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Missing Cairo

Nowhere near Cairo, grugousingly behind schedule, stuck in a cold, muddy, field, huddled up to a fire. We hear the noise of an aircraft and Beryl, from the Agency Postal Service, flies over, flips upside down, drops a note and vanishes into the distance, waving goodbye. Juan grabs the note, says that it’s from aunt Humperdink, and reads, ‘Dear Andrzej and Juan, sorry that were delayed, we missed you in India, and you missed all the fun.’

Juan stops reading and shouts that aunt is quite right, we should be clean and warm and visiting beautiful Indian places and meeting clean, warm, beautiful Indian women, and Indian women, Juan reminds me, are the cleanest, warmest and most beautiful women in the world; instead of doing that, he bawls, wiping his face with a sheep’s ear, he is dirty, cold, sitting in a miserable field, talking to an idiot and surrounded by decapitated sheep, so, he yells, he is definitely missing all the fun. I tell him to stop complaining and point out that it was his fault because he rolled his aeroplane into a vertical circle, followed by a half roll and an inverted stick-back tail slide. Juan says that he was testing the aircraft, and he succeeded in proving that it could not withstand the stress of such a manoeuvre. I tell him that the aircraft held together perfectly well when it was moving forward, the right way up, and in the air, and it only crumpled and burst into flames when he flew it upside down, backwards, into the ground, which, I remind him, it is not designed to do. Juan says that it should be redesigned, and he proved it. I tell him that he did not prove it because he missed out the last part of the sequence, which is to resume normal flight.

Juan says that, considering that my landing reduced my giro-copter to a mangled heap, I am not in a position to criticise. I tell him that my sight was obscured by the smoke of his burning aircraft, and I had to land quickly in order to save the malt he was carrying. Juan admits that this was a priority, but adds that, knowing the giro-copter has long, sharp, whirling, blades, landing in the middle of a flock of sheep was stupid. This is irritating and I don’t want to discuss the matter. So we sit, muttering under our breaths, roasting mutton on the burning wreckage.

Juan complains that we don’t have any thyme, I tell Juan to stop moaning, and think about the visitors to Dudingston who, often, have to do without any bouquet-garni at all. Juan shouts that anyone who visits Dudingston deserves what they get as everyone knows the Dudingstonians are completely mad. I can’t refute this easily so I ignore him, snatch aunt’s message out of Juan’s hand and read:

‘I have sent The Lion to pick you up,
See you soon,
Lots of love, Aunt H. xx’

As I read this, we see the great airship above us and watch as our old friend Captain 'Fatty' Farquhar Cardno, guides The Lion into a disastrous landing. We are not surprised. Farquhar is a master chef, a baker without equal, a gifted biscuit designer, and a renowned serviette folder, but he doesn’t know anything about airships. Fortunately, The Lion is a sturdy craft and, apart from some squashed livestock, no harm is done.

To celebrate, Juan breaks out the Vintage Talisker, Glenburgie, Jura, and Dalmore Special Reserve, we offer toast after toast to Fatty and his valiant crew, inflate our bagpipes, then, playing ‘Up in the Air’ ‘Mary Shearer’ and ‘My Sheep I Neglected’ at full volume, we stumble around in confused circles, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary

Sheep’s Head, to dress (Tête de Mouton)

Ingredients: A sheep’s head, 2 tablespoonfuls of pearl barley or rice, 2 onions, 2 small carrots, 1 small turnip, a bouquet-garni (parsley, thyme, bay-leaf), 10 peppercorns, salt and pepper. For the sauce, ¾ pint of liquor the head was cooked in, 1 ½ ozs. of butter, 1 ½ ozs. of flour.

Method: Cut the head in half, remove the brains, wash them and put them into cold water, with a little salt. Wash the head in several waters, carefully remove any splintered bones, and let it soak in salt and water for 1 hour. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, pour away the water, replace with fresh cold water, add the bouquet-garni, peppercorns and salt, boil up, and skim well. The head must be cooked slowly for about 3 hours; 1½ hours before serving add the vegetables sliced, with the rice or barley, and when the latter is used it must be previously blanched. Remove the skin and fibres from the brains, tie them in muslin, boil them for 10 or 15 minutes in the liquor, and chop them coarsely. Heat the butter in a stew pan, add the flour, stir over the fire for 2 or three minutes, the add ¾ of a pint of liquor from the pot, simmer for 10 minutes, add the brains, season to taste, and keep hot until required. When ready, bone the head, put the meat in the centre of a hot dish, pour the sauce over, and garnish with slices of tongue and the vegetables.

Time, to cook, about 3 hours, sufficient for 2 or 3 persons.

(Singed Sheep’s Head - The village of Dudingston, now a suburb of Edinburgh, was formerly celebrated for this ancient and homely Scottish dish. It was the custom during the summer months for the well-to-do citizens to resort to this place and regale themselves with sheep’s heads, boiled or baked. The sheep pastured on the neighbouring hills were slaughtered at the village, the carcasses were sent to town, but the heads were reserved for consumption by the visitors to Dudingston).

Recipe by Isabella Beeton, 1861