I know a man who once swam in a vat of Nutella.
His name is John and he’s the partner of Mum’s lovely friend Trish. I met him the night before Wedding III, when The Mothership arranged a dinner with her Schoolteacher Posse. John was one of those easygoing guys you like immediately. Gareth was especially smitten because he was into motorbikes, but when he casually mentioned the Nutella Thing no other details mattered to me but the Nutella Thing.
John is an engineer for the company that makes Nutella, and one fine day the Nutella machine broke down. He had to be lowered into the big barrel o’ choc-hazelnut goodness to investigate the problem. He alleged it wasn’t very glamorous – the Nutella was warm and sticky and they had to haul him out afterwards and hose him down, and of course the batch of Nutella was ruined. But all I heard was, PADDLING IN A NUTELLA POOL.
If this happened to me, well, screw the repair work. I would dive deep, open my mouth wide and just wait like a basking shark. You know how they hover there, jaws agape, letting the hapless fish flow right down inside to their eager bellies.
I first met Nutella in the mid-80s when my Best Friend Katie brought some in for recess. It was one of those wee snack packs with the foil lid, complete with plastic digging implement. She was a rare creature whose Mum packed her delicious sweet things for lunch but rarely wanted to eat them. I, on the other hand, was hungry like the wolf but made my own lunch, and it was always some wholegrain homemade vitamin-rich crap as dictated by The Mothership. Thus much of our Best Friend conversations went like this:
“Are you not going to eat that [Spacefood Stick, KitKat, Wagon Wheel]?”
“Nah, I don’t want it. Do you want it?”
“Well, only if you’re sure you don’t want it.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
I remember peeling back that foil and being punched in the nose by chocolate perfume. The Nutella gazed up at me, smooth and calm in its little box. It seemed a shame to disturb it. But ten minutes later I was licking away the last skerrick, wedging my tongue into the little grooves in the bottom of the tray.
I didn’t encounter Nutella again for a decade. 1996 is remembered both as the year I left home and the year Ferrero brought out The Simpsons collectable Nutella glasses. I was swanning down the aisles, flushed with the freedom of grocery shopping without lamb chops, when the Homer glass sang to me from the shelf. I fully intended to stop at Homer – after all, how many glasses does a student need? But by year’s end he’d been joined by Bart, Krusty and Maggie; then finally Lisa because I didn’t want her thinking I thought she was unworthy. And despite my intention to just have a wee spoonful of Nutella then scoop the rest into the bin, I’m not sure that happened very often. I’m fuzzy on the details; I fell into a sugar coma at some point.
I was clean for eight long years, before falling off last year while in Germany. We arrived in Berlin and found the youth hostel’s bread rolls were accompanied by little foil packets of Nutella. I was powerless to resist.
Not long after I was staying over at Chez Gareth. We were cooking dinner when I spied a familiar jar up the back of the pantry.
“Is that Nutella?”
“Yep. Do you want some?”
“Oh no. I have a problem with Nutella.”
“How can anyone have a problem with Nutella?”
“Oh trust me,” I muttered darkly, “It can happen.”
A few weeks later I was at Chez Gareth again and we were chatting on the couch.
“Sooo, I went to make a Nutella piece today,” he began. Piece, incidentally, is a Scots word for sandwich.
“Yeah?” I searched for an innocent tone.
“Yeah. I took the Nutella jar from the shelf, and it looked like a normal jar of Nutella, three quarters full. But then I opened the lid!”
“Much to my surprise the jar was near empty, except for a very thin layer of Nutella right around the edges and bottom. Like someone had very carefully excavated it, spoon by spoon, taking great pains to make it appear full from the outside, when in fact the lot had been scranned!”
“That’s just ridiculous!”
“I know, can you believe it?”
“Maybe you have mice! Some very precise mice!”
“That’s one theory!”
“Yeah! Well!” I bristled, “You shouldn’t eat it anyway! It contains partially hydrogenated peanut oil, don’t you know; and that’s very bad for you. Very very bad!”
I assuaged my guilt by buying him a jar of Green and Blacks Organic Hazelnut Chocolate Spread, which is just as calorific but smugly unhydrogenated.
A whole month went by and he hadn’t even opened it.
“Jesus!” I screamed out of the blue as we watched a movie. “How come you haven’t opened that Nutella yet!?”
“Oh, I totally forgot it was there.”
“How could you forget Nutella?”
“Well I dunno… I just did.”
“But haven’t you been thinking about it? Hasn’t it been taunting you?”
“Has it been taunting you?”
“I’m just amazed that it’s unopened. Don’t you just crave it?”
“Well I tend to crave chips or cheese. I’m more a savoury tooth than a sweet tooth; that’s your thing.”
“Oh I have a sweet tooth and a savoury tooth. I have many teeth.”
In the end I cracked, opening the jar myself and landing spoon first. I managed to stop after one or two bites, then put the rest inside a double-batch of banana muffins as a delicious chocolately surprise, distributing the lot to friends and colleagues.
There was no mention of Nutella for a long while then one afternoon I dropped by Chez Gareth. I went into the kitchen to make the tea as per standard procedure.
“Oh, I don’t want any tea,” said Gareth.
“What I really fancy,” he smiled, “Is a Nutella piece.”
“You want me to make you a sandwich?”
He just grinned some more.
I opened the cupboard and reached for the jar. And this is what I found.
“OH! Very funny.”
“Hee hee!” Gareth punched the air triumphantly.
“Your kangaroo is rubbish, by the way.”
“It’s my first one! Cut me some slack.”