Jamie Oliver on TV
Image: Tina Tiller

On cooking shows and cursing

Over the last few months, Linda Burgess has cheered herself up by watching food television. And saying fuck.

For fuck’s SAKE! I say as my husband grates the broccoli. And I think, when did fuck become tame like – well, like for god’s, or even for goodness, sake? I listen to so many podcasts, ours, American, English, and they all use it liberally. Did it slide into the formal lexicon when a princess no less – well, Meghan – drove off in an open carriage, past millions of cheering people and into the park? Thinking it was just the two of them, them and the plumed prancing horses, that the drone overhead was nothing, she turned to her new husband and said – mouthed – quite clearly, fuuuuckkk!!

She did. She did so. We replayed it several times and my daughter Gemma is an audiologist and can read lips.

So, if not the Queen’s English, the Queen’s granddaughter-in-law’s English. Anyway, is there anyone it still offends? I’m far more offended by the vapid euphemisms – fudge, freakin’, flippin’, far out, f***; jeepers creepers, Jiminy Cricket; sugar, oh, shoot. Excuse my fucking French.

Fuck’s a good word, not only describing a generally good thing, but also with a compact, guttural sound. It does the trick. This time, standing in my kitchen with the radio on, I’m saying it because a bunch of smug fuckwits (another good word, two short contrasting syllables – down UP) have gathered in Auckland to whine in a solipsistic pig ignorant fashion about wearing masks and not being allowed to do what they damn well please. I want to slap them. Stamp on their feet. Rip their mad banners into rags.

I try to calm myself, this ire cannot be good for me. Over the last months I’ve cheered myself up by watching cooking programmes. Not competitions. I don’t want tension, not of any sort. My fixation with watching vicars’ wives, gay male debt collectors and sweet-faced girls in hijab making perfect choux pastry in a huge tent bursting with Kitchen Aid mixers and Smeg fridges has somehow waned. The British have spent the last few years proving they don’t know where to put a tick, and are in the hands of entitled prats incapable of making a sane decision. It’s funny how this has stopped me romanticising the place. But exceptions can be made and somehow Jamie is still hanging on in there, calmly cooking on as if it’s the Luftwaffe not the virus that’s crossing the channel.

I talk about television with Jesse Mulligan once a month and when I tell him that I’m watching Jamie, I can hear through my Wellington headphones that in Auckland he’s wrinkling his nose and pursing his lips. Hmmm, he says, ah… haven’t you had enough of him? I refrain from telling him that Jamie reminds me of him. Sort of sweet. I say, I was over him, but during lockdown when he did keep calm and cook on, I started feeling quite, well, motherly towards him.

Like all successful entrepreneurs who have the chip of ice in their hearts that he must have, Jamie knows that pandemic is really just another word for opportunity. He doesn’t have to go into a studio, into one of those lovely mock kitchens that Nigella specialises in, or hire a film crew. He can self-isolate and save megabucks. He’s got his wife – a slightly older, equally tired but less smiley version of Kate Middleton – on her phone’s camera. She’s stopped making beds and home-schooling the kids to film him roasting a chicken for a family lunch. There’s also one of his numerous kids – who all have the sort of names normally attached to cavoodles and schnauzers – outside the window on their phone. Dual angles!  And into the kitchen they go. It’s kitchen porn for me, and because since Enid Blyton and Fay Weldon, Joanna Trollope and Terence Conran, I’ve always been such an anglophile and I’m so influenced, his kitchen looks like my own. Only better.

He can swear if he likes and assuming Jools or one of his kids does the cut’n’paste, no one will edit it out. He’s not a Gordon Ramsay; he swears about, not at. He can safely say, oh fuck, this fucking frittata’s fucking fucked. Jesus, Jools, turn off your fucking phone for a fucking minute, throw this in the fucking bin and give us another fucking one of our fucking hundreds of fucking pans.

His kids, and there are dozens of them, the ones that haven’t been dragged out of bed to film, come obediently into the kitchen. They have tired but compliant eyes. Woof WOOF. Midwich cuckoos. They sit down and not one of them says, Chicken! You know I don’t eat meat! Waaah!!!

And now we are making it. We’re making something Jamie made. Our offspring have both buggered off with their own partners, their own kids, their own Le Creuset, so now there’s hardly anyone left to cook for. But we, actually I, still do, from scratch, most days, and this day we’re going to make Jamie’s dumplings. The ones filled with pumpkin and broccoli. Robert’s not cooked very often, because I like doing it too much and am therefore a know-it-all control freak, who believes in intuition, who knows if you don’t have this you use that. But I’ve sort of had enough of it, and at the same time I’m vaguely aware that should the virus get me, Robert’s going to need to learn some basic cooking skills. More than porridge, omelet, and cheese on toast. So this time I’m letting him join in. He’s infuriating, peering at the recipe on the laptop’s screen and following it to the letter. He doesn’t even know that if a recipe has roasted pumpkin and grated broccoli as ingredients, the first thing you have to do is turn on the fucking oven and put the pumpkin in to roast.

On the radio it’s Checkpoint and Lisa Owen is talking to someone who thinks people who tell them what to do should pull their heads in, and does anyone actually know anyone who’s died of the virus and what about the economy and in my – whoops, our – kitchen Robert is carefully grating the broccoli as if neatness matters and even though he’s got the wonton wrappers draped so judiciously on a plate, he still hasn’t turned on the oven for the pumpkin. So, For fuck’s SAKE! I say. To Robert, to the radio, to the world in general. To myself, really.



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