(previously Stalin’s Breakfast/Trotsky’s Tiffin)
On a day where it rained like a tipped up Portaloo, I made my soggy but determined way to the only apt place: The Plimsoll Line; that measure of water levels and tipping points on world waterways. It is an apposite name for an outlet that fills its seafarers with fluid that can, taken immodestly, cause severe listing and possible capsizing. On certain days, or more often nights, shipwrecked sailors can be seen strewn along the coast; washed up after taking in too much water – heavily enhanced with malt, barley, hops, spirited chemicals and sugar – and forgetting to bail out sufficiently to keep themselves afloat.
I was, of course, trying to revisit the triumph of the Veggie Wellington I had thoroughly enjoyed on my last visit. In hope I took my eyes off the prize when my request for the sumptuous fungus-based, pastry covered delight was met in the affirmative. Though I showed modest yet enthused delight, the water still streaming down my face was rainwater; I was happy but not overcome entirely. On the crest of this wave, I ordered my religious default ale and took it to a little enclave in full anticipation of a treat. As I peeled off my rainproof outer garments, it quickly became clear that I was steaming like I hoped my meal would on its prospective arrival. I thought, ‘where’s my horse blanket when I need it!’ Still, the enclave would keep my condition discreet: the place wasn’t exactly replete, so the tables in immediate proximity were empty. I suddenly felt a little like the Little General, Bonaparte, in his exile years. It was no consolation to acknowledge that I had a couple of height inches on the revolutionary Corsican. Also, I haven’t contributed anything lasting to the French judicial system, so humility was still the watchword as I recalled watching the wonderful film Waterloo a long time ago as an impressionable youngster at The Majestic; a picture house no longer standing, except in my nostalgic field of daydreams.
After a short interval, the meal arrived and engendered a sense of triumphal relief that the Duke must have felt when Marshal Blucher turned up on that field in that little Belgian town of historical note. Polite pleasantries exchanged and the treat was sitting before me. I made sure I didn’t purr or salivate like a domestic cat but I couldn’t help looking around as if ready to protect my food from predators and anti-social opportunists. I draped the gravy slowly, carefully, almost lasciviously over the pastry, leaving no point on its surface uncovered.
After such deliberate moisturising I was taken aback when my knife slipped off the surface without making any impact. I tried the firm fork and met with the same intransigence: Wellington’s surface was unblemished. The gallic theme firmly established, my feeling had to be one of chagrin. The English might merely say such things as, WTF!, Jesus, that’s hard; bloody hell, they’ve given me the boot instead of the Wellington! but being reasonably European, I felt compelled to something less parochial. Whatever the exclamation, there was deep disappointment as a number of further pressings and hammerings yielded nothing on this seemingly impregnable surface. Having no industrial tools on my person, it seemed I was condemned to battle with the ‘pastry’ with the tools given by the establishment. What I wouldn’t have given for a sledgehammer or a rough ball-pein hammer. However, I still had the determination of the little general, so spent the next few minutes slaving over a hard pastry, studying angles and points of entry, trying strategies to find any sign of weakness in the now adversarial meal. I even recruited the mashed potato to weaken the flank of the pastry. The peas sat there innocently, until I began squashing the mush over the surface like a demented sculptor of plasticine. I stopped short of letting the build-up of perspiration drop on the pastry, even though the temptation was indeed great.
It was a struggle to maintain dignity whilst wrestling with the seemingly impervious object. I needed all the Elba room the empty area afforded me. After a further five minutes, I was greeted by a hairline crack. In my controlled enthusiasm, I made sure it wasn’t just a strand of hair I’d pulled out during the tussle, and then set out to take full advantage of the opportunity to get to the prize of mushroom pate inside. I slipped the slightly bent knife into the crack and began twisting. I then increased the downward pressure and like Humpty’s head the pastry finally yielded defeat. As my fork sank to the mushroom and through its lovely consistency to the bottom to the base, I realised that I’d won this battle but had yet to win the war of mastication of this proudly resistant adversary. Without too much complacency, I knew my digestive juices were almost as good as Ridley Scott’s Alien, so was confident that I had reenacted Blucher’s arrival onto the battlefield of Waterloo, and the war would now be won. I had exacted the little general’s greatest desire in conquering this Wellington and contained a potentially serious faux pas.