How low can you go?

Wednesday, April 11th 2001 will forever be etched in my memory as one of the best days of my life. This is the day my son was born! Alexander Beowulf Sutherland came into the world at 10:11 on this beautiful spring morning.

I’m not going to describe the whole childbirth experience in this opinion, though, because there is another reason this day is particularly memorable for me. Namely, it’s the day I tasted–and, bizarrely, finished–the worst sandwich I have ever eaten.

Little baby B had been lying oblique breech for the last three months of the pregnancy, and there was no way he was coming out any other way. Darling Snoogums and I are both planners by nature, and we actually appreciated being booked in for an elective caesarean section: this meant we knew exactly when the baby was going to arrive, and could take action accordingly. Unfortunately, this didn’t extend to making me a packed lunch. Having a baby is tiring work, even for the father, and even if the birth is a 45-minute surgical procedure rather than a 24-hour front-row preview of Hell.

So, at about 13:00, just after I’d made the obligatory phone calls to family and friends, I found myself quite hungry. The Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion is in the heart of Edinburgh, right next to the main University buildings, and hence also very close to numerous small sandwich shops and caf├ęs. But did I choose to go to one of these funky, independent purveyors of freshly made fistfuls of food? No. I decided to visit the local Subway franchise instead.

Big mistake. Huge.

The restaurant itself was clean and tidy, and blandly decorated. Even at the peak of lunchtime, it wasn’t very busy, which I suppose was a bad sign. As I stood in the queue, I observed the dishes of sandwich fillings resting limply behind the glass counter. The meats and cheeses were packed in columns of perfectly cut, pre-processed squares–another bad sign, but stil
l I waited in line. The staff behind the counter was a morose assembly line, constructing supposedly tasty baguettes with all the enthusiasm of bored welding robots. But did I heed these omens of doom and flee? No. I ordered a foot-long “Subway Melt”: a hot concoction of turkey breast, ham, bacon and cheese.

Big mistake. Huge.

To me, a hot melt sandwich should be brimming with thick, freshly cooked (or failing that, just fresh) meat, and overflowing with a lava stream of strong cheese. It should have the option of being dunked or delicately topped with some rich tomato ketchup.

I understand this is not to everyone’s taste. Obviously, there must be a market for the bland monstrosity (this *should* be a contradiction in terms, but nooo…) that Subway served me up, because otherwise they’d be out of business, right?

Picture this: a 12″ long, sort-of freshly baked soft wholegrain baguette. Now, take two (2) wafer-thin square slices of reconstituted turkey breast, two (2) wafer-thin slices of tasteless ham with a water content of at least 75%, and two (2) rashers of overcooked bacon that nevertheless manage to be just as limp as if they were raw. Add two (2) slices of bland, processed dairy product. (I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to call it cheese.) Now fold, and nuke in a microwave for long enough for these contents to congeal into a sticky mass. Or should that read “mess?”

My stomach begged me to give up and run away as I watched this abomination being put together. At the very least, I thought, it could be livened up with a dollop of ketchup. But was simple, honest ketchup even on offer at the end of the assembly line? No, of course not. I could have a kind of bar-b-q sauce, mustard, or a variety of relishes, but simple ketchup, that most basic of fast food staple condiments, was apparently beyond their comprehension.

And you know what the worst thing was? As I sat down on a low wall on the Middle Meadows Walk, in the glorious sunshine, and attacked my hunger with this offence against good taste, I positively wolfed it down. Every flavourless morsel of sandwich, every last disgusting splodge of bitter, vinegary BBQ gunk, they disappeared down my cakehole as if they were spiced sugar plums. Ugh.

They say that hunger is the best sauce, but I can tell you this is not true: it’s parenthood. If, however, your mind isn’t addled and befuddled by the birth of your first child, I must urge you to stay away from Subway. For your own sake, avoid it at all costs.