Eat, drink and be Mary

“IF YOU CAN’T FEED A HUNDRED PEOPLE, THEN JUST FEED ONE”

Mother Theresa

I recently edited an exciting tale of a ‘one man marvel’ who was a cross between James Bond, Captain Scarlet, and Batman. It certainly moved apace, with plenty of car and bikes chases, shoot-outs and mayhem. Perfect Boy’s/Men’s Own stuff. Only one thing about the story bugged me. Our hero rarely ate.

He downed a few jars that I recall, but seemed on a starvation diet. I do, of course, appreciate that when one is pursuing dangerous criminals, intent on murder, or blowing up the Houses of Parliament, et al, indulging in coq au vin and chocolate mousse has to take a back seat, but as chapters passed like indulgent buses, the poor hero was, surely, losing weight?! I was mentally urging the author to serve him a quick pizza, hot dog or burger at the very least., but as there was a war on by then, the poor devil had to make do with stolen eggs and stale bread…Hey ho.

As individuals, and being unique, we all have our fancies, likes and dislikes, and there’s nothing I like more than to eat a good meal, and digest it curled up by the wood-burner with a good book. But it goes much deeper than that and I’m no detective on a case…As a wife and mother, I took to cooking early on in my marriage, and my husband and I liked entertaining so much, he caught the culinary bug and – at one time in our years together – we ran a modest, twelve-bedroomed hotel in Bournemouth. Hard work but great fun and it launched me on a writing path: Running Your Own Small Hotel and Jobs in Baking and Confectionery. Both published by Kogan Page Ltd, London.

Involved in research for the book, I came across some exciting revelations, such as Chilean-American writer, Isabel Allende’s love for and allusions to food in her books. One: Aphrodite, covered the aphrodisiac combinations of food and love, and actual recipes from the book are still used by readers today. “A cornucopia of spices…” and potent writing of rich, dark chocolate, oozing, seductively and sexily through the pages, with titillating aromas almost escaping from the words. Sadly, my personal flights of food fancy were rejected and I was commissioned to write an account of “The day to day running of a small hotel, with modest menu suggestions.” Disappointing, but the book went to a second printing and did very well, so I couldn’t complain.

Later, leading a more prosaic, while interesting and rewarding life, I read and wrote as much as I could in between cooking for four men, noting that Oscar Wilde once said: “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations!”

Apparently, Alexander Dumas was also a cook and gourmet, and while his three musketeers were marinating in his imagination, he wrote Dictionnaire de Cuisine, but concocted over-fanciful tales about the Romans driving ducks over the Alps for their dinner.

Tragic, American-born poet Sylvia Plath loved to cook and it seems that some of her recipes “ghost the web;” one for “Tomato soup cake” sounds rather strange!

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway, his pockets at the time, empty, wrote of his hunger while his stomach rumbled and the teasing aromas of baking bread and rolls drifted, torturously, from the open doorways of the Boulangeries.

As for the infamous Tom Jones, written by Henry Fielding in 1749 – marked as one of the “best ever 100 books” – although I admit to not having read it, I did see the film. And if ever food was linked to love and sex hilariously, it was in this epic. It is incredible to note that from a London population of only 700,000, 10,000 copies of the book were sold. One critic helped sales along beautifully, by calling it “A motley history of barstardism, fornication and adultery.” I never looked at food the same way again…

While I continued to scribble away and cook such basic temptations as Shepherd’s Pie, Toad in the Hole, Goulash and innumerable stir fries and roasts like most other mums, I still took time out to read – often in the kitchen. Joanne Harris’ book Chocolate captured me hook, line and sinker. I loved it, and although I haven’t written a “foodie” novel, yet, I did manage to get a few, culinary-based, stories published in an anthology: Food Glorious Food (QG Publishing) which, hopefully, sent a few taste buds salivating… and there are more due in a collection of fascinating, mixed stories by writer Jean Wilson and yours truly called Angels & Demons, also to be published shortly by QG Publishing.

Luckily, since publishing my memoir My Gentle War, I’ve been able to send modest donations to Mary’s Meals, a wonderful charity in Scotland who feed over One Million children per day and only keep a paltry seven pence in the pound for administration costs…

Website: www.marysmeals.org
Email: info@marysmeals.org

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Humour – vive la difference

Who doesn’t like a good chuckle or belly laugh? It’s sometimes better for you than a pill…

Luckily, there’s more than a soupcon of humour in our family and hurray for that.

Exchanging emails with my eldest son Jason recently, we were discussing writing (as you do) re various genres, and he said: “I could always write about hamster racing in 14th century Bruges,” And it really gave me the giggles. He and I used to write ‘alternative horoscopes:’ eg: ‘Beware of men in false beards this month (they’re all the rage); if bored take up clog dancing.’ And such nonsense.

Taste

The above set me thinking about the vast difference in taste and types of humour. Us Brits have a fair variety: at its best silly, slap-stick, dry, subtle, clever; at its worst lavatorial…Re TV sit-coms – pole-vaulting to the top, are ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Porridge,.’ We can thank the late, lamented John Sullivan for ‘Fools’ and Dick Clement and Ian Las Frenais for ‘Porridge.’Continentals have mime, childish, silly and clever, and the Americans seem to ‘have it all.’ When they’re good, their sit-coms shine: Frasier, Mash, Taxi but some are banal and dire (as are some of ours!) The Irish have a delightful (innocent) way of making you laugh. Take directions: ‘Fenwick street you’ll be wanting? Turn right, then left and go past the shop that was demolished last year and it’s on the next corner.’ Slap-stick: more popular in the past, is universal, and of course popularised through American movies starring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton et al. Then along came Monty Python and changed tack – much more of an acquired taste. They love to shock and do! I love their silly, zany stuff. The subject could fill several books and does, and of course it’s all a matter of taste.

Comedians

Take comedians. they’re relying more and more on foul language and/or pedestrian humour. Come back Ronnie Barker, Morecombe and Wise, Dave Allen (especially in his earlier days), and I’m very partial to Woody Allen’s brand: ‘I don’t mind dying as long as I’m not there when it happens.’There are many funny Jewish comedians, and I’m a sucker for simple jokes like: New Yorker:’You look lost, son. Can I help?’ ‘Yeah, how can I get to Carnegie Hall?’ ‘Practice, my boy, practice…’ And, a Jewish man is knocked down and slightly hurt. A passer-by attends to him and asks ‘Are you comfortable sir?’ The victim shakes his head from side to side and says ‘I make a living!’ Let’s not forget alternative comedy either. Steve Wright, pan-faced and serious, is clever and thought provoking. ‘ Bought some batteries and there was nothing with them.’ Gets you frowning…

Less is more

This applies to most things in my book. Who needs to overdose on violence, swearing and sex (hands down you at the back there…) Writing about all three is more effective when slightly rationed. It’s much more titillating…There’s nothing original or clever about swearing to excess; anyone can do it! However, used with care, it can be a real put-down and very effective. ‘Fuck off,’said at just the right time, can really hit the funny-bone.

Humour in literature

A few names quickly come to mind: two being Charles Dickens – some of his characters were hilarious; and Mark Twain, who wrote: ‘The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects there is anything funny about it.’(from ‘How to tell a Story.’ ) And how could you not mention Ogden Nash, who wrote over 500 amusing poems. There was nothing funny about his death, aged 69 in 1971 from Crohn’s disease aggravated by eating improperly prepared coleslaw, but I bet he could have penned a funny poem about it! Perhaps not so famous on the world stage was one:John Kennedy Toole, an American, who wrote ‘A Confederacy of Dunces” (1980). Unable to find a publisher for his book, he eventually committed suicide. How grimly ironic that, when the book was published after his death, he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1981.

As Mark Twain wrote: ‘Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing.’(From a biography.)