"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 28 January 2008

Katharine Whitehorn: Something Completely Different

The life of a long-distance commuter is a form, I sometimes think, of madness. For twenty years I have lived on the side of a Welsh hill surrounded by sheep and tooting owls but for the past seven of these I have been shuttling to London during the week to research my books in the British Library and to live in what used to be called, before estate agents came up with the chic-sounding "studio", a bedsitter. Naturally I would never think of upsetting animal lovers by swinging a cat but even swinging a mouse would be difficult in my tiny Bloomsbury pied à terre. One of its consolations is a bookcase in the foyer of this 1930s (estate agents: art deco) block where we swap books. Today I turned up this 1961 classic by Katharine Whitehorn and it turns out to be productive of what Cilla Black called "a lorra laughs". It is a delightful period piece and I might try some of the recipes but my eye was caught by the section: "Cooking to Impress". There is a sub-section "Cooking for a Girl" which is a hoot. The male would-be chef is told that he can "get away with more roughness than a girl can" (I assume in the kitchen rather than the bedroom though these two are often the same thing in a bedsitter, fortunately not in mine). He is advised to add "something of purely feminine appeal like sticky chocolates or her own special brand of Turkish cigarettes". Yes, I told you, this was written in 1961. There is more advice where this came from: "Do not, at any time, invite a girl to dinner, and when she arrives in a pretty frock, looking forward to a drink and a little cosseting, present her with several odd-looking tins, packets, and lumps and expect her to do the cooking."

I shall report further if my attempts to cook something from the book for Mrs Bibliophilic Blogger have productive results...

1 comment:

jool lane said...

Came across your musings here shortly after yet another cull of the bookshelves, this time the culinary section, consequent upon certain elements of refurbishment (in the words of the American ambassador)to our kitchen. Yet again, as happens after each such cull, I regret having parted with our second and last copy of this book, the first copy having gone to Oxfam a number of years ago when my husband and I conjoined our lares et penates in holy matrimony and sifted through the boxes to discard duplications. Mine was the first copy to go, his being in better condition - K Whitehorn's generation would have perhaps snorted kindly that mention of "one gentleman owner" could have secured a higher price for a used cookery book. It wasn't just a cookery book. In the sixties as we poised for flight from home it promised us hitherto unobtainable sex in rooms cool enough to store a pint of milk and a packet of bacon through to morning in optimum condition. (It was the spread of central heating that did it for single occupancy gas-ring cookery - and must have had some effect on unclothed sex.) For many of us this book was a Guide to Life. I wish I hadn't given that last copy away.