Teenage Me desperately wanted to be ordinary. From my flamboyantly dysfunctional forebears I inherited an ample bosom and impressive nose…things that stick out, literally.
I hid my nose in a book, sought camouflage in baggy jumpers and never even contemplated going on a date. Irish people didn’t date anyway. Dating was an American contrivance, as foreign and unlikely to come my way as Dr. Pepper or Cool Whip.
Irish people of my generation snogged randomly during slow sets at the disco and had a maximum of eight minutes and forty-one seconds (Purple Rain) to decide if they had met their match.
Last night Husband and I watched First Dates Ireland in the company of our teenage Son and Daughter. Half of us, as such, are just embarking on the whole mate-finding malarkey and the other half have stumbled out the other side.
I have to tell you, we laughed, we flinched, we cringed and very nearly cried. It beggars belief that people are willing to take part in this show but it does seem that the producers are quite genius in the match-making department.
Most heart-wrenching of all is that the biggest risk seems to be admitting you like someone. Rejection is a far more terrifying prospect than disappointment or even ridicule.
If you’d enjoy more than one hour of frivolous TV contemplating The Improbability Of Love, you might enjoy the book, by Hannah Rothschild, which I’m reading.
I was seduced by this book in Waterstones where it was displayed as April’s Book Of The Month.
At the centre of the story is a fictional, lost painting by Watteau. We flit back and forth (much like the cameras on First Dates) between stories, ranging from 18th century France, to Germany during the war and onwards to present day London, all the time piecing together the history of this one picture.
The heroine of the piece is Annie McDee, a lonely chef, who happens across the masterpiece in Bernoff’s dusty junk shop. So far, so predictable. Except that it’s not at all. I don’t want to give away the many twists but I’ll give you just one teaser. The picture talks. The picture has the most wonderful French accent I have ever seen on paper.
‘Let me guess what you are thinking. Girl finds picture; picture turns out to be worth a fortune. Girl (finally) finds boy with a heart. Girl sells picture, makes millions, marries boy, all live happily ever after.
Piss off. Yes, you heard, piss off, as the cake tin at Bernoff’s used to say (it was decorated with Renoir’s Parapluies, which explains quite a lot).
Life is not that simple.
Ooooh la laaah, even the Maitre D’ at First Dates wouldn’t hold a candle to Monsieur le Tableau. He also gets all the best lines.
‘The Lady of Delights gave peerless advice: forget coquetry, be direct and be passionate yet correct. Men need reassurance; they need to know that you love them.’
and at his most profound;
‘My composition is about the fleeting, transformative respite over aloneness that love offers despite the cold certainty that this reprieve is only transitory.’
The Improbability Of Love is a cracking good read. The plot is dense and satisfying. This is a book about art, avarice and plain old hunger.
‘In a tattered old book, she found the perfect pudding – thin slices of quince and pear poached in honey and rosewater…and tiny green leaves of scented rose geranium as decoration.’
I’ve been reminded that people come in all sorts and sizes, that their sticky-out bits fit together in improbable ways and that love is never ordinary.
If you can’t afford to buy an old master to prove your love you could always poach a pear.
Choose a saucepan that will hold six conference pears quite snugly. Make a syrup of 400mls water, 3 tablespoons of honey and one of brown sugar, the juice and thinly sliced rind of one lemon, 4 smashed cardamom pods, half a split vanilla pod, 2 cloves, 3 small rose geranium leaves and one teaspoon of rosewater.
Peel and core the pears. Poach them for 20-30 minutes in the simmering liquid. Remove the pears and reduce the syrup by half or more until what remains is a sticky, viscous liquor.
Allow the pears to lie in this liquor until the time is ripe and then share with the one you love.