Friday, 12 March 2010

Spoiled for Choice

When Mrs M told me that she was joining a reading group, I admit that I was slightly tempted. I’ve never been one to shy away from intellectual rigour, from the cut and parry of scholarly debate, so I was happy to give up an evening  to the ilk of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. And perhaps some of those nice Japanese crackers.

Then it occurred to me that reading groups might be a women’s thing. All Judys and no Richards.

We men don’t seem to be as groupable as women. This can give us a useful scarcity value: consider the few blokes who turn up for Liz’s Body Max gym session on a Saturday morning in the community hall overlooking our lovely park in Brabyns. They earn a modest celebrity. I’m not suggesting anything untoward, but I do wonder if they get some of the privileges afforded to eunuchs in a harem.

Anyway, Mrs M said that Bill and Ben were coming to the reading group, so that was that.

The first book was Russian and Impenetrable. There was much harrumphing among us gentlemen of the road and track. We all had different translations of The Master and Margarita, but apparently M&M is no more fun in One World Classics than in Penguin, unless anti-Stalinist satire (if that’s what it is) is your idea of drinks by the pool.

At times like this, freelancing is invaluable. I found I had an inescapable booking in Transylvania that particular evening. And when, of course, it was cancelled, I had a great excuse not to have read M&M.  So I scoffed the Japanese crackers, while we decided that M&M was excellent in parts and thanked our host for choosing it.

One of the attractions of meeting so locally is that few of us have to drive home, so the bibbers had brought plenty to drink. We didn’t have to struggle finding things to say about M&M, because we could fill any gaps with “Is there any red left in that?” “Let me get you another Speckled Hen. It was on special.” “So when did you give up? Have you tried this elderflower cordial?”

It was not long before eyes and conversation moved on to consider the promise of food. One of the founding principles of the reading group is that it’s not supposed to be hard work. The host just provides the title and somewhere to sit.

And maybe a pud.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the reading group became known as the “Pudding Club”.

By the time it was the Mandalls’ turn to host the reading group, pudding was the order of the day. I wanted a Spotted Dick, but we settled on those individual chocolate puddings with gooey innards that Delia made fashionable when the boys were small. Despite my protests, Mrs M insisted on making a fruit salad as well.

It’s been all downhill from there. Not so much the books (Fludd, Rabbit Run, A Settler’s Cookbook) as the puddings. Kitchen slabs crack under the offerings: Eton Mess, home-made cheesecakes, mousses, meringues, grapes... Even cheeses have appeared, including those modern ones, wrapped in nettles or speckled with fruit.

Where will it end?

Mrs M says it’s her turn to choose the book. So I shall suggest it’s mine to choose the pudding. Dead man’s leg, a proper jam roly poly, will do. A bowl of russets, for those on diets. And a wedge of Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, if I’ve been paid by then.

Of course I can do a roly-poly, I will tell Mrs M. There are instructions in The Tale of Mr. Samuel Whiskers: take one good-sized kitten, and roll him in a suet crust…

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