Say the words "omelette du fromage" to anyone aged 21 to 30 and it will spark something in their mind. Maybe it sparked something in yours just now? And yes, you might not know why, but luckily I have the answer: 20 years ago an episode of the cartoon Dexter's Laboratory was broadcast that would go on to define a generation – an episode centred around the phrase "omelette du fromage".
In this episode, "The Big Cheese", protagonist and boy genius Dexter tries to learn French by listening to a learning tape in bed. However, when he falls asleep the tape gets stuck and repeats one phrase over and over again: "omelette du fromage". Dexter awakes to find that all he can say – whatever the situation – is that phrase. While it initially seems like a nightmare, a sequence of good luck comes his way. Favourable test questions lead to hit records; hit records take him all the way to impassioned speeches at the UN; and, in one day, he manages to become a global superstar saying just this one phrase.
So to mark 20 years since the episode was first broadcast, I'm going to put this run of good luck to the test: by only saying "omelette du fromage" all day and seeing where it takes me.
I awake, face down in a fog of morning breath. My mouth scrunches into a smile: cheese fucking omelette. I haven't told anybody about what I'm going to do today, bar my notepad, in which I've written: "I want it just to happen, naturally, like in the episode."
I move into the kitchen, trying to make enough noise to wake up my girlfriend. After tossing a bunch of bruised bananas out of the back door directly at the fence, I'm successful.
"Are you alright?" She stretches out like a cat in the sun.
"Omelette du fromage."
Sitting up in bed, she looks at me. "I don't know what you're doing," she says, grabbing a towel and heading for the shower, "but just leave me alone until you're over it."
When she emerges, dressed, I'm sat at the table carving up a cheese omelette. She looks at me, then the plate, then me again, then shakes her head in disgust. "Couldn't you have chosen to do this another day, Oobah?"
"…Omelette du fromage."
"It's Saturday, probably the nicest day of the year, and I'm away all of next week. None of this occurred to you?"
My girlfriend walks out the door, so it's on with the experiment: time to grasp for some of the money, fame and recognition bestowed upon Dexter. Where best to start? The bookies, of course. And which horse am I betting on?
Surely William Hill won't let this happen? To accept a fiver bet on a fictitious horse. A fictitious horse with made up odds. I approach the counter.
"Hello sir, is this it?"
"Omelette du fromage."
"Omelette du fromage… omelette?"
"No English? Let me have that, mate." He takes the slip and studies it. "Do you have a passport?"
"Fromage." I hand him the document. He stares intently at the slip and calls his manager. They chat, quietly. Eventually, he approaches.
I can't believe it. The house always wins.
Next, I'm off to my local café. Omelettes aren't even on the menu. I come here most days for coffee and I'll often put change in a pot that says, "Justin Beiber Assasination Fund" [sic]. Barrelling through the door, I'm greeted warmly by Molly – her accent, broad Yorkshire, and her hair coloured like chicken.
"So what do you want then, ma'love?"
I squint and stare at the menu I've looked at one thousand times. Soon, it comes out.
"Omelette du fromage."
"What do you mean then?"
One of the ladies cooking at the grill behind Molly chimes in: "Do you mean cheese omelette?"
I nod. We all laugh. I dab my forehead with my sleeve.
Pulses of adrenaline swell through me. Usually, when I'm doing silly shit like this, I'm giggling away, with my photographer friend Chris pointing an SLR at my moon-shaped head. Today, I'm alone, my jaw is vibrating and I'm struggling to swallow an omelette.
A message from my friend, and Noisey staffer, Ryan Bassil pops up on my phone.
I send a few more fromages – Ryan doesn't respond. He can't be serious, right? With an explanation he'll find it funny, I'm sure. Either way, I can't go to the barbecue – I'm meeting my friend Sam to watch the football. In fact, you know what? I'm going to call Sam now; this is exactly the kind of thing that would really, really annoy him, so I feel energised.
The phone hangs up and a valve is released; I keel over onto the floor. Laying on my side, I catch myself in the mirror. It's Ricky Hatton staring back at me; my face bright red, like it's trapped between a gigantic set of tweezers. Utterly repulsive. I stop laughing. Is this a normal way to react to hearing your friend is in hospital? I do hope he's OK. He sounds fine.
I decide to go and see another friend, Jack, who I know has a silly sense of humour; I once saw him fart on a basket of melons as a gag.
Opening his front door he's pouring with sweat: Liverpool are minutes away from kicking off against Stoke. He ushers me in, dropping comments about the line-up. I don't say a word; it's too tense. The game kicks off and he's asking me questions. Eventually one comes up that I have to humour: "Who would have the last word in an argument between Emre Can and Charlie Adam in which they're calling each other fat bastards?"
Looking ahead at the television, Jack doesn't say a word. Moments crawl by; I hear kids playing outside on the estate. Jack turns to me: "I don't like this bit, mate. It's rude."
We sit in silence.
The game passes; we win. A great moment, but we're not really talking. We're drinking. Pointless: Celebrities is playing in the background. Half-watching, I'm on my phone, feeling a little anxious about the article – I barely have anything. But it's then that I hear it: Alexander Armstrong is asking Lee from Steps and Michelle from Liberty X a question: "What items are in a full English breakfast?"
I leap to my feet: "Omelette du fromage!!"
Jack is speaking even less than me now. It takes a while of staring into the bottom of a Holsten Pils tin to figure out what's needed. I have to show him "Omelette Du Fromage". I huddle up alongside Jack, pass him my phone and touch the screen to start playing the episode. I eagerly wait, watching his face to see if a smile emerges. The five minutes comes to an end and he looks at me for the first time in hours.
"So you're doing an article?" I smile. "What makes you think I'd give a fuck about that? I'm not Bam Margera's fucking dad."
At this point my brother clambers through the door. Dumping his bags in front of us, he senses an abnormal atmosphere. "What's going on?" Jack indignantly explains. My brother stops, looks at me and starts flaming with laughter. Jack asks what he's laughing about, but I know: he gets it. Finally, somebody fucking gets it. It's a great feeling. The yelps of laughter calm to a brief halt, and he manages to spray a phrase: "It's the idea…" Tears stream down his cheeks. "It's just so, so terrible."
I leave Jack and my brother drinking, waiting for a stitched-up Sam to arrive. I would stay, but I've spoken to Sam and squeezed all the blood out of that stone. Instead, I decide it's time for some dinner, and I'm in the mood for Nando's.
Walking away I'm grinding my teeth so hard it feels like they're going to shatter. It's physically painful. Sitting at my table, I can't believe I've managed to order. it. Are we living in the post-communication age, all destined to just bark one banal phrase at each other and for that to be enough? I don't know. I should be sad, really, but I'm just irritated. Why wasn't her reaction more severe? Will it read for the camera? My phone vibrates in my pocket.
Okay: forget your friends, loved ones, acquaintances – they can take it. But if there's anybody you should avoiding fucking with, it's probably coke dealers, if only for the fact they'll ignore you the next time you call them. I'm like 99.9-recurring percent sure I've never texted this number before, but texting back still worries me. The joke's not worth it. Walk away.
Oobah, what are you doing?
You don't have to do this.
No. Just stop now. Apologise and block the number.
Is this what it's come to? Your work, your magnum opus: you, antagonising and prodding the last person still speaking to you, a coke dealer you don't even know?
He's given you an out. You've left it four minutes. You don't need the last word here. Walk away.
My eyes watering from an extra hot veggie wrap, I look up from my phone. I'm not even smiling. Tables filled with families, young couples laughing, busily reaching for sauces, and all I can think is: I feel such shame for everything I've done today. But I know I'm not going to stop. I can't. If you put me in front of Malala Yousafzai right now, I'd just say omelette du fromage.
As the clock makes its way toward midnight, I find myself alone and in bed, and decide to end the day as I started it – with a cheese omelette. I flick on the episode of Dexter's Laboratory and laugh through a mouthful of omelette at the same moments: the teacher asking the insane mumbo jumbo Maths question, and his look of surprise when Dexter is correct. His abrupt "omelette" soundbite given to an eager press. It's banal, it's brilliant.
Then, however, it gets a bit hazy. Dexter enters his home bursting with confidence. Approaching the door to his beloved laboratory, it asks him for the password – "Omelette du fromage," he says, cockily. ACCESS DENIED. He repeats it. An extra layer of metal shielding covers the door. Now furious, he yells again. More metal descends over the door. ACCESS DENIED: "Be advised, complete computer memory core meltdown engaged. All active experiments will be terminated and de-molecularised. Laboratory will self-destruct in ten seconds. Ten, nine, eight–"
Dexter, face contorted with horror, desperately yells: "Omelette du fromage!" before falling to his knees and erupting into tears. His sister Dee Dee dances around him, chanting, "It's all you can say! It's all you can say!" Quite traumatic/ I definitely have never seen this. I don't think anybody has. It's never come up in the many conversations I've had with people reminiscing about the episode. Dexter has undermined everything in his life. He's lost access to it; lost touch with reality. He handed it all over, and what had he got in return? A cheese omelette. No trade backs. As the countdown hits one, the whole thing goes up in an atomic explosion. The video cuts out abruptly, leaving me in complete darkness. I look over to my side; an empty bed. Check my phone; no more texts. A chair is nailed to the wall above me, precariously. A T-shirt bearing the message "Masturbate: I love it" hangs from it. I take a bite of omelette. Bit cheesy. Nice texture. Great content.