A woman to whom I was talking recently told me that she used to be a ‘ham sandwich/chocolate bar kind of girl’. This was apropos a conversation about her successful gourmet marinade business and chef-husband – but it left me musing on ham sandwiches, their associations and connotations.
Straight off the top of my head I worked out four main areas with which they were synonymous. Banality: their sheer anti- gourmet ordinariness. Scandal: the fact that Mama Cass Elliot allegedly choked on one and died. Simplicity, which overlaps Banality, as does the final area which is Familiarity.
Ham sandwiches I stopped eating when, around 14, I stopped eating lunch – which mostly took the form of sandwiches. And so when several years ago the man I love suggested for our cliff-top walk we take some along with us, my instinctive reaction was resistance. There was, however, something in the notion which charmed me inexplicably, the sweet vision of the two of us sitting side by side staring down at water as we bit into sandwiches. Sure enough, the reality was every bit as sweet as the vision. He insisted on soft white
sliced bread, a little butter, and ham off the bone, and after our strenuous clamber up Grassy Head headlands there we settled, the picture of cosiness, frozen forever in to my consciousness.
So when last year for our Australia Day bush walk up to the Byron lighthouse and down to Wategos he again suggested ham sandwiches, it was with alacrity I agreed. Unsurprisingly, when this Australia Day we prepared to do the same thing and I was proposing epicurean extras like seedy mustard, glamorous bread rolls and gherkins, he looked at me with horror. My tiny victory of grainy buns lost indeed its lustre when we finally sank onto sand, unwrapped and then ate them: they were definitely less grand than the unadorned version, where the bread somehow sticks, not unpleasantly, to the roof of your mouth.
It turns out that Mama Cass did not die choking on a ham sandwich, but as a cause of heart failure – there was, apparently, a ham sandwich on her bedside table. I discovered this when I decided to google ‘ham sandwiches’. Astonishingly, my search yielded three million results. Three million references to ham sandwiches!
I found out that there is a Ham Sandwich Theorem, forsooth – a branch of mathematics which refers to bisecting three solids with a single cut, or plane. This much I can grasp. In turn, it appears, this leads to a problem in computational geometry, called the Ham Sandwich Problem, which was so removed from the limited sphere of my intelligence that I could not begin to explain it, so won’t.
The expression Ham Sandwich also refers to, variously, a cocktail; a hand-gun planted on a suspect; a vagina; a type of Cadillac; an overweight girl; the state of extreme drunkenness; two men and one woman having sex – according to the Urban Dictionary, which made me feel I had lived a very sheltered life. Ham Sandwich is also the name of an Irish indie rock band. Then there is the Ham Sandwich network, presumably a Christian site with such topics as ‘My testimony of real demonic attack’, ‘Is it OK for a child of God to attend a Katt Williams comedy show?’ and ‘Pole-dancing for Jesus in Texas’.
I also found a joke almost as sweet as the poignant innocence of my partner and me enjoying plain ham sandwiches on a cliff- top. I am definitely not a joke person, but how could I resist this?
A ham sandwich walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘Sorry, we don’t serve food here!’