Day I had to stuff my face in the line of duty and for amore

AGAINST the odds, this year s Pancake Day turned out to be a triumph, if perhaps not quite an unqualified one. In these once French parts, we ve learned through painful experience to dispel the many creperies belief we enjoy their products stuffed with t

AGAINST the odds, this year's Pancake Day turned out to be a triumph, if perhaps not quite an unqualified one.

In these once French parts, we've learned through painful experience to dispel the many creperies' belief we enjoy their products stuffed with tuna.

Easy enough getting that message across. "Non thon, thank you." Same with the equally off-putting ones crammed with chocolate.

Normally that's something I gladly down a whole bar at a time. But it just doesn't go with a pancake, dripping out all over the place, including down your chin.

Madam, let it be said, yields to none as a maker of pancakes. It might also be said her pancakes played a significant role in the tentative sprouting of our early acquaintance 50 odd years ago. A misplaced move on my part and it could all have gone up in smoke there and then, with a teenage lass dismissing me as boring and too old for her (conclusions she has long since reached, of course).

Luckily for me, I rose to the challenge.

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It came on Pancake Day, 1954. Both of us were at the Recorder. A straight from school Madam in the readers' department and me, a reporter. By mid-afternoon that day I could tell her I'd no evening job, so would it be OK if I came calling?

When I did so it was after having several of mum's teatime pancakes. Thus full up, I was alarmed on arriving to find Madam all excited over the surprise she had for me - pancakes.

It became rather like that Italian film, Bread, Love And Dreams (Pane, Amore E Fantasia) in which Vittorio di Sica, as the unwed marshall, has to manfully put away umpteen plates of spaghetti in rapid succession, made for him by girls out to get his attention.

Desperate not to offend any of them - and also to stay a lone Romeo - he devours a mountain of spaghetti, treating each new pile as if his first and acclaiming the maker accordingly.

I'd chuckled at di Sica's rural policeman, with his increasing physical discomfort, and at how he made a compliment of loosening a straining Sam Browne.

Anxious as I was for young Madam's approval, my heart sank at having to do a di Sica with her pancakes. It was under an hour since I'd demolished mum's.

Little that I knew of girls then, I'd the sense not to attempt any "Oh no, I couldn't, thanks" explanation. Like de Sica, I fell to it with a will I didn't have, fearfully wondering how many more pancakes would come out of Madam's big mixing bowl.

To this day, I've never told her the truth of it.

This year, I was surprised when she said we'd make a day of it by going out for a pancake, though to be fair our present quarters lack a decent frying pan.

We compromised by agreeing to buy one and make our own if the creperies couldn't oblige.

By teatime that looked the disappointing case. As a last resort we called in at a hotel where we sometimes have a cuppa.

Morgen, the waiter, listened intently to our request, and retreated to the kitchens. We call him that because, in apparent belief we are German, he greets us with "Morgen", whatever the time of day.

He was soon back, accompanied by the chef, a wiry, little, bow-legged man who looked as if he'd be more at home among horses than kitchens. But he was on the ball. "Deux crepes, avec sucre et citron, OK?

"Non thon, non chocalat," he grinned, like he did English pancakes every day. His first, two apiece, were neatly folded into triangles, and oozed sugar and lemon.

Chef beamed at our delight, rushed away, swiftly returned with a flat pancake each on a plate, and stood watching as, dusted and squeezed on, they were rolled up by us in real English style. Triumph! We freely rated them the equal of Madam's. Chef couldn't have been happier with a Michelin galaxy.

"Ici, avec moi," he repeated eagerly.

We forbear saying Pancake Day was an annual one-off with us English.

A week later, I found myself keeping a Pancake Day secret from Madam for the second time in my life.

For on the French TV news we get here, I was astonished to see a clip of what was obviously the famous English Pancake Day race. I even heard them say Olney.

We'd somehow had our pancakes seven days too soon. Best to lie low and say nuffin, eh? Like I did that other time.