In yesterday’s Sunday Express I was all over my dislike of breakfast. People have occasionally noted I’m a rather negative soul and have a very long list of dislikes. I wouldn’t dispute that but to balance things out a bit here are three things I adore: Carmen McRae’s mid-period LPs; the way the geraniums in my window boxes are blooming again after a few weeks of doing absolutely sweet Fanny Adams; and sharing the table at home with Rory while he is drawing or designing something and I’m pretending to write. See, quite the wide-eyed optimist, actually.
It was Somerset Maugham who once observed: “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.” Assuming it wasn’t glum bowls of breakfast cereals with their discoloured milk he had in mind, I imagine he’d be pleased with some new research that indicates the popularity of the full English breakfast is on the rise. And so quicker even than the fat man asking whether anyone minds if he takes that final sausage, I find myself reading yet again about the importance of the first meal of the day.
A fact I don’t doubt, but the prospect of eating so soon after getting up, dressed as I am in a fetching combo of pyjamas and crumpled face, singularly lacks appeal for me. Nevertheless it is the meal we’re told we mustn’t skip. Instead, why can’t it be seconds of roast chicken and bread sauce with all the trimmings that nutritionists recommend? Of course it isn’t. Schools set up breakfast clubs so as to avoid legions of eight year olds turning into sugar-craving zombies by mid-morning and no doubt there are government statistics informing us that those who do without the first meal of the day are 400% less productive than somebody who stamps their little feet with delight at the prospect of a bowl of muesli and a banana.
That’s my real problem with breakfast. It’s what’s readily available to me that truly makes my heart sink. If you asked me what my ideal breakfast would be then that’s easy: a cappuccino and a cigarette quickly followed by an espresso and another cigarette. But as with the roast chicken I’ve yet to find a nutritionist advocating the virtues of this one and anyway I don’t smoke any more. So, what’s left? Cereal, toast, that sodding muesli, for heaven’s sake? An egg, if you feel like pushing the boat out. I think I’d rather take a bath in devilled kidneys and squirt grapefruit juice in my eyes if it’s all the same with you.
About a year ago I was booked by a radio show to consider live on air the respective merits of a traditional English breakfast versus a vegetarian one. Both were nice in their way and ideally I’d have combined elements from each plate. But a winner had to be chosen, and to my own surprise I opted for the non-meat contender as at least it lacked baked beans – an item I find unforgivable in a cooked breakfast.
Coming home afterwards I realised to my even greater surprise I’d actually enjoyed any kind of breakfast at all; but surely it was because I was washed and dressed, had been up by then for about three hours, and most importantly someone else was preparing it. In a word it was lunch.
Indeed, if one morning I entered my kitchen to find some kind soul has prepared tea, kedgeree and hot toast then I wouldn’t complain. If the following day, the devilled kidneys were scooped from my bathtub to be served alongside a pot of coffee then I wouldn’t object either. But as things stand they tiresomely require me to actually cook them myself. Before eleven a.m. most days I’ve found little more can be achieved other than to roll my eyes at Thought For The Day still being deemed an appropriate feature for a news programme and shuddering at the state of my bank balance. The prospect of cooking and eating something nice is entirely beyond me. So instead, I get up, hanker after the cigarette I no longer smoke, and try to ignore the whines of the neighbour’s cat through the back door which are certainly not heralding treats unless I can develop a taste for shredded starling.
Of course, someone always suggests I try porridge. Now, of course we all know it’s spiffingly good for you, adds six months to your lifespan with each spoonful consumed, and undoubtedly enjoys working with old people and children in its spare time but surely no one in their right mind thinks porridge tastes nice? Someone prepared for me some admittedly delicious porridge once but it only acquired that status because it was awash with double cream, malt whisky and sugar. Any good it might have done would be more than off-set by the ensuing heart disease and ulcers. Clarissa Dickson Wright wrote that once upon a time in Scotland it was habit to make a vat of porridge, pour it into a drawer, let it set and then chew at cold slices of this culinary punishment throughout the week. Was this actually a dream she had? No. It’s something that passed muster as a recipe north of the border.
So, with cooking beyond me, smoking forbidden, and porridge inedible there’s nothing for it but to go back to bed. I’ll see you at lunch.