Wednesday, January 11, 2012


The late great Dave Allen once told an outrageous joke. A man flew into Heathrow airport and went through customs towing an elephant. There was a piece of bread stuck to each of the animal's ears. When officials arrested the man for importing an elephant without appropriate papers, he said "that's not an elephant, that's my lunch."

At least that sandwich filling was self-supporting. Important if, like me, you read while eating your lunch. I've just finished mine, and see that there is a messy shred of tomato on the carpet and a squirt of mayonnaise down my front. Par for the course. A simple tomato, lettuce and ham sandwich ended up slippery and unmanageable.

There is hardly any filling that can go between two slices of bread that doesn't leak, or fall out and have to be prodded back into place between each bite. Peanut butter? Sure, but not if you add the banana that makes it delicious. Jam or honey? Always dribble, and anyway they're not for grown-ups. Pate? That's just posh paste, and smells like cat food.

The really satisfying sandwiches have juicy, tasty fillings which end up slippery and limp, unless they're thick and chunky, okay only for riggers with gargantuan appetites and big hands on construction sites. Dainty they are not. Oscar Wilde would have lifted a scornful eyebrow. He said, with less than his usual elegance, "When I ask for a watercress sandwich, I do not mean a loaf with a field in the middle of it."

Cucumber now. It is worse than anything for escaping. Although I remember salmon and cucumber sandwiches from a tiny corner shop in London and munched on the run between the train station and the office. They never leaked or fell apart – I wish I knew how they did it.

Edwardian ladies served tea and cucumber sandwiches at their afternoon parties. The bread, newly baked, would have been sliced thinly downstairs by a kitchen maid with a serrated knife – no easy task. The crusts were trimmed off, and the sandwiches cut into dainty triangles. By that time they were tiny – just right for the ladies upstairs to nibble without worrying about sagging and slithering.

There's no way that those Edwardian ladies would have countenanced slippery sandwiches. Another art lost to us.

The picture is "November 5th"

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