THE SMILE of betrayal. An old (“long-standing” might be kinder) friend holds aloft a jar of home-made strawberry jam – upside-down, to prove it doesn’t just look good but that it has set to perfection. Sad to relate, this is indeed the face of a traitor. For this is my good friend, Smathy, who I worked with in the Tyne Tees TV newsroom 30 years ago and with whom I formed an instant bond when she sidled up to me at the tea station on day 2: “Betsy, promise me one thing. Please, never, ever, ask if we can swap recipes.” Everybody else – at least every other female – was at it: reporters, PAs, researchers, editors, women you thought would be flying the feminist flag for the sisterhood. Day in, day out, cuttings from magazines would flit across the news desk with ums and ahs of admiration and anticipation. But we were hard-bitten journalists and had no time for such nonsense. More to the point, we couldn’t cook. And – surprisingly for those times – had husbands who did. In self-defence, mostly. We were perversely proud of our non-achievement in the culinary department.
Then she came to stay for the weekend recently and caught me off-guard with her jar of perfect preserve. She was so thrilled (next time it’ll be honey: she’s just started bee-keeping). Not to be outdone, I produced (before her very eyes) the perfect orange panna cotta, courtesy of the WeightWatchers recipe book and consequently tasting of nothing very much. But at least it looked exactly like the picture in the book.
“Thanks for a lovely weekend,” says husband Chris as they leave. “The blancmange was particularly delicious” he adds with a cruel smile. Now that’s loyalty. . . .