A good workout deserves a reward. That’s the way my mind works. This evening I couldn’t settle until I’d had my reward, a Magnum Mint ice cream. I thought I could have other things instead – a bit of strawberry yoghurt, a couple of energy balls – and maybe, I told myself, I should manage without the sugar and the fat and the whatever it is they put in ice cream. Palm oil? Whale milk? But my body wanted a Magnum, and a Mint Magnum was all it wanted.
That combination of chocolate and mint is a comfort (and treat) I carry with me from childhood, one of those food items that soothes you immediately, because they are more than just what they are. In fact they comfort because they are not what they are, they are not even themselves at that moment, and neither, I guess, are you. At the moment of chocolate+mint I am content; my needs are met. I want nothing more, I need nothing more. It’s a kind of nirvana, a oneness with the universe. It is.
The Peppermint Crisp is spoken of by South Africans in the diaspora with the same awe and longing as biltong is. Or sunshine. When I go to the South African shop in Liverpool Street Station I go mainly for the biltong and the droewors, but every now and again I add the ultimate treat to my bag. The Peppermint Crisp. It’s equal amounts crisp and chocolate, maybe even more crisp than chocolate. The peppermint is as bright and green as new leaves. Nobody else makes the same thing. Cadbury’s milk chocolate with mint comes close in flavour, but the texture is just not the same; there’s not enough mint in the chocolate.
And so I put on my shorts and my slip-on shoes and went downstairs to the shops for a Magnum. It’s a warm evening and it’s nice to trundle along the pavement with an ice-cream in hand. It makes me feel like there’s a beach not far from here. Like I’m on holiday. Shit, maybe I am on holiday. Don’t I deserve to be on holiday? Isn’t this my Mint and Chocolate Time after working hard for the last few months, and having a bad shoulder injury along with that? I think this is my reward time.
I’m not very good at taking holidays. Even when I go on holiday, it’s usually linked to going on a writer’s retreat or I’ll go somewhere that’s connected to the book I’m working on, so I can fit in some research. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a sunbathing, lie-by-the-pool holiday. That kind of holiday does not not appeal to me.
A while ago when I was in Australia at Bundanon on a writing retreat, I gave up writing after about a week and decided I was on holiday. It was too beautiful not to be. The river was a ten minute walker from the Writer’s House, and the weather was scorching hot. So I spent most of my days swimming, reading, jogging along the gravel path towards the main road, which was a long way away and which I never reached on foot. I was kind of stranded there on the farm in the middle of nowhere for four glorious weeks; someone came to take us to the supermarket once a week so that we could stock up with food. Which is when I discovered they also made Peppermint Crisps in Australia, but they just weren’t as good. I can’t remember why not, but I remember thinking that they were not precise, that they did not feel like a reward or a childhood comfort. I think even the wrapping was different.
After sitting most of the day at my desk, I crave exercise. I crave it and I also tell myself I should do it. And when I’ve done it and I feel good and virtuous and content, at some point I’ll start craving something sweet, but I tell myself I shouldn’t. There’s something wrong with that logic. Is exercise its own reward? That can’t be true.