I am reading another French so-called new novel, this time from 1956, entitled ‘L’Emploi du Temps’ (The timetable/The Usage of Time), by Michel Butor. It is about a Frenchman who comes to work in a Northern industrial city called Bleeston possibly based on Manchester. There are passages concerning what he gets to eat as he goes around this town (this is the 1950s).
‘Il y avait un peu de soupe, un peu de poisson frit, quelques pommes de terre dures, la bouteille de sauce rouge sur la table our assaisoner, un petit pain rond de la taille d’une balle de tennis, une tasse de the, et our finir une patisserie justement nommee eponge, couverte de cette immanquable creme couleur de jonquille fanee, qui laisse dans la bouche un gout de colle.’
(There was a bit of soup, a bit of fried fish, some hard-boiled potatoes, a bottle of red sauce on the table by way of seasoning, a round little bread roll the size of a tennis ball, a cup of tea, and to round it all off a dessert with the name sponge, which is always covered in that cream that has the colour of a faded daffodil and always leaves the taste of glue in your mouth.)
No matter how unappetising this description, it manages nevertheless to give rise within me to a desire to eat sponge cake (the French translation of ‘eponge’, which is really just the word for the substance we mostly see in the bathroom, conveys the Frenchman’s bemusement as to the nature of this mysterious grey pudding}. Still, it is enough to do the trick for me. At the first opportunity I am at Greggs looking for the nearest equivalent for ‘eponge’. Nowadays it comes in the form of ‘Tottenham cake’. It is the same grey cake but given a gaudy pink icing top. This I have been programmed to like. I buy. I consume. Am satisfied.