The Book of Wympi – Chapter 1

  1. Lo, I came of age and my father said unto me, “Wympi, my son, you must seek that which I failed to find.”
  2. I was filled with great joy and spake in reply. “O! My father, it is done.” And I yielded unto him the TV remote.
  3. But my father was unsatisfied and replied unto me, “O! My son. That which you must seek is obscured by greater mysteries even than those of the TV remote. You must journey to a distant land and seek the Mighty Chef.”
  4. I trembled, though I knew not who the Mighty Chef was, for His greatness was manifest in my father’s words.
  5. And I spake boldly, for I knew this was my duty, “O my father, pray tell where this Mighty Chef is to be found.” But my father was filled with sadness and spake in his anguish and sorrow, though it rent his heart, “O my son! I know not of the land in which the Mighty Chef may be found.”
  6. Then night came and my sleep was troubled with a terrible dream. In my dream, I was visited by a humble waitress who spake unto me and said, “Wympi, on the morrow you must leave this place and journey to a far off land. There you will know no-one and you will be unknown to all men.”
  7. And the waitress looked down upon me and said, “But in that far off land shall ye find the Mighty Chef, even in his great house, which is called the Dutch Pancake House.”
  8. “And you must beseech of the Mighty Chef instruction in the making of the Flapjack and the Pancake, yea and the Chocolate Thick Shake.”

The birth of Scoffle

Scoffle started in mid 1950s London. Teenagers, as they were becoming known, were developing their own cultural identities through rock and roll music, dance and other ideas imported from their exotic and distant American cousins. Although it would be many years before the term ‘fast food’ found its way into popular parlance, the hamburger was already finding favour amongst the newly empowered Youth on both sides of the Atlantic. It was only a matter of time before a fusion of the terpsichorean and epicurean occurred.

The poor “washer-uppers” of London’s myriad cafes and coffee shops soon started using the implements of their trade, as substitutes for the unattainably expensive musical instruments used by the jazz and blues musicians, who influenced what was to become scoffle. In 1955 a down and out plongeur, named Terry Dagenham, assembled a band, which was to set the blueprint for all scoffle combos thereafter. Terry, who chose the stage name “Lenny”, was quick to see the musical possibilities of a piece of string stretched between two waitresses, and it is he who is credited with being the first to carry a rhythm by striking a steel draining board with a knickerbocker glory spoon.

Many other scoffle legends were to emerge over the next five years, including the incomparable Cheryl Croydon and her “Milk-shake Mamas”.  Cheryl and the girls will be remembered for the enigmatic “Two espressos after sunset”, the heart-rending “No starters for table nine” and the epic “Fifty covers before midnight”.

It is Lenny Dagenham however, who was the undisputed king of scoffle. He became as famous for his novelty songs (“Does your relish lose its flavour in the ice-box over night?” and “My old man’s a waiter”) as for his more serious compositions (“Rock Island Diner” and “Seven golden burger buns”).

Unfortunately, the scoffle boom was short-lived and, as the sixties started to swing and the British public started to develop more sophisticated tastes, eschewing the coffee bar for the Chinese restaurant, the hits even dried up for Lenny Dagenham. In 1961 Lenny teamed up with Cheryl Croydon for the innovative “Shake, rattle and spring roll”, featuring Cheryl on chopsticks, but it was not well received by scoffle purists and didn’t threaten the charts.

Scoffle was gone, but no forgotten. It is believed that, prior to forming the Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo had all played in scoffle bands – maybe – and scoffle continues to influence song-writers and musicians to this day – probably.

Lenny and Cheryl are no longer with us, but who can honestly say they can order a cup of tea and a slice of toast, at their local greasy spoon, without remembering them?

Kitchen sculptures, oil and oats

I tried to make some porridge this morning; I hadn’t done this since last winter and I was in a hurry. I looked at the instructions on the side of the box, expecting to see something along the lines of “Add one cup of oats and two cups of milk, per person, to a large bowl. Microwave on full power for four minutes”; I didn’t have time for the far more aesthetically pleasing saucepan method, although, as it turns out, this approach would have been quicker, and easier to fix when things started going wrong.

For some bizarre reason, the well known manufacturers of our favoured brand of porridge have decided that their instructions didn’t present the sort of challenge any self respecting porridge eater would expect, nay demand. The “X cups of oats to Y cups of milk” approach has been replaced with “Add 340ml of milk to 45g of oats”. For how many portions? Will this feed one small child, or will it expand, once heat is applied, to an amount sufficient for a ravening football squad?

I scoured the box for further clues, but there were none. I’d have to find some kitchen scales, so I could weigh the oats, and a measuring jug, so I could add the required amount of milk. After much banging of cupboard doors and slamming of kitchen drawers, I’d succeeded in creating a sort of modernist sculpture out of all the items I’d chucked about, in a frenzied attempt to locate the scales and measuring jug. If I’d had the time to admire my inadvertent creation, I might have called it “Egg-cup with saucepan, blender and crewit”. But I didn’t have time and I swept the unstable structure to one side, to make way for the weighing and mixing of the long overdue porridge. As the pile of implements settled into a new shape, the tiny funnel I use for filling my hip-flask fell to the floor and rolled under the cooker, where it remains amongst a sea of fluff, punctuated by the occasional dessicated – formerly frozen – pea. Now I was really cross.

Based on my supreme ignorance of the subject, I guessed that 45g of oats would be for one person and added 135g to the bowl, allowing enough for myself and two hungry children. I realized my mistake too late; 135g is an awful lot of oats. I decided that I probably only needed half the amount. I couldn’t just waste 67.5g of oats, so I decided to return them from whence they had come. The box design allows a small square pouring hole to be opened via perforations in the cardboard. Returning a not inconsiderable amount of oats through this orifice was clearly not going to work. In a moment of inspiration, I tore a sheet of kitchen towel from the roll, folded it in half and then fashioned it into a crude, and slightly too floppy funnel, the end of which I positioned over the opening in the oats box. I grabbed a handful of oats from the bowl and emptied it into my makeshift refilling device. Around fifty percent made it back into the box, the remainder scattering itself over a surprisingly wide area and adding a snow-like enhancement to “Egg-cup with saucepan, blender and crewit”. I persevered and finally reduced the amount of oats in the bowl to a level I deemed appropriate. All I needed to do now was add the milk. The measuring jug was next to the sculpture and glistening in a way a clean measuring jug shouldn’t. It was also surrounded by a rapidly expanding pool of extra virgin olive oil. The last rearrangement of “EC with S, B & C” had not only consigned my valuable little funnel to a dusty grave, but had also dislodged a bottle of oil.

I grabbed the jug and attempted to clean it with my kitchen towel funnel. Take it from me, you don’t want to mix porridge oats and olive oil. The sudden increase in the level of lubrication, brought about by the unholy union of oats and oil, caught me by surprise. The jug slipped from my hand and fell the short, but fatal distance to the stone flagged floor. A traditional, stone flagged, country kitchen looks great until someone like me tries to prepare a simple bowl of porridge in it.

My only option now was to estimate the amount of milk required. I poured enough in to cover the oats completely and placed the bowl in the microwave. After four minutes cooking on on full power, I’d managed to create a congealed mass, which could be removed from its container as a single, bowl shaped, lump. In a larger size, I suspect it would have made a very hard wearing trampoline. I didn’t have the time, or fortitude to start again, so I just added more milk to the trampoline and attempted to mix the two together.

“I suggest you have extra syrup with your porridge this morning kids.” They eyed me with suspicion – normally I lecture them on the damage such concentrated sugar can do to their teeth. We chewed our way through breakfast in an uneasy silence. My relief at them departing to clean their teeth was short lived; as they attempted to achieve any sort of brushing motion in their porridge cloyed mouths, I turned to face the bomb-site, which had been a kitchen a mere half hour earlier.

I will spend this morning tidying the kitchen and will then set out to purchase a measuring jug. If I’m feeling brave, I may fish around under the cooker with a piece of bent wire, in the hope of retrieving that precious little funnel.

Tomorrow we’re having muesli.

Navigation by Spam

Have you noticed that slices of Spam don’t have a uniform texture? Each slice contains changes in colour and contour, which look rather like a map of a region of wilderness; albeit, a pink one. Living, as I do, amongst the hills of England’s Peak District, I am familiar with such charts. The other uncanny thing about this tinned meat / cartography correlation is the fact that ‘Spam’ is, of course, ‘maps’ spelled backwards.

Maybe I should point this wonderful phenomenon out to Hormel Foods, owners of the Spam licence. Perhaps specific maps could be incorporated in the Spam manufacturing process. Imagine setting out on some intrepid expedition, with your survival and navigation equipment:

High tech wicking base layer – check
Thermally efficient middle layer – check
Durable, ultra light, breathable outer shell layer – check
Bivi bag – check
GPS – check
Emergency flares – check (I withstood the temptation to insert a 1970s fashion joke at this point)
Water purification tablets – check

Hey, wait a minute! Where’s the Dark Peak region 1:25,000 scale tin of Spam? OK chaps, I need to plot a course to our revised first expedition objective, the village store, tinned food shelf.

Martyr Chef

I’m not entirely comfortable with the revised format of Master Chef. It’s gone down the same ‘X-factor style hyper-critical judges’ route as most other programmes at the moment.

I preferred the old Loyd Grossman version, which was far more cosy and closer to the ‘Galloping Gourmet’ end of the cookery programme scale.

If you need a reminder, here’s the Reeves and Mortimer take on Master Chef 1995, also featuring the brilliant Morwena Banks, Matt Lucas and Charlie Higson:

If the programme makers insist on sticking to the modern format, I think they should take it further and really embrace the reality TV concept. How about if they were to rename it Martyr Chef, move into a domestic, ‘Wife Swap’ style setting and focus on how each cook suffers in the the creation of the meal?

“I spent four hours in this kitchen preparing something special for you and YOUR friends. All you’ve done is slob around and drink beer. You could at least have loaded the dishwasher for me. Have you any idea what’s involved in making filo pastry? No, sit down – I’ve nearly finished tidying up now. I’ll be up at 7:30 to prepare your breakfast, while you sleep off your hangover.”