Column: Room for a Laugh with Tom Taylor
When I was at school there was a particularly repellent dish served every two weeks or so which consisted of sausage meat baked with a potato topping.
Mr Timpkin, the canteen supervisor who had once found a ‘Head Chef’ badge in a bric-a-brac shop and insisted on wearing it at all times, chalked the creation up on the canteen board as ‘Meat Special’ or, if the headmaster was away visiting other schools, ‘Mr Timpkin’s Meat Special’ which I always thought raised questions over the provenance of the meat - especially given the turnover of canteen staff.
Perhaps I shall write a musical about Mr Timpkin.
The names of food are very important. A friend of mine has just returned from travelling round Africa where she spent a month eating what was perpetually described as ‘cow and rice’.
Somehow this moniker did nothing to heighten her appetite.
Mr Timpkin’s Meat Special aside, I think dishes named after prominent individuals form fascinating legacies. For instance, there is chicken tetrazzini, named for the amazing operatic soprano Luisa Tetrazzini.
Tetrazzini was a substantial girl. Indeed, if the phrase ‘it ain’t over till the fat lady sings’ were taken to heart, everything would have shut up shop each time she performed.
Unlike today’s weight conscious performers, Luisa revelled in her rolls and often spent time before performances eating buckets of pasta with her friend Enrico Caruso.
There was a celebrated evening when she had prepared to sing the role of Violetta in La Traviata by eating vast quantities of spaghetti.
Come the pivotal tragic death scene, when her co-star John McCormack attempted to raise the dying Violetta in his arms, he found that not only was she immovable, but her body had all the sensual appeal of a pair of Michelin tyres.
His inability to raise her off her deathbed sent Luisa into fits of giggles and the curtain descended on Verdi’s masterpiece with the two principals unable to stand as a result of hysterical laughter.
Then there is the Margarita cocktail that reminds us of the Tijuana bartender Enrique Bastante Gutierrez, who invented a drink for a dancing girl called Margarita Cansino who grew up to be Rita Hayworth.
The sandwich, of course, was named after John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. He didn’t devise the meal; he was just partial to keeping meat juice off his fingers.
The invention of the sandwich is credited to the ancient Jewish sage Hillel the Elder. As was once explained to me in a book, all Jewish festivals come down to the same three elements: they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!
Putting my backpacking friend’s experience of African cuisine into context, I recounted for her the story of Victor Biaka-Boda.
It seems that, in January 1950, Victor, a former witch doctor who represented the Ivory Coast in the French Senate, decided to tour his nation’s hinterlands to reach out to the electorate and find out what they lacked. He quickly discovered the answer was food. His constituents ate him.
Tom Taylor’s Sitting Room Comedy Club returns to the St George Hotel, Harrogate on Wednesday, June 8, with Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award winner, The Boy with Tape on his Face.
Compared to Buster Keaton, Harpo Marx and Mr Bean, The Boy’s spectacular style of silent comedy has been featured on The Royal Variety Performance, The BBC Comedy Proms, The John Bishop Show and Jason Manford’s Comedy Rocks.
A strong undercard comes in the form of Andy Askins (The John Bishop Show, Live at the Comedy Store), Peter Brush (BBC New Comedy Award finalist) and MC Tim FitzHigham (BBC Radio 4’s The Gambler).
Tickets and more information are available from the venue or www.sittingroomcomedy.com.