The Duke - November 18, 2015

Roast beef Dinner at Toby Carvery.
Roast beef Dinner at Toby Carvery.
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When it comes to notching up impressive statistics, I’ve always had a begrudging admiration for anyone who, for example, can eat more than their bodyweight in hot dogs in the time it takes most people to scoff one of the things.

Or theatregoers who have seen every Shakespeare play performed in every known language – and stayed awake throughout them all.

Or football fans who tackle a pint and a pie at every ground in the nation.

I did once attempt to consume what looked like a chicken shed’s worth of Nando’s at one sitting – but The Manager and I were using up my card holder points before they (or I) expired.

As for the Bard’s dramas, I recently added The Winter’s Tale to my I Spy Shakespeare tick list. Not the current Kenneth Branagh production, but the excellent Northern Broadsides version, which was on at The Dukes in Lancaster.

I’ve still got a few to go before I’ve done the lot – but give me time. As for football. I’m a Blackpool fan. Enough said?

At 66, Mags Thomson couldn’t wait any longer to get in the record books. A mere 21 years after setting out on her personal odyssey, she claimed to have visited every single Wetherspoon pub in the country. For the record that’s an impressive 972 – the chain’s current 936 pubs, plus 36 which have closed.

As for why, she says: “The good thing about them is that they’re always places I can sit on my own.”

She didn’t visit the Poulton Elk on a Friday night then.

A similar record holder took a mere three years, thousands of miles and countless baked potatoes to eat in all the UK’s 175 Toby Carveries.

Apart from a Twitter handle of “Punctured Lung” (though “Ruptured Gut” might have been more appropriate) not much seems to be known about the gobbling gourmet. He’s not in it for the fame (or infamy?), has refused interviews and admits (on his Toby Quest website) there’s no reason for his obsession.

“If people accuse me of being mad or sad I’m not bothered,” says Mr Lung, who claims to have started his trek by tucking in before attending a rock gig in 2012. It wasn’t long before he and his travelling companion, “Roger”, decided to ditch the gigs and concentrate on the roasts.

Also known about Mr Lung’s marathon is that his travelling buddy is registered blind, which could account for the occasionally out-of-focus pictures he has had taken to validate the dining claims.

But it’s not all been beer and side plates he admits. To cut down on time and travelling costs they have been known to cram in three visits in a single day.

“Hard work, but achievable,” he admits.

He thought he’d achieved his goal back in May 2013 and celebrated at number 154 (Quinton, Birmingham) before discovering that, despite putting on nearly a stone in weight, he still had a few to go.

But unless his calculations were wrong again, it fell to a Toby Carvery just off the A303 in Amesbury, Wiltshire, to do the honours last week.

A Toby Carvery spokesperson denies it’s all a cunning PR stunt. “We think he must be one of our loyal fans whose love of the roast took him on this journey,” he said without a glimmer of irony – or humour.

It’s not known whether Mags Thomson and Mr Lung have been approached yet for a Channel 5 documentary series – but it can’t be long.

Anyone for Jack and the GM beanstalk?

Forget the John Lewis tv commercial (please!) the true sign that Christmas can’t be avoided is when grown up theatre exits stage left for a few weeks and makes way for money spinning festive “family” fare.

Pantomimes and the like are according to too many press releases suitable for “anyone aged from two to 92” (though my now 31-year-old son disliked them even at two, and anyone over 92 probably feels miffed at being excluded from all the fun).

Back in the day (or at least early evening) I would end up reviewing up to a dozen of them each year for one publication or another, which meant for every warming glass of critic’s mulled wine and extensive programme notes, there would be a tepid half of bitter and a hastily organised photocopied cast list.

Thankfully, these days I’ve been able to cut things back to three or four, and at least there’s a lot more variety to choose from. But have Christmas shows kept abreast of austerity and changing times? I don’t mean trimming down to Snow White and the Dwarf, but what about Little Red Riding Hoody? Perhaps Single Parent Goose or Cinderella’s Ugly Twitter Trolls would add currency to the festivities?

I’ll let you know how this year’s selection goes.