Catriona went to England and Scotland for ten days. The last thing she said to the lean and slippered pantaloon as he stood on the doorstep to wave her off was: “Please eat healthily, darling.” Pretty much the first thing I did after I’d watched her disappear down the path and rubbed my hands together was to peel, salt and boil a kilogram of spuds. I monitored them carefully and removed the pan from the heat at the point where a little pressure on a sharp knife was needed to penetrate right to the middle.
The dear thing had left the fridge crammed with nature’s bounty, including sealed containers of her incomparable homemade soups. I squinnied past these and rifled about until I spotted it. No, I hadn’t been dreaming. An unopened pack of smoked streaky bacon. French bacon unfortunately. Carefully peel off a rasher and hold it up to the light and you can see through it. But bacon nevertheless. And yes, check, a dozen fresh-looking small eggs and one ripe tomato as big as a cooking apple.
With Catriona away it was back to self and banality and bacon and eggs. Strictly speaking, Catriona isn’t against bacon and eggs. Not on moral, health, economic, ecological, religious or any other grounds. She sometimes makes it for me as a treat. But owing to the lingering, infiltrating smell in our small cave, not so often.
And of course every fry-up fanatic has his or her own idea of how to conduct a sizzling symphony of cholesterol heaven.
During his amazing late-artistic flowering, Edward Thomas wrote sixteen poems in twenty days in January 1915. In December 1916 he wrote fiftteen. He was killed at the Battle of Arras on April 9, 1917. I’ve given up the fantasy of unstoppering the bottle containing that particular muse.
But I do hope that one day it might be said that in early November 2022, the late Jeremy Clarke made ten perfect fry-ups in ten days, although unfortunately there were no witnesses. Boiled then fried potatoes are essential. Half-inch thick circles fried on at least two sides. There’s nothing wrong with the clean French or dirty Italian spud. In my humble opinion, at their best they taste like our English ones used to taste in the 1960s. Fried in the foreign correspondent’s home-produced, fancily bottled and labeled (Sous les Étoiles!) virgin olive oil and dipped in HP sauce, they are out of this world. (The foreign correspondent’s and my one greatest fear that Brexit would mean the disappearance from French supermarket shelves of HP sauce has proved groundless.)
I boiled enough spuds for four days’ worth of fry-ups. As with the breast stroke and the downward-facing dog, you can spend your whole life perfecting the fried potato. At the age of sixty-five I am still trying to work out by trial and error how to keep cooled boiled potatoes in the fridge without them going soggy with condensation on the one hand or drying out on the other. After some experimentation I can report some success with thick unsealed pottery bowls instead of sealed plastic cartons.
I prefer the small frying pan to the big one. Easier to wield and it contains the heat. The quality of the egg is of some importance but is not to my mind crucial. Like those who have been to Colombia and snorted the best that that country has to offer, I know that I will never again eat an egg as good as the ones I used to buy from a smelly, incomprehensible old farmer in south Devon. And I am relaxed about that as long as the supermarket egg in question doesn’t run all over the place when emptied into the pan. I have my fried egg easy over, very slightly runny.
And oh, fried tomato! I do insist on a tomato that tastes like a tomato and I would prefer a tinned plum tomato to a tasteless Spanish one. Fortunately the French feel the same way and our supermarket tomatoes are without fail bloody lovely. Strange but true: the more triumphant my tumors’ surging progress, the more I crave tomatoes. At the moment I could live on them. The redder the better.
And fried bread to soak up the oil and bacon fat at the end? Of course fried bread. Sin qua non, mate. White bread fried dark brown. Crisp not soggy. Pronged out of the pan last, hot and sizzling, on to a plate previously warmed for twenty seconds in the microwave oven.
And so to business. A forkful of fried bread, crisp streaky bacon, fried egg, fried tomato and a roundel of fried potato beats the lot. Nothing that even the poshest French restaurant can serve up can compare with that combination on a fork rammed into a person’s gob.
Nothing. And I had it for ten mornings in a row. Eat healthily? No thanks. Not now.