Stories and Essays

The world’s our lobster

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The world’s our lobster

(Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

From the age of six I was entranced by chess. However, I had an alternative early interest — marine biology. Ever since first watching “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea”, I had been fascinated by molluscs, Cephalopoda and Crustacea. This interest also extended to the fossil versions, ammonites and belemnites, which I collected on the Jurassic Coast at Lyme Regis. Family holidays alternated between trips to chess tournaments at Bognor Regis and expeditions, armed with my geological hammer, to the home town of legendary fossil hunter Mary Anning; and it was at Lyme Regis, that I discovered the important fact that lobsters did not just look interesting, they were also wonderfully tasty, grilled in a hot butter sauce, cold in a salad with mayonnaise, à l’américaine, Thermidor or cardinale. Even lobster bisque. All equally delicious.

On a more spiritual plane, lobsters and oysters play a significant role in English literature, which became another focus of interest, partly due to the necessity to pass the  English A Level. Then there is the original Falstaffian context from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor: “Why, then, the world’s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.”

Who, also, can forget Sherlock Holmes’s feigned ramblings, as he pretends to be expiring from the deadly oriental disease, the Black Formosa corruption, in the short story, The Dying Detective? As the narrative opens, Dr. Watson visits Baker Street only to find Holmes to be seemingly delirious and raving: “Indeed I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem. Ah, I am wandering! Strange how the brain controls the brain! No doubt there are natural enemies which limit the increase of the creatures… Shall the world, then, be overrun by oysters? No, no; horrible!”

Having ultimately nailed the villain, Holmes and Watson promptly repair “for something nutritious” to Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, the celebrated restaurant and the traditional home of London and British chess. On the main staircase of Simpson’s one can still see on display the hallowed chess board and pieces used by such legends of the game as Paul Morphy, Howard Staunton, Wilhelm Steinitz, Johannes Zukertort, Emanuel Lasker and Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch. It is my contention that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have seen the World Chess Champion of the day, Wilhelm Steinitz, at Simpson’s and adapted his short muscular stature, domed forehead and shaggy beard as the physical model for another epic character, Professor Challenger, protagonist in chief of the Conan Doyle novel, The Lost World.

Meanwhile, it was another great English writer in the form of Lewis Carroll who solved Holmes’s problem of supplying the predatory natural enemies of oysters, with his iambic tetrameters and trimeters in “The Walrus and the Carpenter” poem, from his chess based fantasy: Through the Looking Glass.

“’O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
‘You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.”

We must now turn to Alice’s Adventures yet again, this time in Wonderland, for some insight into the terpsichorean proclivities of the lobster:

“Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?
“You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!”

(The Lobster Quadrille, more commonly known as The Mock Turtle’s Song, recited by the Mock Turtle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.)

An indelible memory for me occurred during the fourth clash for the World Chess Title between those two chess geniuses, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov at Seville in 1987. One evening the press corps had assembled in a local restaurant called La Dorada (the Spanish for “sea bream”). The house special was, in fact, sea bream, encased in a jacket of baked salt. It was also the most economical dish on the menu.

There were about eleven of us, and the first person to order opted for dorada, as did the second and third. The waiter was gradually approaching me, when I noticed in the distance, for it was a large restaurant, something huge, bright and red on a gigantic silver platter. I enquired of my neighbour, the chess correspondent of El Pais what it might be. Leontxo Garcia, the most widely read chess journalist in the Hispanic world, responded that it was a bogavante gigante, in other words, an immense lobster, a special that wasn’t even on the written menu.

I toyed briefly with ordering it, but fear of standing out from my colleagues, combined with the now certain knowledge that everyone else present was going for the dorada, and the inevitable complications which would arise when splitting the bill, I succumbed and ordered dorada too. But a cunning plan was forming in my mind, I would return to La Dorada, order the bogavante gigante, but someone else would pay for it.

According to plan, within a couple of days I had made a point of befriending Rafael Tudela Reverter, the Venezuelan multi-millionaire and Deputy President of FIDE, the world chess federation (Fédération Internationale des Échecs). I resolved to make Rafaelito, as I soon began to address him, my new best friend and, sure enough, a couple of weeks into the match, he invited me to lunch. “Where would you like to go?” he asked. “Well,” after a plausible pause for thought, I responded, “there are many excellent restaurants in Seville. It’s a difficult choice, but on the whole, I recommend LA DORADA!!”

I arrived at the appointed time and place. The waiter presented himself to take our order. I thoughtfully scanned the menu, but, in my heart of hearts, I knew what it had to be: “Bogavante gigante por favor”. The waiter glided away. About five minutes later he reappeared in the distance and began to weave his way slowly towards our table. I already knew before he reached us that he was going to pronounce the fatal words: “Señor, I am sorry. Today, the Bogavante, she is off!”

Machiavellian culinary setbacks aside, I have had the privilege of encountering several great luminaries of the mind, apart from Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. One of those luminous minds is Visiting Professor Dr. Michael Crawford, director of The Institute for Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition based at London’s Imperial College.

Humans are thinking animals. Indeed, the human being is never so free, as when it has the miraculous opportunity to exercise the full power of the brain. The Savannah-roaming young of the rhinoceros imbibe maternal milk, rich in protein. The weight of the human brain is approximately 1.5Kg; compare that to the rhino’s (600g) — or even the cow’s (500g) — both of which are immensely more physically powerful, but lack the same higher cognitive functions of humans. Humans do not seek bulk, we seek intelligence; it is, or should be at least, our Holy Grail.

Professor Crawford has assembled an intelligence boosting strategy which, drives forward a global programme of nutrition, intelligence and enhanced brainpower, all within the framework of an environmentally positive structure.

Whether one is pro- or anti-Brexit, Professor Crawford has identified a scientific opportunity, amounting to nothing less than a post-Brexit creation of a new “industrial” revolution. Fortunately, it involves lobsters, oysters and other crustaceans. In the eighteenth century, Britain benefited from coal, iron ore and, above all, creative intelligence, allied with an entrepreneurial and adventurous spirit. By exploiting our newly expanding and reclaimed coastlines, after leaving the EU, we will be in a position to build up a new national industry of immeasurable benefit, and even export it around the world.

We have reached the reasonable limit of arable land for food production in the UK (not to mention in great parts of the planet). We will, therefore, have to import more and more. Do I detect chlorinated chickens, winging their way towards our shores? However we have an estimated 20,000 miles of coastline. Much of that, especially around the islands, has the potential for marine agriculture: oysters, mussels, shellfish of all sorts and marine pastures for fish, with deeper water artificial reefs to expand the surface area and hence to stimulate the food web. It is now widely recognised that marine nutrition, rich in Omega-3, is a vital ingredient for strengthening the brain and guarding against mental ill health. A Japanese project started 1991 has trebled fish production and added to it. It is for his contribution to this project that Professor Crawford has already received The Order of The Rising Sun from His Imperial Majesty The Emperor of Japan. The order is awarded to those with distinguished achievements in international relations, promotion of Japanese culture, advancements in their field, development in welfare or preservation of the environment.

Professor Crawford adds: “The Japanese have tripled the harvest of seven target fish species in a cordoned-off area between the Shiraishi-Jima Islands in the region of Okayama, whilst the capture fisheries outside of the island farming region have declined. And of course, they have a shellfish industry which was not there before. The Indonesian kelp farmers (which started mid 1990s) are now making more money than the inland farmers.”

So, what is the best way to exploit our new marine opportunities? The answer, far from Carroll’s “came there none,” is to cultivate crustaceans, in particular, oysters! With Brexit we can take full control of the seabed. Just as the industrial revolution, and Britain’s consequent wealth, grew out of indigenous resources, so we have a new resource with a potential leading to food, not just food, but food for the brain, to counter the ever increasing mental ill health bill. For example, half a dozen oysters contain more than a person’s recommended daily allowance of certain micronutrients (such as iron (250 per cent), zinc (30 per cent), selenium (1,000 per cent), vitamin B12 (75 per cent) and so on) as well as over 500 per cent of the daily recommended dose of Omega-3.

The cost of mental ill health reached a colossal £77 billion — for the UK alone — in 2007, rising to £105.2 billion in 2019, according to government statistics. The tab is still growing.

As I pointed out in my column of August 8th 2020, the brain developed in the sea 600-500 million years ago using, of course, marine nutrients along with DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) fats for its structures and signalling systems. The brain still uses the same today, nutrients more difficult to find in modern land based food systems, unless one decides to subsist more or less entirely on rapeseed oil, which is very high in Omega-3. The proposal to vastly increase the growth of oysters even involves the capture of CO2, and energy from the sun, so one acquires brain food, combined with CO2 sequestration, which will be equivalent to creating new rain forests. Brain food and addressing climate change at one and the same time!

By cultivating oysters, we also help to clean up polluted local environments. Newly developed designer algae will assist in this procedure. The UK can become a world leader: environmentally, financially and morally by creating new oyster beds around the planet.

Another useful mollusc is the edible snail, land based of course. The Managing Director of Simpson’s-in-the-Strand at the time of the Garry Kasparov vs. Nigel Short World Chess Championship, held at Simpson’s and the Savoy Theatre in 1993, was the celebrated restaurater Brian Clivaz. Mr. Clivaz now runs L’escargot, “The Snail”,  in Soho, as well as the pop-up L’Escargot Sur Mer on the Suffolk coast in the town of Aldeburgh. At both, la spécialité de la maison is, of course, home grown snails, served in garlic and hot butter sauce. Exceedingly delicious and highly recommended. Mr. Clivaz’s latest brainwave is to introduce chess boards and pieces along Greek Street, assuming local council permission being granted, in order to attract more visitors to the area. Watch this space for further developments. By the way, L’Escargot also serves the world’s best lobster bisque!

Inspired by the spirit of the Bogavante Gigante, this week’s game is a powerful sacrificial masterpiece by the Russo-German Grandmaster, Efim Bogoljubov, winner of the mighty tournaments at Pistyan 1922, Moscow 1925 and Bad Kissingen 1928, ahead, variously, of Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Nimzowitsch, Tarrasch and Rubinstein. Bogoljubov also twice challenged Alekhine for the World Title in 1929 and 1934, but without success.

Here is the game Efim Bogoljubov vs. Jacques Mieses, Baden-Baden, Germany 1925. A brilliant game crowned by a glorious pincer movement whereby Bogoljubov’s major pieces strike simultaneously from both flanks.

Richard Reti, one of the founders of the 1920’s Hypermodern School of chess strategy, selected this coruscating masterpiece to illustrate Bogoljubov’s style in his seminal textbook: Masters of the Chessboard (Hardinge Simpole Press). For those further interested in the muscular games of the only man to have held the German and Soviet Championships simultaneously, I can highly recommend The Creative Power of Bogoljubov, by Grigory Bogdanovich, published by Elk and Ruby.

Unlike the bogavante, Bogoljubov has been somewhat underestimated. This book redresses the balance. I commend it to anyone with a serious interest in chess and its Grandest of Masters.

Member ratings
  • Well argued: 89%
  • Interesting points: 93%
  • Agree with arguments: 89%
65 ratings - view all

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