A question of style


bonfireBy Chris Wilson

Two 10 year old boys, one burnt out bonfire, one finished yet  still smoking display of firework ; and beside each of the boys a neat napkin wrapped set of cutlery, and a half eaten plate of rapidly cooling food. They looked at the darkened gardens, at the floodlight house behind them, and then, conspiratorially, they began to plan.

“Great bonfire Andy”

“Fantastic gardens!”

“Brilliant fireworks, great band and a wicked presentation”

“But shame about the food”

Andy and Percy huddled together.  Percy’s gardens were   perfect for bonfires and fireworks, but next year’s bonfire night would have to be different . It was all a question of planning, and  a question of style.

#

“What do you mean Andy; you want me to do the cooking on bonfire night. Doesn’t Mrs Fitzpatrick now how to use a knife, an oven, or a chopping board? I’ve got our own house to run, as well as the church and W.I functions, isn’t that enough to do!?”

Lizzie Simmons had been furious with her son Andy and in no uncertain terms she told him so. Mrs Fitzpatrick was a lady of leisure; she had a cook cum chef, and a huge kitchen, so why couldn’t they do their own cooking, but Andy had cleverly worked her. Now, standing alone in that pristine and gleaming kitchen, she suddenly felt very afraid.

It wasn’t the amount of food that bothered her, she had been the village’s “ Lizzie” and “Mrs there-for-everyone” for years. It wasn’t the food that she was cooking, as she had always kept it simple, and the village had never complained. It was just that she was at the manor house and cooking for Mrs Fitzpatrick. She was the Lady of the Manor, and she knew all about style. Deep in thought she looked at the sack of potatoes, and tray of sausages that lay beside her. Then looked at the huge fridge wherein lay mounds of cheddar and lashings of butter on the side.

“Keep it simple mum!”Andy had pleaded with her.”You know how it’s done, you’ve cooked so many times before”

But Lizzie was still worried. This wasn’t her kitchen, this wasn’t a “knees up” in the village, and she wasn’t an expert on style.

It was time to get going however, as the King Edward tatties needed scrubbing and crossing , and three large trays of  sausages were reproaching her for her delay. Tying up her piny, she was soon elbow deep in the mire. She was happy now as dressed in jeans, jumper, and her favourite, if stained, cooks apron, this is what you she was used to.

“All that meat and no potatoes Just aint right, like green tomatoes Here I’m waiting palpatatin’-forall that meat and no potatoes”

She sang cheerfully to herself, while trays of potatoes and farmhouse sausages soon stacked up beside her, and the  blocks of cheese and slabs of gleaming butter lay quietly in reserve. She loved Fats  Wallah, and although she did have a large sack of potatoes, they, along with the rest of the food beside them almost  sang back to her, as they had done so many times before. Lizzie grinned and looked at the food with pride and anticipation. She would soon get the kitchen smelling hot and wholesome, then, once the food was already and waiting , the real party could get underway.

#

Patricia Fitzpatrick, beautifully manicured and dressed in the latest of country fashion,  looked at Lizzie without saying a word, and took time to look at the kitchen that she had rarely seen before. This hadn’t been her kitchen for years, despite the fact that she had paid for it, as it belonged to Arnaud Fournier. He was her “Grand Chef de la Maison”, as he liked to term himself. He was the tyrannical master of the kitchen, but as Patricia looked at the remarkable piles of food that lay all around Lizzie she couldn’t help but smile. For the Great Arnaud food was all about Pate de Foie Gras, Tarte Tartin, wafer thin flaming Crepe Suzettes,  Winter Black Truffles and gossamer light sweet and savoury soufflés. While she enjoyed such indulgencies Patricia,  wondered what he would say if he was standing by Lizzie’s side. Arnaud was on holiday, so he would never see such simple delicacies, but Patricia felt unhappy, for deep within her mind, she had fond memories of  enjoying this kind of food before. Then she was a child, and she wasn’t the Lady of the Manor. She’d hidden in the haystacks, she had enjoyed complete freedom, and she had  laughed with her village friends in the sun.

Now it was different, now she was an adult. As her mother had drummed her, she was a lady now, and her life was all about style. She had a rigidly defined role in the neighbourhood ,  she was the  Lady of the Manor. It was a pity really, as even in her mid thirties,  all she really wanted to do was to join the villagers, to go outside and play.

Time was marching though, the pyrotechnic technician, or fireworks team, were asking for  her, and the hired band were curiously short of both an amplifier and a set of drums. Reluctantly, and grumpily she stomped away from the kitchen. She knew that it was her duty to resolve such difficulties, but all she really wanted was a match and a sparkler, and as regards the seemingly forgetful band leader, maybe a whizz bang or two. She just wished that someone would one day call her Patsy. She was sick of her official title, of being called Patricia, or even worse Mrs Fitzpatrick; and Patsy sounded much more fun.

#

Lizzie whacked an old brass table gong that her grandmother had given here,  and grinned as everybody surged towards her.

“Ok, who’s first for a tattie and a banger! They’re on this table and for those that wants it there’s cheese and butter on the table by its side! Come on Folks, fill your boots and stuff your stomachs! Oh I’m sorry Mrs Fitzpatrick, I didn’t see you standing over there!”

Patricia didn’t want Lizzie to apologise, she hadn’t had so much fun in years.

This was the childhood that she remembered; this was the happiness and earthy warmth that she had missed for so many years. There was still one difficulty; she had forgotten how to join in with the fun. As the Lady of the Manor, should she really take tattie and a banger, as Lizzie called out so cheerfully, should she really eat both butter and cheese?. Where had Lizzie put all the cutlery and crockery? As far as she could ascertain there was only a pile of paper plates and cheap plain napkins. All her fine dining plates and decorated cloth napkins that she had offered, were nowhere to be seen.

Standing at to one side of the buffet, as she had been taught by her mother, she looked on enviously. She wanted to join in, she wanted to sink her teeth into a hot sausage and potato but she found herself at a disadvantage. She had been drilled in table etiquette, and fine dining, simple joys had been banned, and therefore put behind her, so she simply didn’t know how such things  were done. it was like being Alice when she fell down  into wonderland, but though  Alice never got any jam from the white queen, she still had fun. She still got a share of the goodies, while Patricia, as Lady of the Manor, ended up with revolting squealing and squirming malodorous piglets, or generally nothing at all. Deep down she suddenly felt very empty and lonely, and for one awful moment, she felt that nothing could or would ever change.

#

“Cheese and a Tattie for Milady, a couple of chunks of butter and maybe a sausage or two”

Deep in her thoughts and in her own personal nightmare Patricia hadn’t even seen her son Percy and Lizzie’s son standing beside her, let alone Lizzie coming up behind him,  with a steaming hot plate of food. There was no cutlery though, just a paper plate and a double napkin. She moved back, confused and disoriented, but then stepped forward, for she was hungry. The food was calling, and, it would be rude to hesitate or to refuse.

“Oh go on mum, take a mouthful!”Percy merrily sang at her “It won’t hurt you, and the spuds are wicked with all that butter and cheese inside!

She grinned as she looked down at Percy. She had never eaten “spuds”, and never knew that they were “wicked”, but how could she possibly refuse. He was a real boy now, and he was openly laughing at her. As a trail of butter swept across his cheekbone, and a thick and greasy trail of cheese, potato and sausage fat ran across his hand. All he needed was a wooden bowl, a flat cap, a bit of soot and a stack of chimney brushes; and then he could ask for more.

“Why not Percy.”Patricia replied laughing “Thank you Mrs Simmons, sorry, I mean Lizzie, maybe I should give it a go”

#

Delicately and slowly, like a immaculately groomed and perfectly mannered royal swan swimming in children’s overcrowded and noisy paddling pool, she picked up the napkin cradled heavily filled tattie. Eyebrows raised, she cautiously held the food before her. It was crude, rough, and simple, yet as she drew it towards her mouth a new sensation overwhelmed her. The rich bouquet of the filled piping hot potato  swept her back over so many rigidly segregated years. As she bit into the potato she didn’t care about its crude humility. She wasn’t bothered about the grease of the sausage, or the thick hot buttery cheese. She was happy; so happy; and eyes closed, she was submerged and lost within a world which she had thought was long gone and impossibly far away.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, she was a little girl all over again.

She sunk her teeth into a sausage. The fat spat, and her tongue, her chin and her cheeks protested violently, but then the cheese came, then the butter, and even her frazzled tongue said that all was right with the world.

“ Three cheers for our Lady of the Manor, three cheers for Patsy, and good health to one and all.”

It was Lizzie who made the toast, and it was both sons who led the cheering, and all Patsy could do was to look at them , blink and smile. Then someone gave her a mirror and she began laughing. She was the scruffy little ragamuffin now, she was covered in tattie cheese and butter, and, at last, she had called Patsy. Now she had been really welcomed into the village. The fireworks burst, the bonfire burnt brightly,  and the band kept on playing, and as she took another large bite if cheesy and buttery tattie, she really understood what it was like to be happy; as well as finding an answer to the eternal question of style.

Next year she would be in the kitchen with Lizzie, she would help wash and cross the spuds and tatties, if Lizzie would allow her to do so, and she would help serve the food to all and sundry, as they surged around her and Lizzie for their food. A great idea, she thought to herself, but what about Lizzie. She was the village fixer, she cooked all the food, and ran the kitchen on these occasions. How would she react if an interloper came into the kitchen? Would Lizzie welcome her, or would she chase her out of the kitchen with a rolling pin or a broom.

That was next year, and she was still hungry, so she took another large bite of her spud or tattie, or whatever it wanted to call itself, and allowed herself to dream.

#

““All that meat and no potatoes- Just ain’t right, like green tomatoes- Here I’m waiting palpatatin’-for all that meat and no potatoes”

It had been a good night, better than she had anticipated, and once singing to herself softly, she gave one last wipe to the gleaming metal Kitchen tables that lay in front of her. She also looked at the huge stack of plates and beautifully wrapped set of cutlery quietly sat by their side. Stupid things to have on bonfire night, she thought to herself, so much washing up to do afterwards, and what a waste of time. She grinned as she remembered  Patsy as she first held her tattie, and then looked at the contents that lay inside. Patsy had been magnificent. Like  a queen presented with a bucket of raw haggis mix, she had behaved impeccably, yet utterly unaware how to proceed. Yet the pair of them had made a breakthrough. They had both played together as children, but then class and culture had separated them. That barrier had gone now, and, for the pair of them; as well as the village, a new era had just begun.

Was Patsy any good at scrubbing Tatties, Lizzie wondered, as she turned off the lights, and closed the kitchen doors behind her. Would she cope with all the fillings, and the numerous trays of bangers on the side. The evening had only just finished, but she might approach Patsy to see if she was interested. It would be fun to serve all the goodies, with Pastsy standing by her side

#

“ Sorted!”

Andy laughed and look towards Percy.

“ Same time, same place, and same menu, for next year”

Percy closed his eyes, and,  leant back on grass bank behind the pair of them

“ Anything you say old boy, anything you say. After all, it’s just a question of planning; and of course, a question of style!”

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