An Amazing Week Of Grazing And Moral Mazing, 1 to 7 December 2017

It’s a cracker

It’s December, so of course the eating and drinking goes into overdrive.

Starting on the very first day of December; lunch with Michael Mainelli, Brendan May and John Lloyd at the Guildhall. Great to catch up with those guys, it brought back to my mind a quite interesting 2003 evening in a TV studio with Brendan and John – now Ogblogged – click here.

The next day, cousins Jacquie and Hilary Briegal came to Noddyland for a late lunch that morphed into early evening. Jacquie couldn’t resist bringing some of her famous chopped herring for us, although, as any fule no, chopped herring cannot take part in “herring of the year” contests, which in any case have to be held at Jacquie’s place – click here for the most recent example.

In any case, herring didn’t form part of the Noddyland meal, which comprised smoked salmon nibbles followed by Janie’s (Daisy’s) famous wasabi beef fillet dish and finally danish apple cake. We hadn’t seen Jacquie and Hils for over a year; it was great to see them again and have a chance to reciprocate Jacquie’s warm hospitality.

As usual, Daisy had massively over-catered, so I was able to lunch on some left over beef, sauce and potatoes couple of times during the week, including Thursday…

…which was probably just as well, given the tardiness of the Cafe Rogues meal in Holborn that evening, at the comedy writers Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner.

I reported last year on the ruthless efficiency with which the venue forced us to pre-order and the chaos and long waits that nevertheless ensued. Last year, it was Jonny Hurst who took the brunt of the tardiness, waiting about an hour longer than everyone else for his main course. This year, Jonny was again such a victim, but I too was one of the chosen people for this indignity. Perhaps we weren’t served a full hour later than everyone else, but surely at least half an hour later.

I suppose you can chat, drink and even be ruined while you wait for food

To add insult to indigestion, four of us were served our deserts some 30 minutes after everyone else. Jonny escaped this time, but I was caught twice – along with Jasmine, Barry and John for the lengthy dessert desert.

Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Nine of us gathered this time; me, John Random, Jonny Hurst, Jasmine Birtles, Colin Stutt, Hugh Rycroft, Gerry Goddin, Mark Keagan and Barry Grossman.

Jasmine and John brought crackers. John Random’s were very special; he had doctored some real crackers, emblazoning them with a picture of Michael Buerk and describing them as Moral Maze crackers.

With Jasmine’s crackers, we played our regular Christmas game of trying to work out the feed line from the punchline of the corny cracker jokes…with limited success this year as the jokes were so corny. Examples:

A. A monkey burp.

Q. What’s silent and smells of banana?

A. Mrs Sippi

Q. Who is the most famous married woman in America?

But John had doctored his crackers with moral maze dilemmas to replace the corny jokes. Example:

Q. What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?

A. A series of far-reaching ethical questions that go to the very heart of modern genetics.

Tut tut if you read that question and thought the answer was, “a wooly jumper”.

Jasmine and John pulled…
…which left Jasmine grappling with a tricky moral dilemma.

Traditional quizzing after dessert…or in the case of the four of us sorely neglected souls…during the dessert.

Colin Stutt again did a warm up game, taking the best jokes from the fringe for the last few years and seeing if we could remember the punchlines or construct good/better punchlines ourselves. I reckon I did a reasonable job on 10-12 out of 30 of them, actually knowing the answer to only a couple.

Mark, the holder of the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy, naturally led the main event quiz. I’m usually in with a chance when Mark writes the quiz but so are one or two other people. In a close run contest this year:

Mark had bubble-wrapped the trophy for safe-keeping…
…let’s hope that Jonny also treats the magnificent artefact with the respect it deserves.

Yes, the place was ridiculously noisy. Yes, the service was poor, except when it was terrible. But at Christmastime, almost everywhere is thus. These Ivan Shakespeare gatherings of good old friends are always lively, witty evenings that make me happy; that is the bit that really matters.

Pickled Herring Of The Year Competition and Other Delights, 12 October 2016

Not all that many people are familiar with the Pickled Herring Of The Year competition. But if you are part of the wider cousin-hood of my mother’s family, in particular the Briegal branch, then you probably know all about it.

Briegal table, minimally laden when the photo was taken, thanks to Hils for the photo
Briegal table, minimally laden when the photo was taken, thanks to Hils for the photo

For more years than I can remember, Jacquie Briegal has hosted a fast-breaking dinner at the end of Yom Kippur. Breaking the fast, for most of us who attend, has become a nominal term for the family gathering, as hardly any of us now participate in the fast itself. But that is no reason to abstain from a jolly family gathering and feast for theoretical “fast-breaking”.

I worked in the morning and into the afternoon, but had taken the opportunity to arrange some real tennis late afternoon, with a view to using Shanks’s pony to get from Lord’s to Jacquie’s place in Swiss Cottage.

A couple of days prior to my real tennis game I was asked if I could stay on an extra hour. As I have reported before, click here, this quite often happens in the Lord’s real tennis fraternity. As it happened, I realised that I could do that and still get to Jacquie’s in reasonable time. What I didn’t realise (or at least didn’t think about) was quite how much two tough singles matches on the trot would take out of me.

First up was my old friend from NewsRevue, Chris Stanton. I have mentioned running into Chris at the Lord’s real tennis courts before, click here, but I had not played him before today. A tough gig for me, even with the handicap adjustment, which we both thought a little understated. Still, it was good to chat with Chris again before we started, remembering NewsRevue friends, songs and sketches gone by. Then after Chris, another gentleman I hadn’t played before, with vast real tennis experience and a less than generous handicap adjustment to compensate; I somehow got a draw out of the second match.

Suffice it to say that I started my two hours on the real tennis court feeling like a leaping salmon and ended it feeling like a pickled herring…

…which segues us nicely and effortlessly (well, actually the walk from St John’s Wood to Swiss Cottage felt far from effortless that evening) to the Pickled Herring Of The Year Contest. I neglected to mention above; part of the family tradition of breaking the fast at Jacquie’s place is for the meal to begin with a veritable smörgåsbord of starters, focused around varieties of smoked and preserved fishes, primarily various types of pickled herring.

My (self-appointed) role in this herring-fest is to judge the Pickled Herring Of The Year. The rules are pretty straightforward:

  • I alone decide the results – attempts to influence my decisions meet short shrift in this competition. That might sound a bit dictatorial – it is meant to;
  • Only the actual chunks of pickled herring varieties are eligible for the competition. Smoked salmon and gravadlax (ever-present) need not apply;
  • Nor does Jacquie’s delightful chopped herring qualify for the contest, although Jacquie did once get a lifetime achievement award for the chopped herring – the equivalent of Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature – controversial but undoubtedly both are achievements worthy of the highest possible praise.
As it happens, this is not a photo of the moment Jacquie received her lifetime achievement award; perhaps it should have been. Thanks to Hils for the photo.
As it happens, this is not a photo of the moment Jacquie was garlanded with her lifetime achievement award for chopped herring; perhaps it should have been. Thanks to Hils for the photo.

We were a relatively small group this year; Jacquie and Hils of course. Josh (Jacquie’s grandson, Hils’s nephew), cousin Jane and her daughter Ruth, cousin Michael (always the last to arrive as he does actually go to shule and fast), plus me and Janie.

Hils and Janie - again not from a herring-fest occasion - thanks to Joy for the photo.
Hils and Janie – again not from a herring-fest occasion – thanks to our neighbour Joy for the photo.

Jacquie does not adjust the quantity of food served for the number of people who happen to be attending that year, so there were easily as many varieties of herring up for the award as usual (six) and huge quantities of other food. I haven’t even mentioned the main courses, including place goujons, salmon fishcakes, gefilte fish balls…nor the enormous variety of salads, breads, other accompaniments, several varieties of honey cake, other sweetmeats…

…I’m sure you get the picture…

…I’m equally sure that you, dear reader, now rapidly want to know the results of this year’s competition so you can stop reading and go off to eat something – your mouth is no doubt watering by now.

Bronze herring 2016 – wine pickled herring;

Silver herring 2016 – schmaltz herring;

Gold herring 2016 – sweet pickled herring.

Unusual for the sweet to win, but this year one of the sweeter herrings was perfectly balanced in the combination of sweetness and sourness; it also had a superb texture, a little like the schmaltz herring texture that quite often wins.