Remember those girls whose mothers used to show used to show up at the school gates kitted out in leather trousers and the like? That was Gabby’s mother. She and Gabby would regularly swap Morgan clothes, while mine was trying to coerce me into regulation Marks & Spencer. Gabby and her mother used to describe themselves as each others best friend and of course a best friend is somebody that you share everything with, do everything with, to whom you tell thoughts from your inner sanctum.
However for most women, having reached 30 (and therefore official adulthood), we find ourselves musing “My mother never told me that…”
Conflict occurred between my mother and me in my mid-late teens; it was a time of torture and angst. Having ditched home economic classes at the earliest opportunity in favour of theatre studies, my mother – a domestic deity – found herself aghast at my lack of culinary expertise. How was I ever going to stand on my own two feet? How would I cope cooking for a family? Her questions were fast and furious as she swept aside my petulant protests that “marriage wasn’t for me.”
More than that though, she was dismayed by my sheer reluctance to want to learn to cook. To her cooking was and is fun. She couldn’t understand why a daughter of hers would rather spend a Saturday afternoon chanting on the terrace in the pouring rain at Vicarage Road, home of my beloved Watford FC, rather than cocoon myself in the warm, cosy sanctuary of a new kitchen trading 101 things to do with a ripe aubergine. Argument after argument ensued until eventually a compromise was tentatively reached, with every other Saturday devoted to transforming me into a domestic goddess.
Now let’s set the record straight: I’m no Nigella. However amidst much tiresome moaning and groaning on my part, accompanied by endless tears and tantrums as Simon Oxley, the BBC’s 3 Counties sports journalist, updated me via the radio on Watford’s progress, I did learn how to bake flapjacks, cup cakes and the like before branching out to banana bread and mains. (Being a veggie, meat has always been off the menu).
As exhausting and boring as I found these sessions, I emerged from my cooking classes brainwashed into believing that I had acquired a valuable skill; that cooking was an acquisition that I would be putting to use day in day out throughout the rest of my life.
How wrong could I be? What my mother never told me, what my mother never predicted, is that today in the twenty first century, cooking is merely another useless string that I have added to my bow. All those missed matches! The tragedy of it all!
Domesticity is out don’t you know. Have you ever seen Carrie and co in Sex and the City chained to the oven, class in pretty pinnies rustling up some toasted focaccia to munch on? Of course not. That’s what Carluccios café is for. What’s the point in London having all these fabulous restaurants ranging from cheap eats to decadent, indulgent celebrity haunts; from tasty Thai to Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Malaysian, Mexican and modern British fare if we don’t take advantage of them?
My mother never told me that it’s eating out that has long been one of life’s pleasures – not being shackled to the stove back home. That it’s not the size and substance of my soufflé that makes me feel special but serial shopping sprees which allow me to splurge on a pair of sensational shoes. For my mother, cooking was a way of embracing her femininity: she never told me that a lick of Estee Lauder’s new bright red lipstick does the trick just as well.
Beside just when are modern, working women expected to cook? (Something Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in the new movie, I Don’t Know How She Does It, can attest to.) Given the uncertain job climate, my contemporaries and I are working increasingly long hours in a bid to further our careers. Due to a punishing work schedule, dinner is often consumed on board a train alongside other Londoners (indeed often it is the eclectic mix of aromas wafting around any given carriage that remind me what a diverse nation London is). We juggle our careers with family, friends, gym memberships, holidays, hen nights and hectic social lives. When, pray, is there time to make and bake that perfect quiche?
With M&S Simply Food to the right of my door and Waitrose to my left, what is the point? Food halls, finger licking dips and packets of Pringles have set me free. Why spend precious time – time that could be spent gossiping with girlfriends or going out, in short embracing life – slaving over a curry, when Marks’ Indian range offers a microwavable one in half the time, at half the price?
I have thrown a couple of dinner parties that would have sent shivers down my Mother’s spine due to the endless trays of supermarket selections. Yet what she fails to realise is that when I throw a party, I want to talk to my guests – not spend all night in the kitchen fretting about whether the home mad lasgange is up to scratch. My mother never told me that there is no need to cook in order to entertain. The entertainment comes in the company, not in the quality and quantity of freshly prepared culinary creations on offer. For really when push comes to shove, sitting about on sofas swapping food tips is about as riveting as watching dishes dry.
My mother taught me how to cook, but she never told me WHY?