I’ve never eaten brains, but I did once watch someone do it.
I remember the meal through a retrospective filter of nausea, not because of the brains, but because next morning I flew into Matsapha, Swaziland, in a small plane. Matsapha is a little airport surrounded by steeply menacing hills and we spiralled into it like water down a plughole. That rapid descent really did for my equilibrium. Or should I say, started the process, because this was the trip that changed the course of my life.
The brain-eating episode had been in Johannesburg, where white-gloved waiters served at our white-clothed table and looked on impassively as we gorged. Sorry, dined. The memories of that particular trip to South Africa are a bit ragged now, but several things stand out. The sullen faces and blank, evasive eyes of black people at the airport. The black men in suits or overalls lounging around lamp-posts and street corners. The place where Steve Biko ‘died’. The empty first class (white) and packed third class (black) carriages on the train to Pretoria and most starkly – for me – the signs on the station platform benches: slegs blankes – whites only. No, don’t even think about sitting on a bench if you’re black. It was 1982.
I had thought long and hard about that trip, a kind of corporate family visit to Philips (I worked for the Dutch parent company at the time). Bands were refusing to play in the country, Barclays Bank was being boycotted (hey, there’s an idea!) for operating there and no-one of a liberal persuasion was admitting to visiting the apartheid state. For a naïve young woman born in one British multi-racial city and brought up in another it came as a total and utter shock.
But that’s not what changed the course of my life. Shifted my axis slightly, yes, but didn’t re-set it.
That’s where the socks came in.