If I am to take my bulging postbag as a reliable guide, one of the issues which most taxes the contemporary Hooting Yardist is the impromptu dinner party. Here is a letter received from reader Tim Thurn, which is all too typical of the sort of thing I have to contend with:
All hail Mr Key! Like you, I am a Diogenesian recluse. I shun not merely the hoi polloi but pretty much everyone else as well. So you can imagine how taxing it is upon my poor curdled neurasthenic constitution when, more often than I can bear, there comes of an evening an urgent hammering at the door, which I open to reveal a gaggle of persons seeking succour.
“Hello Tim me old mucker!” one of them will cry, loud with bonhomie, “We thought we’d pop in for a chinwag and a bite to eat!”
This is what passes for good manners in our barbarous age. What is happening is that a vague acquaintance whom I may recall having bumped into once or twice takes it upon himself to barge in, accompanied by a raggle-taggle band of indigents, wastrels, and rascals. They disport themselves about my home, as if invited, and I am placed in the position of having to cobble together an impromptu dinner party.
Why, you might ask, do I not simply shove them out of the door with curses and imprecations and, if necessary, fisticuffs? Well, Mr Key, I was well-brought up, and taught always to be polite, and to avoid scenes. Thus I feel compelled to provide what hospitality I can. My question to you is, would you happen to know of a suitable recipe for such an occasion?
Yours until the cows come home, Tim Thurn.
It seems Mr Thurn is not the only Hooting Yardist who is plagued by sudden influxes of uninvited dinner party guests. As I say, this sort of inquiry is all too common. Quite frankly, I am sick to death of penning individual replies to these correspondents, so today, in the hope that I can staunch the flow of letters, I have decided to post a recipe. It is for a toothsome and filling meal, prepared from staple ingredients, which can be knocked together to feed just about anybody who comes crashing through your door.
You will need : a packet of Weetabix, a loaf of bread, and a bag of croutons.
First, remove all the outer packaging from the Weetabix. Then remove any inner packaging. You should have six, twelve, eighteen, or God knows how many pieces of Weetabix arrayed upon your countertop. Place the whole lot in a large bowl, and smash them to bits. You can use a hammer, or a crusher, or a similar implement. Just make sure that in smashing the Weetabix you do not also smash the bowl, or you are going to have an awful mess to clean up. By the time you are finished you should have a bowl full of tiny powdery Weetabix smithereens. Put this to one side.
Next, take the loaf of bread. It does not matter what kind of bread it is. Get another bowl out of the cupboard. Now, tear the loaf to pieces, letting the bits fall into the bowl. Keep tearing and ripping and rending until you have a bowl full of breadcrumbs. If you have some kind of electrically-powered mincing contraption, you might instead just want to feed the loaf into that. Either way, the end result should be a bowl full of breadcrumbs. Put this to one side.
Now take another bowl out of the cupboard, open the bag of croutons, and tip the entire contents into the bowl. Put this to one side. You will note that I recommend buying readymade croutons rather than making your own. I am trying to save your time, and in any case it is very doubtful that any of the indigents, wastrels, and rascals will notice the difference. In the event that there are any sniffy crouton wankers among your uninvited guests, chuck the telltale bag into the bin along with the Weetabix packaging. There is always the possibility – indeed, the likelihood – that some of the indigents, wastrels, and rascals will go rummaging through your bin, so it is a good idea to cover over the Weetabix and crouton packaging with cagmag. A favourite word of W H Auden’s, cagmag is defined in the OED as “unwholesome, decayed, or loathsome meat; offal ; hence anything worthless or rubbishy”. Clearly the more unwholesome, decayed, and loathsome your cagmag the better, as it should deter even the most indefatigable bin-rummager.
Wipe the cagmag off your hands and return your attention to those three bowls. Get another, bigger bowl out of the cupboard. Tip the crushed Weetabix, the breadcrumbs, and the croutons together into this bowl, and stir. Stir! Stir! Stir! Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly intermixed.
Can be served hot or cold. Add a sprig of parsley for colour.
When I have served this dish, I have usually neglected to provide my guests with any cutlery. They are thus forced to shovel it into their mouths using their fingers. It is also a good idea not to have any beverages in the house, and to cut off the water supply at the mains.
In the event of Weetabix shortages, a perfect substitute is Shredded Wheat.