Try this out in your workplace. Inspire a discussion about any matter of political importance, like, for instance, the euro crisis or reforms in the National Health Service. Some people will have deep convictions and strong views but I would guess that, by and large, you will be surprised by a lack of general engagement in these issues of great moment.
And then, casually, ask if anyone has an opinion on the best way to boil an egg. Stand back for the reaction: four minutes; five minutes; put the egg in and then boil for three minutes; let it stand; put salt in the water; better to simmer than boil. On and on they go, as if what we're trying to achieve is the perfect soufflé, or an award-winning baked Alaska. It's a boiled egg we're talking about.
This was the topic du jour in my office when I happened to mention that one revelation in a new book about the wild and wacky lifestyles of some great figures of rock'n'roll was that Mick Jagger insisted on having his eggs soft-boiled and served in a Wedgwood egg cup.
Blimey. I knew rock stars had crazy, uncontrollable urges, but surely that was a step too far. Drugs, women, even jelly babies with all the green ones removed, but a specific rider involving boiled eggs? That's going too far. (In my very limited experience, however, this is not untypical. The only rock star I know well likes nothing more than a quiet evening in with a bottle of home-made elderflower cordial and some Cheddar.)
This is not the first time that the humble boiled egg has become a national topic for discussion. We all recall how particular Prince Charles is regarding his boiled eggs – according to Jeremy Paxman's book on the royals, Charles has seven eggs cooked, each for a different length of time, and then tests them all before settling on the one that suits his taste. (This was later denied by the Palace, fearful of what it would do to the Prince's environmental credentials.)
And what about Delia Smith? In her 1998 book, How To Cook, the original domestic goddess devoted a whole chapter to the foolproof way to boil an egg, and left herself open to ridicule; fellow chef Gary Rhodes accused her of insulting people's intelligence. But it's clear she was on to something. "Even the simplest of cooking demands a degree of care and attention," she wrote, before detailing the precision needed.
In case you are interested – which I am sure you are, if only so you can emulate Prince Charles and rock gods everywhere – she says you should lower the egg into simmering water for exactly one minute, then remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for six minutes (fairly liquid yoke) or seven minutes (a firmer, creamy yoke). All of which, I'm afraid, is just an excuse to reprise my favourite cartoon of all time. It was in the New Yorker magazine and showed a chicken and an egg in bed together. They were clearly in a state of post-coital bliss, and the chicken was smoking a cigarette.
The caption simply read: "So now we know which came first."
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