The Full English — Weather, Food & Love
Time, they say, changes everything — except the English weather. Perennially glum. Classically crap. It’s just impossible to love, unless, of course, you enjoy the cold morning snap on your face and staring up into dark grey drizzly afternoon clouds. Over twelve years ago, I turned my back on England’s moribund weather patterns with no regrets. The only tears I now shed are those for when I return. Just kidding. While the English weather is bad at least it’s not minus 30 degrees bad, and even though a return to the mothership means a return to the cold, it does mean many other things, too, which are much more sunny side up; like catching up with family & friends, as well as an enjoying a few of those other great English gifts to the World, like… food. Stop laughing.
English food — much like the English weather — doesn’t have many fans worldwide. Understandable. People of sound mind and palate generally do not choose to eat English food, so unless you’re English or mad — or both — it’s probably very unlikely that you have ever eaten English food. After all, you never hear the French or the Italians say they are going out for an English. Nor do the Japanese go the supermarket to buy ingredients to make bangers & mash. And the Chinese would probably kick you out of their kitchen before you could say beans on toast. Only the English eat English food, while the rest of the World points and laughs. Personally, however, while I admit English food is never going to set the World’s taste buds alight, nor is it going to make them run for the exits, either. And unlike the English weather, I am prepared to make a stand, because somewhere in the back of that oven underneath all that fatty oil we do have a few gems.
The first, of course, is Fish & Chips. There are few things I enjoy more than a deep fat fried fish covered in vinegar lumped on top of a mountain of thick cut deep fat fried chips covered in brown sauce. It’s a great way to round off a dreadful day at work or treat your better half to something wonderfully cheap, magically bland and sensationally banal. Excellent. Now, the plan of attack here is rather simple. Most folk do not buy the ingredients and cook it at home. Instead, they will pop by their local chippy (fish & chip shop) which — if it’s a good one — will carry the same community prestige as the local school, pub or football club. A culinary cultural wonder of the food World, I say. UNESCO take note.
Next is the Sunday Roast. Eaten around midday, it is the fruit of a whole morning’s labour. Generally, my mum’s labour. Timing is paramount in getting everything looking good and tasting great, and luckily for me my mum has great timing. Well done, mum. Now, generally, the rule of thumb is that one should cook enough food to feed an army. Pots & pans should be armed to the teeth with seasoned vegetables — carrots, peas, asparagus, broccoli, sprouts etc — along with large cuts of roast chicken, ham, lamb or turkey (for Christmas). Battalions of roast potatoes should be standing by ready for deployment. And all of this maneuvering must be done under the cover of darkness; namely, thick gravy. Brilliant. And for those who have been on their best behaviour, then you can have a Yorkshire pudding. Glorious. Seconds and thirds are heartily encouraged. Also, remember, this meal time is very much a private family affair, so if you have been invited to someone else’s Sunday afternoon table, then, please, realize that this is very much a treat; so, eat your greens, praise the food and keep your yoga & vegan talk to yourself.
Last but not least — the ultimate classic — The Full English Breakfast. A 12 inch turbo charged plate of high-powered fully automatic cholesterol. There’s no safety. You just unload. Sausages, baked beans, eggs, chips, hash browns, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon and buttered toast covered salt, pepper, brown sauce and tomato ketchup. To the average doctor it means high blood pressure & probable heart attack, but to the average person it’s means resurrection. Medicinal. The Ying to the Yang of a hard night’s drinking, which, to some, is almost every day. Commitment. Still, for the average person that usually means a Saturday or Sunday. Colloquially named the ‘fry up’ this dish is highly competitive and highly prized. The quest for the best fry up is always on. Criticism can be deadly; especially, when personal preferences are considered. Take food connoisseur, Alan Partridge. He prefers the baked beans to remain separated from the scrambled eggs by using the sausage as a buffer. Fair point. Personally, the proportions are the most important. There’s nothing worse than when you’re Full English Breakfast is simply a lonesome sausage with a couple of chips and a burnt piece of bacon, drowned in a sea of baked beans. Chef, we need a word.
Now, talking about England wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t touch on a few of those so-called English taboos. The things our American Cousins love to poke fun at us for. The matters of the heart… & pelvic region. Love… & sex. You see, the English, I feel, have come a long way since the forlorn lonesome days of Wuthering Heights’ unrequited love, as well as the torturous and sexually repressive days of Jane Eyre. For, we no longer lock up our sexually adventurous women in the attic. No, instead, we stick them in-front of a camera and film them getting jolly rogered. Porn Stars. Liberation. Awesome. And now men of humble class like Heathcliff no longer have to head-butt trees and lament the pernicious power of social class and its death knell to true love, because now we have something which transcends petty socio-economic class divisions — Tinder. Bravo.
My own love story, thankfully, walked a more traditional path — face to face — albeit in one of the more unlikely of places — The London Underground. Making my way to Heathrow airport on the Piccadilly Line around midnight, a lady, who had obviously been on the el vino express train, sat opposite me, leering at me. To be polite I picked up the newspaper and opened it as high and wide as possible, and pretended to read. Unfortunately, rather than dissuade her, this merely encouraged her… to come and sit next to me. Brilliant. In no time at all she started gently licking my face and whispering naughty numbers into my ear. Terrifying. Although, while I found the attention mildly amusing to start with it got rather awkward rather fast, because, well, let’s just say, she was not exactly my type. Mountainous. Nevertheless, to her credit she kept going, never giving up, trying to tease me into some tongue action, but I wasn’t having any of it. But then again neither was she — as she kept on licking my face. Finally, she cut to the chase and asked me if I would like to hit a home run. Hmm. All I would have to do is get off at that World famous romantic hubba hubba town known as Acton. Acton? Hmm. Thanks, duck, but, no, sorry, I’ve gotta flight to catch — to the other side of the world.