I first met Dapne Oram while having lunch at the Café du Croissant with Jean Jaurés and Jean- Michel Jarre. It was the summer Europe was getting hectic and Germany had just buddied up with Austria-Hungary to give Serbia a kicking.
The people won’t have it, said Jean Jaurés.
I think you are being naïve, said Jean-Michel Jarre. All the big boys of Europe have spent millions on shiny new toys, all these dreadnoughts and machine-guns. They don’t want to just pontificate, they want to use them.
If war comes, said Jaurés, it will not benefit the working people, they have no place in it but to die on the production line. It will be a factory of death. The product will be the corpses of the working class. There will be resistance, the people have an affection for peace and a horror of war.
Let the chef decide, I said to the waiter.
I’ll have a couple of crackers and a wedge of brie, said Juarés.
Just an egg and cress sandwich for me, said Jean-Michel Jarre, and whatever sweet pastry you have warmed up back there.
I’m not into this war, I said. I know how it ends.
You have no horse in the race, said Juarés. You are an observer of great things. I am in the mix. The people are with me. I have no time for this nationalistic fad, no time for men who have collectively a love for war and slaughter. We, the proletariat, see brothers and sisters, not borders and flags. We will not die for ideas that benefit the few at the cost of the many.
Have you tried stopping a child playing with a new toy? asked Jean-Michel Jarre. They wail and stamp and scream and cause more bother than anyone needs. The toys will be played with, no matter the cost.
We will all pay the cost, said Jaurés.
The waiter brought out Juarés’ and Jean’s orders, but not mine. The waiter stifled my complaint. The chef is bringing it out himself, he said, bowing so low his nose almost touched the floor.
Sure enough, from the kitchen emerged a large, flamboyant man with a smile that would charm the salt from the sea. In his hand he held aloft a dish covered by a silver dome. He weaved through the diners like a bee through a meadow, nodding and bowing to the patrons as he went, all of them buzzing with delight and complimenting him on the meals they were stuffing into their faces.
Noble sirs, he said, arriving at our table. I feel honoured that you would allow me to decide on the dish that would banish your appetite for the afternoon. I hope beyond hopes that this is to your satisfaction. It is my speciality, something that I make only for my most esteemed and venerated guests.
He placed the dish in front of me. The silver reflected my excitement. With a flourish, the chef swept away the cloche. From the steam emerged something so magnificent, so tantalising, so beguiling, that I was unsure it was to be eaten, I imagined it sitting in a museum under glass drawing crowds.
May I present, said the chef, the finest burger I have ever made. For the base we have a deep-fried donut made with dough so aerated it melts like a foam when it touches your tongue. Atop this delicacy, is a half-pound burger made of the finest 40 day dry-aged steak, minced so fine that each particle of meat alone would float like a dust mote, the whole basted in Échiré butter and finished over an oak flame, juicy as a drunken kiss, with just a touch of crisp at the edges. On top, you will find five slices of Maplewood smoked wild boar bacon slow fried in its own juices and a single Échiré fried egg from hens that are so free range no one knows where they are right now. Atop this, another perfect donut, with a glaze you could use as a shaving mirror.
Everyone in the restaurant was looking over the burger. Apart from the sound of three fainting patrons hitting the floor, all that could be heard was salivation.
The chef continued. I call it, The Luther Burger.
Looks a bit bourgeois to me, said Jaurés.
Can I change my order? asked Jean-Michel Jarre, suffering food envy, his egg and cress sandwich looking like a wilting pecker at an orgy.
I don’t know where to start, I said.
All you need do, said the chef, is pick it up with your hands, like so. As soon as it touches your mouth it will melt into a pure, ever transforming flavour that will mature with each bite.
I picked up the elegant burger. It was lighter than it looked. I felt nervous, the eyes of the restaurant pinned me like a spotlight. The chef stood over me, his hands rubbing together in anticipation. I held the burger before my mouth, savouring the aroma. I closed my eyes, opened my mouth and I was slapped. I opened my eyes to witness the burger sailing through the air, a woman stood over me, the café in shock.
Just in time, said Jean-Michel Jarre to the woman.
Well, you weren’t doing anything, said the woman. She turned to the chef. Up to your old tricks, Luther? She tackled him to the floor and the café went from awe to panic. Chairs and tables were overturned as the patrons fled the scene. Jean-Michel Jarre protected the woman as she pulled the chef’s hands behind his back and cuffed him.
What is happening? asked Jaurés. It was a sentiment I wish I could have vocalised, but I was still in shock from seeing my lunch splatter against the wall in a cloud of grease.
This man is no chef, said the woman. This is an assassin sent by Phil Spector. If you had eaten that burger you would be dead in seconds from a massive coronary. Isn’t that right, Luther Vandross?
The last words were directed at the chef.
You will never stop us, said Luther Vandross. You and your band of rebels can never stop the falling of the moon. As he finished, his head jerked backwards, eyes bulging, a white foam forming at his lips. He went limp, his head bouncing on the floor, dead.
Damn suicide pill, said Jean-Michel Jarre, kicking the corpse. Quick, Daphne, we must leave, now.
The woman stood up. I’m Daphne Oram, she said to me, holding her hand out. Come with me if you want to live.
I found my voice. You’re quoting Terminator 2 at a time like this?
Sorry, said Daphne Oram. It just slipped out. I’ve watched that movie about a million times. But, seriously, we need to get out of here before more of Phil Spector’s men arrive.
What about him? Asked Jean-Michel Jarre, pointing at Jaurés, who looked more confused than me.
Jaurés, said Daphne Oram, you need to get out of here. Also, I’d recommend you don’t come back to this restaurant for at least a few weeks. And, if you do, don’t sit near the window.
Jaurés stood up. I have a meeting here with people from L’Humanite in two days.
It’s your funeral, said Daphne Oram, and she took me by the hand and pulled me out of the restaurant. With Jean-Michel Jarre following we jumped into a waiting carriage which sped off south, towards the Seine where a boat picked us up.
We have a ship waiting at Le Havre, said Daphne. We’ll have you out of France by the morning.
I’m going to sleep, said Jean-Michel Jarre. Try not to play any of your damned music, he said to Daphne.
You’d be nothing without me, said Daphne Oram.
You’re a musician too? I asked. We have a long journey, how about you play something.
Anything to annoy Jean, said Daphne Oram. She pulled a Casio calculator and an Etch-A-Sketch from her dress and attached them to other bits and pieces of electronic doodaddery that were lying about and played Snow(1965) from her posthumous album Oramics(2007).
That was a singular experience, I said, when she had finished.
Draw something on the Etch-A-Sketch, she said. I did, and sounds began to emerge from the equipment.
How did you do that? I asked.
Will you two shut up, shouted Jean-Michel Jarre from his cabin.
Go play with your bells, Daphne shouted back, which made me laugh. Daphne laughed as well, and we’ve been friends ever since.