I greet Margaret, an icon to American womanhood. She has swathes, nay yards of silky hair and each follicle is located on her head. I can guarantee that if I stripped her bare, there wouldn’t be single hair out of place, rogue free. Rogue Europeans wonder how this can be true? Her teeth are perfect too, but her State of birth eludes me.
I have managed to avoid this particular social nightmare for 13 years, but I succumb. A spectrum of special needs mummies collect at my pal’s house, a scaffold of support. Personally, I am against the pampered Chef on political grounds, principally because it the name is just too far fetched. Secondly, because it is against my religious beliefs to spend money on kitchen equipment. Thirdly, because it is a girlie thing to do.
I button my lip and determine to be on my best behavioiur. My pal, the Muse is also present, ready to translate the un-translatable, as well as regale the company with yet more of my many embarrassing faux pas.
The demonstrator, Marvelous Margaret, passes around knives for our inspection. I am the first seat in the horseshoe of chairs. As it happens, I am in dire need of sharp knives. What I really need is a decent knife sharpener as my youngest son suffers a brain storm every time I wield the steel. I whip off the protective coverings and test for sharpness. Not bad! Out of the corner of my eye I see the demonstrator wince. Failure…..... of knife not demonstrator.
“You can always tell,” she announces. I wait for the end of the sentence, “people who are comfortable with knives,” she nods in my direction. I wait for the rest of the end of the sentence. There isn’t one. This is too cryptic for me to comprehend. It sounds deep and meaningful. What depths? What meaning? ‘Potential axe murderer’ may be tattooed on my forehead for all I know.
I practice blending in and study the accompanying brochure full of gadgets worthy of a sex manual. I am clearly well out of my depth. The demonstrator demonstrates and seeks assistance with the appropriate page numbers. Helpful people riffle through the booklet. I concentrate on the thing that I ought to be able to recognize but can’t.
“Feel free to ask questions at any time!” she beams. I am transported back to school, the idiot that put her hand up. The hand that was subjected to a sharp rap of the ruler. I debate whether I should use my left hand instead, just to be on the safe side? I keep mum and mind my own business, as there is already far too much public humiliation in my life as it is. I repeat my mantra, knives, knife sharpener and cheese grater, nothing else. I refuse to be tempted into buying extraneous stuff to clutter up my teeny tiny kitchen.
“Now do you see this?” The demonstrator waggles a thing at us. All our faces are receptive as we await enlightenment. I debate whether it is a helpful friendly thing or an instrument of torture? “Now I think you’ll find that every kitchen needs one of these!” It is very small, for a thing. Rarely have I seen such a small thing. Therefore it is probably a cheap thing. A melon baller cum strawberry huller. I already have both……somewhere or other. Probably the garage, for using with clay and pottery. It would be just another small thing to get lost with all the other small things in overflowing kitchen drawers. Wonderful! I must have just saved myself a fortune, a small fortune at least.
I am volunteered to demonstrate ‘use of knife.’ I chop and then realize that I haven’t washed my hands first. I am sure to contaminate the entire company. The demonstrator passes the squirty soapy thingy, so I squirt and rub my hands together. I rub some more, vigorously. It is not instant soap. “It’s not instant soap,” she explains as 15 people admire my frothy hands. She ditches the chopped chicken into a bin, passes me a towel and we begin again.
Post chopping, she demonstrates how to pick up whatever you have just chopped without using your fingers. Instead, she uses two scrapers, the ideal gift for the tactile defensive, those who cannot bear to touch food! I look her up and down again. She professes to use them all the time. I can tell from her little grimace that she really means it. Her words echo back to me, ‘you can always tell……’
I return to my seat and twiddle. I’m sure sitting is very bad for you, almost as bad as exercise. I am extremely patient during the two hour cookery demonstration of supper dishes that can be made in 29 minutes.
The can opener demonstration leaves me cold. I am however mildly interested in the knife sharpener. I decide that it warrants a second look. I nip to the floor and crawl over to the other side of the room on all fours, just as I would in a cinema, not to spoil the view, silent, discrete and practically invisible. I notice that it is very quiet as I put my hand on the knife sharpener. “Maddy! What yer doin down there? D’ya think yer invisible?”
“Almost?” I offer. The demonstrator stops demonstrating, patience personified.
“Here can I show you?”
“It’s not going to be one of those nasty scrapey ones? Is it?” I plead.
“Scrapey?” Several special needs mums nod in agreement.
“Yeah, you might find scrapiness could be a bit of a problem around here!” confirms the Muse. The demonstrator demonstrates bewilderment but willingness. She runs the blade carefully through, gently. No scrape. “Here, you try it.” I try it. Four people quake on chairs. My legs quiver beneath me, “maybe? It’s not as bad as the last one I had.” I can see that I have damned her with faint praise, so I back pedal, “nice handle, very smart.”
“Smart?” I remember that ‘smart’ is the wrong word but I can’t remember any suitable American ones. I look to the Muse for help but she and her bifocals are otherwise occupied. I do remember that word retrieval is usually curtailed when I lie. I return to my seat and make busy with my pen. I am now obliged to buy one, as punishment for being a traitor.
We come to the mysterious part of the demonstration. A magic trick with cups. Most Americans use cups and spoons as a means of measuring ingredients, although they simultaneously align themselves with the Imperial group. The metric system is considered to be the work of the devil. Cups are purported to be part of an exact science. It is about as exact as measuring something with a piece of elastic. I await education.
Wait a minute! That’s not a cup, it’s more of a…....speculum! What does the woman have in mind? I cross one leg delicately, but swiftly over the other and adopt a knowledgeable, yet hopefully innocent, countenance. I gather there is a dire need for careful adoption of certain rules, double clicks to avoid leakage of liquids, all frightfully complicated. If I hear ‘dish washer safe’ again, I swear I’ll wash my hands of the whole repetitive confusing affair.
I fold my arms over my gurgling stomach as the clock ticks towards 10 o’clock. She beams at my plumbing, “not long now!” I decide that I will die of malnutrition tomorrow rather than tonight. With that promise in mind, I nip off to the loo to remove my retainer in private. Whilst there, I resist the temptation to nibble the oatmeal soap or sip the Strawberry and Cranberry liquid version.
I plop back in my chair as the first wafts of cookery fumes flood the room. I can hardly wait for a gramme of food, or a dram of Whisky come to think of it. I remember that all Californian homes are dry when it comes to alcohol, and in any case I’m driving.
I listen to the magical properties of Stoneware and ignore the pictures in my head of several pounds of clay in the garage, patiently waiting for my attention. We reach the final demonstration. The salsa to compliment. She holds up half a peeled onion in one hand and a nit comb in the other, similar to those old fashioned perm combs. It is the largest nit comb I have ever seen, large enough to dislodge small rodents.
“So ladies, you’re troubles are over.” I suspect that they are just about to begin. Anyone in need of nit comb of that magnitude in the kitchen, shouldn’t be granted houseroom. The prongs are lethal, at least 3 inches long. Heaven help the poor child to be de-loused with such an instrument! She takes a step forward, “I know some of my ladies swear by this. Just the thing we’ve all been looking for!”
Without further ado, she stabs the onion to the board with the prongs, merciless. Instead of combing the onion, she slices it, with a knife.
My social "outcastdom" is clearly more than justified.