One of the things that G and I insist on in our chaotic life is that on a Sunday we sit down as a family and have a traditional Sunday roast. This is not set in stone, but on the whole since just before the boys started to arrive 15 years ago we have managed to stick with it, and the dining room table gets cleared of all the week’s debris and we chat, argue and catch up on funny things that have happened in the past few days over crisp roasted potatoes, the waft of cooked meat and piles of brightly steamed vegetables.
Alas, I have never mastered the Yorkshire pudding, but have tried on several occasions, and it always becomes a discussion point – the last one was flat, thick and solid and resembled a fried Victoria Sponge, which G rather kindly pointed out was probably a delicacy in a country somewhere… So Aunt Bessies aside, everything else is slaved over and slavered over and disappears three times faster than it took to cook. But it allows us an oasis of time in which the boys tell us and each other of any gossip, problems, or just argue over who is going to get the last piece of crackling.
The main reason, of course, that I insist on the roast, is an idea that when my boys fly the coop – which inevitably they will – they will always know that on a Sunday I will be cooking and hopefully they will occasionally return, partners in tow, maybe even one day with kids of their own. And it will be just a case of tossing a few extra potatoes in the pan and then that ancient chatter will begin again. Obviously I have watched far too many American movies, because I can’t claim this to be a family tradition, but I would love it to become mine. Another friend with kids far older than me, but to whom this is a genuine generational family thing, said that in actuality it gets very stressful – one of her boys brought home a vegetarian girlfriend who insisted that she couldn’t eat anything, another grown up child decided to bring all his mates home from the all night rave they had attended and one threw up in the toilet, and her mother in law turned up unexpectedly once and has made it every Sunday since…
Food and its connotations is a funny thing. There are generally two extreme camps – one who Eats to Live (E2L), and the other which Lives to Eat (L2E) – with variations in between. It is very taxing if you are an L2E and you go out for a meal, or on holiday with an E2L. One of you is looking forward to the new culinary experiences, the other is merely looking forward to getting through the next meal and going on to life experiences. One sees the pleasure in food and the other cannot understand why food is a pleasure. Often the E2L is a fussy eater too. That really bugs the L2E. It should probably be a category on Match.com – it would help shake those dodgy first date nerves if you knew that your date was more interested in his Steak Bearnaise than the chicken fillets in your bra…
A mummy I know who has 4 children will cook a different meal for each of her kids every night. She is an E2L, and envies the fact that my kids eat what is put in front of them. As a mum who leans majorly to the L2E side, I really feel for her. (And I also feel a little bit smug…) But the fact of the matter is that food is a social thing , whether it is a takeaway with your partner on a Saturday night, a coffee and a bun with other mums at Costa, a picnic with the family, a kids birthday party.
We have had some very enjoyable meals in our lives – Elvis in a Mytchett curry house, watching Duran Duran in The Sports Bar in Monaco, Grandma and Grandad’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, Spanish tapas with friends. But one of the most memorable was a sandwich. In a strange turn of events (another long story) we ended up lunching with a beautiful and acclaimed Welsh songstress, her then fiancé and her mum. She picked at the Panini that the blushing waiter had placed in front of her.
‘What?’ she asked eventually, as Little Man (who was 6 at the time) stared at her hard.
‘Why have you left all your vegetables?’ he asked, pointing to the salad on her plate.
She looked around wildly, the waiter hovering anxiously as I glared at my child, and then her cheeks flushed.
‘I have had some vegetables today… I had some fruit juice before I came out this morning’, she said eventually, looking at her mum for support, who was laughing helplessly.
‘Oh,’ said Little Man, not looking convinced, totally ignoring my looks of death and then brightened. ‘Can I have your chips if you’re not going to eat them?’
And he did.