Wednesday, June 11, 2008


WHEN he was but a fledgling, Hector enjoyed British food. He had to. He was one of that polyglot ethnicity of former up-and-at-‘ems at that time; although a privileged one, spending much of Britain’s post-WW2 rationing period ‘abroad’, in that latter-day Outremer where people always ate well in comfortable contrast to the poor peasants at home.

A recent article in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph – a publication that sometimes seems to suggest that not only is the spirit of Empire alive and well, or at least kicking, but also that it was a wholly English confection (hrrmph) – set his mind to reminiscence. The article had to do with the rather recent discovery that British food can actually be good for you. Since this is not a theory Hec has had to put to the test since 1969, he is unsure of the scientific basis of the claim.

But he clearly remembers (really) that in those distant days – in that fabled Outremer, glowing in the last fading rays of the sun finally setting on the Empah – there existed a state of beneficence and plenty. Notwithstanding these attractions, especially in the culinary department, the vicarious rewards of ‘British cuisine’ were deemed immediate; a warm tummy. No one in those days got tense about the future imperfect (risk of obesity and heart attack, etc, etc) which is all you hear about nowadays, because people have nothing better to talk about and can often actually see their navels, the better to contemplate them.

He looks back on those times with a certain nostalgia: in particular to the staple fare of prepubescent males of the day; war comics, so much more reflective than the do-it-now, drum-those-digits, zap, ‘!@#$!’, cybergames of today’s world.

These comics, works of art and fine fiction in their own right, were those in which Fritz, Hans, Hermann, and assorted other cruelly caricatured Germans ran around doing ‘don’t panic’ routines on various battlefields – places where derring-do was exclusively a Brit domain, carried out by cheery chaps in Monty berets – screaming ‘Donner und Blitzen!’ and, if really pressed, ‘Gott in Himmel!’ Not a ‘scheissen’ within earshot; and never an overly-explicit Saxon adjective.
Even then, in his very tender years, Hec was wont to ponder: ‘!@#$, did they really?’

In fact, while the victorious Brits were complying with their American ally’s post-war demand to abolish their Empire, a process in which Hec played a small noddy walk-on part as a naff schoolboy, Gott truly was in his Himmel and everything was pretty much right with the world.

You would sit leisurely over a memorable curry lunch – the sun beating down and the natives beating about the bush, playing at being mad dogs (if cross) or Englishmen (if on the public payroll) – and enjoy the luxury of safely speculative contemplation of the fabled properties of Spotted Dick. Or treacle pudding. Or even – these for aficionados only – semolina or tapioca pudding. Toad in the Hole often sprang to mind while nibbling on Middle Eastern, Indian and other exotically oriental delicacies. Favourably. Really.

Potato cakes (so much more fun-filling than hash browns, though the Brits of the era hadn’t woken up to the fact that the chaps from their first empire had invented them). Yorkshire pudding. Yum.

And that old-time favourite, rhubarb crumble. A regular treat, as Hec used to jest.

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