I developed a deep seated love for many things during my 2002 spring semester in London: public transportation, drum & bass, Stongbow, Caryll Churhill and – most fervently – Cadbury Whole Nut chocolate bars.
The Whole Nut, not to be confused with the much busier Fruit and Nut, is a magnificent combination of sugary smooth chocolate and whole hazelnuts. It’s as if Mr. Goodbar had a cousin with a cute accent, and after the first time Goodbar brought him by your house, you secretly wished he was your friend instead.
They were at the time sold in vending machines on the London Underground platforms. This is a game of chance for the consumer, as you never could tell if your delicious snack would dispense before the train rolled into the station. One such machine provided me with the singular triumph of my chocolate-eating existence, one that I still marvel at years later.
It was a rainy Saturday morning, as most Saturday mornings are in London in March, and I was waiting on the platform at Regent’s Park station to catch the Bakerloo line to Paddington Station. My friend S. was arriving on a 10:30 train from Bath, where he was also spending a semester. Actually, we were not quite friends, per se. We’d dated the entire previous year and arranged to go to the UK together, until we broke up just before departure. It was very, very important that I was nice to him this day.
Unfortunately, the previous night had been spent at a very cheap comedy club located in London’s financial district, stealthily finishing off half-empty bottles of red wine my friends and I lifted from the tables of early-departed middle-aged Brits. Even in 2002, the dollar was doing us no favors and none of us could afford to drink.
We stayed through all three sets, not caring that it was after midnight and the tubes had stopped running. The trek back to our at-critical-mass student flat just south of Camden Town, though not normally that far, was as long and arduous as a Dickensian-era breach birth. I recall lying down in a bus shelter at one point and imploring my brave comrades to go on without me, and the frenzied joy of finding a pay toilet after what felt like hours, holding the door open a crack so that each of us could go using the only 20p coin we had on us. By the time we reached home, it was after three. But I could not face the guilt of leaving S. stranded at Paddington on his first trip to London.
So with a hefty quantity of red wine still sloshing in my head, I waited dutifully the next morning on the platform, wanting to die. What could possibly ease my suffering?
The Cadbury machine shone in its royal purple glory, offering chocolate salvation from halitosis and headache. A quick search of the crevices of my bag yielded two 20p coins, just shy of the 50p needed. I peered from the edge of the platform into the tunnel and saw no train lights approaching. One more desperate plunge into my jeans pockets miraculously came up with a shiny 10p.
In went the coins into the slot. I punched the Whole Nut button.
Not a sound.
I punched the button again. Still nothing.
That is, except for the sound of the train trundling down the tunnel toward me. My heart leapt. This was no time to be picky.
I rabidly punched the Fruit & Nut, Dairy Milk, the chewing gum, praying for some sugar to get me to Paddington.
The machine reacted nonchalantly as the train doors slid open. Bleary passengers stared flatly as I waved my hands in front of the slot to get it to hurry. The cheery auto-announcement voice called out the station stop and instructed us to stand clear of the doors. I hovered halfway between the open doors and the vending machine, full of woe.
Something thunked in the machine. The train doors began to close.
I lunged at the candy slot, jamming my hand inside and closing a tight fist around the contents. I threw myself across the platform, diving through the encroaching doors, hitting the train floor and pulling my feet in just as they came to a close. The passengers stared at me, faces full of English disdain. Just as I started to feel embarrassed, I opened my fist.
Not one. Not two. But three. Two Fruit & Nut and one Whole Nut bars clenched in my clammy hand. I held them up for all to see, grinning my victory throughout the train car, dared anyone to mock me. I was Boudicca sacking the Romans. I was Churchill weathering the storm. The day was mine.
I consumed two of the bars on the way to Paddington and presented the third to S., to welcome him to the city that had been treating me so well.