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Tuesday, February 26, 2013
In this helter-skelter 24/7 world, how do we anchor ourselves to the bedrock of British values?
There are many different approaches.
Apocryphally, we enjoy drinking warm beer, dunking biscuits in tea, supporting the underdog and encouraging eccentricity. We have uneven teeth, eat gravy on chips and wear knotted hankies on our heads on Blackpool beach.
Some people like to assert their Britishness by being awful at learning and using foreign languages while abroad. It is certainly something that traditionally marks us out from the rest of the world.
But the majority of English-as-an-only-language speakers do not aspire to grow up and be terrible at languages.
There may be the occasional old colonial who believes that the only way is English but most of us would love to emerge on the other side of the Channel Tunnel and slip effortlessly into perfect French rather than the sublimely over-confident: “Bonjour, monsieur, ou est le nearest supermarché avec le cheap booze, s’il vous plait?”
We may now also lay claim to having the best “sitting-down” sportsmen and women in the world... not, I hasten to add, my description. I think this was the valedictory given to us by the Australians at the Beijing Olympics when we won a goodly haul of medals in rowing and cycling.
“Bonjour, monsieur, Tour de France, Sir Bradley Wiggins,” should be enough to establish one’s British credentials in France and maybe sustain a nasty baguette injury.
My own favourite expression of Britishness also requires sitting down. It is Sunday lunch.
Sunday lunch is a marker that separates last week from next week and makes sense of lifestyles that are far too hectic... even though it may no longer define us.
According to a survey last year, Britain’s favourite international dish is now Chinese stir fry which knocked chicken tikka masala off the top spot.
Not to get all wokked up about it, I like a stir fry. And I like a masala but I am not steeped in soy sauce or curry spices in the same way as I am in a rich (unadulterated) beef gravy smothering meat, veg and Yorkshire pudding.
Everyone has a Yorkshire pudding story. It’s usually the same one, mind. Hands up if your mum/aunt/gran always served Yorkshire pudding and gravy before the rest of the meal. Yes, I thought so... hands up who got blown over in the draught of hands going up?
It was, I understand, not intended as a starter or hors d’ouevres but as a way of getting tummies full before serving the main event, a small joint of beef, lamb or pork which would have to stretch (not at full gallop) to feed the whole family.
Even today, there are still people who make their own Yorkshires... astonishing but true.
Surely there can be nothing more satisfying than looking through the glass of the oven door and seeing your home-made batter rise... except popping ready-made puddings in the oven for five minutes; done and dusted.
We try to have Sunday lunch (albeit nearer dinner time) each week. Last Sunday it was shoulder of lamb and daughter Ruth and her fiancé Kev were joining us so, just like Masterchef, we “pushed the boat out” – a phrase they use all the time on the cookery show and usually in the wrong context. In my case this meant having four veg plus potatoes, instead of three. That’s your five-a-day on one plate... six if you count mint sauce.
My husband, who often cooks Sunday lunch, hovered. He adds his two-penn’orth in question form. “How long do you think the roast potatoes will need?”
“Shall we put a spoonful of redcurrant jelly in the gravy?”
“Do you want me to make the mint sauce?”
Eat your heart out Jeremy Paxman.
The meat came out of the oven to rest and I turned my attention to stirring the gravy. “Everything okay?” Asked my very own John Torode-alike..
As we waited for the ready-made puddings to crisp, I chatted to Ruth and Kev. I was keen to impart the news that as well as being a fine cook (oops, I think my nose just grew) I was also a dab hand with the DIY.
I cannot tell you how proud of myself I was... but I’ll have a go.
The handle on the downstairs cloakroom door went floppy a couple of weeks ago so I removed the fittings, put them in a bag and took them to Homebase. There, I sought out a fitting with screw holes almost exactly in same place. By holding the old fittings against the new ones, I could make a fair guess at which were least likely to require carpentry skills.
Back home, it took me less than four hours to install the new door handles. I dare say I am not the only woman who has insisted her family admires her new handles. I made them go inside and lock the door to prove it was still possible to get out.
Meanwhile, my husband had been conducting his final checks in the kitchen. I didn’t interfere as I was hoping he would notice how I managed to wash up as I went along and how, indeed, I did not find it necessary to use every utensil we own in the preparation of a family meal.
“Have you salted the broccoli?”
It went quiet. In retrospect, too quiet. After a few minutes, my husband appeared in the doorway, looking slightly green.
“Are you all right?” I asked concerned.
“Well, there was a bit of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan, so I ate it...”
“... and it tasted terrible.”
I believe I mentioned how I always clear up as I go along and, dear reader, this included the roasting dish. After putting the joint safely on a plate to rest, I sprinkled a liberal amount of washing-up liquid into the pan.
“That would be the Fairy Liquid,” I said.
“I thought so,” he gulped. “When I gargled with water, I blew bubbles.”