Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Custard Principle

What follows is a story about Mary and Michael. They're not really called Mary and Michael. In fact, they're completely made up people. But we're going to call them Mary and Michael.

At the beginning of this story, Mary and Michael have just got married. One day while they're eating dinner, Mary asks Michael,

"What is your favourite dessert?"

Without hesitation, Michael replies,

"Apple pie and custard, I LOVE apple pie and custard."

On their next shopping expedition, Mary purchases the most expensive brand of apple pie she can find (Mary's not much of a cook) along with a tin of Bird's custard powder.

The following evening, Mary pops a couple of pre-prepared korma curries in the microwave. While they are being nuked, she heats some milk on the stove and prepares a pint of custard. She leaves this to stand, and puts the apple pie in the oven to warm while they are eating their main meal.

When they have both have finished their curries, Mary dishes up the apple pie, and pours custard on each portion. Michael notices that she has left the custard skin on his portion. He hates the skin on the custard and he wonders whether to mention it, but decides not to make a fuss and eats it, even though it ruins his enjoyment of the meal.

Years go by, and many more apple pie desserts are served. And Michael always gets, and eats, the custard skin.

On Mary and Michael's 20th wedding anniversary, they visit a small restaurant for a celebration meal. When it is time for dessert Michael orders apple pie and custard. (Mary orders profiteroles, in case you were wondering.)

When the apple pie and custard is served, Mary nudges Michael and whispers "What a shame, they haven't left the skin on your custard".

Well, three large glasses of expensive burgundy have loosened Michael's tongue. He gently holds Mary's hand, looks her in the eyes and says,

"Mary, I've never told you this before, but I HATE custard skin."

Mary stares at him flabbergasted, before exclaiming,

"You mean, for 20 years, I've been sacrificing the custard skin, which I LOVE, and you haven't told me!


There is a fine line between tact and stupidity. Kindness and unnecessary people-pleasing. And often, being honest about what you do and don't like means more people get to do the things they really want to do, rather than the things they think they ought to do.