Still room for a full English
Did you know that it was Better Breakfast Week last week? No, neither did I. But I best most readers will admit that it's probably a good idea to have some kind of early morning nourishment on board to help fuel us through the hours to come.
The odd thing is that although we know it, nearly half the population merrily skips what some regard as the most important meal of the day.
A new survey shows that no fewer than 45 per cent of the population walk out of the house without chewing as much as a morsel.
Of those who confessed to giving breakfast a miss, 28 per cent said they just didn't feel hungry – and 10 per cent soldier on right through the morning until lunchtime before eating anything at all.
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The breakfast-less state of the world looks set to grow – half of all 16-24 year olds say they don't bother with the morning meal – and those who do bolt something down admit they are more likely to choose junk food options.
Somehow I don't think Better Breakfast Week will do much to bring the nation back to the early morning table – but then, I've never understood the reasons why we have any of these national days or weeks. Or, rather, I do. It's all about getting journalists like me to write columns like this – which is why I imagine cranberry juice producer Ocean Spray sponsored the latest breakfast survey.
This time I'm happy to be of service because I am interested in the subject of breakfasts and indeed support the new campaign which aims to highlight how important it is to have a healthy meal with which to start the day.
What I find interesting is that no other meal seems to bring out so many emotions in us. Search the internet for thoughts on breakfast and you will discover countless quotations, like the following one from Winston Churchill – and you really can't think he'd have said any such thing about, say, afternoon tea…
"My wife and I tried two or three times in the last 40 years to have breakfast together, but it was so disagreeable we had to stop."
I can sympathise with this. I don't feel sociable at breakfast time and much prefer listening to the radio to having any kind of two-way interaction. I was recently abroad on a press trip with other journalists and, although we some very jolly luncheons and dinners together, not one of us as much as murmured over the muesli.
That was in Switzerland – and, let's be honest about this, other folk don't quite do breakfasts as well as we Brits. The "full English" is a culinary masterpiece – or, at least, it should be. It's the only meal that comes with the prefix "full" – probably because it demands the whole kit of parts, although why we don't say "full Sunday roast", for example, I can't imagine.
The writer Somerset Maugham opined: "To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day."
That was the best part of a century ago and you can eat very well in all manner of ways in this country nowadays – but I understand why he said it. The combo of salty bacon bathed in the thick creamy sauce of a runny egg yolk is as close to the perfect balancing of flavours as it is possible to get – followed by the savoury-sweet mix of a good sausage accompanied by fried tomato and the full-on fleeting marriage of black-pudding and mushroom – all lifted in their ways by the crispness of that health-disaster which is the deliciousness of fried bread. As the American economist John Kenneth Galbraith said: "It takes some skill to spoil a breakfast – even the English can't do it."
Cheeky blighter. But I'll say this – the "full English" doesn't quite come up to the monumental breakfasts served by with the Scottish or the Northern Irish. I went to Ireland for the first time recently and am still trying to restore my appetite after digesting what's known as an Ulster Fry. It consists of bacon, eggs, sausages, white pudding, black pudding, fried tomato, soda and potato breads.
And here's how Sherlock Holmes referred to the early morning meal north of the English border when talking about his housekeeper, Mrs Hudson: "Her cuisine is limited but she has as good an idea of breakfast as a Scotchwoman."
A Highland farmer's wife once cooked breakfast for me and a film crew, after which we all made cholesterol-test appointments with our doctors. I didn't know there were so many ways of turning bits of meat into things that you could fry.
I suppose none of the above will please the promoters of Better Breakfast Week – and I'll admit that being a man of a certain age with slightly heightened blood pressure I have reduced my early morning fry-ups to rare-treat status.
But, my goodness, the full-English is a wonder to behold and nothing, anywhere, beats it as a way of introducing body-and-soul to a cold winter's day.