Sat on the sofa, munching on my cornflakes, I thought to myself: maybe this could be my day.
It was Saturday, and things seemed promising – the birds were singing, the children were playing, and behind the closed curtains the sun was probably shining. My friend Joss was having a house party in London, and I was excited.
As I looked into my cereal bowl, I remembered not to get my hopes up. Life is a continuous cycle of high-expectations followed by crushing disappointment, and eating cornflakes is my attempt at breaking that cycle, because I know in advance that they’re going to be horrible. Each morning they act as a symbolic reminder that in order to get through the emotional turmoil of existence, you need to make your life as bland and flavourless as possible.
I used to eat egg sandwiches every day for breakfast, they were my favourite thing in the world. I had to stop though because I’m quite a messy eater and whenever I got any of the egg on my face it would always lead to me getting proven wrong or embarrassing myself over something later in the day for some reason.
Anyway – loads of my best mates were gonna be at the house party, so maybe it was okay to be optimistic; maybe it could actually live up to my expectations. Even if it ended up being a bit shit, it’s unlikely I’ll regret it on my deathbed – I’ll be in too much agony, screaming for my loved ones, whose faces I barely recognise because of the dementia that’s destroyed my ability to have meaningful interactions, and made the last few years of my life a chaotic period of hopeless confusion.
It’s just the hope felt dangerous, it felt like I was pouring sugar on my cornflakes and expecting not to get hurt. How could I be so naïve?* I was breaking my own rule. Even so, I decided to approach the day with a kind of cautious optimism.
Eight hours later, I was at Joss’s party and loving life. People were drinking, the atmosphere was vibrant, and I felt vindicated in being optimistic. The night reached peak merriment when someone pointed out the comically small chair in Joss’s kitchen. This triggered a tidal wave of riffing and banter, everybody chipping in with their own quip on the ludicrous chair – it was like we were on an episode of the 8 Out of 10 Cats spinoff 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. It was electric. I couldn’t resist joining in.
“Guys, I’ve got one.” I said. “Hey, Joss, erm… Warwick Davis just called on the landline… he explained that he got your number through a mutual friend of your mother… erm but anyway, he said that he wanted the chair back. Because it’s his chair. Because it’s his size.”
Clunky and offensive. Nobody laughed.
But I was having such a good time that it didn’t matter. A few hours later, the joke was forgotten about, and most of us were chatting in the living room. Suddenly an argument emerged.
“You’re just wrong, Barclay.” Said one voice.
“Shut up, Barclay, you tweedy prick.” Said another.
Barclay was one of Joss’s posh school-friends. He had a right-wing sensibility, and spoke with an upper-class drawl that drew contempt from the other, more liberal, party-goers. There seemed to be a kind of unspoken disdain towards him up to this point, and now people had drunk enough for that hostility to bubble to the surface.
On top of this, the conversation had switched to a topic that made an aggressive clash of views inevitable: biscuits.
Barclay, controversially, was claiming that chocolate digestives, rather than chocolate hobnobs, were the sturdiest biscuit to dunk in your tea.
At first the objections to his statement were reasonable – for instance, my friend Matt very intelligently pointed out that this issue had already been settled in the early 2000s by Peter Kay, when to uproarious laughter, he declared hobnobs were like SAS soldiers. Classic stuff.
But then suddenly things turned sinister, almost toxic. The exchange became less about Barclay’s argument, and more about his class. A barrage of abuse was thrown at him – insults like “Posh Boy” and “Tory Scum” and “Landowning pig-fucking foie gras-eating Telegraph-reading cunt**”.
It was difficult to watch, Barclay looked desperate and vulnerable. I saw him lock eyes with Joss. Incensed, he started shouting, “Tell them, Joss! Go on, tell them! You’re a coward. You believe exactly what I believe.”
Joss stared blankly into space and didn’t say a word. Barclay burst out of the room.
It was horrible, I had to do something. I followed him outside.
“I can’t do this anymore, Eric.” He said to me, poshly. “If this was a one off, then maybe it would be okay. I could take it on the chin, swallow my pride and accept the insults. But it’s not. All my life, I’ve been bullied for being different. Because I don’t fit in. Because I’m posh. Because my views are different from other people’s…”
He started crying.
“…But here’s the thing: I can’t help being who I am. I don’t know, Eric. Why do I even try and fight it? I’ve never told anyone this before, but sometimes, late at night, I walk to the train station, alone. As I stand on the platform, I look down at the tracks and I think about lying there. Lying there and waiting for it to finally be over. But I’ll never do it. Because I’m a coward. A posh coward.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, it was a revelation so meaty and raw that it almost gave me food poisoning.
I wanted to go inside and do something. But what could I do? I didn’t think he was right. I remembered the Peter Kay bit – it was one of the only highlights of my otherwise miserable childhood. I loved it. To me, the idea that chocolate digestives were sturdier seemed absurd. Morally wrong, even.
But I looked at Barclay, and as he wiped the tears away from his monocle, I knew what I had to do.
“I’m on his side.” I dramatically announced as we re-entered the room.
People were gobsmacked.
“I truly believe that chocolate digestives are sturdier than chocolate hobnobs.” I said.
“Oh come off it Eric you silly prick,” Matt replied mockingly. “Hey, why don’t you call Warwick Davis again? See what he thinks.”***
The room erupted into laughter. I felt humiliated.
Why did I think I could make a difference? I’d let my expectations increase, and I’d been crushed yet again.
The room started spinning. Everything seemed to slow down yet speed up at the same time. It felt like the laughter was encircling me, closing in. I felt sick. My face was covered in something. I touched it and I was astonished. How could it be? It was egg yolk. There was egg on my face. “Help me,” I begged the guffawing mob. I hadn’t had an egg in weeks. What the fuck was going on? As the yolk dripped own my body, I burst into tears. Perfect yolk-tears. I was crying egg. Suddenly it was darkness.
I’d passed out.
Ten hours later, I woke up in a pool of my own yolk.
I got up and moved, first to the bathroom to clean myself up, then into the kitchen to pour myself a bowl of cornflakes. Almost everyone from the night before had gone. It was just me, Joss and Barclay.
“Guys, I’m sorry for embarrassing myself last night.” I said. “I dunno what happened with the egg thing, I’ll clean it up, don’t worry Joss.”
At this point Barclay looked at me, with a kind of sincerity that I don’t quite know how to describe.
“Eric, I want to say something.” He said. “Last night… that was the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me. For the first time in my life I felt as though someone was on my side. Thank you. You truly are a fantastic man, and I can’t believe you don’t have a girlfriend.”
I was moved. It was one of those moments in life where suddenly something clicks, and you realise a fundamental truth. I was wrong about trying to eradicate hope from my life. Existence didn’t have to be disappointing. All around us there are opportunities for us to help people, to do kind things, to be a better person. Seizing those opportunities gives us a purpose. Hearing Barclay’s words gave me hope again.
Maybe it was okay to be optimistic about life?
I looked down at my cornflakes and smiled.
“Joss?” I said.
“Can I have some sugar please?”
Anyway, that’s about it.
As I write this, I’m drinking a cup of tea. There are some biscuits on the table. Chocolate digestives. I take one from the tin, and dunk it in my tea. Suddenly the digestive breaks and falls into the cup. I sigh.
I wish I had some hobnobs.
*Btw “naïve” is what I call the 30th December. Because it’s like New Year’s Eve Eve. If ya get me. So like NYE-Eve. Do ya get me? Doesn’t matter. You’ll thank me on New Year’s Eve Eve when you’re walking around firing off Happy Naïve’s left, right and centre and everyone’s commenting on how cool and quirky you are. And guess what, you don’t even have to give me credit. It’s a gift mate. Enjoy it.
**This last one absolutely killed tbf. Very inventive, very savage and very funny. It was Matt who said it, and as a result of that and his comment about Peter Kay, I’m delighted to announce he will be receiving the very first Outstanding Contribution Towards an Eric Rushton Blog Post award. Well done mate.
***Who else but Matt? He’s in the form of his life this lad. #roasted
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