As the rum butterers simmered, all became clear. Delia would save them

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"There are hard months ahead for the producers of rum butter!" cried the speaker. "Every year it is the same! Every year after Christmas the consumption of rum butter goes down! And yet we are never prepared for it! Never! Why not?"

There was a roar of agreement.

It was the annual extraordinary general meeting at Rum Butter House, the HQ of the producers of that strangely British foodstuff known as rum butter. Every year we buy vast quantities of the stuff to put on our Christmas puddings, and the trade booms. Every year, in January, we stop buying it, and the trade slumps. No other country has a slump in rum butter. Well, no other country has rum butter, come to that. Nor has any other country got Christmas pudding. There is also, if we are going to be fair about it, a rather sudden slump in the sale of Christmas puddings at the end of each December.

But there is nothing quite like the the annual extraordinary general meeting that they have every year at Rum Butter House.

"Order, order!" shouted Lord Nugget, the chairman of the rum butter industry. "For heaven's sake, ladies and gentlemen, we cannot have these scenes every year!"

"Then do something about it!" came a shout. "Think of a plan!"

"We have thought of plans galore!" cried Lord Nugget. "We have tried everything! We have invented a rum butter-based liqueur copied from Bailey's Irish Cream! We tried to get climbers in the Lake District to rub rum butter in their leather boots! We urged their wives to rub it into their bodies! We brought out a rum butter alcopop! We persuaded the Body Shop to do tests on a rum butter cream and a rum butter shampoo! I even tried the rum butter shampoo myself! And what happened?"

"All your hair fell out!" cried the heckler.

Everyone laughed. Lord Nugget was as near bald as makes no difference. Lord Nugget himself smiled.

"You may laugh," he cried, "but this is a serious situation. Every year in the first few months we build up huge reserves of rum butter, and sell very little of it till the climbing season starts again. What we need to do is find another use for it! Does anyone here have any ideas ?"

There was a silence, broken by a voice from the crowd.

"Yes! I have an idea!"

All eyes turned. The speaker was a handsome young man with a rakish smile.

"What's your name, young man?" asked Lord Nugget sternly.

"Toby Skillet, sir. The Skillets of Blunderdale have been making rum butter since 1793. William Wordsworth himself would never go climbing without a jar of our stuff in his valet's pocket."

"Then come up here and tell everyone your idea."

The young man lightly leapt up on the stage, took the microphone from Lord Nugget, and faced the crowd, his eyes flashing.

"Ladies, gentlemen and comrades of the rum butter industry! There is only one thing we need do! And that is to get rum butter involved in cooking!"

There was a silence. Lord Nugget stirred.

"How do you mean, boy?"

"What we've got to do is get the same thing happening to rum butter as happened to cranberries. Cranberries were heavily featured as a cooking ingredient by Delia Smith one year, and suddenly you couldn't find cranberries in the shops. Cranberry people made a fortune. Why can't the same thing happen to rum butter?"

"Because nobody has ever recommended anyone to use rum butter in cooking!" shouted a voice.

"Because people say that rum butter is fattening!"

"Because people are afraid of alcohol, and people are afraid of butter, but people are twice as afraid of both of them combined!" shouted another voice.

"Because cranberries are ever so 1990s and good for you, but a goody- goody like Delia Smith would never touch rum butter!"

"You are all cowards!" shouted Toby Skillet of Blunderdale. "How do you know? Nobody has even approached Delia Smith to get her to put rum butter in her recipes! Delia Smith has no doubt never even thought of it! It wouldn't hurt to put it to her!"

"And who's going to do that, pretty boy?!"

"I will!" thundered Toby Skillet. "By heaven, if nobody else will, I will!"

A silence fell in Rum Butter Hall. Lord Nugget shook the boy's hand.

"Good luck, son," he said. "It's a dangerous mission. We all wish you well. Go with our blessing."

Tomorrow: We follow young Toby to Chateau Delia Smith for a thrilling denouement

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