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14 February 2017

Down and Out: I feel the weight of the Batchelor in the Cup a Soup

Feeling peaky but virtuous, I decide that I’m not going to drink this evening.

By Nicholas Lezard

My bedroom smells of soup. This is how it happened.

Feeling peaky but virtuous, I decide that I’m not going to drink this evening. However, I also decide that I’m not going to eat, either. Both decisions are made easier by there being very little to eat or drink in the Hovel. I could go over the road and buy a bottle of Emergency Jacob’s Creek, but the last time I did so, when I chose a bottle with one of those little cardboard ziggurats on the neck offering the chance to win a ticket to the Australian Open, or an iPad, I got a bit excited (I am interested in neither the Australian Open nor iPads, but you know, one can do with a change), then I noticed on returning that the competition closed last September.

Another dream dies.

However (to return to the present), I need sustenance of some kind, and I notice a packet of Batchelor’s Cup a Soup in a cupboard. I wonder whose it is. I have noticed it out of the corner of my eye for some time now; perhaps it has always been there. Perhaps the side of the packet gives details of a competition that offers you the chance to win a Mini Metro or a copy of Doctor Johnson’s new dictionary.

Not that this matters much. The half-life of powdered soup can be measured, I suspect, in decades, like uranium-232, and clearly this box has been there, unopened, for some time. The expiry date of June 2016 is no help at all. After a time, ownership of items in the cupboards of shared houses reverts, or rather passes on, to those who have noticed them for the first time in ages.

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Anyway, Batchelor’s Cup a Soup. Did they name their company that because the founder was called Mr Batchelor, or did they do so because they knew that bachelors would constitute a significant portion of their customer base?

I am a bachelor, say all the lonely men in the country at some time in their lives, and I am drinking soup from a mug. And how many brands of powdered soup can you name, off the top of your head? That’s right. One. There’s something funny going on here.

However, I’ve not told you the half of it. No, actually, I’ve told you exactly the half of it, for there are in fact two packets of Batchelor’s Cup a Soup in the cupboard. One of them will not taste much like tomato and one of them will not taste much like minestrone. Reasoning that at least the latter will have some bits in it, and therefore will, when hydrated, have some kind of substance, I opt for that one. (I know now that these boxes are not mine. I would never buy tomato soup. There are many things about this country that I like, but I draw the line at tomato soup.)

Get on with it, I hear my readers saying. We’re all agog, they say. All right, all right. But first, let me break off to reply to two letters – both food-related, so I’m not utterly straying off the topic – that appeared in last week’s magazine.

To Karl Held of Birmingham: you’re quite right, cream doesn’t belong in a carbonara, and I don’t know what I was thinking. And to the esteemed Keith Flett of London N17, pheasant cost £4 each these days and feed two handsomely, so it doesn’t mean I am no longer down and out. I’ll have you know that, thanks to the annual financial car crash that is January, I had £30 to live off for the past ten days, so the matter is raw for me.

Anyway, back to the soup. Well, now I come to think of it, the story of how my bedroom came to smell of soup is not exactly a three-pipe problem; I put the mug down carelessly on my bedside table and it tipped over. Odd how prepared foodstuffs, when misplaced, are so unappealing: I suppose it’s because they look as though they’ve been vomited.

At this point my decision to go for the more substantial soup looks very much like the wrong one. The only intriguing fact, and I am using the word “intriguing” loosely, is that I was profoundly sober when the incident happened.

I am too dispirited to do much about it immediately. “My bedroom is going to smell of soup,” say the warning voices of duty and conscience.

“So what?” I reply. “There are worse odours than soup, even Batchelor’s Cup a Soup, and who else besides me is even going to come into this room? I mean, look at it.”

“Fair enough,” say the warning voices of duty and conscience, and retire.

Since then the soup has dried, the room has been hoovered, and the soupy smell remains. But for how long? And who the hell cares?

This article appears in the 08 Feb 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The May Doctrine