Beggars can be choosers

Beggars can be choosers

This is the fourth in a series of posts related to the tales in Making Things Work. These posts are new material, not excerpts. 

Nancy with poptart in Brendan's Pop Tart chair

Eat and be happy. In this case, I was not eating, but pretending to take a bite of a sprinkles-bedecked Pop-Tart supplied by Brendan Gaffney, who was explaining his name for the upholstery fabric he used on this “Fat Man Pop-Tart” chair. (Pretending because if I’m going to splurge on sweets, I would rather eat cheese danish or Gateau Na Na. (Photo by Brendan Gaffney.)

Early on in my time pursuing a City & Guilds of London Certificate in Furniture Craft I attended all-day classes. It was still autumn, so at 1 p.m. I rode my bicycle to a small park near the college and ate my lunch while sitting on a bench. It was heaven.

I took the same lunch every day: a sandwich made from home-baked wholewheat bread with a couple of paper-thin slices of cheddar–no butter, lest I gain an ounce, let alone a pound. In those quasi-anorexic days the best compliment anyone could pay me was “Dear, you’re looking quite thin. Are you sure you’re OK?” When someone said I looked “well” I knew they really meant I’d gained weight, so I doubled down on the caloric austerity.*

The sandwich was always followed by an apple. There’s nothing in the States to compare with a Cox’s Orange Pippin, though an orchard near Bloomington, Indiana now sells a variety called Gold Rush with papery brownish-green skin and a firm white center that rival the English apples known as Golden Russets, my second-favorite variety.*


The divine Golden Russet of my youth.

One day I had just unwrapped my sandwich and was about to bite into the first half when an elderly woman approached me. I’m calling her “elderly” because that’s how she seemed at the time, though nearly 40 years on I’m aware that she was probably no older than I am today. “Can you spare ‘alf that sarny?” she asked, “sarny” being the widespread pronunciation of an abbreviation for “sandwich.” I briefly contemplated the sacrifice–I would be borderline-hungry the rest of the afternoon. But this person needed nutrition, and I wanted to help her out.

“Certainly,” I said, handing her the second half.

She took one bite and tossed the half-sandwich on the ground.

“There’s no butter on it!” she said in disgust.

Sometimes, it seems, you just can’t win.


*I am not glorifying anorexia. Having lived through a mere brush with that condition and its attendant health problems, not to mention the ongoing, unrelenting pressure on women in particular to equate thinness with attractiveness and self-worth, I still battle the pressure to be thin.

**The Gold Rush sold in Bloomington is not the same as an English Gold Rush. It’s far closer to a Golden Russet. Something seems to have been lost in translation.



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3 responses to “Beggars can be choosers

  1. A great story by a great person. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Finn Koefoed-Nielsen

    The version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” on that Them LP is a proper Desert Island Disc!

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