WHEN I bumped into my friend Tim in Park'N Shop, he looked guilty and nervous, as if he had been caught indulging a bizarre perversion in public. When I looked into his shopping trolley, I realised that that was exactly what he'd been doing. ''Oh,'' I said, with a malicious grin. ''Wife away again, is she?'' The tell-tale item was clearly visible, although tucked behind his other shopping. It was a packet of pigs' trotters: a fatty and unsightly meal which does not commend itself to the kitchens commanded by squeamish women like his wife. The rest of his purchases reinforced my initial hypothesis. They were a selection of Quintessential Guy Foods: four canisters of Pringles potato crisps, three tins of canned meat, a box of instant mashed potato, a bag of frozen chips, six microwave meals, and a case of Carlsberg. Yes, life without the spouse/ partner/significant other differs dramatically from life with the beloved. However close you and your loved one are, your shopping list alters when feeding only yourself. I do not know what Tim's wife's secret dining perversion is, but I know what women eat when they are on their own. This I learned by leering into the shopping basket of a group of young women who live in a testosterone-free flat near me. A basket of Quintessential Girl Foods contains: a four-pack of yoghurt, an iceberg lettuce, three bags of lentils, assorted vegetables, cream of mushroom soup, a huge number of chocolate bars and a case of Diet Coke. A SKING people to reveal their secret food fetish - what they slobber over lustfully when alone - was interesting. Few will speak openly about it. Next time I'll choose an easier assignment, like getting people in a public meeting to put up their hands if they are child molesters. There is a woman who melts a Mars bar into liquid form, pours it over croissants, waits for it to harden, and eats the results. Bernard Long of the Government Information Service's favourite snack is cow-heel, a delicacy from his home county of Yorkshire. ''It has a jelly-like meat on it, with almost the flavour of tripe [cow stomach],'' he enthused. He eventually revealed his cravings for Yorkshire food, including black pudding (pig blood) and bread with dripping (beef grease), to his Malaysian wife Iris, who proved understanding. ''She once made me a tripe vindaloo,'' he said. No doubt readers are positively eaten up with jealously. One chap told me he grills thin pieces of Spam, yes, SPAM, until they have a dry, hard, wood-like consistency, and then chews them. What does Frank Casey, publisher of Epicure magazine, eat when no one is looking? Gooseliver butties? No - he moves downmarket. He makes toast, covers it with baked beans, adds a layer of cheese, melts the result, spreads Branston pickle on it, and tops with anchovies. My own food fetish? You spread butter and marmalade (Frank Cooper's Oxford if possible) on a piece of toast, and put two fried eggs on top. Break the yokes, stir the resultant mess, and scoff while hot. My father stirs ginger and garlic into his tea. Psychologists say that food cravings are among the deepest desires a human being has. It is extremely good for you to release them. One American chap I know has an indulgence which is definitely good for the soul. You consume normal meals, but eat them as if you were a child. Here are his methods. Do any of the following while swinging your legs rapidly from side to side: 1. Cut up your food, and divide it into two main sections, which represent armies. Re-enact a famous war of your choice. As the skirmishes progress, you eat the losing side. 2. Use the food on your plate to create a structure as high as possible. Whenever it collapses, you eat only the bits which have rolled off the plate or table. 3. Using the back of a spoon, mash up all the food on your plate into a single dark brown mush. Eat one-eighth of the result and then rush off and do something else. Fans of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons will enjoy these dining techniques. ''They are particularly good fun if you do them somewhere posh, like Amigo's of Happy Valley,'' advised the regressionist. The lesson of this story is: don't be ashamed of your nutritional cravings. There's always someone weirder than you.