Perhaps it only happens once in a lifetime. A few months ago I clicked to open an email, and when I saw its contents, I gaped. For a second I was frozen, my brain not really comprehending. I peered around the room for Hedwig, surely SHE had delivered this?
'We have 6 tickets for the semi final of the Rugby World Cup, do you want to come?' I whirled around and sputtered out the news to my husband. His look of shocked disbelief mirrored my own.
The story of how, one champagne-enhanced afternoon, England reached the semi final of the World Cup, belongs to another post. The story of how I worked out that I had THE ticket for THE semi final, is by-the-by. The story of how Mac, Frannie, Hubby and Pig left their 6 children in the tender care of Bouchra and hastened to the match, belongs to the here and now.
Who would not have been apprehensive? Who - whilst posturing and chanting - would not have felt slightly sick inside? Who - having bought the shirt, the wig and the bright red lipstick - would not be almost beside themselves with excitement? Who would not think it was their duty to give their husband a number 2 then paint his head with the flag of St George?
Oh the moment of almost heart-stopping beauty as the packed Stade de France revealed her splendour; and the stress of wanting it so, so badly.
If England got through by the screams of their fans, you have me to thank. Surrounded by the French as I was, it did not stop me screaming until my voice cracked. Did you hear the desperate, 'Jooonnnnneeeeeee' as he struck the pose we associate with success? Did you hear the strains of 'Sweet Chariot' before the French drowned us out with 'Allez Les Bleus'? They did that time and time again, it was rather frustrating.
You know what? It doesn't matter. Which side was screeching with joy as the boys did their victory parade? Whose colours will be running on to the turf next Saturday night? Which team might bring back the Cup twice in a row?
The French were gutted. Two lovely boys had dressed up as the God who is Chabal. They wore wigs, beards and caveman garb. They were right in front of me when their leader was brought down; his tears were the tears of a nation. I did try, I tried to bridge the gulf of loser and victor. When I'd finished screaming and hugging Frannie I climbed down to the boys, and pronounced my pearls of wisdom,
'Chabal really is the most beautiful man in the world isn't he?'
I think that will have helped.
They say that Rugby is a gentleman's game. They say we are magnanimous in victory, humble in defeat. It's true. Our commiserating smiles held no malice as they bounced off the Gallic shrug. Our Jerusalem was kind, not crowing.
Heading back to the station, we saw the CRS in a line. Tight pants, high boots, what on earth were they waiting for? I think it was for me. The stony faces broke into shy smiles when I suggested they wear my wig for a photo. They shook their heads and told me to ask the boss. He said no, but still smiled for my pic. Meanwhile Mac had donned the wig, and with the grinning, glazed look of a man whose head will hurt on the morrow, had his arms wrapped around one of the rank and file CRS.
We moved on to catch our train, and that's when we came clean. That's when our 'gracious in victory' façade came tumbling down. It was mainly England fans jammed onto the ramp waiting for our ride, and some young chaps led us in the Anthem of Success.
Set to the tune of 'She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes', it ran thus;
'When Chabal started crying, I was there,
When Chabal started crying, I was there,
When Chabal started crying,
Chabal started crying,
When Chabal started crying I was there'.
Lest it was lost on the home crowd, the hundreds of fans translated it;
'J’étais là quand Chabal a pleuré...'
The train reverberated all the way back to Châtelet-Les Halles.
The next morning the Paris sun burned bright and early. I woke up still in my England shirt, my face still painted, my head still full of images, and my body still full of that one beer too many.
On Sunday evening, Mac and my husband headed Stade-wards for the second Semi Final. I soothed away my hangover with champagne and Fran and I settled down to watch the game. I cooked us these 'Rondelles' and we stared in horror at the might of the Boks.
What lies in store for our boys? For just the price of a Prada dress or two -yes, I'm trying to rationalise - we shall find out. No seer am I, but perhaps I may not have the heart to post a recipe 7 days from now.
Or perhaps I'll be singing, 'Swing looowwww, Sweeeet Chariot, coming forth to carry me home...'
Aubergine Rugby Rondelles à la Tomate (feeds 2)
These have the taste of success about them...they will bring you luck. Do you like the title? Every self-respecting cookery blog should have a little pretentious french n'est-ce pas?
1 large aubergine
For the sauce:
1 large tin of plum tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 medium onions
4-5 cloves of garlic
2 tsps oregano
1 bouquet garni / 1-2 bay leaves
1 tbsp gluten free Dijon mustard
1/2 - 1 gluten free stock cube
150ml red wine
1-2 tsps sugar
Black pepper to taste
For the crumb:
200g sunflower seeds
150g pumpkin seeds
1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and black pepper
Olive oil for frying
- Start by making the sauce. Roughly chop the onions and garlic and fry them gently in a large saucepan for a few minutes. Add the oregano and chopped tomatoes and cook gently for 5 minutes
- Add the red wine, water, bouquet garni and half the stock cube. Stir and simmer it all for about 10 minutes
- Add the mustard and tomato puree (more or less depending on taste), and stir. Remove the bouquet garni/bay leaves
- Using a hand held blender, blend until the sauce is smooth. If it tastes slightly acidic, you could add the sugar to soften the taste. Add the rest of the stock cube if it's not tasty enough for you. If the sauce seems too liquid, you can simmer it for another 15 minutes to reduce, stir it so that it doesn't stick
- Put the quinoa, sunflower and pumpkin seeds into a blender and whizz until it's like breadcrumbs. You might find that you've got some of this seed mix left over when you've finished. It will keep in an airtight container for next time, and my theory is, 'better to have too much than be cursing the pig for getting her quantities wrong'
- Cut the aubergine into slices that are about 1 cm thick
- Put the tomato sauce back on to heat and put the aubergine slices into the sauce and cover. Let them simmer for 5 minutes. I know that sounds weird, but you want your aubergines to be a little soft before you fry them, and they come out coated in sauce which helps with the next part.
- Whilst the aubergine is simmering, cover a plate with half of the seed mix. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes, salt and black pepper, and mix the seasoning in a bit
- Take the saucepan off the heat and transfer the aubergine slices to the plate. The crumb will stick to the underside of the slices. Scatter the rest of the crumb over the top of the slices, and use your fingers to squidge it all over until the slices are covered
- Now take a non stick frying pan and pour enough olive oil to generously cover the base (about half a centimetre). When the oil is hot (but nowhere near smoking), put the slices into the pan. They should sizzle immediately, you want them in, browned, and out in a jiffy, so make sure the oil is hot enough when you start
- Sizzle them on one side (2-3 minutes?) then turn them over to do the other side. The crumb will go brown and solid. Some of it will disperse into the pan, but there's no need to worry about that
- Carefully remove the slices (don't dislodge the crumb) and place onto a plate covered with kitchen towel, this will absorb any excess grease (although on Sunday I needed all the hangover-easing grease I could get)
- Serve with a generous helping of the tomato sauce, either on the side or over the top
- You can serve these as a starter with a green salad, or do as Fran and I did. Boil some small potatoes in their skins, when tender drain them. Put them back into the saucepan, add a good dollop of dairy free spread and salt and black pepper, and just let them sizzle as you fry the aubergines, turning occasionally. Yummy