As any writer knows, especially one with a looming deadline, there is nothing worse than sitting at a blank page, fingers arched over the keyboard waiting for a light-bulb moment of inspiration which threatens never to arrive. For that reason, and again like many a writer, when an idea —however half-formed or half-baked— pops into my head I make a quick note of it somewhere so that I can come back to it later and spend quality time one-on-one with it, for this fledgling-fancy will need watering and nurturing if it is to later blossom into the glorious word-filled page or two that I long for. It is in this piecemeal way that books are mapped out, short stories started, lines of dialogue captured and characters, along with their entire back-stories, sketched out.
Analogue or Digital?
So it was, as the harsh glare from the white page on the screen intensified against the fading January light, that I went searching through the archives of unfinished (and sometimes un-started) ideas on my laptop, looking for inspiration. During my search I clicked hopefully into a word document entitled ‘analogue or digital’. It sounded promising, the notes for a thoughtful article on our rapidly changing technology and how this affects us writers and our creative processes perhaps. Yes, I thought: I can write that.
The date on the file was a good four years ago so I couldn’t remember the direction I had originally conceived the piece going but undeterred, and full of hope that creativity would flow freely once more, I opened the file. There I was confronted with one solitary sentence:
Cheese analogue is fake no dairy cheese!!!!
I stared at it, read it over a couple of times. WTF? Cheese analogue is what now? What did it mean? What on earth was the thought process that had produced that sentence, and how had I foreseen it fitting into a file with that particular title? Clearly I would make a woeful journalist or police officer if that was the standard of my note-taking.
So, doing what everyone does these days, I googled it. According to Wikipedia, cheese analogue is another, less common, term for alternative cheese-type products such as vegan or processed ‘cheeses’, which do not qualify as real cheese. Aha! So the first part of the mystery was solved: at least I understood what cheese analogue referred to.
But where had I planned to go with this and what was the (no doubt brilliantly smart) cheese-string that would link an analogue cheese to a digital age? Well, it’s been 2 days now and I am still no closer to recalling the thinking behind it and have had to consign the concept (if ever it existed in the first place) to the graveyard of lost ideas.
Cheese: Milk’s Leap Towards Immortality
But, as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When you have a head full of cheese, just write about cheese. And what a wonderful creation it is: milk’s leap towards immortality as Clifton Fadiman once described it. Our taste for cheese is not a new one, apparently, with remnants having been found in Egyptian tombs dating back almost 4,000 years, which was when people first started to breed animals and process their milk. Nowadays it is thought that there are about 2,000 different varieties of cheese, with over 750 being produced in Britain alone. That’s 350 more than are produced in France according to Newsweek https://www.newsweek.com/britain-produces-more-cheese-france-484465 “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” Charles de Gaulle, a slice of brie in one hand and the tricolour in the other, once cried (presumably back when France only produced 246 cheeses). Well, by that reckoning, Theresa May is clearly f#@*ed… on every front.
But while I am a cheese-lover, I am not a cheese expert so I need to bring this cheese wheel rolling back to us writers and word-lovers. What I found was a surprising number of cheese-based expressions! For example, we generally say “cheese” when having our pictures taken as the word forms our mouths into a natural smile-shape (which perhaps also explains the term ‘cheesy grin’). But if something other than a smile is described as cheesy it is thought to be inferior.
Things and people can be as different as chalk and cheese (meaning very different, as you would know if you had ever made yourself a chalk and tomato sandwich). You can cut the cheese (but not in polite company as this Americanism refers to farting rather than literal cheese-cutting) and done too often will lead to the people around you becoming cheesed off (in other words disgruntled…though cheesed off can also mean bored and fed up).
If you are a big cheese then you are likely to be a boss or other significant member of your group, which in turn means you probably earn plenty of cheese, or cheddar, or money. Nice. In fact, that would negate the need for you to be a nipcheese which is a 19th century term for miser (and yes, I hadn’t heard of that one before either). Another little-known expression, this time dating from early 20th century America, is that of cheese-eater referring to an informer. In more modern parlance though you’re more likely to come across pavement pizza or sidewalk cheese, when someone has cheesed (vomited) on their stagger home from the pub and, if not circumnavigated, gives a whole other meaning to cheesy feet. Ugh.
Cheese and Popular Culture
G K Chesterton may have famously said “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese” but cheese has still found its way into our popular culture. Wallace and Gromit famously travelled to the Moon in their 1989 film debut ‘A Grand Day Out’ to find cheese because, as all young children know, the Moon is made of cheese (something first told to us by John Heywood back in 1546). In fact, children’s literature today is littered with tales of cheese from ‘The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales’ (Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith) and ‘Here Be Monsters’ (Alan Snow’s tale of a cheese-obsessed town and all their underhand plotting) to a plethora of mouse-centric stories involving cheese, such as ‘A Tale of Moon Cheese’ by J. Eileen Arness, Jean Van Leeuwen’s ‘The Great Cheese Conspiracy’ and the lovely ‘Anatole’ by Eve Titus.
Cheese is funny
So is cheese inherently more interesting than other food groups? It certainly seems to be more funny. Who doesn’t love a good cheese-joke? My three favourites are:
What does cheese say when it looks in the mirror? Halloumi
What cheese must you be cautious with? Caerphilly
What cheese can be used to entice a bear down from a tree? Camembert
Aah, blessed are the cheese makers indeed, as said in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. But if we are ending on cheese quotes perhaps we should finish with something a little more Stilton than Red Leicester:
“Be ready to pay the price of your dreams. Free cheese can only be found in a mousetrap.” Paul Coelho
Isn’t it amazing where a sentence can take you when you let it?
A recipe for Cheese Straws
100g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
Pinch of mustard powder
75g Red Leicester or Cheddar, grated
1 medium egg, beaten
- Heat oven to 180c, Gas Mark 4.
- Mix together flour, salt & mustard. Rub in margarine.
- Stir in the cheese and add sufficient egg to make a stiff dough.
- Roll out very thinly & cut into strips. Place on a greased baking tray.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes.
Enjoy whilst pondering our digital age.