Booking the cooks

By David Medcalf

Family shopping in the big smoke was an eye-opener.

It was only to be expected that Hermione - dearest, most glamourous, chic Hermione - had us in and out of the clothes emporia. Her eternal pursuit of the ultimate little black number continues with all the unfulfilled single-mindedness of an Arthurian knight on the trail of the Holy Grail. So we hummed over the window displays of the city's boutiques and hawed around the dress rails of department stores.

It was equally predictable that Eldrick would march us through dark places where the music is loud and games are sold. I have discovered that these are not wholesome outdoor games which involve a ball or a racquet or a track-suit. Instead the games he craves come in the form of computer programmes played on screens by many teenaged boys and a few sad adults. Eldrick has all the makings of a games addict.

The real surprise was young Persephone. She dallied over party frocks with her mother. She cooed over fiddles in the music shops. Only when shoes were on offer did she really perk up and begin to take passionate interest. Our daughter is Ireland's answer to Imelda Marcos in the making.

She hauled us into a world of pumps and lace-ups, of stilettos and slippers, the levels of her enthusiasm rising even as my devotion to the cause started to flag. She was driving the shop assistants to distraction and her father into a state bordering on coma. There really are only so much footwear a doting dad can take. There are only so many helpful comments he can make when one style appeals to him as much as the next.

'Nice,' I nodded when invited to offer an opinion. 'Lovely,' I smiled. 'Blue,' I observed sagely - at least I was on firm ground there. 'Not made for hiking,' I suggested to Persephone as she attempted a teetering trial of some particularly lethal high heels.

I don't think she or the other two actually missed me as they veered from designer dress depot to X-Box basement and on to sandal saloon while I sneaked off up a side lane seeking some real retail - and to hell with family solidarity. The call of the bookshop was not to be denied.

I slipped from the frantic swirl of humanity on the streets and into the calm of 'Page Turners', an oasis of literature and enlightenment in the urban wilderness. All fields of human knowledge and leisure are here. Partial to Italian whodunnits, I loitered in the detective fiction department. I dodged the poetry and the science fiction but was drawn to the history books, then the sports biographies, and then the humour. And somewhere between the children's section and the thrillers were the cookbooks in their hundreds.

Every national cuisine must bid for readers. Every chef of self-proclaimed celebrity must burst into print with lavish illustrations. Cook with carrots. Cook without fat. Cook five star meals on a candle. Feed a family for a fiver. Feed a family for a euro. Feed a family for nothing from ingredients gathered on a country hike.

In my heart of hearts, I know that I will never have more than a handful of recipes in my repertoire. One, mince as a stew. Two, mince as beefburgers. Three, mince as Bolognese sauce to serve with spaghetti. Four, roast chicken with stuffing. Five, roast chicken with garlic. Such straightforward fare I serve without having a nervous breakdown but at least I can dream Michelin starred dreams with inspiration from these appetising publications…

We met up once more and drove home. Hermione had decided that haute couture bore too high a price tag in the city and she preferred to dress local. Eldrick was happy to have surveyed the latest games with a view to circulating a birthday list of his PlayStation desires to present buying aunts and uncles. And the blue shoes were back on the shelf, though Persephone reckoned she would have bought them if only they had been black.

So it came about that the only bag in the car boot contained the latest Sicilian murder mystery, a history of the Moghul empire, a collection of stories by the ever hilarious American David Sedaris and (I kid you not) a hefty hardback called '300 Ways to Cook Potatoes'. A beautifully balanced literary diet.

Wexford People

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