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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.


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Sunday 12 January 2014
This essay was written when we lived in France and first appeared in the CGA magazine.

                                             The English Dinner Party.

Since the French are passionately knowledgeable about food, a foreigner shopping in France should not be surprised when she is almost overwhelmed by the conflicting advice given her.  One person firmly recommends the butcher by the railway station, another assures you he is only sound on pork, far better to patronise the one by the church for beef.  Get your vegetables at one stall and someone will tell you they are full of slugs and pesticides. And as to cheese - best not to get involved, it could turn nasty.
            The French, as we know, and with reason, regard other nations food as a poor substitute for their own.  But they reserve their greatest opprobrium for English food.  Those English who live in France ( I say English advisedly since the Scots can do no wrong in French eyes, especially since that wretched film Braveheart) have to become immune to the taunts they receive if they are to survive.
            Imagine the stress then of inviting them to dine. Whether to serve English or French must be decided, the balance ensured, the right wines selected.  We did serve an Indian curry once but Id rather draw a veil over that incident.  Perhaps one should stick to what one knows we decide and, hopefully disprove their preconceived ideas of English food.
            So it was, that the momentous decision to serve steak and kidney pie was made. 
            We should check that they like kidneys, I advised.
       Dont be silly.  Its well known that the French adore offal! Billy airily dismissed my concerns.
                     We were safe with smoked salmon, not only is it universally admired but of course it would be Scottish. We would have roast potatoes - sound ground there, Ive yet to see a French tattie so cooked;  dauphinois, boiled, chipped, sautéed but never roasted.  We had some wonderful Hungarian peaches bottled in liqueur.  Wed serve that, and pretend they were English, and wed have the cheese at the end of the meal - English style, not French.  Marvelous.
                     I admit I was nervous as Antionette arrived, her gorgeous, animated, face hidden behind a huge potted plant.  Her husband followed carrying wine.  I read in a book that it was considered rude to take wine when dining out in France.  However, happily, we have noticed our guests always do; maybe they are afraid we dont understand wine, that we are all football ooligans and drink only to get drunk.  Thats a laugh in this house where Billy has made a religion out of wine, the cellar is his own personal chapel where he sits in deep contemplation counting his bottles -  mind you hes not averse to getting drunk either.
                   In the half-hour Id allotted for drinks and general chat all was going well.  I popped the pie in the oven, five minutes to the off I put on the vegetables.  About eight oclock I noticed our new Cairn puppy was missing - the gate had been left open.
                   The baby has got out! I wailed - Id forgotten the word for puppy.
                    Everyone rushed into the garden. (I remembered to turn off one oven and the veg.)  Not a sign of her.  Billy took off in the car, daughters boyfriend armed with a torch began the steep climb up the hill.  Antionette was suggesting we call the police.  I know the French like dogs but that seemed a bit extreme until we realised she thought my three year old grandchild had gone missing.
                    No, its the dog.  Anita wouldnt be nearly so hysterical if it were the child, my ex-husband, Peter advised.  I gave him a daggers look.    
               Everyone settled back when the call came the puppy had been sighted at the bottom of the village.  I put the pie and veg back on.  No one appeared.  I turned them off.  I turned them on, then off, as I flapped back and forth.  Billy and Patrick appeared triumphantly with the dog, hot and exhausted, three quarters of an hour later.
                     Dinners ready! I called just as the cat jumped up and began to consume a plate of smoked salmon.  Dont worry, its Peters, I gaily told them, quickly reseating everyone but getting my own back for the remark about my grandchild.
                      Time to serve the pie.  Poor pie.  It had been in and out of the oven so many times that it was not sure where it was - I could see exactly where.  It was burnt round the edges and collapsed in the middle.  The vegetables by now were reminiscent of the way my mother used to serve them - pale and soggy.  With all the turning on and off  I had forgotten the oven with the potatoes which emerged like lumps of charcoal.
                     How delicious it all looks, declared dear Antionette.  ‘What is it?
                      An English speciality, `The steak and kidney pie.
                      She didnt need to say anything, her expressive face did the talking for her.  I am desolated but the kidneys - I can never eat,  she said with a Gallic wave of the hands.
                      So, Mr Expert, the French eat everything do they? I whispered through clenched teeth to Billy.
                        Not my fault.  They usually do. How was I to know wed have the only French woman . . .!  He was speaking in a sort of nonchalant, Tiggerish, sort of way.  She can always pick them out.
                        Really, its no problem . . .  Antionette called out as she slid the contents of her plate onto that of her husband like a greasy spoon waitress - and Id used the Wedgwood too.
                    My jaws ached from smiling and snarling at the same time, have you ever tried it?  Billy escaped a further ear wigging as Antionette, game to the end, speared a roast potato which, solid as it was. shot through the air and knocked a burning candle flying - it could have been worse, only two napkins went up in flames.   
                    I finally began to eat, and found the pie was tepid.  Could anything worse happen?  Of course it could.  I looked across at my dear ex-husband and realised he was verging on the paralytic.  He had evidently taken the opportunity, during the great puppy hunt, of helping himself to a couple more gins and, looking at the state of him, rather large ones they must have been too.  He is a linguist, he speaks fourteen languages, he has a degree in French and is fluent - but not this night, oh dear me no!  He couldnt string two words together.  Whereupon, Antionette, thinking he understood nothing, began to speak to him in Franglais which only confused him further.  Fortunately or not, it depends how you look at it, at this point he went to sleep.  Antionette thought it was adorable, The English Milord's are so eccentric, she assured me.  I love that woman.
                      The pudding arrived.  It wasnt my fault this time.  We decided it was a little bland and needed some Kirsch.  It was Antionette who tipped most of the bottle in them making them inedible.
                      The cheese, French, was an enormous success!
                      It was only as they left - very early, they had to go to Marseilles the next day with an early start - I tend to believe them - I realised I had completely forgotten to offer them coffee.
                      By now I was exhausted.  Both husbands and the puppy were asleep as I sat depressed at what a failure I had been in my attempts to promote the food of my native country.
                        I pottered about, tidying up, turning off the lights, and then, barefooted stepped into one of the puppys accidental turds!  Given the evening it was, of course, the perfect end.


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