We have so much in common. We like the same music, movies, everything. But mostly we both love food. Eating is our great pleasure. We have adventurous tastes. Thai, Japanese, Turkish, Mongolian, we try them all.
I ask her to marry me one Sunday morning. She is at my flat and there is nothing for breakfast but bread fit only for toast and that thing that divides the nation. A jar of Marmite.
‘But I love Marmite,’ she says.
We look for, and find, a place together. It’s a tiny house, but we can afford it.
There’s a small garden and we chat to our neighbour, an old bloke living alone. He says he’s dividing his rhubarb roots. Would we like some? Rhubarb, the other food that divides the nation. I feel a trembling in the space that loves her. We look at each other and I give a tiny nod just as she does.
‘We love rhubarb,’ she says. I agree.
‘Don’t pull any this year or it won’t thrive’, advises our neighbour.
A fortnight later the old man has a fall. He’s moved to a care home and the house is put up for sale. It sells quickly and a young couple move in. We see them in the garden digging up the rhubarb and bagging it for the bin men. They let us know their negative view of the plant in a way that includes most of our favourite foods. They have no taste for the exotic and high praise for local fast food outlets. We nod politely and glance longingly at our small, unproductive, rhubarb patch.
That spring the rhubarb pokes above the ground, but we heed our old neighbours’ advice and don’t pull any. It feels a travesty to buy rhubarb when we have our own growing, so we go the whole year without.
The following March the bright red points of our rhubarb come again. One Saturday, we pull the first three sticks.
We play a game we have often played.
‘Stewed or crumble?’ she asks
Stewed of course,’ I reply, she nods.
‘Custard or cream?’ I ask.
‘Always custard,’ she replies, and I agree.
‘I can’t believe you’ve done that’ she says, anger in her voice, as I place the bowl of rhubarb and custard before her.
‘Done what?’ I ask.
‘You’ve put the rhubarb in first, and the custard on top! It’s ridiculous, what did you do that for?’
‘I always have my rhubarb like that, what’s wrong with it?’
‘It’s just so wrong. How could you!’
And we have a frightful argument. Crockery and rhubarb all over the kitchen. It’s our first real fight. She insists its custard first and I insist it’s rhubarb first. We make up eventually. But for fifty eight years, whenever we eat rhubarb and custard she has it her way and I have it mine. It just goes to show, opposites attract.