Like so many others with slightly macabre sensibilities, I have a near obsession with The Titanic. And I've had this for as long as I can remember, long before all the recent media hype and the James Cameron blockbuster of 1997.
I've got a very real problem with the latter: am I alone in thinking that this film is an example of the worst possible taste? A very tragic real-life disaster, in which over a thousand people died, is reduced to a simplistic, anachronistic teen romance, fermented by a trite, retarded script; the Titanic's passenger list reduced to "them" and "us": "them" being the 'orrible upper classes- all cruel snobs with phoney Oxford accents and twirling waxed moustaches, and "us" being the brave, true, noble, kind, hard-working, down-trodden working class, on their way to create a Brave New America- except that they don't, 'cos they all drown at the expense of the cowardly toffs who dress up in drag to get to the life-boats before the women and children.
An interesting historical fact by the way- before we all get too revolutionary here- is that around double the amount of men in Third Class survived when compared to the poor old burghers in Second Class who suffered, I think, the worst survival rate of all, a terrifying 8.33 per cent.
And then there's all that bizarre cruciform spread-eagled arm waving stuff going on in the film, Leonardo and Kate at the bows of the great ship, offset by corny Irish folksy flutey music (why does modern day Hollywood have a thing about this? Although I'll grudgingly admit that the Titanic was made in Belfast) and the wailings- nay, shrieking- courtesy of the Franco-Canadian diva, Ms. Celine Dion.
A Night to Remember, 1958
No, I don't like "Titanic". Instead, have a look at William McQuitty's excellent A Night to Remember, directed by the late Roy Ward Baker and starring Kenneth More and a very young Honor Blackman (aka Mrs Gale). Yup, it's in black and white, yup, it was made in 1958. Yup, it requires a bit of effort to watch. Yup, it's got Kenneth More with a plummy accent, and it's all very Stiff Upper Lip. These are good things.
The Times today ran an article entitled "The other last supper". The byline said: "...inspired by the final Titanic meal, chefs around the world are serving variations of its first-class menu". Again, although fascinating, isn't this just a little dubious? Not the Times article, which was interesting, but the idea that restaurants all around the world are staging "Last Dinner on The Titanic" banquets?
In the spirit of all this fun, one of my more recent second-hand buys has been, yes, you guessed it Last Dinner on The Titanic...Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner, by Rick Archbold and Diana McCauley, with a forward by Walter Lord. Walter Lord, by the way, wrote the book on the Titanic disaster, which I would recommend without hesitation.
So why not amuse and entertain your boss and his lady wife by inviting them to a Titanic dinner party? If they're first class guests you could serve them eleven courses, consisting at a glance of: Oysters à la Russe, Poached Salmon with Mousseline sauce, Vegetable Marrow Farci, Chậteau potatoes, Asparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron vinagrette (I like the sound of this one), and Waldorf pudding. If your guests warrant the second class menu, there's a choice of Baked Haddock with Sharp Sauce, Curried Chicken and Rice, Turnip Purée, Wine Jelly and American Ice Cream. Steerage gets, amongst other things, Roasted Pork with Sage, Vegetable Soup, Green Peas and Plum Pudding with Sweet Sauce.
Here's the recipe for the Asparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron vinagrette (courtesy of "Last Dinner on The Titanic"):
Snap off the woody ends of the fresh asparagus stalks, and chuck them away. Plunge the asparagus into salted boiling water and cook them for 3 to 5 minutes until tender. Drain them under cold water- which will help to set the colour and will stop them cooking.
Meanwhile, soak some saffron strands in a few teaspoons of boiling water, and let it stand for a few minutes, until the saffron softens (you'll find that the water turns yellow). Stir in about a tablespoon or so of champagne vinegar, half a teaspoon of smooth Dijon mustard and a good pinch of white sugar. Whisk until smooth, and drizzle in three tablespoons of olive oil, until it forms an emulsion. Season with salt and white pepper. Toss with the asparagus and red and/or yellow peppers, finely diced. Arrange on a plate with a selection of designer lettuce leaves- those things in plastic bags you can buy from the supermarkets.