COLUMN: June 30, 2016


I HAD to have one of those meals out to discuss a professional matter that people have, and I thought I had better do it quickly before the banks ran out of money and you could still buy olive oil in this country.

When I arrived, my dining companion was already there. I was late, owing to a complicated sequence of events which started with a broken shoelace, took in a drunken man trapped in the door of a bus, and ended with me being caught up in some sort of parade or protest march. It is hard to tell the difference these days.

I sat down and apologised, and I began to explain, but we both decided after a while it was best that I stop.

The table, I noted, was quite wobbly. This did concern me. I well remember the Birmingham Event of 2012, in which I forgot about a wobbly table in a well-known chicken restaurant, right up to the moment I leant on it in order to stand up, and landed in a pool of peri-peri, thereby inventing the term “a cheeky Nando’s”.

The waiter appeared. He told me his name and that he was going to be serving us and I immediately forgot his name because I do not think anybody has ever remembered a waiter’s name.

This is because nobody ever uses a waiter’s name. It would make you sound either over-familiar, or like a toff in pre-war India summoning a servant.

Anyway, I ordered roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and none of that foreign muck, thank you very much, because I know which way the wind is blowing, and my dining companion and I began to discuss professional matters of the highest national importance.

And when I was halfway down my glass – too early to ask for another, but not early enough that I would not be worried that I would run out during my meal – our waiter returned with the food. He placed it in front of me, and the reason I never order roast beef and Yorkshire pudding immediately became apparent.

There is no restaurant plate big enough to accommodate a catering-size Yorkshire pudding and all the other items one reasonably expects from a roast dinner. My table was going to look like the aftermath of a well-attended convention for peas.

I picked up my knife and set to work on the Yorkshire pudding. It was an excellent Yorkshire pudding, crisp on the outside, and meltingly soft on the inside.

But this meant it was a disaster, because it made cutting the thing virtually impossible. Too much pressure and the thing would explode, showering shards of super-hard shrapnel all over surrounding tables. Too little pressure and I might as well have had a knife made of cotton wool.

And even if I did exert the correct amount of pressure on the pudding – enough to break its super-strong shell without injuring fellow diners – it was far more than the wobbly table could bear.

The table shook, and I spilled some of my drink. Like lightning, I whipped the napkin off my lap and mopped it up. But now I had left myself at the mercy of accidental gravy. I sat with my legs at ten to two to split the risk.

“Are you OK?” my companion asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s just that you’re sweating,” she said.

“I’m fine,” I said. “It’s just warm.” She nodded and buttoned up her cardigan, and I continued.

I picked up my knife again, and began to saw away gently at the batter carapace, back and forth, little grains of Yorkshire pudding sawdust collecting in the gravy. After a couple of minutes I had made a decent incision.

I looked up. My companion was staring at me again. “What on earth are you doing?”

“I’m having a Yorkshire pudding,” I explained. “It’s not going as well as I’d hoped.”

She sighed. “Turn it upside down. The gravy will have softened it. That will make it easier to cut.”

I did as I was told. She was right. I made short work of the centre of the pudding, and it was a breeze to cut through the rest. “Thank you,” I told my companion. “You have changed my life.”

And I was so delighted that I stood up to shake her hand, leaning with my other hand on the wobbly table.

You can probably fill in the rest yourself.

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