"Dear God, what is she doing?" Ann Maynard, sat next to me, was trembling and her whisper was almost loud enough to reach the chef. Not quite though, so the chef continued beheading gerbils on the chopping board. The not-yet-beheaded gerbils were happily running around in a small wire cage on the counter-top.
"This is not what I would call German food," said Hubert Bayerische. He was next to Ann; an elderly gentleman with a walrus moustache, a paunch that advertised his love of good food, and usually a happy smile on his face. At the moment his face looked disturbed, but I was sure I could still spot him salivating.
"Ah no," said my secretary sitting up straight and fiddling with the knot of his tie until was evenly between his collar tips. "The memo was quite clear when you sent it out. You didn't ask for German cooking, you asked for Gerbil cooking."
Natasha, the last of the judges and sat beyond Hubert, turned ruddy, which unfortunately made her blonde moustache stand out on her face.
"I never!" she said, and slammed her meaty hands down on the desk.
"The memo is in front of you all," said my secretary indicating a folded piece of paper. I knew I should stop it all now, but after the debacle with my Trench Cookery book I was keen to see someone else go down in flames. "You will see--"
"This is a lie!" Natasha levered her 300-pound bulk out of her chair, or rather attempted to. The chair, firmly wedged onto her bum, just came up with her like some bizarrely-placed corsage.
"I can have the email server checked," I said blandly, waving a hand at the memo. "That will retrieve the original email you sent."
"No! That will be a lie too!"
"Natasha dear, could you sit back down please? You're upsetting the cooks."
"Oh no, if they're not upset they'll keep cooking those poor gerbils...." Ann sounded slightly faint, but Hubert wasn't listening.
"Look Natasha, old girl, we all make mistakes now and then. If the gerbils turn out to be tasty, then I don't see what the problem is."
"Oh you monster!" Ann slapped his shoulder, but it was like a fly swatting a human.
One of the cooks scooped up four live gerbils and dropped them into a pot of batter.
"Can gerbils swim?" asked Ann.
"You are all liars and cheats and thieves!" Natasha was rocking from foot to foot now, the chair on her bottom oscillating like a pendulum. "No-one could mistake Gerbil for German!"
"I always thought no-one could mistake Trench for French," I muttered, but mostly under my breath so as not to remind anyone of my own past misadventures.
The cook dropped the battered gerbils into the deep-fat fryer.
"Oh no-o-o-o-o-o-o!" wailed Ann.
"Should give them a bit of a crunch," said Hubert. "Like ortolan, maybe."
"Illegal, Ann," I said. "Don't worry about it. Just worry about those gerbils; I think that might be our satay starter."
Ann burst into tears, my secretary headed to the chefs to pick up the first course we were being served, and Natasha fell over, landing with a crash and rolling around like a beached whale. All things considered, my faux pas some years ago with Trench Cookery looked like passing out of people's memories for good this year.