A Chocolatey Affair

Today, rather than write a fictional story or bore you with the woes of job hunting, I want to talk about chocolate; how it makes me feel, how it tastes in my mouth and generally the myriad ways in which I believe it improves my existence – because I really do.

Take this afternoon for instance. I returned from a gruelling TEN MILE (impressed? Please be impressed) run and dragged my weary limbs into the shower, before dressing and resuming work at my desk. But something was missing. Ah, I thought, a cup of tea! For truly no afternoon of work can be complete without one (doesn’t it say that in the Bible or something? “And on the seventh day, God kicked back with a cup of PG Tips and observed all he had done.” No? Well it should do).  

No sooner had I made my tea than the feeling of something being amiss returned. Then it occurred to me how nice it would be to have a little post-workout treat as an accompaniment. I duly delved into my bag of Christmas treats and was distressed to find the box of Lindor chocolates which I had been systematically working my way through was – shock horror– empty. Fearing the worst I ran my hand around the inside of the bag. My hand settled on a small square box. As I pulled it out a wave of happiness washed over me, for it was not just any chocolatey treat, it was the Holy Grail of chocolatey treats: A Chocolate Orange.

I know from an unpleasant previous experience that the Chocolate Orange should be savoured and not gorged upon. If you ate it whole in one sitting you would have consumed most of your day’s calories, and would most likely feel rather nauseous to boot. But dipping a few segments into a mug of steaming tea and letting them melt onto your tongue is an experience I defy anyone – other than those who are allergic to chocolate, don’t like chocolate, or who are allergic to or don’t like orange – not to enjoy.

My adoration of chocolate doesn’t stop at Lindor and Chocolate Orange; far from it. I’m currently having a love affair with salted caramel in all its scrumptious chocolatey forms, and dark Lindt chocolate with sea salt is so divine it’s almost worth killing for (not that I endorse killing in any form, you understand). Dark chocolate with chilli is definitely worth a punt for the more adventurous aficionados. And don’t even get me started on Reese’s Cups – chocolate and peanut butter together? Dribble.

I suppose in light of this obsession it’s easy to see why I was a chubby child. My grandmother used to cut up Mars bars in a bowl for me to eat, and mum would often bring chocolate éclairs (the fresh cream variety – NOM) when she came to collect me from school. Being the product of a broken home, I think she used such treats to assuage her guilt at my sibling-less, father-less, state, though in reality I was as happy as a sand boy stuffing my face and playing with my Polly Pockets.

Fortunately after shedding the puppy fat and discovering exercise I managed to regulate my weight, whilst still occasionally indulging in my favourite treat. Over the years my habit has waxed and waned depending on my mood and situation. I wouldn’t say I use chocolate as a crutch, exactly, but I do find it comforting to eat every now and again – particularly after a bad day or a vigorous exercise session, when I can eat it guilt-free knowing I deserve it.

“Everything in moderation” is a phrase I’ve used many a time, and never has it been more appropriate than when it comes to chocolate. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a disgustingly chocolatey dessert after a meal in a nice restaurant, but if I ate it morning, noon and night the pleasure would evaporate and it would no longer be a treat but rather something commonplace.

We have a great relationship, Chocolate and I. But it’s a good job I’ve a half marathon to train for whilst I’m facing unemployment because, between you, me and the Mars bar, I think my consumption may just be on the rise.

Now, where did I put that Chocolate Orange again?

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My earliest memory

If memory serves it was a summer’s day, the kind that has us Brits rushing for the strawberries and cream and slathering on the high factor sun lotion. My recollection doesn’t stretch to what I was wearing at the time but common sense would suggest it was some form of seasonally appropriate attire. For the purpose of adding colour to this story let’s say it was a yellow dress with white trim, matching white socks and shiny red shoes with gold buckles.

We were standing in front of a big grey house, my mother and I. As I looked up at it in wonder I thought I had never seen anything so gigantic in all my life. It had creepers growing up its walls, and large, foreboding windows which, despite their size, revealed nothing of what was within. We walked down the gravel drive and followed the path around the side of the house until we reached the garden at the back.

It was a large garden, with neatly kept flower beds containing multi-hued sprays of chrysanthemums, roses, bougainvillea and clematis (am I overdoing my artistic license here?). The air was thick with the scent of lavender, and busy little insects tended to the flowers like nurses to the sick. Dotted around the garden were other visitors like us, drawn by the fine weather and the prospect of tea and cake.

But there was another reason why they came – why we had come. Inside the house, on the upper floor, was a long landing. It wasn’t just any landing, it was also a gallery. Lining its walls were portraits of long dead ancestors of the house’s owners, the kind whose eyes follow your every movement, waiting.

We stood on this landing, my mother and I, and I felt a sudden stab of fear. I clutched her hand tightly as we began to walk, the floorboards squeaking underneath our feet. Slow and tentative steps I took, conscious that I was pulling back, not wanting to proceed – but she didn’t notice, or at least seemed not to. I remember trying not to look at their eyes, those soulless black holes that demanded attention but offered nothing but sinister stares in return.

Halfway down the corridor I stopped dead. A chill ran right through me as I looked up into the eyes of one of the paintings. Nothing happened, per se, but to this day I can remember that sensation of abject fear.

I know it sounds far-fetched and I imagine those who don’t believe in ghosts and such like will be scoffing as they read this. All I will say is that when I recounted this story to my mum a year or so ago she couldn’t believe I remembered our visit to that country house – because I couldn’t have been much more than two years old at the time. Now how’s THAT for spooky?

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I took this photo whilst walking around the beautiful gardens surrounding Sydney Harbour. It’s blurry background seems quite fitting for this mysterious and slightly chilling (but true!!) story.