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The Black Ships

Winter’s last fling, the rain sleeting down on Green Park, just visible through the steamed-up windows, made Black’s a particularly comforting place to be, on a stormy morning in April 1854. Stephen stared blindly into the fire in his usual reverie, while Jack harrumphed over the news in the Times.

“By George, Stephen, the Americans have done it!” cried Jack suddenly, and continued in more temperate tones, hushed by several other members in the room; “Stephen, hear this – Perry and his gunboats have succeeded in opening Japan for visits and trade! Phaeton was there in the year Eight, but no-one followed it up. Just think, Stephen – a whole land, a whole bestiary, a whole flora unexamined for 200 years! Why, they say dragons still exist there!”

Peering over the top of the newspaper, Jack could see the sudden fire in Stephen’s eye, and the reply was not long behind. “There was a paper read at the Institut during my last visit to Paris describing the giant eels of the Orient – I long to dissect one. And I have the liveliest memory of Japanese food - Wu Han in Pulo Prabang had a chef who had a talent for it – I remember the sweetest of crayfish deep-fried in the lightest of batters”.

“So”, replied Jack, “your watchword would be – o tempura o Morays”.

© 2005 Tim Elliot