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Valentine Warner: Why I Can’t Get Enough of British Oysters

The other night a woman told me that oysters were texturally like snot, and although not unpleasant, she didn’t understand the point of swallowing them whole for a slippery hint of the sea. Apparently an oyster aficionado had taught her that one should slide them down, not chew.

“Who is this nitwit, the man’s a fool” I replied hotly. The whole point is to chew them and let your palate suddenly become overrun by that meaty, explosive, ubermineral, metallic twang that makes your eyes pop out, you hair stand up, and causes you to clench your jaw with exhilaration, wide eyed and alive. Eating an oyster, you actually feel your body snatching those minerals and dispatching them to whichever parts of the body demand satisfaction. An oyster is a furtive awakening, refreshing , intimately strengthening, a rush the equivalent of nitrus oxide to a petrol engine. “Show me this prancing fool who never chews,” I said, then I had a cigarette…

For some time now I have been waging an on-going battle with that many-headed hydra called smoking. To have landed a large summer trout and see it wriggling in the grass, to have climbed to the top of a Greek peak, the smell of dry mountain herbs and din of cicadas ringing in the air, to have eaten a succession of excellent courses with noble wines are three examples of things I enjoy, achievements even. What is this strong and intense urge, though, that any one of these wonderful situations feels only validated when crowned with a cigarette?

This validation at the end of a meal or fishing trip is a false feeling – as the thrill of the fight with a fish, the walk and its summit, the satisfaction of appetite has already been recognized and appreciated before even the thought of the cigarette came to mind. Would you ever relive or tell the story with the fish, the mountain or the meal all being the lead up in a collection of tales called, Great Cigarettes of my Life? I doubt it.

It’s a trick and although unexpectedly forceful in its arrival, resist that cigarette as the gurgling of the river, the panoramic view, the post dinner chat will whisk it away soon enough. A cigarette does not make a wonderful situation better. An oyster on the other hand…

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