I am inspired.
By a biscuit.
A Rich Tea biscuit of renowned lineage to be exact. For those who have not encountered this denizen of the biscuit tin, it is a plain, thin and eminently dunkable thing, not to be tackled by the unwary or uninitiated. It requires the touch of experience to achieve that perfect melding of beverage and biscuit, the transmutation, that alchemical marriage of liquid and solid, fixed and mutable into the perfection born of precision.
This particular pack of biscuits was a gift from a son to an ailing mother. It matters not that they arrived slightly battered, nor that he ate half the packet with his coffee upon arrival. Half a pack remained as proof of his thoughtful care, the empty half a witness to filial devotion and his concern for my waistline.
I seldom eat biscuits, but when I do, I dunk.
Do you dunk? Are you blatant and unashamed in your pursuit of the joyfulness of a well dunked biscuit or perhaps a closet dunker? Do you dunk in private and shy away from the possible horrors of any public dunking? Who, of the dunkers amongst us, has not encountered that particular moment when the sogginess goes one step too far, the biscuit curls ominously and lands with a self-satisfied plop back in the beverage of choice, as if desperate to be reunited with the steaming liquid that brought it to life? That momentary fear as we await the inevitable, wondering whether the poised imminence will slide gracefully into the cup or will splash loudly, leaving its trace upon the pristine surface of the table?
What do you do about it? Pretend it has not happened, leaving the now soggy mess to sink into the obscurity of the dregs, leaving enough in the cup to cover the traces of your transgression? Attempt to drink the lot and hope no-one notices? Or fish around nonchalantly with the spoon in the hopes of discretely catching the disintegrating mass? If successful, do you discard the mess upon the saucer, or glance furtively around before rapidly hiding the evidence in the fastness of your mouth?
Or… do you go boldly in with yet another biscuit, with swift precision, to capture the floating remnants upon its crisp surface, knowing full well that one slip will result in inescapable disaster and inevitable splashes, knowing too that the slim chance of the success of this forlorn hope, this bravado, this daring will result in the satisfaction of perfection, thus covering the momentary failure in glory?
Dunking, of course, is an art, an exercise in the precision of attention and awareness. An art, rather than a skill, as skills can be learned and adhere to formulae. An art requires that you interpret, give of yourself, engaging with its form in the most intimate manner. Although it is a precise art, it is variable. No two biscuits are the same. The time factor varies between, say, a rich tea and a ginger nut. The first requires swiftness and a steady hand, the second is more forgiving of the novice dunker but optimal saturation is more difficult to gauge. Perfection is only achieved when the correct ratio of time, volume, surface area and temperature is attained.
Too long an immersion in the steaming depths leads to mere sogginess or disaster, too little and the saturation is incomplete, negating the purpose of the dunking, leaving one unsatisfied and disconsolate, crunching the unsoftened inner heart of the biscuit.
But of course, personal taste makes this artform even more unique. There are those who prefer an incomplete saturation, relishing the inner crunchiness hidden beneath the melting surface, or simply willing to accept a lesser melding for the sake of safety and less risk. Some prefer a mere veneer of sogginess, tenaciously clinging to the security of known crispiness, while for others only the abandon of total immersion will do.
Who can judge who is right? Optimal saturation varies biscuit to biscuit, dunker to dunker. Every dunk of the biscuit is different and serves a different purpose in differing circumstances. There are those who simply have no desire to dunk. Some would, but choose not to… indeed, there are those who eschew the biscuit altogether. Many would dunk if they dared, desire held in check by fear. What may be acceptable in the privacy of one’s home, may be seen as too great a risk in public, viewed as a social solecism, or a negative reflection on our place on the class ladder. Within the arcane art of the dunker many things may be observed, from the zest for life, to fear and the social pressures we impose upon ourselves, from the embracing of risk to the need for security. Yet bold or tentative, success or failure cannot be measured by the observer, only by the dunker, as only the dunker can know what satisfies their inner need.
Next time you pick up a biscuit, take a moment to think about what your relationship with it tells you about yourself. It is a revealing process.