IS DESERT Island Discs still on the go? You know, the radio programme where the guests are invited to list the music they'd take with them if they were in for a long stay on a desert island? Years ago I used to listen to it occasionally when it wa
IS DESERT Island Discs still on the go? You know, the radio programme where the guests are invited to list the music they'd take with them if they were in for a long stay on a desert island? Years ago I used to listen to it occasionally when it was hosted by a gentlemanly chap called Roy Plomley, and then I have an idea Sue Lawley took it over, and after that it's just one more of those things that have fallen into a post-moving-to-France limbo.
The question came to me the other day when a kind friend, gratifyingly aware of my weaknesses, returned from a quick sortie to the UK with a copy of Private Eye in one hand and a couple of green and gold tins in the other. These tins featured, as they've done for donkey's years, a dead lion with bees buzzing around the carcase.
You'll have recognised the product, I expect: Golden Syrup. The technical name for this nectar is partially inverted refiner's syrup, apparently. What a dead lion's doing on the tin is no mystery to those who can find their way to the Old Testament, Judges Chapter 14, where it features in the story of Samson, not a man, I understand, who ever found his way on to Desert Island Discs.
UK supermarket shelves may buckle under the weight of Golden Syrup, but here in the Midi you're more likely to come across a dead lion lying by the roadside than the famous Biblical tin on the shelves of supermarket giants Auchan or E.Leclerc. Somehow the French have survived and more or less held together as a nation without the help of Golden Syrup, or Marmite, digestive biscuits, HP Sauce or Lucozade. One is what one eats, of course. I'm afraid I can't think of any British achievements soundly based on croissants, foie gras or haricot beans. There's obviously no substitute for Mother's Pride, Baked Beans and Branston Pickle, all as vital to the process of national body-building as canned spinach is to Popeye the Sailorman.
If you were cast away on a desert island, which foods would you take with you? In the original radio programme you were allowed the Bible, in case you needed to brush up on Judges Chapter 14, and Shakespeare as your staple reading material, but there was never any mention of staple diet. Golden Syrup? Pot Noodles? Sticky Toffee Pudding? Many expats down here must have asked themselves the same question, fearful that surrender to the sun also meant surrender to the French diet. Not much wrong with that, in my opinion, in fact quite the reverse, but clearly not everyone thinks as I do: assiduous Campbell's Diary readers may remember Ron and Julie from Goole, rudely known as The Ghoulies, whose spare room wardrobe is stacked floor to ceiling with tins of Bird's Custard Powder and Heinz Beans against the day when the balloon goes up, there's a general uprising against expats and a siege has to be withstood.
Anyway, some irrational school dinner nostalgia must have seized me recently, because for an anniversary treat I'd set my heart on treacle tart, again not a thing that's readily available in France. Diet-wise, for one whose arteries tend to clog up at the very whisper of refined carbohydrates, treacle tart should be labelled with the health warning you get here with every mention of alcohol: L'abus est dangéreux pour la santé. A consommer avec modération. Misuse is a health risk. Don't over-indulge. But just once couldn't do much harm, surely?
In due course a gorgeous smiling treacle tart appeared on the dinner table, glowing with partially inverted refiner's syrup like the setting sun on a golden summer evening, in the presence not only of ourselves but of the donor as well; an offering, a celebration of Britishness, a lest-we-forget token of our heritage, our roots, our origins in This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings and all the rest of it.
Well, we didn't enjoy it at all. We'd just lost the taste for it, it seemed. It was no use saying why, it needs custard (which the French, incidentally, call crème anglaise, English cream, and serve cold, thin and over-sweet), let's nip down to The Ghoulies and make them give us a tin of Bird's, the anti-expat pogroms aren't going to start tonight. It was a sad, sad disappointment. And I'd looked forward to it so much. Sometimes it's better to travel in hope than to arrive, of course. The situation begged a few questions: are we going native? Have we lived in France too long? Do we no longer have any need, psychological or physiological, for comfort foods, for nursery foods like treacle tart? Oh dear, what's happened to us?
Then . . . going into a supermarket in Pézenas a few days ago, just at the start of the holiday season, what should there be but a tum-warming display of British goodies, everything I've mentioned so far and more, far more: Bisto gravy granules, tinned chocolate sponge, piccalilli, mushroom soup. I was just deploring holidaymakers going for this sort of thing instead of surrendering joyfully to the heady seductions of local restaurants, when something loomed up off the shelves that scotched these toffee-nosed notions: a noble pile, indeed a holy mountain of Ambrosia Creamed Rice. Instant seduction. Wow. That night I ate a whole tin - not out of the tin, there are certain limits - and any fears of batrachomorphosis vanished instantly.
Word travelled round, and various other expat blokes, gentlemanly chaps all, really got quite excited on hearing about this benison at Pézenas. Clearly British dietary genes, however deeply devoted to French cuisine, need the occasional shot of hot, thick, rich, creamy rice pudding. The upshot of this is the foundation of a new club meeting on Wednesday nights, when our womenfolk are generally out doing other things: the ACRONYM club. What does it stand for? I'll leave you to guess the ACR bit, and as for the rest, Oui, Nous (nous) Y Mettons, yes, we pitch into it.
And batrachomorphosis? H'm, not an easy word. I doubt if you'll find it in the dictionary. The Greek 'batrachos' (frog) and 'morphosis' (change into another state) may give a clue. I'm glad to be able to tell you I'm not suffering from it. I'll tell you more if I ever appear on Desert Island Discs. With my tin of ACR, naturally.