Nov 12, 1923-Aug 22, 2011
At some dinner parties the most wonderful conversations, clever and witty, erudite and eloquent arise spontaneously, out of nowhere. A host with a lavish hand and an ever ready bottle opener, good food and a company of people who share a positive attitude towards the pleasures in life are essentials; without these as givens no party will ever really take off.
Some of these conversations are so brilliant that I forget everything but a rough outline of the subjects discussed almost by the time we get home; I'd love to be clever and able to turn these conversations into equally brilliant blog posts, but short of taking a dictaphone and hiding it on the table during the meal I can think of no way to make that possible. Music, literature, the arts, the theatre, how do you keep track of bon-mots and amusing remarks, intelligent arguments and witticisms on these topics? By their very nature they ebb and flow without leaving a permanent imprint except to tell you about the speakers' preferences.
Unless the talk turns to eggs. I can remember eggs. Eggs is easy.
My favourite host invited us to meet a friend of his, one of his former students, whose first novel is to be published in the spring. She is busy writing her second novel about a barrister in chambers; she herself trained as a lawyer, the subject is therefore an obvious choice. She has given this barrister an egg to eat in one episode, and mention of this led us to a discussion of what you can judge about the character of a person from the way he or she eats a boiled egg.
Quite apart from the Swiftian war between the Lilliputians and Blefuscu, a lengthy conflict between the big-enders and the little-enders, who could not agree on which end to crack to eat a boiled egg, there must be other rules and regulations people hold dear.
Mr. Woodhouse, father of the eponymous heroine in Jane Austen's 'Emma', believed that 'an egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome'.
Personally, I prefer a softish yolk inside a firm white, but there are many ways to boil an egg. I once watched a fellow guest in a hotel in Cornwall send back his egg three mornings running, because it was not cooked to his exacting specification; he had stipulated the number of minutes and the chef was unable to bring the egg to the required consistency, no matter how closely he watched the boiling point. In the end, another guest came up with the most logical solution: the Cornish egg was simply too fresh compared to the egg the complainant usually used.
Once we have established how to boil an egg, how do we then open it? Which end, big or little? Do we stick our knife into it and swivel it round the whole of the big or little end? Do we upend the egg and hit it on the plate? Do we hit the top of the egg with the knife? Or maybe the egg spoon instead of the knife? Do we peel the opened end or eat the top out of the separated end?
Again, speaking for myself only, I use the most merciless method of getting at my egg: I lay it sideways on my plate and behead it with one hard whack, then eat the little end first.
But stop, I forgot a very important point: Do we add salt to the opened egg before we eat it? Kipling says 'Being kissed by a man who didn't wax his moustache was like eating an egg without salt', although I think he probably stole the phrase from an old Spanish proverb which says that 'a kiss without a moustache is like eating an egg without salt.'
I won't bring up the soldiers and egg question, I am assuming we are all adults on this blog. Or the hard-boiled egg salad, an abomination in my opinion. There may, of course, be those who do not like boiled eggs; you will, no doubt, tell me so. But a Sunday morning without a boiled egg to accompany a thickly buttered slice of hot toast, or, even better, a thickly buttered slice of sweet raisin and cinnamon bread, is not worth getting up for.