Tuesday, 8 April 2008


“Kawasaki”, said my son, nodding his head awkwardly.
“Konichiwa you idiot” said his 12 year old sister in a loud stage whisper.
“You look different to me”, added the six year old, peering at my four Japanese house guests suspiciously. “Your eyes are s...”
“So beautiful”, I added quickly, ushering them into my house. I couldn’t believe it, my guests had only just crossed my threshold and already I had a Prince Phillip situation on my hands.
I looked at Hubby and he shrugged his shoulders, which suggested, ‘this is going to be harder than we thought and I’m lucky that I’m out of it’.
True to form, no sooner had I answered a plea to host Japanese visitors on a week’s trip to Cornwall, than Hubby informed me he that it clashed with his ‘university week’ and apart from welcoming them to his house, Hubby would be absent.
Well, to all those people who run a B&B and evening meal service, I salute you. I am absolutely cream crackered. I hadn’t realised that cooking for a few more people and, more pertinently, being consistently polite would be such a strain on my more defeated, persona. Whereas I normally crash and burn once the youngest children are in bed, feet up on the sofa, large glass of wine in hand, I have found myself instead preparing dinner for the following night and laying the table for breakfast.
It’s cost me a fortune. How could I possibly say when we went out for lunch, “This is where we go Dutch”? I have also fed them well. It seemed welcoming to provide tea and stickies when they returned from their days out laden with gifts for me. Consequently I consulted Nigella’s bloody tome of domesticity and thought, I know, I’ll make some brownies, everybody loves those. It wasn’t until I had cracked the six eggs and added a whole tablespoon full of vanilla extract that I realised I needed four bars of ultra expensive 70% solid dark chocolate. At a pound a bar, these brownies were singularly the most expensive thing I’d ever cooked. And then, so scared to overcook them as Nigella ominously warns is so simple to do, I bloody well undercooked them and had about six quid’s worth of chocolate goo wallowing on a sheet of baking paper.
All was not lost however and after a little thought, I cut away the cooked brownie, reheated the goo and served it like some sort of fudge with ice-cream and fresh raspberries. It went down a storm.
It shouldn’t be surprising how much more washing up is generated by adding another four people to an already large family, but by Jove, every day has been like preparing a Christmas dinner. So many plates, glasses, mugs, side plates, cereal bowls, cutlery, saucepans, utensils and baking trays are used for every meal not to mention my Cif kitchen spray. My Marigolds torn, my hands are like those of a scullery maid.
Of course when I haven’t been in the kitchen, I am conversing. It has been great fun to try and understand and be understood. The two ten year old Japanese boys have been too shy to attempt their conversational English and the mother of one of the boys’ English is limited, so it has been down to the sterling effort of the father of the other boy and me to make illuminating and interesting chat. We have been lucky to have laughed many times because we understand the other’s effort in putting across a point and only once have I wished the floor to swallow me up. The mother and the two boys had retired; my children were all in bed, leaving me and Mr Akito to enjoy a tête-à-tête. They had been to Plymouth that day.
“What did you think of it?”, I asked.
“Mm”, he searched for the right words, “It is very modern”.
“Well, you see it was flattened during World War Two”. Bugger. Change the subject immediately.
“And Japan? You have many old building?”, I enquired.
“Some. Others also obliterated”. Oh Jesus, Mary, Holy Saint Joseph and all the saints as my Irish friend would say in times of crisis.
“Do you take many holidays?” I changed tack and so a calamitous, cultural exchange of words was avoided as he waxed lyrical about his job as an anaesthiologist where his holidays are few as he works until 10pm with only a fortnight off a year.
The following day however was met with further discomfort when I had to gently chastise one of the boys for squeezing one of my cats like a tube of toothpaste, especially given that only hours later, when I was up to my elbows in mashed potato and onion gravy, said cat gave birth to three kittens at the bottom of my wardrobe.
“Mu-um!”, squealed the 12 year old urgently, “Come quick!” I put down the potato ricer and ran upstairs, worried that perhaps we had a flood. My toilets are at best temperamental and my Japanese nowhere near good enough to explain that feminine hygiene products were not to be flushed down them.
I was as surprised as the local tom-cat will be, on finding my poor cat, atop a nest of my beige skirt and white shirt, serenely nursing three tiny mewling little kits surrounded by blood and embryonic sacs.
“Oh Jeepers”, was all I could muster before returning downstairs to address the baked sausages, spuds and gravy. Dinner was a massive hit, “Ah sausage and mash! Very English!”. They smiled and beamed and nodded and got out their cameras to take pictures of my snorkers. I was thrilled. Few people have felt it necessary to photograph my cooking but then they have photographed everything. I hate to reinforce cultural stereo-types but perhaps some are earned much like English chavs and football hooligans. Of course I cannot speak for the Welsh and sheep...


Kit said...

A whole week of cooking proper meals and being polite?! No wonder you're knackered! I can't put together a sentence after the kids are finally in bed either - I usually leave the conversation with guests to my husband, who is a Leo from a chatty family and is never lost for words.

I'm sure you've done wonders for cultural relations despite mentioning the war! I'll have to remember the bangers and mash one for impressing foreigners - at least my kids love it too and it's easy to cook!

Alice Band said...

Hi Kit. It was the being polite that was the hardest work - what does that say about me?!

Yolanda Elvira said...

cream crackered?? i love it! not as much as horticulture, though =)


enidd said...

whew, poor you alice. enidd is all curious about the sons and their different parentage - were mr and mrs japanese person having a dirty week in plymouth? (and enidd is not referring to cleaning up after the cat had kittens.)

thefoodsnob said...

LOL! Sounds tiring, to say the least.
(We say Southerners and sheep here, btw!)


Alice Band said...

enidd - no not related and not as far as I could see up to anything either! It was a very interesting week..

Trudy said...

Why is it that the pets and/or children insist upon defiling the matriarchial belongings at any opportunity? Is there some sort of pheromone given that says "Destroy my belongings in the most disgusting manner"......I hate to laugh at your expense, but I have so been there, and yes, I am laughing out loud here at work!!!

Jen M. said...

*Snort* Prince Phillip situation...

What a totally engrossing story that was.

Alice Band said...

Trudy - The kittens are still in my wardrobe. I am desperate to wash a few items!

Jen M - Thanks for calling by.

Mary Alice said...

Cooking full meals AND being a great conversationalist AND keeping things tidy for the entire week? Ugggghhh....I think I would have retired to the closet and had kittens myself!

Sally Lomax said...

Brilliant post Alice!!
Sorry for the long..... absence. I alughed and laughed at the faux pas.....

How's the boiler?


Mopsa said...

Snorkers? SNORKERS???? That's a first. And I thought lambing was exhausting.