A complete English breakfast, or what the Brits call fry-ups, are deceptively difficult to nail. The name implies you should just be able to chuck it all in a pan and wait for the grease to sizzle, but it's actually pretty hard to keep the bacon crispy, the egg runny, and the mushrooms from doing that weird thing mushrooms do where they sort of spaff their own internal juices all over themselves.
But I don't need to beat myself up about it—there are 20,000 people willing to do that for me. The Fry Up Police is an insanely popular community of people dedicated to vociferously slating people's attempts at a cooked breakfast. This is far from some weird internet subculture—click through, and I bet you know someone who's part of it.
The group is merciless. The members are pretty clear about that going in. As well as being set up to celebrate the fry-up, their existence is as much about giving people a chance to swear in incredibly creative ways and to insult their fellow man. They take a very no-nonsense attitude to what is and isn't allowed. Here, for example is rule number four from their lengthy list of commandments:
4) Anyone using any sort of filter whatsoever to try to 'sex up' their picture will incur an instant BAN. Cunt Filters are unacceptable.
11) Anyone who deems the phrase 'nomnomnom' acceptable, or any variations of it is not welcome and will be BANNED. Same goes for 'do your worst', 'come at me', 'have at it' or any puns like 'wurst' and particularly shite egg/bean jokes. LOLing and any other such abbreviated bullshit will also get you the bullet.
There's definitely an internal logic to the group, to what is lauded and what is figuratively beheaded and paraded through the digital world on a bloodied spike. Ramekins? No chance. Anything from a cafe that costs over ten bucks? You're a posh twat. Eggs touching beans? You've fucked it up before it's even begun.
Civil engineer Tom, a regular poster and commenter, put it pretty succinctly: "You know you undercooked the bacon so you expect a slagging off. If you fuck the eggs up, you're going to be called a cunt. It might seem harsh, but it's fair."
And that's the thing: It's important to note that we are in a different realm of abuse here. This isn't vulnerable people getting trolled on Twitter. Everyone on the group is begging for it. It's 50 Shades of Grey for hash browns. There's nothing personal here. Sexism, racism, homophobia are explicitly forbidden in the group rules, and these are adhered to by and large—any posters whose banter does stray to vile are banned with immediate effect. Tomislav Širević, one of the Fry Up Police's ten admins, is pretty adamant on that: "I like that people can come here and swear their hearts out, and it not get nasty. It's definitely a form of release from the day to day humdrum of a routine hard working life—it's classic British humor mixed with a classic British dish, what's not to love?"
The abuse is the breakfast equivalent of road rage. Ben Hesketh, a support worker by day, credits the group with turning him from a breakfast amateur to a fry-up master. "I had some terrible habits around sausages and poor eggs, and I'd never even heard of white pudding. There's some pretty funny people in the group, people it's a joy to be abused by." Ben's inspiring rags-to-Richmonds story was charted by fellow long-time poster David Rowland, a.k.a. Doctor Fry, in his spin-off blog.
Obviously I had to put my own fry up for critique. Entering Saturday with a mild hangover, I took my sweet time and produced this effort:
Now, I know what's gone wrong here. For a start, one egg yolk is slightly broken. I didn't dry the potatoes enough, and that, coupled with an aging non-stick, has ruined the chances of a perfect hash brown, but on the whole, I was happy with the effort. But, as sure as night follows day, the faults were spotted and magnified ad infinitum.
Caroline O'Donoghue (two from the bottom), a personal friend who I'm now not talking to, went in two-footed. I'm looking forward to when she posts her fry-up attempt in the group, because I'm 100 precent sure it'll be a disaster.
The whole group is the antithesis to the kind of wellness blogging that has become so in vogue across Instagram recently, a.k.a. the reason why things like bone broth (stock, literally just a stock cube) are a thing. "Eating Clean" is all about being comfortable with what you're putting in your body, whereas this group is there to make you very anxious about what you're eating.
Because it's popular, and because this is 2016, these things never exist in isolation. The members of Fry Up Police are putting their money where their mouths are this summer, teaming up with Chef Ben Spalding for a pop-up breakfast joint in London. How the breakfasts will fare? That's up to the members—and given what I've seen so far, I'd expect no leniency from them.