Imperative Cooking: Winter Paradise with Swiss Rolls

By Anderson, Digby | The Spectator, March 21, 1998 | Go to article overview

Imperative Cooking: Winter Paradise with Swiss Rolls


Anderson, Digby, The Spectator


IMAGINE a huge, but huge, Swiss roll, more than a foot long, pale yellow with pink jam filling oozing out and down the sides. In fact, there is a whole batch of Swiss rolls, and below them is a regiment of lemon meringue pies. On nearby shelves is a large area devoted to Bovril, Marmite, Oxo and various substitutes. A little further on are shelves and shelves of tins, whopping great tins of treacle and golden syrup. In a sort of high street called `St George's Street', there's a pub, the Admiral Nelson. Inside there's a bust of the great man and a wall covered with donated and slightly dusty regimental and club ties. Outside, near the British Hotel, is a machine which dispenses bubble-gum. Local shops advertise meat pies and fish and chips. Where are we?

Another clue: everything closes at 5.30 p.m. Indeed, the off-licences, having worked out the time when chaps most want a drink, determinedly shut their doors from midday on Saturday till the end of the weekend. On holiday and want to go to a museum in the late afternoon? Forget it, they close at three or four. There are a couple of general stores open which are run by Asians, but don't think you will get anything exotic in them - not so much as a wrinkled chilli.

You want more clues? There are round three-pin plugs; restaurants offer `cream of tomato soup' and `brown onion soup'; and everything from curtains to lavatory covers and serviettes is ruched. Where are we? The 1950s. Yes, but I said where. This is southern South Africa. The temperature is in the eighties, the sea is sparkling and warm, the scenery magnificent, baboons on the beach, penguins on the rocks, wine very good and very cheap: it's a sort of exotic Mediterranean winter paradise, with Swiss rolls.

Everyone should go to remind himself just how dismal aspects of the Fifties were in England. Mr Blair's 'modern' Britain is in many ways horrid, and worrying things happened to the high street under Mrs T, but be careful about romanticising about what went before. Reactionaries should and can be selective. One half of the traditional high street needed opening up, the other half deserved to be shut down. We should certainly lament the decline of the good butcher. But God save us from a return to Swiss rolls and closing from 1 to 2.15 p.m.

The rolls and cream of tomato are found mainly in English areas of the Cape Peninsula. …

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