If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning you’ll know that the title doesn’t only refer to the psychosis of eating, but is also a pun on “psychogeography,” defined by Guy Debord as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals." That’s him above, on the right with the specs.
So I’ve been trying to do something similar with food, examining the ways food effects “the emotions and behavior of individuals,” though I don’t believe there are “laws” in this area, precise or otherwise. Sure, we are what we eat, but what we eat is largely determined by what the culture makes available to us, the way the environment, natural or otherwise, tells us what we should and shouldn’t eat. So having been in England for a couple of weeks, I shall make a stab at describing some of the “special effects” I experienced while eating there.
My first stop was in Sheffield, my old home town. Fresh off the train I headed for the Showroom Café in search of a cup of coffee and a sandwich. But seeing that they were offering something called a Henderson’s hotdog (and especially given my recent adventures with Detroit Dogs and L.A. Street Dogs, op cit) how could I resist?
The Henderson’s, of course, referred to Henderson’s Relish (even more op cit), Sheffield’s own vegetarian alternative to Worcestershire sauce. I wasn't quite sure what was coming, but even so I got a lot more than I expected. I didn’t even know it came with chips, for instance nor that it came in a huge baguette. And although it wasn’t a huge surprise that it came with fried onions, I hadn’t expected them to be so coated, drenched, perhaps marinated, in Henderson’s Relish.
You could argue that the sausage (and I think it was a genuine sausage rather than a true hotdog, though I’m certainly not complaining about that) got a bit lost amid all the bread, onions and Henderson’s, but as an instant introduction to the joys of Sheffield cuisine, it was hard to beat.
A couple of days later, in search of Sunday lunch, we went to Carbrook Hall (that's it above), on Attercliffe Common, a formerly very rough part of town where the Nicholsons are supposed to have originally come from. Carbrook Hall is a formerly grand private house with a huge amount of history. It was built in the 12th century, rebuilt in the 15th, used as a meeting place by Roundheads, then more or less demolished in the 19th century, and what remains is a 17th century wing from 1620. The current Pevsner Architectural Guide to Sheffield describes the exterior as “unpromising” which is hard to argue with. But most importantly, the place is now a pub, allegedly the most haunted pub in Sheffield.
Again we’d have been happy with a sandwich, but it was a Sunday and the options were full Sunday roast lunch or no lunch at all. So we had roast beef and all the trimmings it looked like this.
It was a very serviceable pub lunch. There’s a big roast potato lurking behind the Yorkshire pudding, which was the best thing on the plate. We ate in the oak room, a wonderfully paneled space, full of ornate carvings, and a molded ceiling that would overwhelm most other rooms.
Above the fireplace we observed a carved panel showing a man, possibly a priest, standing on the body, or perhaps corpse, of a supine woman. Her skeleton is showing, although her womb seems to be intact, and she’s apparently pregnant, and she also has a devil’s tail. It seemed an odd bit of decoration to accompany your Sunday lunch and no less odd as decoration for a private 17th century home, but perhaps there’s a potent religious message there.
Not far from Carbrook Hall, a pub called the Noose and Gibbet was delivering a different though no less disturbing message. The pub commemorates the execution of Spence Broughton, in 1792, for robbing the Sheffield and Rotherham mail. The execution actually took place in Tyburn but his corpse was brought back to Sheffield and displayed in a gibbet for the next 36 years, at a spot not far from the current Noose and Gibbet. It was quite a tourist attraction, apparently.
In the absence of a real corpse the pub has put a waxwork figure up in the gibbet, at the top of a pole, like an inn sign, and from the road it certainly looks as realistic as you would want it to be. You might think that the sight of a hanged man or a pregnant corpse might be enough to put you off your food, but no, this is Sheffield, where people have strong stomachs, and they make extremely good use of them.