CRINGLE: Why eating horse meat is nothing new to me

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THE great horsemeat scandal – let’s call it Startingate – has fallen upon us with unbridled fury. (Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that).

But the British people are facing up to its rigours with their usual fortitude. They are getting a great big horse laugh out of it. (I didn’t mean that one either. It’s infectious).

I’ve had lots of examples of Horsemeat Humour sent to me and there has been some serious discussion of which is the cleverest so far.

For myself I go along with those who favour: ‘To beef or not to beef, that is equestrian.’

But we should have seen the crisis coming. Certainly children in the nursery class could have told us.

They would have been in a position to warn us about the old lady who swallowed a fly. She also ingested with apparent ease, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a goat and a cow. But then she swallowed a horse.

At her inquest the coroner said: ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a horse. She’s dead of course.’

I believe the poor old dear intended to stop after swallowing the cow, something she was used to, and mistook the horse for another cow.

Blinkered I suppose.

I ate horsemeat for the first time in April 1951 in the last days of my National Service. I had spent most of the time serving at Changi with that long forgotten RAF fighting formation, the Far East Air Force. When my lot were time-expired (no, not the dead kind) we were repatriated to dear old Blighty by air. It took five days with overnight rests at one of the RAF airfields which, in the days of the British Empire, used to stretch across the world like bus stops.

After spending a night at RAF station El Adem in the desert sands of Libya our next stop, for emergency re-fuelling, was at a French military base near Marseilles. We were given a canteen meal of steak and chips.

Well, it wasn’t quite. I told one of the French servicemen sitting near me that I had enjoyed my biftek. He shook his head and said: ‘Mais non mon ami. C’etait cheval.’

It tasted fine and up until a few weeks ago I could have said it was the last horse meat I had ever eaten.

The meal took me through another rite of passage. I thought the dark red liquid on the table in a glass carafe was vinegar. Just in time I was told to drink it, not to pour it on my chips. It was a young man’s first encounter with vin ordinaire and I have never lost the taste for it.

Meanwhile Startingate looks like going on for a long time yet. We’re saddled with it.

A BOOK called ‘An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo’ by Richard Davenport-Hines recalls the days when nudes in London striptease clubs had to stand stock still on stage like statues. A member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Department was charged with seeing that they obeyed the rule.

His name was Sir George Titman.

RICHARD Hetherington has sent in another Manx crossword clue, from the Daily Telegraph: Man’s man? (7) – Douglas.

This week’s collective noun for media types is: A rumour of diarists.

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