26 November 1999

A ROAST MISSION

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

Thousands joined in farmers weeklys Roast and Toast Day celebrations last weekend.

The Farmlife team decided that, if the French wont buy our beef, wed take it to them.

So we roasted a joint, secreted it in the back of the car and smuggled it across the

Channel. And there, as Tim Relf reports, we carved it and ate it under the noses of the

locals. Happy Roast and Toast Day from Farmlife, on location in Dunkirk

DOVERS white cliffs receded. This was it. Our mission was clear: to enjoy British beef on French soil. Our motive, equally clear: to strike a blow for Britain in the face of our Gallic neighbours protectionist trade policy. Not so much a booze cruise, more – you might say – a chop stop, steak break or joint jaunt.

Our cargo was a sirloin of Aberdeen-Angus, wrapped in foil and tucked under a sheet in the boot of the car. Alongside it was a host of other British goodies: salad, bread, butter, mustard and horseradish. And, of course, the plonk – a bottle (OK, three) of scrumptious Surrey-made red.

The gendarmes at Calais gave us a cursory glance and waved us on. Just more day-tripping Rosbifs, they probably thought. If only they knew how right they were. We didnt stop – they had guns, apparently – and, besides, we were on more important business. British beef business.

We were proving a point. Making a stand. We had left messages with our loved ones. Told them, echoing the words of Antarctic explorer, Captain Oates, that we were going for a little roast and may be some time. We were prepared, if it came to it, to be locked up and force fed frogs legs. And greater sacrifice than that no man can make.

We ate beef butties on the sandswept quay at Calais, before heading to Dunkirk. Fitting, somehow, that this should be the venue for our Roast and Toast Day meal. We sat on the beach with our beef looking, fondly, back towards Old Blighty. There, millions of like-minded people would be tucking into a healthy and hearty roast over the weekend.

Sunday lunch, as always, would bring together friends and family. It would bring together neighbours, colleagues and lovers. It would have made strangers friends. A meal like beef unites. Or it can, anyway. Just a shame the French dont see it that way.

&#42 Into Dunkirk

To enjoy our joint we went into Dunkirk to save it being ruined by the gale-whipped sand. Flagged by Union Jacks, we tucked in beside a river under the suspicious gaze of locals.

Strange and a little sad, we thought – the British and French are supposed to be allies, after all. But we didnt feel very allied now. They talk about reaching an "accord" over the beef dispute and still they ban it. England seemed a long way away.

A few French people walked past. They declined our invitation to join in. Maybe it was our pidgin French they didnt understand. Maybe it was the Union Jacks they didnt like. Whatever. We didnt, as the expression goes, come here to make friends.

We tucked in to the delicious Aberdeen-Angus sirloin from Surrey-based farmer and butcher Nobby Bristow. It had brought a wry smile to the 77-year-olds face, the day before, knowing his meat would be eaten in France. He clearly remembered his only visit to the place. "I dont think Ive ever been treated with such hostility."

&#42 Good wishes

Nobby had handed us the joint. Waved us off and wished us luck. Told us that, though hed only been on French soil once, hed flown over it many times in his service career. Then, alluding to those military days, left us with this message: "If you get into trouble, ring me and Ill bring out the Forces. Well have you broken out in no time."

It didnt come to that. Not quite, anyway. A police van passed us on the Dunkirk beach. Bonjour, the driver called. Bonjour we called back. He didnt twig. We watched him disappear, raised our glasses and toasted the better times ahead in farming. And there would be better times ahead.

Back at Calais, meanwhile, the gendarmes were still there. They watched us pass again, gave us another cursory glance. We had, quite literally, eaten the evidence. The ferry planed back across the Channel. It was dark and the crossing was choppy. Dovers white cliffs appeared, grew. We were home and dry. Yes, we were home – late, happy and glad to be back in Gods country. The home of beef.

The Farmlife team give (above) the thumbs-down to Auchan, a store which has turned

its nose up at British beef and (left) bangs the drum for Britain

in France.

Below: Great Yorkshire Show chief cattle steward Bill Cowling celebrates with wife, Caroline, sons Tom and Guy and daughter-in-law Karen at Harrogate, North Yorks.

NFU president

Ben Gill had two roasts on Sunday – pork at lunchtime in a pub, returning from a speaking

commitment, and beef in the evening with his wife Carolyn

and son Edward. "A properly

done roast is unbeatable,"

said a full Ben afterwards.

Chairman of the Guild of Q

Butchers Gordon Hepburn was joined by farming friends and a restaurateur. "Theres nothing

better than a roast. Its a religion with us. If you can enjoy your food, theres not much wrong with you."

As for Tory leader William Hague, however, he had other things on his mind to Roast and Toast. "The Lord Archer scandal has overridden any previous commitments," said a Conservative spokesman.

Above: Members of the Short family dig in at the home of family-friends Richard and

Lavinia Vaughan at Caersws, Powys.

Left: Meating place…Nobby Bristow proudly displays some of wares in his Surrey shop. Above: Claudine Green and John Snell enjoy the day at South Molton, Devon.

Farmlife staff (l to r): editor Tessa Gates, deputy editor Tim Relf,

and secretary Maggie Peel.