The Toast Master
Have you ever noticed that a toast rack never holds burnt toast?
I lived on a real desert island (Remire Island, Seychelles) till I was 11 years old.
The mail arrived every six months and my grandmother, based on Manhattan Island, would send Christmas presents a year early. She never sent shoes as we did not wear them and we never had a toast rack in the house nor did she ever send one.
Toast racks symbolized the power and potency of Colonialism in far flung reaches of the British Empire from India, The Jewel in the Crown, to the Seychelles. Toast racks belonged on privileged tables with servants waiting hand on foot at the Seychelles governor’s mansions.
Governor of The Seychelles from 1969-1973, Sir Bruce Greatbatch Kt, KCV0, CMG, MBE, had The British Toast Rack in his home when I lived in The Seychelles during his governership.
Toast racks belonged on privileged tables with servants waiting hand on foot at the governor’s mansion.
Later, I found out hotels had them but they always contained these limp pieces of bread, usually cold with the crusts cut off. Exhibits of privilege and was station. Mind you, to a young 11 year old just introduced to electricity and TV the very idea of having a rack of bread, butter and marmalade with a pot full of chocolate spoke of civilization.
“Another rack!” I would cry.
Lord Julian Edward George Asquith Oxford, Governor of Seychelles when I was a child living in this African colony, guided the affairs of the colony of 65,000 people from 1961 to 1967.
Oxford’s responsibility extended to the British Indian Ocean Territory, originally consisting of the Chagos Archipelago, and the Seychelles islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches.
One of my first jobs was making toast at the Barclay’s Hotel (now known as the Park Lane) in London. I was in my sophomore year in the US and armed with a Bar-tending Master of Mixology from Harvard University and needing spending money to trek around Spain.
I landed in the interview room at the Barclay’s Hotel. No bar-tending positions open, but if I was interested there was a position making toast. With three weeks to kill and the prospect of money I accepted.
It only lasted a day, maybe I burnt too much bread or did not cut the crust just so, but the manager arrived at my station with green jacket sending me to run the swimming pool bar.
A toast master I was not destined to be.
The Spanish understood racks but they never understood that toast meant toasted bread so the two remain separated – but bless their hearts, they tried. Many a confession was obtained while the human body was on the rack with feet being toasted. I fear something was lost in the translation. Imagine the poor British solider being asked “Quieres un poco de pan tostado en el estante” – “Sí, con mucho gusto” (with a Scottish accent).
No wonder Wellington moved on and ended up as a loin of beef wrapped in puff pastry.
The Italians took toast to a new level. With stealth they took toast from breakfast to dinner so tea was sidelined by a fine glass of wine. First of all they got rid of the toast rack, moved the venue from breakfast to lunch or dinner, got rid of the sweet condiments and added tomatoes.
Should Churchill have called his volumes of the British Isles “Toast Rack–Exporting Civilization”? Think little but what could be the true mark of British civilization.
Take out the silver, lay the table, beckon your love ones and deliver perfectly toasted bread delicately separated so they may not sweat on another and remember the British Empire!
Please pass the marmalade.
Rory Veevers-Carter, President, The British Toast Rack Society.
The Editor mentions Rory in the article Cicero’s Corner on the Brick Project 2016 site.
Here is an excerpt from that article:
Remire Island, Seychelles
Let me start by telling you about Rory…
Rory Veevers-Carter is a dear friend, and like me, Rory spent his early years in Africa.
His father was named Mark, and his son (who is my godson) is also named Mark. Mark Veevers-Carter was an African explorer in the tradition of Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone. Rory and his brother Digby and his sister Ming all grew up “wild” in the Seychelles. And their explorer dad, and their author mum – Wendy Day Veevers-Carter – raised their family with a healthy outdoors island life of fishing and hunting and building boats and mending fishing nets on the island of Remire in the Seychelles Archipelogo.
Wendy actually wrote a book about this family adventure entitled Island Home.
Rory was a special breed of English expats in Africa that we in Kenya used to call “English Cowboys”. As kids, the English Cowboys grow up immersed in the natural African wilderness – developing an intuitive and encyclopedic knowledge of species of snakes and ants and birds. Knowing how to forage for berries and jackfruit. Playing soccer barefoot and climbing trees and stealing bird’s eggs and fishing in shallow ravines with a hand-carved wooden dagger – and speaking the local dialects fluently with no accent.
… Then – all of a sudden – it all changes!
They come of age and they have to suddenly wash up, clean up, smarten up their attire and are swiftly shipped off to boarding school in England – in Rory’s case - King’s College, Taunton.
A school that spawned statesmen and captains of industry. Where Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli gave his maiden speech in Taunton when he first stood for parliament.
This is the kind of juxtaposed life that many an English boy in Africa – or English boy in India - had lived for centuries.
Rudyard Kipling, who was born in India and then shipped off to England for school, lived it. Another example was George Orwell, who was also born in India and then sent off to Eton (because, as the saying went back then, “the British Empire was won on the playing fields of Eton”). George Orwell also lived this stark culture shock and juxtaposition of a colonial life.