Forgive me if I parse a few ugly phrases this morning. I’m suffering a hangover so acute that it has already penned its own agenda for the destruction of the human race. Last night was something of a special occasion. To mark the first job interview I’ve attended in over twenty years, I was treated to a meal by my excellent friends, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Clarkson, at one of the West End’s finest restaurants. The place came with a good reputation for having the widest menu in the city. A.A. Gill had described it as an ‘omnivore’s paradise’, which in Clarkson’s version had become ‘tasty grub’. In practical terms, the menu offered speciality cuts of meat for those of us who enjoy the finer side of the mammal and vegetable divide.
As if to prove the point, I’d been tucking into my main course when I must have hit an artery somewhere in the midst of the raw steak. The plate was soon awash with bovine claret. I didn’t know what to do: mop it up with a bread roll or fashion a tourniquet out of my napkin. In the end, I asked Clarkson to lean over and lend me his finger. With a bit of pressure applied to the steak’s wound, I piled mashed potato over the meat and the problem was solved. It’s the sort of quick thinking that I’m known for.
I’m telling you this in order to make a point about my diet. To argue that I’m a man who has never taken the vegetarian shilling is to understate my love for meat. If I had the teeth for it, I’d rip it straight from the hoof. Many a time have Judy and I holidayed abroad and I’ve gone for the most meaty dish on the menu. There’s not a animal on this green earth I’ve not dreamed about chewing through and that would include some fairly rare beasts. It’s why I don’t take Jamie Oliver’s arguments all that seriously. If God hadn’t intended us to eat meat, he’d have never given us the cattle gun.
‘It’s the little baby chickens,’ I explained to Clarkson as he began to hack into his own side of beef. ‘He gets all gooey eyed when he sees their cute little beaks.’
‘I love beak,’ sighed Jeremy. ‘Newly fried with a squeeze of lemon juice. Absolutely terrific.’
At this point, Stephen Fry returned from the wine cellar. He’d insisted that the waiter took him there to choose a bottle of the red that would match not just our meal but his new vermilion cape.
‘Do I return at the end or the beginning of an interesting topic of conversation?’ asked Stephen, resuming his seat.
‘We’re discussing meat and why Jamie Oliver is fussy about what he cooks,’ explained Jeremy.
‘Oh, I know something he’d never cook,’ said Stephen. ‘Panda.’
‘Panda?’ said Jeremy, wiping his mouth with his napkin and then giving me one of those looks. ‘Do you believe this, Dick? Stephen claims to have eaten panda.’
‘I didn’t much care for it, myself,’ said Fry. ‘A rather tough meat with an excess of gristle.’
‘And when did you eat panda?’
‘In China,’ said Stephen. ‘Some of the larger zoos have quite a collection of panda. I happened to be guest of honour on the day one of them died. The poor thing fell from its tyre swing. Everybody was quite distraught but then common sense took over. They quickly dressed the meat and popped it in the pot. It was quite the experience.’
‘I’ve eaten raccoon,’ I admitted, which didn’t sound half as interesting as panda.
‘I bet neither of you have eaten chaffinch,’ said Jeremy, with a gleam in his eye. ‘I love chaffinch.’
Now it was my turn to look pleased with myself. ‘You certain have,’ I said. ‘Your love for them is the stuff of legend. That’s why Judy has made you so many chaffinch pies over the years. It’s become her speciality.’
‘I bet Mr. Oliver wouldn’t know what to do with a chaffinch,’ said Stephen. ‘It reminds me of a meal I had on a tour of Japan. It was the days of Jeeves and Wooster and Hugh Laurie had taken me to a little traditional restaurant in the heart of Tokyo. You would not believe what was on the menu.’ He looked at us and sipped his wine in order to delay the moment. ‘Zebra.’
‘Oh, I’ve had that too,’ said Jeremy. ‘A tough meat but has a strong flavour. It reminds me of porcupine.’
‘Australian porcupine is the best,’ agreed Stephen. ‘It’s best when it still has the spines.’
‘Another good meat,’ returned Jeremy, clearly getting excited by the topic, ‘is llama. It’s tastier than camel yet just as juicy.’
‘Yet camel is one of my favourites,’ said Stephen. ‘Put the snout under a hot grill at gas mark 4 and it is the perfect meal for a cold night.’
I listened as these two great men began to run down the meats they’ve eaten, all of which put to shame even my own carnivorous ways. Between them they’d eaten pretty much everything: otters, lizards, ponies, dogs, cats, spiders, and even Arctic mice.
The conversation lapsed as we scraped the last of our meal from the plate and prepared for the dessert.
‘So,’ I asked Stephen. ‘What shall we have for pudding? Sparrow, gnu, or cougar?’
‘I fancy something light,’ he replied. ‘I suggest a spot of ice cream?’
‘Excellent choice,’ agreed Clarkson.
‘Okay,’ I said, waving over the waiter. ‘Three ice creams.’
At which point, Jeremy leaned back and took on his favourite look of unqualified smugness. ‘This reminds me of my time in Louisiana when we have alligator pie and ice cream flavoured with a wombat’s ears.’
‘Amateur hour,’ replied Stephen. ‘I once ate ice cream sprinkled with the crushed loins of the silver backed sand monkey of Papua New Guinea.’
And so they went on. For another hour, I listened to some of the most mouth watering recipes imaginable. I began to jot them down but soon gave up for the same reasons as I’m now going to close this post: I’m beginning to feel hungry. And I happen to know there are some ham sausages in the fridge. I’m not going to eat them, of course. But I might be able to lure the neighbour’s dog into the back garden…