Ian McMillan: Timeless battle of man against ovoid

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Here I am in the kitchen playing the old Yorkshire game that those of us in the know have come to describe as the “Boiled Egg Double Bluff”. It’s a game that is simple and complicated, beautiful and epic like all the best games are.

It’s simple because all I have to do to win this battle of Man V Ovoid is boil an egg to perfection without the use of an egg timer or a clock. It takes a real boiled-egger to work out the length of time it takes four minutes to pass without counting in their head or glancing surreptitiously at their watch. It’s complicated because of the number of ways the four minutes can be measured in the head of the competitive egg-boiler.

The water is boiling in the pan. Time to put the egg in and then discern and divine the passage of four minutes by simply imagining stretches and bunches of seconds and fractions of hours in your head and sometimes acting out scenarios and dioramas that seem to suggest four minutes or fractions thereof.

It’s beautiful because the egg bounces around prettily in the boiling water and the steam floats around the kitchen like the diaphanous dress of a fairy princess and it’s epic because, frankly, those four minutes can sometimes seem to really drag by as though Time is walking through thick sludge backwards.

The water is boiling in the pan. Time to put the egg in and then discern and divine the passage of four minutes by simply imagining stretches and bunches of seconds and fractions of hours in your head and sometimes acting out scenarios and dioramas that seem to suggest four minutes or fractions thereof. For example, I reckon that it takes me about four minutes to walk up my street and then down to the postbox at the side of the main road. So by the time I’ve strolled there with a letter, my egg would be boiled to perfection. Except that, unless I booked a taxi for the way home, it would take another four minutes to walk back, by which time my egg would be as hard as a house brick. The only solution would be to walk halfway to the postbox and then halfway back; but who, as the great Yorkshire Philosopher Watthy Onabart said, “knows where halfway to the postbox is?” Who, indeed?

Perhaps I could run up and down the stairs. It take me about 20 seconds to run up the stairs and the same going down again. That does sound a simpler and more effective idea but I have to say that the act of running up and down stairs for four minutes would probably cause structural damage to me and the house and I might run noisily and tragically out of breath after a minute and a half, and the egg would be very soft and truly runny.

If the practical things don’t work then it’s time to try impractical things; if taken really slowly and with endless pauses for breath and dramatic effect, the Yorkshire anthem On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at lasts exactly four minutes. You’ll have to believe me on this one but please, trust me. Or sing your own egg to a state of hardness and softness that’s perfect and inviting. Ah, this is a true array of choice: the walk to the postbox or the stairs-gallop or the singing of the song? Which one will deliver the egg to me in an impeccably-boiled state?

It’s too late anyway; it’s taken me so long to write this column that the egg is like a pebble!