I’m in Scotland for a few days seeing Mr S’s parents and all the other S’s. Mrs S senior is a splendid cook. I’ve done nothing but eat since we arrived, and all good Yiddishy cooking. Lunch was chopped fried fish and chopped liver and challah and I can already smell tonight’s chicken soup brewing. Mrs S’s chicken soup is a magical thing. It simmers for 7 hours or so, and is sieved, murmured over, cajoled, sieved again as the incantation is whispered. I’m really looking forward to a proper Friday night dinner with Shabbas candles and good, traditional Jewish shouting across the table.
Mrs S’s parents were called Jack and Sadie – and I’ve used their names for the main characters in ‘Mr R’. I tend to use family names in my writing. My sister-in-law, the dark and twisty J, often uses old family photos in her paintings, and I think my use of names comes from the same place. When I mention jewelery it’s often my grandmother’s, and the paintings are the ones by great-great-uncle Emile. Writer’s tend to start with a snippet of something true and then use this as a starting point to spin our tales; we’re like magpies that way, drawn to anything shiny that reeks of a story. In mine, I use lots of family things: names, paintings, bracelets and legends of great-uncle Otto, weave their way into my writing.
I think that’s why I like Friday nights so much. It’s not simply chicken soup, it’s chicken soup on a thousand dinner tables, stretching back and back from Glasgow to Frankfurt and Vienna and Moscow. There’s a rhythm to the cooking – we make soup like our mothers and grandmothers. There might be crises in the wider world, but tonight we shall sit around the supper table, light candles, spoon soup and bicker. I can’t wait.
Update: Mrs S senior, with the Pudding.