Wednesday 14 February 2024

Avril by Judith Skilleter, coffee


Avril loves cooking but she loves recipe books much much more. She has so many of them that her bookcase is overflowing. The problem is that Avril enjoys cookery programmes and she inevitably buys the book that goes along with that particular series and it is perusing these books that gives Avril the most pleasure. Avril is a decent enough cook but she cooks very carefully so as not to make a mess on her precious cookbooks. Some books she uses more than others but in some books she returns to the same recipe time and time again. An example of a book that Avril uses a lot is Delia’s Cakes. Avril has the waistline of a keen baker; there is not much that Avril likes better than a new cake emerging from the oven. But an example of a recipe book used for one recipe only would be a Gino D’Acampo whose caramelised onion meatballs are a great favourite of Avril and her nieces and nephews.

Avril has no children, she has never married and it is some years since she had any relationship with a man let alone have a serious relationship. Her nieces and nephews say her relationships are with her cook books, the way she tenderly turns over the pages and runs her finger tips over the colour plates, the way her eyes open and moisten when she finds a particularly special recipe is worthy of any close relationship with a man or indeed a women. Cookery books are always her choice for her bedtime reading.

But Avril is neither lonely nor alone, she has close relationships with all her nieces and nephews and she tells them that had she had children of her own she hoped they would be exactly like them.  This love is reciprocated. – they adore Auntie Av.

Has she got cooking favourites – yes and no? It depends on circumstances, it depends on how she is feeling and it depends on the weather. There are days when the humour of Jamie Oliver cheers her up no end, there are days when her need for a nice piece of fish leads to her looking through her many books by Rick Stein and for normal days when she wants to jazz up something ordinary she will always look to The Hairy Bikers. She does have a great fondness for Raymond Blanc but his recipes are sometimes too fancy for what she needs. One day she will treat herself to a night at Le Manoir au Quatre Saisons. She doesn’t know yet but her nieces and nephews have booked her into Le Manoir for her next birthday.

Avril’s first cookbook was a BeRo book inherited from her mother. It was a thin paperback with a young girl on the front and back cover showing the world how to make cakes and biscuits. This book has been well used over the years; its cover has been reinforced and fixed back in place many times. But it gave Avril the solid baking grounding she needed – nothing too tricky and nothing needing too many ingredients.

 Avril went through a phase of enjoying Indian food and bought Madhur Jaffrey’s books. Nowadays her elderly digestion cannot take spicy food and it is with regret that her Indian recipe books have been put on the unreachable top shelf of her cookery library. Also up there with the Jaffreys are her books without colour illustrations. Avril likes to see what her cooking project will look like and she gets a thrill if her finished object is like the picture in the book. Avril reckons that her Chinese cookbooks will be the next selection relegated to the top shelf - too fiddley with too many ingredients that are not easy to get.

But to her total and absolute horror the beloved nieces and nephews bought her a swanky and complicated Air Fryer for her Christmas present. She was polite and said “Thank you very much – I will enjoy learning to use it and I look forward to making things in it that you all will enjoy. As ever you are all very lovely.” But when they all left she looked at this enormous square object taking up a lot of room on her kitchen surfaces and shook her head in dismay. “What on earth am I going to do with you?” she said to it. It was too heavy for her to lift or lug about so she would not be able to put it in a cupboard and forget about in between niece and nephew visits. Even if she could lift it there was no room in her kitchen cupboards for something of that size.

She pulled out the two drawers and wondered how these shoe box lookalikes could produce decent food. Yes she had seen cooks raving about them on TV but where was the very useful window where you could check how things were progressing? Surely if you pulled open the drawer too early everything would sink – especially Yorkshire puddings. And she thought with horror about the impact of sneaky and early looks would have on her cakes.

Avril went to bed in a very despondent frame of mind. As she climbed the stairs she shook her head and wondered how she could deal with the Dalek lookalike without upsetting her beloved relatives. The Air Fryer was not the first of well-meant but unwanted presents from the nephews and nieces. Ten years ago they bought her a top of the range micro wave oven.  It sat on her kitchen surface for two months until Avril realised it was only being used for warming milk and cooking frozen peas. It is now in the cupboard under the stairs next to the very fancy food mixer and food processor not unlike the one used by Nigella Lawson. It was a beautiful machine, all grey stainless steel, but Avril continues to use her thirty year old hand held mixer which is light weight, slots into a drawer and does not need close attention.  A George Forman grill was never used and it went off to the local hospice shop and the sandwich maker went to the tip because Avril got fed up with all the cleaning and scraping it needed after one use.

Avril enjoys good coffee and would like a coffee making machine. But she does not dare to suggest this to the nephews and nieces – they would buy her a top of the range, multi-purpose, many levered gadget – probably with an introduction to George Clooney as a bonus –but all she wants is a simple device that did not offer ten or more choices of coffee. Three would do – latte, decaffeinated espresso and Americano.

Next morning Avril got up as usual and went downstairs for her morning cup of tea. She was taken aback by the size of the Air Fryer on her kitchen surface. “It has grown overnight” she thought to herself “And it looks even more threatening and menacing sitting there in all its polished glory. This will just not do”.

But a plan was taking shape in her mind.

Next door had a twelve year old son who did occasional errands for Avril – she paid him of course. Next time she heard him in the garden she shouted over the fence “Max may I borrow you for a moment. Just check that it’s OK with your mum first though.”

She then heard Max’s mum calling back to her “Are you alright Avril – what can we do?”

“I need some lifting doing if that’s OK”.

“Max is on his way but don’t give him as much money as you did last time – he will only buy rubbish with it.”

“OK” lied Avril.

Max came in and was led to the cupboard under the stairs. “I need some rearranging Max” said Avril “and sorting for the tip.”

Max nodded.

Half an hour later the two suitcases filled with tablecloths and blankets were in the spare room ready to be sorted for either a charity shop or the tip. Avril’s set of bowling balls was next to the front door ready to be taken to the local bowls club - Avril hadn’t played for years. A box of videos was also at the front door ready for the tip. ”Why on earth do I still have these? The video player went years ago.” and a cassette recorder and two shoeboxes of cassettes joined the videos at the front door. All sorts came out of that cupboard, never to go back. Avril gave it a good sweep out before putting back the microwave, the food processer and mixer and she made sure that there was plenty of room for the Air Fryer which she and Max eased in. “ And there’s still room for next year’s present” said Avril to a bemused Max.

Max agreed, of course he did, he went home with a tenner.


About the author


Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with four grandchildren. Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

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