W I F E
If I'm honest, what I miss most about my late wife is her Yorkshire puddings. No, I'm not being lewd; I don't mean her tits. (Though she did come from Yorkshire: Bradford.) I don't miss them at all. By the end, there wasn't much of them left, anyway. These wasting diseases really are that: a waste. By Yorkshire puddings, I mean Yorkshire puddings. They were light as light; and you had to eat them within about two minutes of them hitting the table. There was a 'window of opportunity' for my wife's Yorkshire puddings. If you missed it, you missed it. No turning back. She would run through from the kitchen. "Run girl!" I'd say. She knew how I liked them. Everything else would be on the table. Everything else would be on the plate. I'd load my plate up and put some roast potatoes on hers, to start her off. A nice side of beef, parsnips from the garden, peas, gravy and horseradish. By the time I finished, there was nothing left but a little pile of string. She didn't say much. She just used to watch me eat. That gave her great pleasure. She was a marvellous cook. I could go on for hours about her shepherd's pie, her leak and potato soup, her spotted dick, her steak and kidney pudding, her way with a kipper. Only once did she cook something I couldn't eat. It was a curry, from a book she got out of the library. I told her straight, "Im not eating pakki food." She understood, after that. No pakki food; no wop food; no frog food. Black pudding is foreign as far as I'm concerned. Danish bacon is the limit. The last thing she cooked me was bacon and eggs. She gave up making pastry about six months before the end, when she didnt have strength for the stirring. I offered to buy her one of those machines, but shed always done everything by hand. Even mince. Some of my happiest memories are of sitting at the kitchen table, watching the mince come out of the mincer. I could watch that for hours, There was just something about it. Little red and white worms wriggling out. I could remember my mother's mincer. Standing, screwed down to the edge of the table. I used to watch it as a boy. My mother was a fair cook as well. But not as good as my wife. She wouldnt admit it, though. You would catch her at tea, waiting for the seed cake to sag down in the middle. It never did. She had a marvellous elbow for a cake, my wife. In her day, she could whisk eggs into air. She did me her last lemon sponge about a year before. It felt like eating sunbeams. When it went down your throat, it tickled the sides. It floated. I swear that you didnt taste the lemon in your mouth but in your heart. At the Harvest Festival, her cakes were a legend. I've seen women get into a fight over a tray of her fairy cakes. They started queuing before we even arrived. "Which table's going to be Gladyses'?" was their first question. The moment they stepped through the door. "Form an orderly queue, ladies," I would say. "First come, first served." Nothing was ever left. Not a crumb. She would do some gingerbreadmen for the children. She liked children. She would watch them as they picked the currants off. "Sorry, love," she used to say. "Its nobodys fault." I still have her last Christmas pudding, and some jams. Jams were never her strong point. There's also a pot of pickled onions somewhere. I don't really like pickles, but she decided to give it a go. Another idea from a recipe book, I suppose. I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Sunday evening and Arsenal had lost to Spurs. She was crying like a baby. "Why d'you bother?" I asked. "Im not going to eat them." "I just thought I'd try," she said. "Someone might like them." I began to suspect she was cooking for a fancy man. Sometimes she seemed very happy when I got home from work. I used to count the pickle jars. I never caught her at anything. She cooked with onions a lot. "Any excuse for a cry, you," I used to say. She would smile and peel some more, crying and crying. It was a couple of months after she did the pickled onions that she stopped doing the cakes. For about a year, she just wouldn't do them. Not even for my birthday. "Next week," she'd say. "I havent got the right kind of flour." I didnt know what to do. It was the Jubilee coming up. "We've got to have cakes at the street party," I said. "It's not for me, it's for the Queen." She did us proud, in the end. Icing in red, white and blue. Ribbons. HRH. 25 years. We'd been married almost ten years more than that. The wedding cake was the biggest anyone had ever seen. We had to skimp a bit on the bridesmaids dresses, but it was worth it. No one looks at bridesmaids, anyway. Right after we got married, she would cook me anything I wanted. Before I went off to work, she would ask me. "What would you like for this evening, love?" She was still learning then. "A disciple of Mrs Beeton," I used to call her. But when I got home from work, she'd have learnt it. It was magic, how quick she learnt. I put on two stone in the first year, and I never really took it off. Not till this last year, anyway. There's nothing I want to eat. It all tastes all wrong. I just can't eat this hospital food. I can't insult her memory. I'd prefer to starve. They call that gravy? It's never even seen a cow. It all comes out of packets. Freeze-dried. I tried doing for myself, in the first few months. I got quite a dab hand at omelettes. I had a lot of omelettes. Then I cut my finger on the tin opener and got some sort of infection. "Its my war wound," I said to the nurse. "Its gangrene." She didn't even laugh. All those years of National Insurance and she couldn't even muster a laugh. I'm home for Christmas, though.