I’ve had a busy couple of weeks at work and little chance to browse books online. I actually don’t much enjoy finding books via the internet and the thought of spending still more time staring at a screen, at the end of the day, appeals even less at the moment. So instead I turned to the massive pile of books that sits at the side of my bed, the majority of which were impulse buys or gifts. I think it must have been about 12 months, at least, since I bought Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe and, as I reviewed both the description and cover, I was a little mystified as to what had drawn me to it. Still, following on from the Secret History, it felt like it would be a quick, light read, not too demanding of my time or energy, which in that moment felt a little depleted.
It turns out that I was right. Man at the Helm is actually a very sweet story about a little girl in 1970’s England coming to terms with her parents divorce. When Lizzy’s mother discovers that her husband has been having an affair, Lizzy, her mother, her sister and Little Jack are forced to move into a new home in a village they don’t know. Although the house is lovely, they are not welcomed by the local residents and Lizzy and her sister find themselves worried about how their mother will cope without a ‘man at the helm’. The two of them work together, aged 9 and 10, to create ‘The Man List’ of potential suitors to take over their father’s role. Over the next few years men come and go and Lizzy tells it all in the voice of a rather funny pre-teen trying to understand a very adult world.
Being English, so much of this book resonated with me, but never more so than when the sisters use the My Fun To Cook Book, by Ursula Sedgwick, to create a Quiche Lorraine, a classic dish of all 1970’s British households. I simply cannot tell you how many hours, as a child, I spent engaged in cooking the recipes contained in this same book. I would imagine that the ‘70s was probably a low point for children’s cookery books, so this particular volume, which had illustrations of a dog and cat cooking every recipe was a masterpiece! Yes, I know it sounds weird as I write it, but goodness, it’s probably at the heart of all my cooking experiences since! In fact so much did I love it that, when we decided on the books to bring to California, this made the cut! In fact, it now sits on my cookbook shelf in my kitchen in California, a precious memory of having grown up on the other side of the world. (Yes, quite the digression, but that’s surely the joy of having your own blog!)
Trips down memory lane, nostalgia and recipes aside, I struggle to think of who I would recommend this book to. Maybe some friends who, like me, grew up in this era in the UK. I’d actually be fascinated to have some American friends read it, to see if it worked for them, or if it was too niche. I enjoyed it, found it to be comforting, charming and demanded very little of me when I had very little to give.
I’m heading off to make some Coconut Ice. I don’t think I need to tell you where I found the recipe!