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I graduate with a third-class kedgeree

Published 12 February 2012
News Review
968th article



Michael with officers of the Cambridge Union at St John's Chop House (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Most students applying to Cambridge University need A-levels to be accepted. I got in without any. Not by bribing the authorities, not by threatening mass destruction of ancient buildings but because I discovered that, in those days, you could take a college entrance exam, which, if you passed, got you into that college without A-levels.

Few aspirants sat the college entrance exams, so you got the results in two days, six weeks before those for A-levels. Thus avoiding six weeks of school if you succeeded. If you didn’t, you could take A-levels anyway.

I used the time saved to go on a student tour of America, arriving at Cambridge in October 1953. Outside my college, Downing, was a man with an apple impaled on the end of his umbrella.

I asked: "Why have you got an apple on the end of your umbrella?"

He said: "Because I wanted to see how many people asked me why I had an apple on the end of my umbrella."

I thought: "This is it. At last I’ve found a group of people I can relate to."

There followed happy times when I’d expected awful. I only went to Cambridge because my parents screamed that they would disinherit me, murder me or sell me as a sex slave in Ethiopia if I didn’t.

I return occasionally with my one-man show. The first time in 1966 invited by Sir David Hare, then president of the Cambridge Film Society. I packed the place out. Went a couple of times again, got a meagre audience. Odd, because I usually sell out in seconds. If you’d like to see my show, a few seats are left at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, London, next Sunday. I’m also at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival on April 1.

Twelve days ago I performed before a large audience at the Cambridge Union Society. It was a triumph of insider Hollywood stories and laughter. In the office of the Union president, one of the officials pointed to a large safe.

"That's where we keep the silver," he said. "There used to be a lot of it, which wasn't locked up. The students kept stealing it. We also had on display Lord Mountbatten's ceremonial sword. That was nicked, too."

"Better keep my eye on Geraldine’s diamond earrings," I thought.

After the show the students took me for dinner to the St John’s Chop House. The menu said: "The food is all prepared in our kitchen. There's no nonsense and it is cleanly presented." If they hadn't had paper napkins, I would have taken that more seriously. The food may have been cleanly presented but it tasted dreadful. The soup of the day was roasted root vegetable soup, which was watery and unpleasant. It was as disgraceful a soup as has ever been placed before me.

The main course was like nothing I'd ever seen. Kedgeree as I know it, and according to internet recipes from Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith to Wikipedia, consists of cooked and flaked smoked haddock, boiled rice, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, butter or cream, possibly sultanas and, according to which recipe you read, a great deal more. This kedgeree was simply two big, tasteless slabs of cod on top of a meaningless and silly amount of rice posing as a risotto. Absolutely awful.

I finished off with apple and rhubarb crumble. A crumble should have the fruit with a thin layer of crumble on top. This was endless crumble. You needed an excavating microscope to find the apple and rhubarb. Another disaster.



  • In Knightsbridge, I lunched at Bar Boulud. My Bentley was parked outside. When I came out I saw a sticker on the windscreen. "Not another parking ticket," I thought.

    It was a note, which read: "Calm down dear. Please keep your vehicle off our taxi rank. Some of us have to work for a living darling." Apologies. I like drivers of black cabs.



  • From Anton de Fanoir: Hymie and Becky arrive at JFK airport and take a taxi to their hotel. The driver asks in a thick Bronx accent: "Where are you from?"

    Hymie replies: "London, England."

    Becky can't understand the driver’s accent. "What did he say?" she asks.

    Hymie says: "He asked where we were from. I told him London, England."

    The driver asks: "Where in London?"

    "Just outside London," says Hymie. "A place called Stanmore."

    Becky asks: "What did he say now?"

    Hymie replies: "He asked what part of London. I explained: just outside London, in Stanmore."

    The taxi driver says: "During the war I was stationed at the American air force base in Stanmore. I met a girl there and had the worst sex of my life."

    "What did he say?" asks Becky.

    Hymie replies: "He thinks he knows you."



    Michael's missives

    Your now £6m debt can be easily cleared. The latest circulation figure for The Sunday Times is 968,000. Divide that into £6m and you need only £6.20 from each reader to become debt-free. I am posting my cheque today in the hope that others will follow. In fact, let’s make it £6.21. The £9,680 extra this will raise should buy you a snack somewhere.
    Tim Burton, Berkshire

    I assume the whip-round you suggest is for the Bank of Scotland, whose debts exceed yours by a country mile. Please find a cheque enclosed.
    Tony Weston, Leicestershire

    Anyone with the nous to get rid of a £2m overdraft in one hit should surely use their talents to advise HM Treasury. Or is this something Geraldine would rather not do?
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    Geraldine pictured outside the Grand Chalet was attired, as usual, with impeccable taste. I suspect you were excluded from the photo to spare us the sight of your lederhosen and feathered cap outfit.
    Michael Phillips, Solihull

    According to Rod Liddle, the House of Commons is removing a brand of beer called Top Totty from the bar and replacing it with one called "Just Calm Down, Love". Is this another of your moneymaking schemes? I'm sure it will be a success.
    Adam Osborn, Malaga, Spain