A Bowl of Eyeballs

Screenshot 2019-07-09 at 22.51.55On a steam train in China I was required to eat a bowl of eyeballs . Afterwards everyone cheered and laughed, including me. Then I was sick.
Why do it? For what possible benefit ? Well, although she wasn’t there I blame my mother. When I was little she used to tell stories of her exotic childhood in Africa, Iraq, Egypt and Persia (as it then was). Once upon a time she was introduced to a Princess and for want of something well-mannered to say the little girl told the Princess that her necklace was beautiful whereupon  “She just took it off and gave it to me! And to be honest I didn’t reallylike it, I was just trying to be polite.”
You see, our mum explained to us,  this was the custom. Different country; Different culture. The lesson was clear: Be careful who and what you compliment when you’re travelling.  I tested this theory to the limits.
Whenever we visited family friends in the country I’d beseige specific adults with compliments.  I’d tug their sleeves and say: “What I said was that’s a beautiful shot gun! …. Really, really lovely.” But it was to no avail. ”…I’m complimenting it. Do you understand?” I would patiently explain but they didn’t get etiquette the way I did.
Many years later I found myself in the restaurant carriage on a 40-hour journey in the middle of 1980s China. I was surrounded by Red Army workers wearing a combination of green or blue Mao tunics. A very smug man with an awful lot of gold on his cap had sathimself opposite and jovially shouted at me in Chinese. Everyone laughed. Neither of us spoke the other’s language. He reminded me of my grandfather and ordered all sorts of strange food and pushed it at me. The crowd grew and grew until I knew exactly what it is to find yourself inside a cave made of laughing faces.
I had a go at the marinated bean curd, the snake and other strange  meats. And then, to gales of laughter, came the bowl of eyeballs. At my mother’s knee I’d learned that it might be dangerous to compliment people when abroad . But what was the rule about turning down gifts? Or food? I couldn’t recall. Was it death? Surely there would be a price to pay.
Thus I ate the eyeballs.
I was reminded of this as I read :“Play On, How To Get Better With Age : The new science of physical longevity.” As someone who is old enough to have visited China when the tourists were the rich ones I was gripped by the promise of getting better with age. On the basis of the title, if I’d started earlier I could be amazing by now.
There are 11 chapters extracting applicable insights from the study of elite athletes. I skipped straight to the one on eating, hoping to learn the snacking behaviours of elite athletes watching Netflix. No dice.  It turns out there are very few eating short cuts: In one of the very few low points in this well-written book, an athletic hero “credits his longevity to yoga and strength work as well as to his early bedtimes and clean eating habits.” Sigh.
But have you heard of the “Hyena” diet? It seems that if you do like Hyenas do and eat cartilage, gristle and bone as well as meat and fat then your joints will serve you well into old age.
Really?…As you know I once took a massive dose of eyeballs but even so I had to wear specs to read this book which is why I have my reservations. But I’m not a scientist and maybe knees and shoulders are different to eyeballs, and that’s why the Hyena diet works and the eyeball diet doesn’t.
Good read, different subject matter, and lots to learn from dna-tested diets to creative training regimes. I say: go for it – before  it’s too late.
I read
Play On: How To Get Better With Age 
Jeff Bercovici