Never cooked a dinner

By David Medcalf

We both heard her say it. We both heard her distinctly. We just had differing reactions to what she said.

She was certainly not addressing us. She was probably not aware that we were present in that crowded room. She was speaking to someone else and what she said was broadcast for an audience of one. Yet her unusual revelation was by chance dropped into a moment of relative quiet, a brief dip in the swirl of sociable sound. What she said was delivered during a fleeting break in the babble created by so many people all socialising in one limited space. What she said was eerily audible to those who happened to be tuned into the correct wavelength.

'I have never cooked a dinner in my life.'

Young Persephone and I were evidently on that wavelength for we both heard her say it. As passing remarks go, this remark passed very quickly indeed. We were not party to the conversation into which this nine word bombshell was injected. I was being regaled at the time with the holiday plans of a friend whose vacations must be designed around the demands of her schnauzer pup. Persephone, always more a cat lover than a schnauzer fiend, had sidled off to investigate the crisps on a nearby coffee table. Though facing different directions and engaged in different tasks, we nevertheless both heard her say it.

'I have never cooked a dinner in my life.'

The decibel level rose once more. I became re-absorbed into the discussion on kennels in Connemara. My daughter turned her freckled nose up at the vinegar flavoured crisps and moved on towards the kitchen in search cheese 'n onion. It was only on the drove home later that we compared notes. I was the one who raised the topic. I said something about not being a snoop or an eavesdropper but that I had chanced to catch something during the evening which came close to shocking me. Persephone immediately piped up to say that she had heard it too. She knew immediately what had caught my ear as we re-called the memorable utterance together.

'I have never cooked a dinner in my life.'

We began to compare notes on what little we knew about this oven-shy lady - though it made a sketchy profile. We placed her in her thirties. Her fashion sense marked her as more boutique than high street. Persephone had spotted the wedding ring in among some hefty diamonds and was adamant that our mystery woman must have children. We did not know her name and probably never will. We simply identified her as the woman who said:

'I have never cooked a dinner in my life.'

My own instinctive reaction was concern for welfare of the husband and the offspring of someone who can make such a boast. Searching my soul, I have to confess that I would probably not have been quite as mesmerised if a man had come out with the same thing. There now I have blown my anti-chauvinist cover.

Persephone's initial response was on gung-ho, good-on-you-girl lines. After all, my daughter has avoided home economics as a subject choice at school for fear of being pigeon-holed as a housekeeper. Yet, she enjoys baking and, though still well shy of her sixteenth birthday, cannot look anyone in the eye and declare she has never cooked a dinner.

We began to speculate on how a thirty-something could have avoided domestic duties for so long. She must have been brought up in extreme poverty and never knew a dinner until she won the lottery. Or else she was brought up in luxurious wealth where paid staff prepared all the meals.

She must be married to a chef. Or else she has a cook on call. Her phone must have the numbers of all the takeaways on permanent standby. Or else she marches the family down to the local Michelin three-star for their evening repast at the drop of a hat.

But what about Christmas Day when the three-star is closed and the cook has gone home to Manilla or Mallow or wherever? Does she not get sick of eating supermarket ready-meals or of allowing other people dictate what she puts in her mouth? It is all very unsettling.

Many apartments in New York are built without kitchens. It may be that our un-named lady friend is the first signal of yet another American trend reaching our shores.

Wexford People

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