The £10,000 Question


Posted by in November's Magazine

I should be baking. Or producing pies. Certainly creating some kind of party food involving Swiss chard – which has been my only successful crop this year, making me something of an expert on how to use it up. Chard Samosas were a treat. Chard pakora too was delicious, even if they looked like I had finally gone completely mental and made rhubarb pakora. To hell with it, I think my next challenge is going to be a huge chard mille-feuille. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Bake Off.

There is going to be a party you see. I am in denial about it because it’s making me feel old. My lovely husband is going to be forty, he doesn’t look it of course, he is one of those people who has never looked his age and I’ve often wondered how long it will be before I am mistaken for his mother.
So, I need to get cooking for his party, and I need to get him a present. I wrote to the good people at Ceramic Experience to ask if I could get a plaster cast of my boobs done but apparently it costs two hundred and fifty quid and they don’t do it much because it frightens the kids. So I’ll just get him some pickles. He likes pickles. Other than my boobs, they are his favourite thing.

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Or maybe a New Jumper – he always wears the same jumper and His Current Jumper has holes in it after four years of faithful service. Aftershave is out, he hasn’t used the stuff I got him last year. Not massively materialistic, you see, my husband. Pretty radically not so in fact, in a way that is more genuine than I can ever lay claim to. I remember when we were engaged I made a big deal of not having a wedding gift list. “I am an anti-capitalist revolutionary for f**** sake,” I proudly declared, “I can’t go compiling a list of my favourite items of Emma Bridgewater crockery in John Lewis.”

Also, my in-laws had (remarkably generously) said they were going to give us a whopping ten thousand pounds as a wedding present. You can purchase an awful lot of spotty teapots – or bowls for pasta that say PASTA on them – for that kind of money. So we had a World Vision gift list, where you could buy us the likes of a few chickens, a set of water taps or a mosquito net for someone in a ‘developing country’.

This was very well received by an awful lot of our friends and, in fairness, some of my in-law’s posh mates, but emphatically not by some others. “They say that they already donate to charities,” a friend told me. “Well obviously not enough, else they wouldn’t still be bloody minted,” I replied. I was a bit more hardline back then.

By their standards, our stance was viewed as a deeply subversive act. Not having matching brandy glasses or a set of steak knives was akin to embracing ‘third-world living’ and they didn’t want to be reminded of people who had even less. So, of course, the in-laws asked the million dollar or, more aptly, ten-thousand-pound question. “If we give you ten thousand pounds are you going to give it to people in Africa?” My husband told them that he felt if they were going to give us money then it had to be a gift to do with what we wanted.

They never gave us the money. At the time, in what was most emphatically not the revolution’s finest hour, I pleaded with husband to phone them back and say “No, of course we will not give your money to brown people, just let us have it!” He refused and I am eternally grateful he did, because he is a man of extraordinary integrity and purity of heart, with a quietly steely spine. The whole thing represented a turning point for me –it made me want to be a bit more like him, to commit to what became our way of life and the values we hold dear.

I haven’t always remained focused on that commitment but I really do want to be. Integrity and honesty are contagious. They open up the spaces that allow good things to happen. Truth telling can move exceeding slow, like the slow fermentation of soda bread, but it is always catalytic in some way, whether more or less visible. I try to tell the truth with my words but my husband does it with his actions. This is probably part of why he is widely understood to be one of the nicest men in Leith and also why, returning to where we started, I have quite so much baking to get back to.

Happy Birthday, lovely husband, It’s an honour to be icing your cake (are you slipping a double entendre in here Sally? – Ed), frying your pakora, and raising your lovely children. You are an abiding reminder, to all who need reminding, that boobs and pickles are all we require.

Twitter: @fraser_sally

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