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After finishing the consommé and emptying the Verdelho, Charles lurches to his feet and, swaying slightly, excuses himself, saying that he needs to change for the second course. A few moments later another guest arrives, and introduces himself to Roly as Phillippe. Roly murmurs to me that there's something about Phillippe that reminds him of someone he's met, but he can't think who it is. I whisper back that Phillippe might seem like a disreputable vagrant, but the honour of the family depends upon him; I am about to tell Roly who it is that Phillippe reminds him of when Juan brings in the second course.

He tells us that, although he searched the cellars and checked the drains, disappointingly, he couldn't find any rats so, rather than being able to serve rat puff, we will have to put up with vol-au-vent à la financière. Seeing that Phillippe and Roly do not appear to be too disappointed, he tells them that his rat puff is a wonderful dish, the cooking of which requires a great deal of expertise, whereas any fool with a spoon can slop out vol-au-vent. I suggest we serve it with Vintage Tobermory, Dailluaine, Linkwood, and Glenkinchie Special Reserve but I'm overruled by Roly who reminds us that Beardy Saintsbury says that a meal without Madeira is like an ornithopter with only one wing, it flaps, but it doesn't get you high, and he opens four bottles of 1850 Terrantez "Gaselee" Madeira. We raise our glasses and offer toast after toast to delicious French wine, mouth-watering French cuisine and luscious French women, then, slavering like starving dogs, we tear into the vol-au-vent as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink's Diary