4 February Mr Young and I are entertaining tonight. I have planned a four-course meal for us all, which features all my favourite foods. Cooking for other people is so satisfying. I’d like to claim that it’s satisfying in a nurturing, altruistic, earth-motherly sort of way, but honesty must prevail (bloody honesty! Always insisting on chipping in and prevailing!) and I have to admit that it’s actually only satisfying because it gives me a licence to legitimately shovel down all the food I sanctimoniously spend the rest of the week denying myself. Also, cooking for others is a bit like shopping with a credit card. At the time, it all seems completely guilt-free, but you pay for it later. (Usually the next morning.)
It’s been back-breaking work, but over the years I have spent a great deal of time training Mr Young in the art of entertaining; now, we move round the kitchen like two well-oiled cogs in a machine. (Actually, that should only be slightly oiled – we don’t usually get well oiled until much later in the evening.) His job tonight will be to sort out the drinks and the coffee and to set the table, while mine is to do everything else. I don’t mind this at all; the doing-everything-else part includes scraping out the bowl and eating the chocolate pastry for the mocha chocolate tart, and I feel that this is reward enough for my efforts while Mr Young lounges around on the sofa keeping Archie out of the way.
He does come in to help me with the goat’s cheese and chorizo tartlets, though. These involve filo pastry, and filo pastry always throws me into a panic. It’s just like wrapping delicate objects in tissue paper – one slip of a finger or thumb and you’ve just got a pointless and untidy bunch of thin pastry instead of a delightful basket of gourmet golden crunchiness. Thank goodness for Strategically Placed Rocket Leaves. They are the culinary equivalent of opaque black tights.
I think the evening goes well. It goes well for me, anyway. I have seconds of everything and thirds of the puddings when everyone’s gone. In my book, that’s successful entertaining.
5 February I call Tom in Bristol because I haven’t spoken to him for a week, and a mother should know what her son’s movements are. (From the social and geographical points of view only, of course. I haven’t had to concern myself with his bowels since he was a toddler. Nowadays, I leave all that up to his girlfriend. And I think she might have more to do with his toilet habits than she would wish since he apparently sleepwalked into the bathroom and wee’d in the laundry basket the other week after a night out in the pub.)
I don’t ask him about the laundry basket this time because I’m bored with making jokes about it, and I’m pretty sure that he’s also bored with me making jokes about it. I listen to one of his jokes instead. “Why is Claire lovely when she’s on the internet?” “I don’t know, Tom, why is she lovely?” “Because she’s an E-Claire.”
You see? Razor sharp wit. It’s obviously in the genes.
7 February I see that the Tesco carrier bag is still stuck in the tree outside my bedroom window. I’ve been monitoring this for the last few days.
At first it bounced in the breeze, as if just was about to take off and soar away into the clouds; now it’s looking quite limp and battered and has none of its former enthusiasm. The sad grey remnant of a second, older carrier bag is still dangling from a nearby telegraph pole. I really want the new carrier bag to beat the odds and escape with a triumphant flap of its plastic handles. But I fear it will just lose its will to live and wither away. In my gloomier moments, I believe it’s definitely some sort of metaphor for life. Hurray for lighter evenings! I can now walk Archie in the just-about-still-daylight when I get home from work. I see the usual woman I always see and whose name I can never remember. Her dogs and Archie chase each other in the long grass. “There’s muntjac deer back there, and a fox,” she says, pointing at the field behind her. “Really?” I say. Archie and I hurry towards the field to see if we can catch sight of the muntjac deer. But once we arrive, it’s practically dark. And anyway, I’m not entirely sure I know what a muntjac deer looks like. I don’t think Archie does either. So we just point out rabbits to each other instead. Natural history isn’t our strong point. 9 February
Me and my sisters go over to Norfolk for lunch with my parents. Our memories aren’t what they were. We are talking about The King’s Speech, which we’ve all seen now. “Yes, I saw that with Penny,” Janny says. “No you didn’t,” I say. “We saw that other film together. Something about…days.” “Oh yes,” she says. “Something about days with Russell Crowe.” “The Next Three Days,” someone else says helpfully. It all comes flooding back. We then have the Irritating Other People in Cinemas conversation – always a family favourite. “When we saw it,” Rachel says, “there was an annoying woman behind me, eating sweets all the way through. I kept giving her Looks, but she didn’t take any notice. The final straw was when she unwrapped a very large sweet right at the end of the film.” “You should have said something,” I say. “I did,” she says indignantly. “I turned round and said ‘I think it was very bad manners of you to eat that large sweetie’ “. “Oooh,” we all say. “That was brave!” “Well, the effect was ruined because for some reason I said ‘sweetie’ instead of sweet,” she says. “It just made me sound a bit silly instead of forceful and dynamic.” “Did she say anything?” “Yes,” Rachel says. “She said, ‘You should have said something. I would have stopped.’” So I said ‘Oh. Would you?’ and then I just walked out.”
I feel for that woman. Hell hath no fury like a sister scorned by a rustling sweetie.
Over coffee, my father points out a grammatical mistake in my last column. Apparently, I said I was lying prone instead of supine; prone, as he explains, means lying face down. Supine means lying face up. “That would have meant that you spent the whole time in cinema staring at the floor,” he says.”Which is very unlikely.”
So I’ve now changed it to supine. My father, unlike Mr Young, is always right. It’s very irritating.