THE thing I do when I am not writing this column has kept me away from home recently, and I have spent some weeks in a hotel off the M6 at Birmingham.
It is quite hard to describe the hotel, not because my powers of description have deserted me, but because I cannot really summon it to mind. It is fairly unremarkable, like that boy in your class who you can’t remember even though you know there were 30 of you and you’ve only named 29 and yes, you have counted yourself.
The only thing I can say with any certainty is that it does not have a restaurant, and there are no shops nearby.
Consequently, I have had to explore other avenues to obtain food during my trips to Brum. I have been to a Nando’s and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The former was like every other Nando’s, the latter like nowhere else I have been on earth. I drank the tears of angels, ate clouds, and laughed – actually laughed – at how sublimely delicious the food was. McDonald’s has been utterly ruined for me.
Generally, I have been to the chain pub next door to the hotel, partly in an attempt to “keep it real,” but mostly because it is next door to the hotel and I am lazy. Plus, I have detailed previously my difficulty with taxis in Birmingham. Twice bitten, shy for an eternity.
The chain pub advertises itself as the “Home of the Square Burger,” but I have been resisting the lure of the mince-based cuboid.
I am a sceptic. I could not see how the introduction of right angles would improve the burger-eating experience.
And then I was on the bus, back in Liverpool, listening, as I am occasionally forced to do, to a conversation between two strangers. They were talking about cheese toasties. (For those of you who do not know what a cheese toastie is, it is a toastie with cheese in it. I am sorry, I am not AA Gill.)
One man said to his friend: “Yeah, when I have a cheese toastie, I don’t like it cut like that.” He chopped his hand in a downward motion. “I like triangles.”
I waited for the reply, agog. But his friend did not say to him: “Why don’t you go the whole hog, Howard, and have it cut into aeroplane shapes, and have your grey-haired mother fly them into your mouth, you infantile buffoon?”
He said: “Yeah, triangles taste better, don’t they?” And not even in a sarcastic tone of voice. His friend agreed, and they went on about something else, leaving me adrift in a world I no longer understood. Perhaps there was something in this, I thought.
So this week, back in the Home of the Square Burger, I took a leap of faith. I ordered the Square Burger with Spicy Sausage. I was nervous, but I chose to have this experience on your behalf.
I took the laminated, slightly sticky, menu, made a note of my table number, walked over to the bar to stand behind one person, went back to my table to check the table number again, walked back to the bar to stand behind two people, and waited to be served.
I sat at my table, and eventually the burger arrived. And not only was the burger square, so was the bun. I was going to get the full square experience, slightly undercut by the roundness of the onion rings on the burger. I could not help thinking that in my Michelin-starred restaurant they would have made onion squares, but I had to take this on its own terms.
I took a bite.
It tasted like a burger. Had I been blindfolded and fed a piece of square burger and a piece of round burger, I would not have been able to tell the difference. The men on that bus were deluded.
Yes, I thought, I might be sitting by a ball pool on my own in a pub under an M6 flyover, but at least I am right about the irrelevance of the shape of food. And that made everything better.