We all have little secrets, don’t we? Things that we choose to keep to ourselves, things that, for various reasons, are too precious, personal or downright embarrassing to share with anybody else, such as an unrequited crush, a medical condition or a collection of Barry Manilow albums. Secrets are a fundamental part of human nature.
The only thing surer than having a secret is the certainty that, at some point in your life, you will end up blurting it out to somebody. Be it your new boyfriend/girlfriend – probably after a lengthy session of sex that has left you witless and convinced that since this person can make you squeak louder than Mariah Carey in a blender that they must be the one person you can trust with your deepest, darkest secrets; or to a bewildered taxi driver, whose dark backseat, at 2.30 in the morning and after way too many daiquiris, becomes the modern-day equivalent of a confessional; or even just to a friend who, unfortunately, happens to be the only other sentient being online at 4am, when you’re vulnerable and so befuddled by lack of sleep and your own stupidity that you can barely recall your own face, let alone the fact that this person is about as trustworthy as Wayne Rooney in a home for geriatrics.
The bitter voice of experience? I hear you ask. Yes, it bloody is! Because once, during an early morning online conversation with a chum I somehow, inexplicably, ended up confessing that I am in fact… a phantom jelly biter.
Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a ‘quirk’ of mine.
Sometimes, when I’m in the supermarket, doing the deadly dull grocery shopping, just to relieve some of the boredom I like to take a packet of jelly (NOT the ones in boxes, obviously) and… gently bite it.
Don’t say “Urrrghh!” like that! I don’t break the plastic wrapping! I just bite it hard enough to leave teeth marks in the jelly.
The reason I do this stems back to when I was a child. I was at my friend Kim’s house, we must have been about 5 or 6 years old at the time, and her mum was making a trifle. We were at the table, colouring or something and chattering away, when suddenly her mum said “Oh good grief! Who on earth would do THAT?“.
Being curious, as all small children are, we immediately demanded to know what the matter was, to which she replied “Somebody’s been biting this jelly and then put it back on the shelf!”
Of course, we insisted that she show us the offending jelly, which she did. And she was right. The jelly was pocked with teeth marks.
It was the most excellent thing we’d ever seen.
And we thought it was hilarious, reasoning that anything that disgusted a grown-up must be a very good and cool thing indeed.
Having talked it over at great length, we agreed that there must be a phantom jelly biter, lurking in supermarkets, probably with a mask and a cape, just like Batman but instead of a bat on his chest he’d have a big letter “J” or, even better, a picture of a big, wobbly jelly, like you get when you use one of those moulds.
He was our hero.
The next time we were in a supermarket together we remembered the phantom and managed to slip away from Kim’s mum and made straight for the jelly. We eagerly scanned the packets, looking for the phantom jelly biter’s mark. But they were all smooth and pristine.We were horribly disappointed.
Then Kim said “We should bite the jelly”
I looked at her, unsure. It seemed like a terribly naughty thing to do when we wouldn’t even be buying the jelly. “He can’t bite all the jelly” she explained, in some exasperation at my denseness, “He’s not magic, like Santa”. For some reason this made total sense. The poor guy could probably use some help, we would be the phantom jelly biter’s little helpers. That was pretty badass!
And that’s how it started.
Whenever we had the opportunity we would sneak off in supermarkets and bite the packets of jelly, giggling helplessly and feeling terribly naughty and daring.
As we grew older it became more about the forbidden side. We didn’t believe there was a phantom jelly biter any more… we had BECOME the phantom jelly biter, and it seemed like the most hilarious thing to do as teenagers. We wanted to do it just because we knew adults wouldn’t approve and therefore it felt rebellious.
By our late teens and early 20’s it had just become an in-joke, a little quirk we fondly shared in remembrance of our lost childhood.
Kim stopped doing it when she got married and had children of her own. I remember being round at her house one evening, we were sharing a bottle of wine and some memories when the subject of the phantom jelly biter came up. We laughed so hard at the memory of all the surreptitious jelly-biting we’d done over the years:
Kim: Aw, I do kinda miss it.
Me: Don’t you do it any more then?
Kim: (laughing) No, of course not! I’m an adult now!
Me: (nervously) Oh
Kim: (long pause) You don’t still do it… do you?
Me: (forced laugh) Me? God, no! I mean, that would be totally childish!
Kim: (Thoughtful, suspicious look)
Me: More wine?
Kim also told me that she’d be horrified if her kids ever did anything like that and strictly forbade me to tell them about what their mother and “Auntie Kate” used to get up to. I didn’t think it appropriate to argue with her… but let me tell you, just as soon as those kids are old enough, “Auntie Kate” is going to take them for a trip to the supermarket that they will NEVER forget! Some traditions simply need to be upheld.
The phantom jelly biter WILL live on in the next generation.
Anyway, I digress… today, I just happened to go to the supermarket.
I remembered the online conversation… and, yes, I nostalgically bit some jelly, just for old times sake. It felt ridiculously good. I was giggling and smirking to myself, wishing Kim could see me, wishing even more that I could see the look of horror on Kim’s face, when …
“Er… Miss? What are you doing?”
I couldn’t believe it! I’d been caught! For best part of 25 years I’d been biting jelly, and not once had I been caught in the act! Why now?! I’d been appropriately sneaky, hadn’t I? I’d checked to make sure I was alone in the aisle… where the hell had that shop manager come from?
“What are you doing?” the voice sounded mildly imperative but I was also satisfied to hear a hint of nervousness, this guy was determined to do his job but he was also going to be ready to make a sprint for it if mad jelly woman decided to go loco.
I turned round, my most winning, dazzling smile stretching across my face,
“Just checking!” I said brightly.
Now I was looking at him I could see the fear in his eyes and the spots on his chin… btw: why are so many supermarket managers spotty adolescents these days?… he looked a bit weedy, I’m a total girlie wuss but I felt confident that I could take this guy in an arm-wrestling match. It gave me new confidence,
“Checking for what?” he asked, licking his lips nervously and checking for the nearest exit out of the corner of his eye,
“Oh, just to make sure it’s fresh. It gets a bit rubbery if it’s stale” I bullshitted, like a pro.
He clearly didn’t buy it and attempted a mocking raise of one eyebrow which just made me want to laugh at him, “You’re going to have to buy that, madam”.
I considered him for a second, it was so tempting to give in to my mischievous inner child and refuse to buy the jelly, even though I’d just been biting it, but then my conscience whispered in my ear, sounding suspiciously like my mother; it told me I’d been in the wrong and therefore to give in graciously and just buy the damned jelly! And furthermore, that it served me right that it was an orange jelly (which I hate) and not a lime jelly (which I love) and that I should have thought of that before I started playing silly-buggers in the middle of the supermarket!
It’s a lowering thought to know that I’ll never be a really bad girl. If I was I would have just laughed, chucked the jelly at him and said “Catch this, spotty” and run off, giggling. Instead, I admitted guilt and defeat and was practically frog-marched to a till where I had to buy the awful, teeth-marked orange jelly.
Although… it did give me some small satisfaction to know that there were 3 other packets on the shelf that he clearly hadn’t seen me biting.
Ok, so maybe I am a little bit naughty after all.