Christmas GREAT BRITISH FOOD HOME Special Occasions

That Old Chestnut

“Ooooh, that old chestnut!” An expression used to show disbelief at someone’s excuse, usually because the excuse has been said many times before. See our handy table below for some great examples. 

After which you can think, or say (if you are brave enough) “Oh, that old chestnut”


A handy translation guide to help you have a greater understanding of life amongst the Brits:

That Old Chestnut When it’s used Translation
The dog ate my homework At school / university when you have not done the work you are supposed to have done. I haven’t done my homework, and I have no intention of doing my homework, and actually I think you are such a dull wooden-head that I can’t even be bothered to make up a decent excuse, so there…
It looks delicious but I’m just absolutely full When someone serves you food you don’t want Whatever you have just cooked for me looks like it’s been crapped out by the dog and I’m wouldn’t eat it if you paid me.
Your call is important to us The recorded message on company telephone waiting systems Your call isn’t important to us because we’ve already got your money but you can sit on the line for as long as you want and someone in India might speak to you, but might not, and frankly  we couldn’t care less.
South West trains apologies for this delay. On South West Trains. Or any train network in the UK. South West trains couldn’t give a monkey’s about this delay because you’ve all bought your tickets already, so haha and yah boo sucks.
We’re just good friends Whenever. Seriously, whenever. We’re having a full-blown affair but I reckon you’re dim enough not to have noticed. Moron.
I want to spend more time with my family Mostly used by British MPs of dubious moral fibre when suddenly declaring their resignation from politics, with their wife standing supportively by their side, yet with a slightly steely glint in her eye… The newspapers have got photos of me having multi-gender sex in a public toilet while yelling “Heil me!” and snorting coke out of a Stahlhelm, and my wife has got bit all cross about it, so now I have to leave my job and do lots and lots of housework, like forever
It’s not you, it’s me On breaking up from your long-term partner while hoping to still look like the sensitive one, and hoping the tears won’t go on too long, because you’ve got a Game of Thrones marathon lined up “It is you. I’m super.  You make me want to eat my own sick, and actually I’ve found someone much nicer who I’ve been trying out behind your back for the last three months, but please don’t cry.”
Didn’t you get my email? How strange. Daily. It’s not strange.  I didn’t send the email.  I couldn’t be bothered and I still can’t, but this way it looks like it might be your fault.
I love you Never. Seriously. Why would you? How heartless can you be? Unless…maybe… you’ve, smashed a family heirloom while seeing if you could still do a cartwheel, sent your mother-in-law a photo of your middle finger after three bottles of champers, and bought a pet pig for the garden without asking…etc…

                                                                               ∼∼   ∼∼   ∼∼       

The French do an awful lot with chestnuts, whereas generally in the UK we just tend to lob1 them on a fire and then eat them. Of course there are other ways to use them, but the best thing about just putting them on a roaster in a fire is that since Nat King Cole wrote his schmalzy2 ’Christmas Song’ which has the opening line “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” the idea itself is both low-effort and distinctly Christmassy. Which is a win-win situation3.

If you don’t enjoy burning your fingers peeling chestnuts, though, my favourite way of using them is with the other Christmas dinner essential – Brussels Sprouts.

Brussels Sprouts are a bit of a Marmite-y conversation point, by which I mean people love them, or hate them. Personally, I love them, as long as they are slightly undercooked. Overcook them and they taste disgusting and smell like old knickers. Kayte hates them with a slightly psychotic passion. I think her old school cook has a lot to answer for4.

If you serve them like this on Christmas Day, though, you won’t find many complainers. And if you do, tell them to take a tip from my son and pick out the sprouts, leaving just the ‘good bits’.




  • 500G pre-trimmed Brussels sprouts
  • 3 rashers streaky, smoked bacon, chopped into small pieces
  • 100g vacuum-packed chestnuts (believe me, it is a whole heap easier than roasting your own), roughly chopped
  • 25g butter
  • 2 small shallots, finely diced


  1. Steam the sprouts for about 4 minutes – they should be really bright green
  2. Run the sprouts under a cold tap and drain
  3. Heat a large frying pan, and cook the bacon until crispy
  4. Take the bacon out of the pan, keeping the fat inside. Add the chestnuts and shallots and fry in the bacon fat for about 5 minutes until the shallot is translucent and the chestnuts are beginning to crisp at the edges.
  5. Tip the sprouts back in, with the butter and bacon, and toss the whole lot together for a few minutes until the sprouts are warm
  6. Season with salt and pepper, tip into a bowl, and then start negotiating as to how many sprouts the children have to eat before they get an extra pig-in-blanket


1 – to lob – throw, carelessy

2 – schmalzy – overly sweet, sentimental or romantic (from Yiddish schmalz for rendered fat)

3 – a win-win situation – an outcome which is positive for everyone

4 – to have a lot to answer for – to be responsible for a lot of bad things that have happened.


© 2016 Kayte & Nicer Kate – authors assert moral rights


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