“God, this is fantastic, better than sex!” – The Air Race

TITLE: The Air Race

NUMBER: Series 3, Episode 5

ORIGINAL AIRDATE: September 30, 1998

SETTINGS: Back to Scotland for this one. The ladies participate in a small airplane race at East Fortune Airfield [the home of the Scottish National Museum of Flight] in East Lothian.

"Fortune Favours the Bold."

“Fortune Favours the Bold.”

National Museum of Flight

Clarissa says it’s “so close to home” for her, [and indeed, the airport appears to be just half an hour away from where she lived in Musselburgh, a suburb of Edinburgh.]

Musselburgh is populated entirely by ghosts, if this illustration is to be believed.

Musselburgh is populated entirely by ghosts, if this illustration is to be believed.

[UPDATE: Apparently Clarissa specifically lived in Inveresk, a village that is part of Musselburgh.]

They are greeted by the race’s organizer, a pleasant, rather nervous Scotsman who talks like Peter Capaldi. (“A dashing pilot,” Clarissa calls him.)

Note the stiff arms.

Note the stiff arms.

A young Peter Capaldi in his native Scotland.

A young Peter Capaldi in his native Scotland.

He joins the small society of guests who have been given a ride on Jennifer’s bike.

The field trip takes them “off to the Highlands” to a venison farm in Auchtermuchty, Fife, run by Clarissa’s friend, Nichola Fletcher.

Nichola Fletcher.

Nichola Fletcher.

Venison cookbook

Herd 2

Statue of an accordion player in Auchtermuchty.

Statue of an accordion player in Auchtermuchty.

There they hand-feed stags, assisted by a friendly “stockman” who is most likely named “Angus” (but it sure sounds like “Haggis” to me).

Angus Haggis

Jennifer with Angus/Haggis.

The Haggis

DISHES: Clarissa makes “chocolate snowballs,” a dessert of fluffy meringue floating on a custard base. In the second segment she does what she calls a venison pasty (or “pastie,” as the program spells it); however this appears to be more what we would call a pot pie than a proper pasty.

A proper (albeit enormous) pasty.

A proper (albeit enormous) pasty.

Clarissa's "pastie."

Clarissa’s “pastie.”

Jennifer roasts salmon and scallops with dill and mustard. She also cooks red bell peppers stuffed with aubergine [eggplant] – though “you could I suppose do it the other way round,” she says.


Clarissa says dessert snowballs are sometimes called œufs à la neige.” [It seems they are also commonly known as “floating islands.”]

Floating islands.

Floating islands.

Beating egg whites by hand “strengthens the wrist splendidly” (Clarissa) and “gets more air in too” (Jennifer). Clarissa scoops her fluffy egg whites using “a sort of quenelle technique.” [Quenelle is also the name for a racist hand gesture that perhaps has a distant and fairly obscure relationship to the culinary term.]


Jennifer says to use “grain mustard, like Meaux,” for her salmon recipe, though she warns not to select one that’s too strong, because if you do, “everybody weeps.”


Jennifer says fresh herbs are best for cooking. As for dill specifically, she says “you can grow it on the fire escape. It comes up and self-seeds itself, I was delighted to find last year.” If using dry herbs, Jennifer says, reduce the amount by half.

Dill 2

Jennifer’s scallops come from “good old Scotland.” She uses both sea scallops (“the king-size”) and bay scallops (“the little baby queens”).

Queen- and king-size scallops.

Queen- and king-size scallops.

She describes salmon as “now-common,” and says timing the cooking of fish precisely is important: “Watch it like the hawk! Answer no telephones!”

Jennifer says aubergines are also called melanzanis. She says the “eggplant” name comes from the original cultivation, which resembled white birds’ eggs.


“Aubergine loves lemon,” she says, adding, “actually, I think every vegetable does.”

Clarissa calls nutmeg an 18th-Century flavor. She puts butter in her venison because game is naturally dry. She says that traditionally, her pasty would be decorated with “a pack of staghounds and a running stag” made out of pastry, so Jennifer makes “a doggy” for her. She says it’s not very good, but it’s not that bad.


Staghounds and quarry.

Staghounds and quarry.

Venison is “probably the first meat that man ever et,” says Clarissa.

"The first meat man ever et."

“The first meat that man ever et.”

She says it should be cooked either for a very short time or a very long one.

She cuts her venison into “collops,” and slices a silver membrane (which she calls a “muscle”) off the meat and discards it, saying it can be used to make stock with. (“A friend of mine calls it ‘knicker elastic,’” she says.)

"Knicker elastic."

“Knicker elastic.”

knicker elastic


Deer antlers are “the fastest-growing mammalian tissue,” according to Nichola Fletcher.


The milk Clarissa uses “just ordinary milk – but real full-cream milk.” (“So I should hope,” says Jennifer.)


The vintage planes flown in the race include a “Yak-52,” a “Magister – a 1940 trainer,” and “a 1940 Cub, which is done up in invasion colors.”



Miles M.14 Magister.

Miles M.14 Magister.

Piper Cub.

Piper Cub.

The mention of invasion stripes, [which were put on planes during World War II to distinguish them from enemy aircraft,] causes Jennifer to recall wartime. “Oho! Takes me back,” she says. “I remember them massing in the skies for hours and hours over Hampton Court before they went off with a great sweep!”

Invasion colors.

Invasion colors.

"Massing in the skies."

“Massing in the skies.”

(Though she seems to be the one most engrossed in this conversation, she suddenly terminates it, saying “Enough of that.”)

Clarissa says she can make a chocolate version of any dessert, because she once had an employer who loved it.

She also retells the story from “Game” about her mother burying a haunch of venison (without Jennifer’s interruptions this time).

Clarissa: I remember we used to get sent a haunch by some Scottish peer who was a patient of my father’s. They used to ring up and say that it was coming, and my mother used to say, “Right, well, we’ve all got to pray for cold weather now.”

The role of the Scottish peer in today's recap will be performed by Mr. Christopher Lee.

The role of the Scottish peer in today’s recap will be performed by Mr. Christopher Lee.

Clarissa's father, the surgeon Arthur Dickson Wright.

Clarissa’s father, the surgeon Arthur Dickson Wright.

Jennifer: Ha ha, to keep it!

Clarissa: Yeah, ’cause it used to come down on the train, just in some sort of bag made out of woven rushes with a bit of bog-myrtle to keep the flies away. And if it was hot weather, it got quite whiffy.

Woven rushes bag

Bog-myrtle, a natural insect repellent.

Bog-myrtle, a natural insect repellent.

Jennifer: Awful. What’d you do?

Clarissa: Well, I remember one year that it was so high that she wouldn’t tell my father it had come. And so she buried it in the garden.

Jennifer: I’ve heard that people do that to venison, they bury it in the cellar until you see a sort of phosphorescent glow coming out of it, and then they reckon it’s ready to eat.

Clarissa: Extraordinary things people do.

[I wasn’t able to find any accounts of glowing underground venison on the Internet today, though it is extraordinary, the things people do. – WK]

Jennifer surmises her peppers were “grown in the good heat of Spain or somewhere,” and Clarissa recalls seeing them hung up to dry in Hungary. “Like wonderful flaming lanterns,” Jennifer agrees.

Hungarian peppers


Jennifer: We’ll add some garlic, natch. I’d put it in pudding if it was feasible.

SONGS AND MUSIC: The music played over the air race is the theme from the 1964 film 633 Squadron.

633 Squadron

Otherwise, a bit of a fail on my part this week. Jennifer sings something when navigating the driveway at the deer farm, but I can’t make out what it is. And Shazam couldn’t identify the bagpipe music that plays over the deer farm segment (and I didn’t recognize it).

CDW bagpipes


Jennifer describes her sauced salmon in highly theatrical terms, saying it “looks like a monster from the deep, emerging from a bed of seaweed. The kraken wakes! Whatever the kraken was.”


"The kraken wakes!"

“The kraken wakes!”

Jennifer: I’ve always been a bit muddled about the Bible story about the mustard tree starting as the smallest and then growing into a huge tree, and “the birds of the air rested therein.” I don’t know what sort of mustard that was.

Clarissa: Black mustard.

Jennifer: Black?

Clarissa: It’s a different type of mustard. It’s only found in, um, sort of India and the Far East.

Jennifer: Oh, I see!

[It would seem most theologians agree with Clarissa.]


Black mustard.

The black mustard tree.

The ladies discuss pinning Jennifer’s scallop shells to their hats and embarking on a religious pilgrimage to Compostela. [The scallop is the traditional symbol of St. James and is associated with this specific pilgrimage. Its origin story is charmingly gruesome. – WK]

St. James, with staff and shell.

St. James, with staff and shell.

A modern-day pilgrim approaching Santiago de Compostela.

A modern-day pilgrim (with scallop shell) approaching Santiago de Compostela.

[The pilgrimage is the same one the medieval pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales were on.]

Canterbury pilgrims

Jennifer says, “The pilgrim’s staff, the pilgrim’s shell, merrily we’ll avoid Hell.”

Staff with shell

“The pilgrim’s staff, the pilgrim’s shell, merrily we’ll avoid Hell.”

Merrily We Go to Hell

Jennifer also says the small bay scallops are not “babies” as many people think, but rather “the little Pygmies of the scallop world.”

Real Pygmies visiting Edwardian England.

Real Pygmies visiting Edwardian England.

She adds, “You wouldn’t catch Venus coming up in one of these shells. She’d be a pocket Venus!” [I don’t really get the joke, but Clarissa cries out, “Oh, so witty, so witty!”]


Botticelli’s Venus in her scallop shell.



Pocket Venus

At the deer farm, they watch the great herd running, which leads to this conversation:

Jennifer: Like the wildebeesties! They give birth on the run.

Clarissa: Surely not.

Jennifer: Yes, they do! I’ve seen, you know, that Attenborough stuff. Out they come, pick themselves up and away they go!




David Attenborough.

David Attenborough.

She also says one of the stags has hair “on his chinny-chin-chin.”

Chinny Chin Chin

Clarissa calls her dessert “every chocoholic’s Titanic.”


The ladies lost me a bit in their final conversation with what is presumably aviation slang. In reference to the race’s outcome, Jennifer says, “I’m afraid I got Harry Wooders – the wooden spoon.”

wooden spoon

Then the episode ends with this:

Clarissa: Wingco!

Jennifer: Harry Chockers!

Clarissa: Frightfully Biggles we are.



STYLE WATCH: Clarissa finally gets to put her aviator’s helmet to proper use.

The Air Race promo

Jennifer notes that the stags’ antlers are “dressed in velvet.” The kitchen also has what she describes as “a ravishing little blender” that “looks like a ray gun.”

"Looks like a ray gun."

“Looks like a ray gun.”

Ray gun


Clarissa wears a “tribal African” blouse this time.


See also Jennifer’s comment about Pygmies under Literary/Cultural References, above.

Jennifer refers to Clarissa’s airplane as “Yellow Peril” at one point (because of its color).

Yellow Peril


At the deer farm:

Clarissa: It’s all right, Jennifer, it’s not the rut yet. [to Nichola:] Jennifer gets a little anxious about the rut.

Jennifer: No, I’m not anxious. I’m fascinated.

"No, I'm not anxious. I'm fascinated."

“No, I’m not anxious. I’m fascinated.”

ON DRINKS AND DRINKING: Jennifer is drunk from beginning to end in this one – perhaps more so than we have ever seen her to this point.

Drunk eyes.

Drunk eyes.

Drunk hands.

Drunk hands.

And there is one appallingly insensitive moment, which occurs when Clarissa puts port into her pasty:

Clarissa: I don’t know, people don’t sit down to port after meals they way they used to. The feminists have killed the port trade.
Jennifer: Oh, I certainly hope not, I’ve got a lot of friends in Porto, I used to live there. I knew all the port people. They were extraordinary! Some of the old diehards had the shakes so badly – let me show you . . .

She goes on to demonstrate how an end-stage alcoholic in Porto would use a napkin as a pulley to get his glass to his mouth without spilling. She laughs uproariously at this. Clarissa, the recovering alcoholic, smiles, but doesn’t seem to think it’s all that funny. “Why did I never think of that in my shaking days,” she says drily.

Ls8dZx on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs



Port is traditionally regarded as a gouty old man's drink.

Port is traditionally regarded as a gouty old man’s drink.


The ladies frighten a goat when they arrive by motorbike at the kitchen building.


Before the race, Clarissa asks if they will slow the planes because of their weight. Jennifer says, “I feel like a trussed pig!” as she’s being buckled into her seat.

The Peter Capaldi pilot briefs Jennifer on what to do should they need to make an emergency landing:

Pilot: If the engine does fail, we’ll land in a field or on the beach –

Jennifer: Oh, let’s go to a beach!

Ha ha ha, we could die!

Ha ha ha, we could die!

At the end of the episode, they joke that they should get rid of the bike and invest in a biplane.

PHONY BUSINESS: There’s a fair amount of nonsense in this one. The episode opens with Jennifer driving her bike across a runway and narrowly being missed by a landing plane. (“Did you hear a noise?” she asks in a camp voiceover.)

"Did you hear a noise?"

“Did you hear a noise?”

There’s a lot of silliness during the air race itself too, but it’s mostly harmless. Things like Jennifer saying, “Clarissa’s ahead, she thinks she’s the Red Baron!”, and Clarissa saying, “God, this is fantastic, better than sex!”, etc.

Jennifer plane

"God, it's fantastic, better than sex!"

“God, this is fantastic, better than sex!”

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.

Airplane noises are also dubbed over the cooking segments.

TRADEMARKS: AGA. The vent in Jennifer’s blouse.

Air Race vent

The ladies discuss Clarissa’s kitchen-tool collection, which includes many double boilers. Jennifer says, “Yes, I was looking for one for you the other day in a country fair sort of antiques place, and I thought, ‘Now, I must look for a porringer for Clarissa.’ I’d like to find you a really little one. . . . For tiny sauces.”

[In researching this moment, I discovered there’s quite a clash between Brits and Americans about what constitutes a double boiler and what a bain-marie.]


The bell peppers are proper and the fire escape is mentioned once again.



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