As the New Year is a time of nostalgia and of looking back as well as forward, my husband suggested that I wrote a blog post about my old schoolteachers and how they inspired me. Although several of them were indeed inspirational and I have kept in touch with the best of them (who deserves a blog post to herself one day for her influence on my writing and enjoyment of books), I have long realised, pace Mr Gove’s pompous and destructive brand of nostalgia for old-style grammar schools, that three quarters of the teachers at my school were neither inspiring nor, in some cases, competent and most would not have survived in the outstanding comprehensive school at which my son was a pupil.
I have therefore decided instead to celebrate some of the excellent women that I knew as a child and student, in particular the mothers of my friends. My parents separated when I was in my teens – a relatively unusual event in those days and not one that they handled well – so several of these women took me under their wing and included me as if I were one of the family.
Each of them partly expressed her love by producing excellent food. It is therefore with a vivid pleasure undimmed by the passage of time that I remember Marjorie’s fish and chips, Freda’s freshly-cut sandwiches and the whole cornucopia of goodies that Florence supplied, from home-grown chicken casserole to home-made lemon curd. When I became a mother myself, I began to understand the profundity of the food / love equation. However much today’s women might achieve, they are likely to be judged by their children on the quality of their spaghetti Bolognese.
Now that women are accomplishing so much, however – including the spaghetti, which they have learned to ‘juggle’ with nappies and spreadsheets and stilettos – some rather gloomy predictions have been made about the redundancy of the male. So where do men fit into this virtuous circle of food and love? Well, the ones I know are without exception much better at a fry-up than any woman I know and each also has a signature dish that he produces with pride at times of female fatigue or temporary lack of fortitude. They’re also quite good at finding nice restaurants. They can therefore safely bask in the knowledge that their relevance is undiminished.
However, it would appear that not all men are safe. It was with considerable alarm on his behalf that I read Will Self’s BBC magazine article on the nation’s obsession with food and how we should all try to put it behind us this year. I’d be careful if I were you, Mr. Self. Measured by the food / love criterion, your relevance is looking uncertain!
Marjorie, Freda and Florence, I salute you – and all upstanding male cooks and restaurant-finders, as well!
Enjoy your food with gusto in 2013, everyone!