I went to a dinner party recently which descended into a shouting match over Brexit. Big deal, you cry, name us a dinner party in the past year or so which hasn’t descended into some sort of teary mass brawl over whether or not we should decide our own fishing quotas.
But this was different. This was more specific. Around the table were a barrister, an author, a political hack, an Austrian princess, a charity worker and me. All grown-ups who manage to put their shoes on the right feet each morning and hold down jobs. (The princess is also an architect.) Mature, responsible adults. Except then we started talking about marmalade (my fault, I was describing how my mother makes it), and the conversation took a bad turn.
‘Marmalade is an exceptionally Brexit thing to eat,’ declared the barrister, which spawned the highbrow discussion: what food is Brexit and what food isn’t? (I admit, being a liberal bunch of avocado-munching millennials, we were, by and large, Remainers, but we did have a jolly good go at being impartial. Sort of.)
‘Toast is deeply Brexit,’ said the hack. Whereas Marmite was deemed to be quite Remain. But the barrister argued back (course he did) that breakfast as a whole was quite Brexit, unless it was a pot of Pret porridge at your desk which was ‘incredibly Remain’.
And so it went. Anything with the aforementioned avocado was clearly Remain, especially if served near or on a bit of rye bread. Neapolitan ice-cream split the table, with the charity worker insisting it was ‘quite a Brexit thing to order and yet obviously fundamentally European’. With fish and chips, it was generally agreed that it depended where they came from. Fish and chips from South Thanet would obviously be Brexit, whereas fish and chips from Brighton or a posh London chippie would be Remain.
The hack told us they play this game in her Westminster office with crisp flavours. Prawn cocktail is Brexit, she said authoritatively. Whereas I reckoned anything with chilli in it or one of those bags of Tyrrell’s vegetable crisps would be Remain. We were once sent a box of crisps at my Tatler office containing two flavours: smoked pheasant and wild mushroom, and grouse and whinberry. Even though I’m not entirely sure what a whinberry is, I’m going to label these Brexit crisps. I imagine Nigel Farage enjoys the odd packet with a pint of Spitfire.
At this juncture, I mentioned that I’d recently bought a coronation sauce and egg mayo sandwich for my lunch (honestly, you must come to a dinner party with me, they’re an absolute riot), and, while munching, I’d tweeted that it felt quite a Brexit thing to eat. A friend, another argumentative political hack, had fired back: ‘How can something vegetarian be Brexit?’ But I maintain that this feels like the kind of snack you’d find at a Ukip tea party. Or on The Vicar of Dibley. So I insisted it was a Brexit sandwich.
‘Chilli con carne is so Brexit — look at the stats!’ cried the barrister after a further 20 minutes or so on this topic. Whereupon I lost it, snorted with laughter and asked to which stats he was referring. He mumbled something about how chilli con carne was often made by second-generation immigrants, which I wasn’t sure would stand up as an argument in court. Especially since I’ve just Googled it and found the claim that it originates from a mystical Spanish nun who used to evangelise Native Americans in the 17th century and who also taught them about ‘a fiery red stew’, which was later adopted by cowboys and brigands. Were there many descendants of cowboys and brigands who voted Leave, I mused? Are the plains of Salisbury full of handsome men cantering about in Stetsons? I’d be keen to know. I might even leave London for a quick visit if so.
Calm was restored with a story about Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl. There was a summit at a European lakeside resort in the 1980s, the author told us, and there had been a heated discussion over something, so Kohl decided he needed a little break and took himself off, citing an ‘unbreakable commitment’. Trouble was, shortly afterwards, the Iron Lady took a stroll down the street only to see Kohl behind a bakery window shovelling in a cream cake. Their eyes met, the author said, spinning out the yarn somewhat, over the pastry. Their relationship apparently never recovered.
On this basis, everyone at the dinner party agreed that the cream cake was the most Brexit food of all. Then we decided to open another bottle of wine. French, I think it was. Thank heavens for European wine, eh?