I’ve always felt a gut-dragging revulsion for “bits“: small pieces of matter that are out of place, not where they should be. Sometimes just the thought of out-of-place bits is enough to make me gag. I remember once that my dad had a small piece of white lint or thread caught in his unshaven whiskers. I must have been about 9 or 10 years old and I could not look at my dad’s face in case I saw this bit of out-of-place rubbish and it made me feel sick. Of course, my natural embarrassment prevented me from flagging up the bit of white lint or my feelings about it to my dad: who would want to appear that ridiculous? I was sent up to the local greengrocer’s and it was still there when I came back so I vomited all over the carpet.
My feelings of nausea well up at flossed bits of food left on bathroom mirrors. I find this particularly unbearable: why is it not possible to floss one’s teeth without spraying dried up lentil or mince over the surrounding area? And then leaving it there for hours or even days?! (I’m pausing here for a moment to settle my stomach, heaving at the thought.) I deeply dislike seeing small pieces of food dropped on tablecloths and left there to congeal and dry. I can’t even stand the spilled grains of salt or parmesan cheese that seem to congregate on tablemats when the family sit down to eat. Yuck. I know that, to many, this is oversensitivity of the most extreme sort, but I’ll bet that there are others who know exactly what I mean.
And so this napkin ring is symbolic of my hatred of bits: surely the whole point of napkins is to remove escaped pieces of food from one’s face in order that they do not offend or embarrass? The purpose of a napkin ring is that one folds up the napkin neatly to use it at the next meal but surely that means keeping all of the offending, congealing pieces of food on the piece of cloth? It’s all very polite and bourgeois but the effect is the opposite. Unravelling that previously-sullied napkin would cause me to vomit, I know it. Rather, make napkin rings redundant; put the napkin in the wash, preferably transferred straight from the lap to the machine, as soon as you have finished using it. A napkin takes virtually no time to iron, and it will be crisp, clean and unsoiled for next time.