I’m taking a break from hot sauce, and now the family is at war over ketchup

I look across the table at our youngest applying what could best be described as a lake of tomato sauce

Ketchup bottle
‘I realise ketchup doesn’t suggest a sophisticated palate.’ Illustration: Gym Class/The Guardian
‘I realise ketchup doesn’t suggest a sophisticated palate.’ Illustration: Gym Class/The Guardian
Romesh Ranganathan
Fri 13 Nov 2020 09.00 EST

When you are away from your family for extended periods of time, the heart aches to be with them, enjoying their company. When you are with them for extended periods of time, you sometimes visualise ripping their heart from their chest like the racially offensive bad guy in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom.

This week, I have had some time off and so have been at home with the family a lot. This has seen us get so snappy with each other that we have been pushed to the brink – often, but not only, by condiments. I have taken a break from my usual hot sauce, to give my digestive system a rest. (The details of which I went into at length in my book. I realise that looks like a plug but, truth be told, I went into way too much detail, something I only realised when I was reading it for the audiobook, by which time it was too late.)

Anyway, the point is I have been having ketchup with my meals, which I realise doesn’t suggest a sophisticated palate, bearing in mind that somewhere else in this very newspaper there is probably an article espousing the benefits of makrut lime leaves, but your judgment is not my concern. Last week we sat down to lunch, and I looked across the table at our youngest applying what could best be described as a lake of tomato sauce. I asked him what he was doing, and he said there was something wrong with the bottle. I told him not to lie; things don’t go wrong with ketchup bottles, just as I covered my entire plate in it. My children immediately turned on me, calling me a “ketchup noob”.

On the surface, this may appear, but the debate about what to do with the bottle has nearly broken the family. I was minded to do absolutely nothing about it and live with the fact that we had to be slightly less trigger-happy. My wife told me that I was speaking with the confidence of a man who knew he wouldn’t be clearing excess ketchup from plates. She suggested that we decant the ketchup into another, stress-free bottle. The children were divided, two of them siding with me, and one, whom I will remember when it comes to his next birthday, siding with his mother.

Two nights later, we sat down for dinner (we had eaten on the day in between, but it was ketchup-free, thank God), and the children got out the ketchup. They applied it perfectly. I commended them for adapting so well and took the bottle to have a turn myself. I squeezed some ketchup out and, sure enough, it slowly splodged out at its usual rate. My wife looked nervous. I calmly asked her what was going on, and she informed me that it was a different bottle.

She had apparently decided to take things into her own hands: this was a new bottle, which she would fill up with ketchup from the defective bottle as required. “Problem solved” is how she put it. And she was right. There was no more stress, nor wastage. A happy ending. Except for the fact that the motion to do nothing had been carried by three to two, and my wife’s decision flew in the face of the very spirit of democracy.

It felt melodramatic to say that out loud, so I just thought it to myself as I silently walked to the cupboard to get hot sauce, hoping that the heat would help me get rid of the bitter taste of betrayal.