Wales

A bon vivant I'm not. As far as cooking is concerned, I'm the capital P in pathetic. If Elaine is out I withdraw to my limits, opening a tin of tomato soup, with a chunk of bread and cheese, or dabbling at a scrambled egg and with much of the egg left stuck to the frying pan.

This has all been pertinent this week, for cooking and indulging have both raised their heads.

Twice a year I take part in 'A men's meal'. Peter Hain, the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales and his now retired political agent, Howard Davies, join me in treating our ladies. We go on rota for starters, main course and pudding and we gather in the home of whoever has his turn at the main dish.

I was on starters and I was guided by the advice of cooking guru Angela Grey. I went for stuffed field mushrooms with leeks, garlic, butter, cream cheese, goat's cheese, nuts, cranberries and parsley all thrown in at various stages, before or after the singe in the oven. It was a resounding success, may I add, although huge dollops of wine coloured the opinion I have no doubt.

There is a safeguard against stress too, in that, however lacking I am on this kind of artistic foody flair and creative and colourful adventure, Howard is worse. On each occasion we all feel that his wife made his course, but we can never prove it. He also has an innocent smile, one that would fox Interpol, which disarms us completely. His wife, also named Elaine, tutors him so well as to how he prepared the course that he sounds so convincing when he describes it.

I also spoke this week, on the programme, to Michael Winner, the renowned film director who is now a fearsome food critic for the Sunday Times. He was a joy to speak to, surprisingly full of common sense, about food preparation and presentation. He had no time for artistic designs on plates; saucy squiggles immediately irritated him.

He takes no prisoners in his write-ups and I don't know how he can be in a convivial photograph with restaurant or hotel owners and staff, and then lambast them in his report. I just take the coward's way out. When the waiter asks me if everything is all right, I usually reply: "Fine thank you," even it's not. I just don't go to the place again. Not the best policy at all, I suppose.

I've had my moments, mind. I remember, in my education days on a scholarship visit to America, being hosted at a dinner party by a sophisticated lady in New York. She'd once been married to a Welshman who, in her words, was good for only one thing. Whatever, I didn't press her as to what his Celtic prowess was.

In each individual cutlery arrangement on the table, there was a knife, fork,spoon and something that looked like a medical instrument. As it turned out, it was a scoop to get the marrow out of your lamb bone. It was a long night for me, I can tell you. Yuck!

I also recall something similar in a restaurant in the south of France. Elaine and I didn't recognise anything on the menu, but we took a stab at it. Panic took hold when the waiter took away my knife and fork and, yes, another medical instrument turned up. I didn't recognise the shellfish when they arrived. Not oysters, not mussels, not cockles even, but something new and sinister.

Elaine said: "Look, call the waiter, tell him you've made a mistake and change them, or you'll be up in the night." No, pride, cowardice and the need to avoid a fuss took over, so I ordered four pints of lager and a mountain of bread and I got into a rhythm of 'bread, shell fish, lager; bread, shell fish, lager; bread, shell fish, lager...' It worked a dream, and I wasn't up in the night.

It's funny, Elaine and I think we are of peasant stock: bread and potatoes, simple fayre. Mind you, 'simple' can be great. Some of the best meals I've had have been at various rugby clubs, organised by outside caterers out of tureens, £15 a head. Actually, the best beef I've ever tasted was from an outside caterer at a carvery in Bettws Rugby Club, Ammanford.

So there we go, I know my place...and it's usually fulsome.

Roy

Roy Noble is bringing his famous storytelling skills to a computer near you as part of the BBC First Click campaign - aimed at encouraging people to take their first steps to getting online. If you know somebody who needs help to get online, call the free BBC First Click advice line on 08000 150950.

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