Food | Wry Society

The overindulger

For one bon vivant banker, overexcelling at table has been a consequence-free pastime. But the holidays present a new hurdle.

December 22 2011
Adam Edwards

Paul Crawton liked to think of his body as a Range Rover. It was a hardy machine; a tuned workhorse that grappled with the rugged countryside during the day and then at night sped out to dinner with the grace of a grand tourer. It was, however, a bit of a guzzler. It was fuelled most days by an extensive variety of rich food and alcoholic drinks. And that was fine when Paul was working up an appetite scrambling up and down a Scottish hillside or casting flies into wide rivers, but when he was back in the City fiddling with figures on the computer his love of refreshment was, well, excessive.

When he went for a fitting for a new suit, his tailor told him he was looking “prosperous”, a sobriquet that he later discovered was Savile Row speak for “chubby”. His wife had cut out a low-fat dairy-free diet recommended in a newspaper and placed it prominently on the desk in his study; meanwhile, his partner had jokily suggested he should join the company health club.

Paul ignored the joshing. He was in the pink. On weekdays he would lunch at least once a week on a couple of glasses of champagne and rare rump steak and chips at Boisdale of Bishopsgate (and if he couldn’t get there he would, more often than not, order its takeaway Aberdeen Angus burger with fresh black truffle, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and Portobello mushrooms). In the evenings he would kick off with two or three large glasses of white wine at his St James’s club before either going home to a big supper or heading out for dinner. And while he accepted that this was not a diet that would help his promotion prospects in a squeaky-clean American bank, thirsty Paul was already at the top of his trade. He was hale, hearty, always hungry – and felt no ill effects from his excess.

Or, at least, he hadn’t until last New Year’s Day. The Crawtons had spent the later part of the festive season with David Fergusson, a bon viveur who owned a fashionable gastropub in Hampshire. Fergusson spent his days behind the bar sampling his vintage wines and unusual spirits (he was particularly partial to his Prune 43E Eau de Vie de Laurent Cazottes) and encouraging his customers to do the same. On New Year’s Day, after a hefty “hair of the dog” pre-lunch session at the pub with several bottles of the excellent 2002 Veuve Clicquot Brut and nibbles that included smoked salmon, sweet peppers stuffed with ricotta cheese, Parma ham and mozzarella balls, the party repaired to Fergusson’s converted farmhouse for a long lunch.

They started with fresh foie gras flown in from the Dordogne accompanied by Château d’Yquem Sauternes. The main course was roast goose with all the trimmings, including a Wiltshire ham, accompanied by lashings of 1995 Côte de Nuits, followed by sticky toffee pudding, mince pies and a bespoke boiled fruit cake. The feast was completed with stilton and a truckle of cheddar before the arrival of the “stickies”. Paul sidestepped the coconut-flavoured Malibu rum and Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur and plumped instead for a large glass of Drambuie accompanied by a Cohiba cigar and a box of praline truffles.

And that was when Paul began to “pink”. At first, he thought somebody had spiked his Drambuie with battery acid. Then he was convinced he was having a heart attack or a stroke, or both, and demanded David call a doctor. David rang the local out-of-hours call centre and, in a slurred voice, told the operator that his friend was dying. After listening to the symptoms, the voice at the end of the phone suggested Paul drank some milk and added primly, “It sounds to me like indigestion.” The phone call was followed by an extensive search for some indigestion mixture that eventually turned up an ancient crusty bottle of Pepto-Bismol, which brought a modicum of relief to the effects of the gluttony.

That night, Paul realised that his body was no longer a Range Rover. It was, he admitted to himself, more of a well-used Land Rover. The bodywork had got a bit shabby, the trim was no longer taut and, worst of all, the only time it would be “in the pink” again was when it was swimming in coral-coloured Pepto-Bismol.