Ben Oostdam story # 470


by John K. Nixon

It was August of 1992. There were perhaps a dozen of us seated around a small bonfire near a secluded beach off the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Eight or nine of us were paying guests from widely scattered parts of Canada and the USA, enjoying a five-day Wilderness Adventure camp on Spring Island, near Kyuquot Sound. The other three were our guides, including two young university students studying Marine Biology and Oceanography.
This was our last evening together and we were still getting to know each other. That afternoon we had been out in a power boat and had caught some salmon and rock cod. Tonight we were feasting on fresh fish cooked Indian style, strapped to a rack of tree branches propped up close to the fire. We were in a mellow mood, gazing into the dying embers of the fire while savouring our fish washed down with chilled white wine. Conversation was muted.

Suddenly, Linda, our blonde, pony-tailed kayaking instructor, leaned forward and addressed the group in a valiant attempt to generate some meaningful discussion.

“What do you consider the gravest problem facing Mankind today?”

she asked, in the earnest manner of a committed environmentalist.

Momentarily a series of potential responses flashed through my mind: uncontrolled population growth, diminishing natural resources, the growing hole in the ozone layer (this was before climate change became the issue it is today).

Before I could fully collect my thoughts to formulate a reply, a young female voice rang out clearly from the far side of the fire:

“The continuing shortage of Dark Chocolate!”

It was one of those defining moments when everything becomes crystal clear. All other concerns fade into insignificance. I burst into involuntary applause. “Why did I not think of that?” I mused to myself, as I pondered the wisdom of her assertion. She was absolutely right, and all this time I thought it was just me!

You see, throughout my life I have had an evolving relationship with Chocolate. For a child growing up in wartime Britain, chocolate was a luxury, rarely enjoyed. Like meat, eggs and orange juice, it was rationed and could only be purchased with a government-issued ration card.
Every few months however we would receive a food parcel sent to us from relatives or friends living in the USA. The arrival of such parcels was a major event, with all members of the family crowding round the dining room table to witness the unwrapping ceremony. Sometimes the package would contain unheard of delicacies, such as Chinese figs from California, lightly dusted with icing sugar, and tea bags (unknown at that time in Britain).
For the children the biggest treat was chocolate. Occasionally these were of the liqueur-filled variety which were forbidden fruit for myself and my two siblings.

On one occasion a large package was being unwrapped, revealing among other treasures a box identified as “Brazil Nut-filled Chocolates”. I had no idea what Brazil nuts were, but from the reaction of my parents I surmised that these were a rare treat indeed. We all craned forward impatiently as the top of the box was carefully pried open, revealing…a seething mass of white maggots! Evidently some insect had succeeded in accessing the contents of the box, had laid her eggs, and the emerging offspring had had ample time to gorge on Brazil nuts during the long and perilous voyage across the U-boat infested North Atlantic!
I recall that that experience put me off chocolate for quite some time.
Within a few years after the war, however, chocolate became readily available and I had soon conquered my phobia. Such well known brands as Rowntree, Cadbury, Mars Bars, Fry’s of Bristol and Terry’s of York marketed a bewildering array of milk chocolate, many filled with sticky cream, toffee, peppermint or sickeningly sweet fruit concoctions.
Dark unsweetened chocolate was regarded as some kind of Continental Perversion, the domain of the Swiss and Belgians into which no self-respecting Englishman would venture.

It was not until I married after moving to Canada that I became acquainted with dark chocolate. My new bride eschewed all milk chocolate and preferred the savoury over the sweet. Gradually I became converted and developed a preference for the darker shades of chocolate, both bitter and semi-sweet. My epiphany however occurred on holiday when my wife and I visited the charming medieval town of Bruges, in Belgium. While strolling beside a canal we stopped at a small confectionary kiosk, where on a whim I purchased a small box of Belgian dark chocolates. As I took my first bite I experienced a form of` gastronomic ecstasy that has probably never been equalled since.

For the past few years I have indulged in a familiar ritual. While entering a local pharmacy ostensibly to buy a newspaper, I find myself drawn magnetically to the candy section. There among multiple shelves of milk chocolate bars and boxes my eager eye finally lights on a small rack of dark chocolate offerings. Typically I will load up on three or four bars, particularly if they on the Manager’s Special discount.
Arriving at home I will lay the bars lovingly in a drawer in my kitchen, from which I will steal covetous glances from time to time. After a day or two, when I can endure the temptation no longer, I steal one bar from the drawer, climb the stairs furtively to my study and place it on the desk beside my computer. There we circle each other, exchanging lascivious glances in a time-honoured dance of flirtation.
Often my alluring temptress is a Swiss lady, slim and refined, clad in an elegant jacket adorned with embossed gold lettering in Gothic script. At other times the object of my desire comes in a glossy, tight-fitting sheath displaying all her bulges and advertising her hidden charms with coloured illustrations of the fruit and nuts within.
Finally, when I can stand it no more, I tear off the covering in a passionate frenzy, leaving discarded wrappers strewn on the floor in libidinous disarray. The consummation of our encounter is celebrated with the sounds of much munching, lip smacking and blissful sighs of satiation.

Today it seems that my secret perversion has become a public virtue. The health benefits of dark chocolate are now widely touted. The stuff contains flavonoids which act as antioxidants, help to reduce blood pressure and balance certain hormones in the body. It also reduces the bad LDL cholesterol and stimulates the production of endorphins (the feel-good compounds). Some even claim that it has aphrodisiac qualities!

All of which brings me to that bumper sticker I spotted the other day, proclaiming in large black letters:

“Save the Earth! It is the only planet with Chocolate!”

Now there is a message that Linda, our kayaking instructor, should be eager to endorse!

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