Music To Eat Cake By: The witty book you need to read

Reader's Digest Editors

If it's charm, wit and imaginative musings on life you're looking for, you'll be especially taken by this pleasant read

Music To Eat Cake By, a collection of wonderfully eccentric essays by Lev Parikan, is unique in that he asked his readers what they'd like to read about. Indeed, not previously knowing the topics on which to write could be seen as a risk, but with the trust that they had picked subjects that could be expanded upon, Parikan throws himself into every one. From the excitingly mundane (soup) to the refreshingly upbeat (Kevin Peterson), each take has unexpected twists and guaranteed giggles.

Without further ado, let's start with a few extracts so you can see for yourself.

Music To Eat Cake By: Essay's on Birds, Words and Everything in Between is published by Unbound (£10)

 

Growing Old, Growing Older

"Some aspects of ageing hold no terror. Grey hair? Bring it on—I’ve always wanted to look distinguished. Baldness? Excellent—I’ll spend the saved shampoo money on foreign holidays. Wrinkles? They’re supposed to be markers of character, aren’t they?

And while the onset of presbycusis‡ might be just a small part of that ageing process, and might never be so acute as to impair my quality of life, it’s on that dispiriting list of things that will make life gradually, almost imperceptibly, more difficult.

It’s already started, of course. It started decades ago. Since I was twenty, my myelinated axons have been getting shorter, with a resulting effect on cognitive function. It’s a gradual process, so not something that anyone would necessarily notice, but I just put it in as a reminder of how early things start going to pot. Sorry, kids – wherever you’re standing, it’s basically all downhill from there.

There’s more, though. Much more.

I will shrink. By the time I’m eighty I might have lost as much as two inches, and will likely adopt a stooping posture, as if doing an am-dram impersonation of Richard III.

My vocal cords will weaken, and my voice will weaken, and my voice will become breathier, weedier.

In the mouth department there will be a double whammy: receding gums and decreased saliva production. Both of these factors will leave my teeth more susceptible to decay.

My skin will become less elastic, resulting in dryness and wrinkles.

My brain will shrink.

Sleep could well become more difficult in the night. As if that weren’t enough, I’ll likely be drowsier during the day.

Falls will be a hazard, and with weakened, brittle bones come fractures.

My taste buds will at some stage go to pot, along with my sense of smell. No more petrichor* for this octogenarian.

My eyesight will get worse. My immune system will deteriorate, leaving me more susceptible to colds, flu, viruses and bacteria. My ability to bounce back from these will be severely compromised. Not only will they leave me weaker, but each bout will be potentially life-threatening.

My lungs will be less efficient, so there will be less oxygen about the place to help me function properly. I’ll be less mobile. I’ll hurt more. Incontinence is a distinct possibility.

Cataracts, osteoarthritis, hypertension, constipation, skin tags, bruising, impotence, necrotising fasciitis, sprangifying phlegmyopia (not a thing), Hübler’s disease (also not a thing, but I bet you didn’t know that until I told you, and in any case I wouldn’t be surprised if it did become a thing at some point in the next ten years).

And what with knowing about all these things that will probably go wrong with me, I’ll worry about them even more than I already do, which is quite a lot. It’s not that I walk around in a perpetual state of crippling anxiety, but rest assured these things lurk in the darker recesses of my mind, ready to mug me when I wake up at 2.56 a.m.

So, to recap, I will get slower, weaker, blinder, deafer, balder, forgetfuller, dodderier, confuseder, hurtier, forgetfuller (or have I already said that?) and, eventually, deader.*

And that’s without any intervening factors like heart disease or cancer – the likelihood of both of these increases as we get older.

Might as well give up now."

Levi Parikan

 

Ice Hockey

The river burst its banks every year. It didn’t take much. A few days of rain and the surrounding meadows would be inundated, the surface of the water dull under Tupperware skies, groups of lapwings huddling on the occasional island of grass poking up between the gently rippling expanses.

For me it was drama, the daily car journey to school enlivened by seeing how far the water had advanced, how much of the meadows it covered. One year, thrillingly, it came to within feet of the road. Would it rise enough to make the road impassable? Would I get – oh, the joy – a DAY OFF SCHOOL? No.

The floods subsided, the meadows returned to normal, and I had to get my daily excitement from counting the rooks’ nests in the trees or pretending I’d seen a curlew.

Several years later, the Holy Grail. Floods, followed by a Big Freeze, the words capitalised because it was a Significant Occurrence. Which, to be fair, in the low-lying and relentlessly temperate Thames Valley, it was.
I was home from London, mooching as only a student on holiday can mooch. Telly, book, mooch. Mooch, book, telly.
Someone in the village had an idea. They’d been down to the meadow, seen the extent of the ice, tested it with their not insignificant weight. It was solid, flat, glassy. The river remained unfrozen, of course, potentially treacherous if you went too close. But there was a lot of ice, a broad expanse of it. Plenty of space for skating, or sledding.

Or ice hockey.

We didn’t need any further encouragement. The next morning a group of us went down there, as motley a gang as ever played the game. A gallimaufrey* of hockeyisers. We didn’t have proper equipment – the citizens of Oxfordshire in the 1970s were as likely to own a pair of skates or an ice-hockey stick as a weasel is to own a chainsaw – so we improvised. Gumboots and cricket bats were the order of the day. A puck was fashioned from a block of wood, jumpers laid out as goalposts in time-honoured fashion, and the game began.
It seemed such a good idea at the time.

 

The Art Of The Sandwich

Consider this: a chilled food cabinet in a faceless shop in a faceless town somewhere in today’s England. A row of cardboard and polythene cartons, each containing a sandwich marginally less appetising than its neighbour – a neat trick if you can pull it off. Typically in these cartons, two slices of mass-produced tasteless pap masquerading as bread encase a thin smear of bland paste devoid of redeeming qualities; or perhaps the filling comprises a sickly concoction of pig and poultry products calling themselves ‘the all-day breakfast sandwich’; or a pasty mush with flecks of yellow, only identifiable as ‘tuna and sweetcorn’ on close examination of the label. They stare balefully at you from the shelf, demanding you cough up £4.50 to wade through their insipid ghastliness, an encapsulation of the myriad horrors of fast food – sans sweet, sans salt, sans sour, sans bitter, sans umami, sans character, sans love, sans everything.

And breathe.

It needn’t be like that. For while it’s true that at its worst the sandwich is among the most abhorrent things it is possible to inflict on the human palate, at its best ... ah, at its best the sandwich is one of the glories of world cuisine.
Ever since John Montagu, 4th Earl of BLT, called for some sort of snack to be brought to his table so he could continue gambling without interruption, this deceptively simple idea – something enclosed between two pieces of bread – has seized the human imagination. The machinations of popular folklore being what they are, it’s unclear whether the specific combination was in fact his idea, or whether he just barked, ‘Valet, get me a snack and look snappy about it!’ If the latter, we should pause for a second to acknowledge the contribution of that nameless servant to the history of gastronomy. Because if there’s a more universal and democratic food type, we have yet to find it. From the childish pleasure of the sugar sandwich* to the grotesque and uniquely American magnificence of the Dagwood† and touching on all the stops in between, the sandwich has conquered the world.
Such is the infinite variety of sandwich species, genera and phyla, not to mention human taste, it’s almost impossible to be prescriptive about what constitutes a good one, but we can at least attempt to define our terms and set out what a sandwich is – and, crucially, what it isn’t. It might seem an obvious question, and one to which we all think we know the answer, but it addresses a point I’d like to make in an overly pedantic manner in a couple of paragraphs, so off to the dictionaries we go.

Here’s Chambers: ‘Any sort of food between two slices of bread.’ Succinct and to the point, as is their wont. The Shorter Oxford English, not unexpectedly, goes into a bit more detail: ‘A set of two or more (esp. buttered) slices of bread with a usu. savoury filling between them.’ For the sake of balance, here’s the Cambridge version: ‘Two pieces of bread with cheese, salad, or meat, usually cold, between them.’ Across the pond, Merriam-Webster goes for: ‘Two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them.’
And so on.

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