I'm sitting in the Wonder Cafe in Hillingdon on the outskirts of London, nervously awaiting the arrival of the UK's most zeitgeisty food challenge.
Four fried slices of bread, four slices of toast, four eggs, six sausages, six rashers of bacon, six hash browns, four black pudding, plum tomatoes, beans, and mushrooms—all for free if I eat the entire thing in 45 minutes.
The Fear is knocking against the inside of my belly, but I'm not letting it in. I've got this. I've prepared for this. Nothing has passed my lips for over 24 hours. Nothing solid, that is. I do recall a large amount of liquid making its way down my gullet before passing out the night before. But other than that, I've got this. I am the breakfast king.
And then a plate the size of an elephant's arse arrives at my table, and The Fear is all over me like cheap cologne.
Enter Britain's biggest breakfast: four fried slices of bread, four slices of toast, four eggs, six sausages, six rashers of bacon, six hash browns, four black pudding, plum tomatoes, beans, and mushrooms. On the menu it costs a cool £2o. But it's free if I eat the entire thing—in 45 minutes.
The Challenge, which I'm told is only attempted once a fortnight, has only been successfully completed once, by competitive eater Emma 'Human Hoover' Dalton, live on breakfast TV show This Morning. She devoured everything in precisely 21 minutes and 34 seconds.
Representatives from various media outlets have taken on the challenge and failed, so I felt like this was my time to step into the limelight and stick it to every food-challenge-eating Tom, Dick, and Harry ever to set foot in the caff.
I take a bite, and the timer starts.
As with any challenge, you've got to go in with a game plan. There were two items on the plate I'd already identified as possible agents of puke: the plum tomatoes, huddled together under the four eggs like plump Special Air Service soldiers ready to ambush my gag reflex; and an entire tin of baked beans—a.k.a. the bane of my life—cockily swimming around in a ceramic bowl.
The beady-eyed baked beans have to go first. I scoop them up with the triangular toast and demolish their juicy resistance with a chopped-up sausage. Job done.
Now the tomatoes have a target on their spongy, red backs. But I can't stomach that much tomato in such a short space of time, so I turn my attention to the sausages and bacon—shoveling away as many forkfuls of meat as I can manage.
I work my way through about a third of the plate before the 15-minute mark. I'm way ahead of time and I can't help but hear the excitement in my mate's voice from the other side of the table: 'Yeah! Make that bacon your bitch!' A few of the locals look over warily.
After four slices of the fried bread, most of the sausages, and a tonne of mushrooms, I'm surfing a tide of fatty foods. I'm confident. Too confident.
The minute I bite into the plum tomatoes, I experience my first gag. The threat of a chunder-wave turns my face ashen white.
Twenty-five minutes in, it hits me: This isn't going to happen. No one can eat this! Not in 45 minutes. Not in an hour. Not in two hours. Jesus. Not in two days. I don't think I understood the magnitude of the meat.
'This is how it ends,' I realize. 'Death by breakfast.'
A third of the way through, my body goes into lockdown; I'm clenching my arse like it's my first night in prison; and the meat is using the walls of my gut like a punch bag.
This is how it ends, I realize. Death by breakfast. Suddenly, the buzzer goes off—the sound of my food challenge flat-lining.
The truth is, no mere spectator can understand how insane these challenges are. A bit like a bear or a shark, you have no concept of what a food challenge entails until it arrives at your table, grinning at your naivety and licking its lips for your soul. You're telling your body to consume what it can't consume. You're climbing a mountain without ropes. Rocketing into space without oxygen. Boxing without fists.
After the ordeal of the challenge, I had hoped for some privacy when my friend pulled up in a petrol station a few miles out of town. But uh-uh. Out of all the places to stop, my buddy had to choose the one roadside toilet in the entire UK that didn't have a cubicle. Let's just say it was a rushed experience.
Stomach, we'll always have The Wonder Café.