Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Onion soup


The night before last, H.I. and me took an old friend - a 90+ year old friend - out for dinner at a half-decent restaurant, partly because we wanted to, and partly to repay an act of kindness she had shown a few months before.

She had been having problems communicating with the administrators of her sheltered housing accommodation, and had been left without heating for most of last winter, which - thankfully - was an extremely mild one.

I shouted at a few people down a phone, and the problem was eventually sorted out. M was so grateful that she handed us £100, though she can ill afford this sort of gesture. She refused to take it back, so we decided to spend it on her.

Because of some unspeakable behaviour by her despicable husband, none of her many children have spoken to her for many years, and have left her to grow old and die without the support that any ordinary family would give to a parent, and M thinks that this was the final act of her ex - turning her own children against her to deflect attention away from his foul acts. The less said about this, the better now, as I don't think the situation will ever be remedied.

M was one of those people who really enjoyed herself during the war, when she was stationed in the Cotswolds to keep a weather-eye out for Bomber Command by collating all the reports from the other stations across the West Country which were used to decide on the suitability of any particular night for  raids. She is also one of those women who - when the war ended - found herself back in 'housewife' status after the surviving men came home to take their rightful places back in civilian life, which obviously meant all the best or most responsible jobs.

She ordered onion soup to start, and when the little bowl arrived, it had a coating of cheese on the top which had melted completely in the heat. Her arthritic hands would not allow her to twirl the cheese around a fork as you would spaghetti, so she continued with a spoon, as if it were a liquid.

I was transfixed by the sight of a multitude of yellow strands reaching the two feet or so between her mouth and the bowl and - not having ordered a starter myself - I had plenty of time to watch, as the strands stayed there for the whole time it took to eat the cheese layer and get at the actual soup.

After she had got through the cheese, I looked up at H.I. and we exchanged glances - hers having a look of profound empathy and compassion, and mine more like the sort of expression you might pull having just watched the scene in the movie when the Alien finally gets its jaws on one of the crew-members.

I know that H.I. had just washed her hair, and I know that she was wearing a very pretty and glittery Armani jacket which sparkled in the soft candlelight, but somehow she looked even more glamorous than ever.

It took me a while to realise that staring at M and the onion soup for an unbroken five minutes had produced a similar effect as staring at a patch of red colour for the same period of time, then looking at a white wall to see the same shape in complimentary green.

This did not detract from my appreciation of the charm of both of them, though. We had a very nice evening.

26 comments:

  1. Oh Tom ….. what lovely words and how M must have loved her evening out with you both { despite the melted cheese }… the way you spoke about H.I was so romantic and loving….. it's hard to believe that it's the same man who is often telling everyone to fuck off !!!!!!! haha. XXXX

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    1. We had fun, but then again, we usually do!

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  2. I know you have a kind heart, Tom, but that would not console me if every arthritis gets into my hands (never, hopefully, I knock on wood). I know for sure I would suffer more from someone looking at my efforts than from the vexation of not being able to eat this soup properly. No judgement of you, just a (weak) trait of mine.

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    1. M showed no self consciousness at all, believe me.

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  3. It is a bit like eating spaghetti in company - I usually end up with a trail of it from mouth to dish - and then suck it in.
    Same thing would have happened with that cheese, but then I am not so very far off ninety myself. I am sure she didn't notice - and if she did she wouldn't have cared.

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    1. She didn't, and I hope I never would either.

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  4. I wish I was glamorous. noodle soups is a problem.

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    1. Get someone on the other end of the strand and share the glamour.

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  5. I loved this post, Tom.....I felt like I was right there with you, H.I. and M. Oh how I wish I could write as well as you!

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    1. That's a nice thing to say, Sherry, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  6. My Mum got like that, I used to have her round for a full roast diner. Latterly we treated her like a just weaned child. Popped minced beef or chicken underneath slices she found it and ate it. When we went out with her we only went to one pub. Mal the landlady was taught by my mum and she always greeted her by saying Mrs Ward how lovely to see you. My mother always replied. I thought you were worth more than being a waitress Mariline and haven't you put weight on.
    It's a skilled job running a good pub eatery.

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  7. How lovely to describe HI's glamour with no hint of it's being for affect. You are a rare one Mr T. I'm seething at the behaviour of M's family. What the hell did her husband say to have such an effect?

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    1. I could not talk about it, but it was a terrible thing with no words involved.

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  8. What a delightful post, in so many ways. M is very lucky to have you and HI looking out for her. Can I be really cheeky and correct your grammar? Your first sentence should be "HI and I"…I think the rule is that if you take out the other name..ie " HI"in this case, it should make sense. Please don't shout at me, I am trying to help and love your posts… always varied and interesting! X

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    1. Frances, I agree with what you said and smiled when you corrected Tom. I too would rather be corrected than to continue with a mispronunciation, etc. I heard a billionaire the other night telling the story of Persephone and he kept on over and over calling her Per see Phone (like in telephone).

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    2. 'H.I. and I' would be lapsing into Rastafarianism, wouldn't it? Yes it would, and it would also sound silly and pretentious. (help me Sarah Toa)

      I am constantly being corrected for deliberately using 'me', instead of the more genteel-sounding 'I', but I think that - in this case - I am sticking to my guns.

      It has taken me years to be confident enough not to use I when I mean me.

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    3. And of course now I'm bursting with curiosity: Milk or tea first????? Hahahaha.

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    4. Milk, unless you want to be discovered as a German spy by a little old lady in a rural tea shop.

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    5. Science - and not only etiquette - is with you (big article about what to pour first).

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    6. I know, Britta, but I love the true story of the German spy who was trained for years in Germany, given a fake identity and history and then parachuted into the West Country in a full set of English tweed clothes.

      He hid his parachute, walked into a village and into the pub.

      The first thing he ever said in his impeccable English accent was, "I would like a coffee, please."

      They had not told him that coffee was never sold in English pubs in the 1940s, and he was immediately arrested.

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  9. Your most human post to date
    Thank you tom

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  10. I loved this. I used to have a sparkly jacket, once. Maybe I will buy myself another one.

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    1. Get yourself an old lady and a bowl of French Onion Soup as well - it will work wonders.

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  11. Lovely post, even though it should be 'I' rather than 'me', as you can substitute the word 'we' and have it be correct. 'We' is nominative case, so if you were to define the people making up 'we', in this case you and H.I., then the sentence would read, 'H.I. and I'.

    Sad that her kids believe the husband and are not thinking for themselves.

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