So, for the record, it it is the city of Liverpool's fault that I am fat, though I'm not surprised that the city of Derby is sitting at the back looking a bit sheepish.
I spent about half of my adult life in Liverpool, what with going to University there and then spending around 8 years working there. And there were a lot of fast-food places. From the house I lived in when I met Denise it was no more than a 500 metre walk to a fish and chip shop, an off-licence, a Chinese take away, a pizzeria, another pizzeria, a cake shop, a Greek taverna, a tapas bar, a pub/restaurant, a nice little cafe bar, another chip shop and several other eating places that I can't remember the details of. Towards the end of my time living there, a McDonalds opened more or less at the end of my street. Lots were open quite late and I would often stop in for food at the end of my journey back from seeing Denise (we lived at opposite ends of the country), even though I would often have had something to eat on the way, and Denise would quite often have made me sandwiches for the journey as well. But they were all very close and all very tempting - even the McDonalds, which generally I'm not keen on, but all too often on a Sunday morning I would go and have a cup of coffee and a Double Sausage and Egg McMuffin whilst sitting in the sunshine.
Liverpool isn't to blame for McDonalds, it has to be said. Between University of Liverpool and working in Liverpool, I had a year and a half working in Derby. Before Derby I had never, really never, been in a McDonalds - not even when I was at university. I know it seems hard to believe, but it's true. I'd heard about gherkins and I didn't like the idea of them. I was under the impression that every item of McDonalds food had a gherkin in it and I wasn't having any of that muck! Still not entirely sure what a gherkin is, however I have eaten a small sample since and my initial suspicion was, it turns out, fully justified.
I had eaten some food from a McDonalds before - in one of my summer work experience placements, the workers had gone out and got a McDonalds. Suspicious of the whole potential for gherkins I had asked for a Filet O' Fish. I think I imagined that this was, in some way, healthier than a burger - though what the heck I thought I was doing asking for something healthier, I have no idea. The Filet O' Fish (apparently this is actually a Filet-O-Fish, but I prefer my version, it seems a bit more wholesome and sophisticated with an apostrophe rather than dashes) was unfortunately slightly more disgusting than the gherkin.
This increase in the general level of grossness was occasioned by the addition of a sauce, which I tried to scrape off the fish, but too much residue was left and although I probably ate the Filet O'Fish, I didnt enjoy it. When I was a child we often (the frequency may be inflated in my mind by vivid memories of feeling sick) had some random bit of white fish with parsley sauce. In my memory these bits of fish came frozen in a bag with the sauce and were boiled in their bag and then unleashed onto a plate. I did not like them. I am ridiculously suspicious of all herbs and parsley was, as with so many, not to my taste. I am not sure of my current opinion of parsley, though we do have some dried chopped parsley in a jar in the kitchen - I sniffed this jar the other day when I was trying to decide what to add to a quiche I was making - it smelt wrong in some indefinable way.
Anyway, the Filet O'Fish sauce was, Mr Wikipedia tells me, a tartar sauce. Mr Wikipedia adds that "In the UK recipes typically add to the base capers, gherkins, lemon juice, and tarragon. US recipes may include chopped pickles or prepared green sweet relish, capers, onions (or chives), and fresh parsley." So whichever of these rancid sauces McDonalds chose to slather on the Filet, there's a good chance it contained something which I would reject on the basis of previous, bitter experience.
I never had a Filet O'Fish again, but in Derby I first went into a McDonalds to purchase food and became addicted to their Strawberry Milkshakes and their Chicken nuggets. Both of which, from the stand point of not having had either of them for a very long time, I look back on with a feeling of nausea. Even though, if people at work said to me tomorrow (and if my diet would permit it and if it had been a particularly fraught morning) "Do you want a McDonalds for lunch?" I would probably request these items. But really, they aren't actually that nice. But there's a lot of fast food which is nicer in the Platonic form than they are when they are sitting staring at you in cold reality. Chips (from your average chip shop) are a pretty good example - I don't half crave them sometimes, but... is the flavour really worth the calories. To which the answer is, yes...sometimes.
The McDonalds' that I used to frequent in Derby were both on the ring road, near to the cinemas, and I would drop in on the way home from a film.
On one visit to the cinema, where I bought a large pack of maltesers to much during the film, the serving bod asked me if I wanted anything else.
'A large Diet Coke!' I proclaimed virtuously.
'Yeah, 'cos that'll cancel out the maltesers,' the server muttered. Cheeky bugger.
I watched the film - John Travolta in Get Shorty - brooding on the rudeness of the UCI cinema staff and felt obliged to go into McDonalds on the way home. And with a sudden rush of blood to the head I decided to order a Big Mac for the first time ever. But I didn't go crazy.
'Can I have a Big Mac? But no gherkins please.'
'Two ninety nine.'
(I have no real idea of the price, but this was the level of communication in Derby McDonalds back in 1995)
I got back in my car and drove off, thinking about the pleasures of eating my Big Mac, thinking of getting it in my tummy toute de suite.
I reached across and put it to my mouth and took a bite...
'Gherkins!' I spat.
Literally - gherkins I spat, across the windscreen of my car.
I have never tried a Big Mac again.
(I think I'm going to have to stop there - but, Liverpool, you have not escaped the grease-encrusted finger of blame. I shall return to the subject later)