Punctuality is an admirable but non essential virtue. As a virtue it is not overly demanding in that it only requires accuracy in its employment. Amongst my friends there is one, a peer of the realm, who as a young man demonstrated the results of such an inaccuracy. It is necessary to mark him as a peer as grandeur and noblesse oblige are essential elements of this parable. On one of his regular visits to his parents’ magnificent country pile he noticed that he had overlooked an invitation to a fancy dress ball at another of the grand houses in the county. Realising that such an event would require more than a burnt cork moustache he set off to the costume hire shop in the nearest town. The ubiquity, at that time, of costume hire shops was in direct relation to the British love of “dressing up”. As it happened there had been a run on costumes, probably on account of the upcoming fancy dress ball, and all that remained in his size was a roast potato costume. Life often turns on small decisions, such as whether one should be seen abroad dressed as a roast potato, without due thought. On the appointed hour he arrived in front of the magnificent façade of his hosts’ country house and parked in a dark corner where he could change into his costume, as the bulk of a roast potato is not suited to the confines of a car. Another limitation of the roast potato as a costume is that the hands and arms remain inside the construction leaving only the head and legs exposed. He had fire in his belly as he approached the great doors of the house, and he still felt he could pull it off. Oh, that he had ; knocking on the massive oak door, with his hands and arms “hors de combat”, entailed using his head. Still reeling from the pain of administering a Glaswegian kiss to the unyielding ancient oak he was confronted by the butler who was naturally well acquainted with my friend dropping in on his elevated employees – “Good evening, my Lord, do come in”. Confidence was now building at the same rate as the dizziness was receding. The duo proceeded down the unusually quiet corridor to the doors of the grand dining room, which the butler opened with a flourish whilst simultaneously ushering my potato clad chum into the elegant room, leaving him no chance to retreat to the safety of the corridor which led to the sanctuary of his car and escape. The noble potato now found himself standing before the elegant candle lit dining table, either end of which sat his illustrious hosts enjoying a quiet dinner à deux. Bare legged in a wire and brown canvas construction which encased his arms, his only reaction was to precariously bow a greeting, whilst praying that he would not overbalance and have to explain his mistake whilst speaking alternately to the ceiling, a blurred vision of his hosts, the carpet and the butler as, rudderless, he rolled babbling across the Aubusson until brought to a sharp halt by the exquisitely carved leg of the dining table or his hostess. “Good evening, David, how nice to see you – please do join us”. The impossibility of complying with this request was clear to all, but was nonetheless mouthed out of politeness.
Jenny and I found ourselves in a similar situation on Saturday night, though both of us had wisely chosen not to go as roast potatoes. A haggis costume would have been more apposite as we gingerly made our way down the darkened path towards the gaily lit house of our friends who had invited us to a Burns night supper, only not on that night.
It should be reiterated that punctuality, though an admirable virtue, is not over demanding, The sole requirement is precision without which it invariably becomes a fucking embarrassment to everyone involved.
Sunday worked out better thanks to a deliciously simple pot roasted chicken. Just brown some lardons and shallots in a big casserole. Put a roasting chicken stuffed with lemons and thyme on top. Parboil some potatoes, put them into a colander to steam for a bit and then shake them around in the cooking pan to break up the edges. Add half a bottle of good white wine and seal the casserole with a flour and water paste. Leave it to cook for about 3 hours, or longer, in an oven of 180C. Break the pastry seal and there is a perfect golden chicken with the stickiest and most delicious juices beneath it.