alongside the shots of wheatgrass and echinacea in the capital's juice bars is the "meal replacement drink". So off, then, to the brand new Jus Cafe in Soho's Foubert's Place.

Jus Cafe feels terribly trendy, partly because it's practically on Carnaby Street, partly because I'm so disengaged: I might as well be orbiting the earth in a space capsule. That said, even astronauts don't eat or drink anything as weird-sounding as blueberry muffin and banana replacement drink. Much spacefarer's alimentation may be dried and rehydrated with the water that is the by-product of fuel consumption, but it is reassuringly down-to-earth. I know this because the other day I found the Nasa menu on the Internet (www.jsc.nasa.gov/pao/factsheets/nasapubs/food. html). Beef Stroganoff with noodles and broccoli au gratin are both on it. As for drinks, spacegoers can choose from more than 20 rehydratable flavours.

Perhaps they're not allowed fizzy drinks in space, but there is no mention of America's national beverage, Coca-Cola. Nor is there anything approaching a decent bordeaux. Alcohol, it seems, is not welcome on space missions. You can see why. Imagine a grinning astronaut hunched over the shuttle's controls, playing silly buggers with a reusable spacecraft, his home planet and a speedometer that goes up to thousands of miles per hour.

Anyway, according to the Nasa menu, the closest astronauts get to meal replacement drink is "instant breakfast", which comes in strawberry, vanilla and chocolate flavours. This is not half so advanced or exotic as what is on offer at Jus Cafe. I start on the toast-with-marmalade drink because it seems appropriate at breakfast time, and I order a cup of tea on the side in case it's too gloopy. I'm glad to note that the toast-with-marmalade is a clean, space-age white and remarkably liquid. I identify yoghurt flavours and a sort of caramelised aftertaste, which could be the burntness of the toast or the bitter-sweetness of the Seville orange marmalade. There are tiny, toasty crumbs in it that I can't even see. It's really not bad. Good enough to finish.

Bolstered by my success, I order the blueberry muffin and banana flavour. This time I see it being made. "That's a real muffin," I yelp, as a big, fat piece of something cake-like is lobbed into the blender, along with a dose of yoghurt drink and half a banana. After whizzing, it all turns a livid purple. It is only at this point I realise that when they say "toast and marmalade", they actually mean toast and marmalade thrown in with a yoghurt base. I have just drunk two slices of liquidised brown toast.

As for the muffin drink, it tastes very sweet and slightly doughy. It also tastes of banana. If I liked muffins, it would be delicious. In any case, it's an incredible hangover cure and a great way to do breakfast, at least until my powers of speech and basic coordination return.

This article first appeared in the 06 September 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Whatever happened to liberty?