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An essay by A. A. Milne


Title:     Lunch
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

Food is a subject of conversation more spiritually refreshing even than the weather, for the number of possible remarks about the weather is limited, whereas of food you can talk on and on and on. Moreover, no heat of controversy is induced by mention of the atmospheric conditions (seeing that we are all agreed as to what is a good day and what is a bad one), and where there can be no controversy there can be no intimacy in agreement. But tastes in food differ so sharply (as has been well said in Latin and, I believe, also in French) that a pronounced agreement in them is of all bonds of union the most intimate. Thus, if a man hates tapioca pudding he is a good fellow and my friend.

To each his favourite meal. But if I say that lunch is mine I do not mean that I should like lunch for breakfast, dinner, and tea; I do not mean that of the four meals (or five, counting supper) lunch is the one which I most enjoy--at which I do myself most complete justice. This is so far from being true that I frequently miss lunch altogether ... the exigencies of the journalistic profession. To-day, for instance, I shall probably miss it. No; what I mean is that lunch is the meal which in the abstract appeals to me most because of its catholicity.

We breakfast and dine at home, or at other people's homes, but we give ourselves up to London for lunch, and London has provided an amazing variety for us. We can have six courses and a bottle of champagne, with a view of the river, or one poached egg and a box of dominoes, with a view of the skylights; we can sit or we can stand, and without doubt we could, if we wished, recline in the Roman fashion; we can spend two hours or five minutes at it; we can have something different, every day of the week, or cling permanently (as I know one man to do) to a chop and chips--and what you do with the chips I have never discovered, for they combine so little of nourishment with so much of inconvenience that Nature can never have meant them for provender. Perhaps as counters. ... But I am wandering from my theme.

There is this of romance about lunch, that one can imagine great adventures with stockbrokers, actor-managers, publishers, and other demigods to have had their birth at the luncheon table. If it is a question of "bulling" margarine or "bearing" boot-polish, if the name for the new play is still unsettled, if there is some idea of an American edition--whatever the emergency, the final word on the subject is always the same, "Come and have lunch with me, and we'll talk it over"; and when the waiter has taken your hat and coat, and you have looked diffidently at the menu, and in reply to your host's question, "What will you drink?" have made the only possible reply, "Oh, anything that you're drinking" (thus showing him that you don't insist on a bottle to yourself)- -THEN you settle down to business, and the history of England is enlarged by who can say how many pages.

And not only does one inaugurate business matters at lunch, but one also renews old friendships. Who has not had said to him in the Strand, "Hallo, old fellow, I haven't seen you for ages; you must come and lunch with me one day"? And who has not answered, "Rather! I should love to," and passed on with a glow at the heart which has not died out until the next day, when the incident is forgotten? An invitation to dinner is formal, to tea unnecessary, to breakfast impossible, but there is a casualness, very friendly and pleasant, about invitations to lunch which make them complete in themselves, and in no way dependent on any lunch which may or may not follow.

Without having exhausted the subject of lunch in London (and I should like to say that it is now certain that I shall not have time to partake to-day), let us consider for a moment lunch in the country. I do not mean lunch in the open air, for it is obvious that there is no meal so heavenly as lunch thus eaten, and in a short article like this I have no time in which to dwell upon the obvious. I mean lunch at a country house. Now, the most pleasant feature of lunch at a country house is this--that you may sit next to whomsoever you please. At dinner she may be entrusted to quite the wrong man; at breakfast you are faced with the problem of being neither too early for her nor yet too late for a seat beside her; at tea people have a habit of taking your chair at the moment when a simple act of courtesy has drawn you from it in search of bread and butter; but at lunch you follow her in and there you are--fixed.

But there is a place, neither London nor the country, which brings out more than any other place all that is pleasant in lunch. It was really the recent experience of this which set me writing about lunch. Lunch in the train! It should be the "second meal"--about 1.30-- because then you are really some distance from London and are hungry. The panorama flashes by outside, nearer and nearer comes the beautiful West; you cross rivers and hurry by little villages, you pass slowly and reverently through strange old towns ... and, inside, the waiter leaves the potatoes next to you and slips away.

Well, it is his own risk. Here goes. ... What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's essay: Lunch