Northern Ireland’s answer to Martha Stewart

Not that long ago Kate Winslet fell foul of the world’s press when she made a bit of a fool herself by – to use the Norn Irish vernacular – gurning her lamps out at the Golden Globe film awards in a swanky Los Angeles hotel. After winning a much sought after gong, she proceeded to blub, puff and gush her way through an acceptance speech in which she thanked everyone from each of her fellow nominated stars to her husband to quite probably her childhood pets. Of course, it wasn’t the first time this has happened at such a ceremony – in the past Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and countless others have all broken down onstage when given golden statuettes. Their largely unintelligible babbling about life-affirming roles was only partly obscured by their sniffling and wailing.

Frankly, I thought it was embarrassing. It’s just not seemly to lose yourself in a flood of tears in public.

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That said, this morning I found myself coming equally close to losing my self-control. I’ll get to that in a minute, but you should first know that as I write to you I am sitting in a bustling Starbucks on fifth avenue, New York. I’m partly here for work purposes, and partly because I needed a holiday. And by “needed” I mean that if I was coming close to clonking myself in the head with my own wok. I have discovered that there are only so many two hour sleeps and seventy hour weeks you can take before you go little crazy.

So, in a coupledsc00116 of days I’ll be jumping in my car, loosening my collar, turning the radio up loud, and embarking on a slow, relaxing drive. It’s been a long time coming, and I intend to make the most of it. I would tell you that I will not think one jot about work for a week or so, but you should know by now that I don’t have an off switch. I’m sure that all the while – or most of it at least – my thoughts will be consumed with recipes and book jackets and photographs and websites and blogs like this one.

But at least I’ll have a change of scenery.

 So, back to the blubbing and such. You might have heard me mention a lady called “Mrs Moneypenny”. She writes a weekly column for the Financial Times, and is as smart and sassy as they come. I’ve always enjoyed her writing, which is by turns funny and insightful and, as they say, on the button. A lot of articles on food can be as dull as ditchwater, but her copy definitely does not fall into that particularly dry and uninteresting bracket.

So it came as something of a surprise when I was asked to do one of my Aga demonstrations in Mrs Moneypenny’s own home. I was flattered of course. But this was slightly different. I remember a friend once told me that you should never meet your heroes as you will always end up disappointed. What if she wasn’t as nice as she seemed in print? Or rather, what if I had an off day (they do happen, you know), spilt vanilla custard on her kitchen-top or dropped a plate, and she wrote about the sorry debacle the week after?

 Well, as chance would have it, Mrs Moneypenny did write about me. It’s a strange thing to see your own name in print. No matter what anybody says, it’s not something that loses either its charm or its ability to unnerve. It feels like a brand new jumper – it’s cosy and comfortable gives you a warm glow, but occasionally the label jags the nape of your neck.

 The same friend who made the heroes remark is a teacher. He told me about an internet forum where pupils can log on and leave comments about their teachers. Some of their judgements are kind and most are spelt incorrectly, but a handful of them are pretty cruel and unmerciful. My friend told me that his name features on this site, and divulged some of the verdicts. Cloaked under a veil of secrecy, these kids went for the jugular with all the subtlety and grace of a hungry dog.

What if that was the fate that awaited me? What if I received such a mauling?

Well, I guess I am so reluctant to get to the point because I can’t quite believe what I read this afternoon. Not because the prognosis was bad. But because it was good. Very good. Mrs Moneypenny was – and here’s where the blubbing comes in to play – incredibly gracious in her description of an afternoon with yours truly. Not only did she namedrop both mix. and dinner., which she most certainly did not have to do, but she also complimented my food and at one point described me as “Northern Ireland’s answer to Martha Stewart”. She did give away my age, but you can’t have everything, dahling.

To look at this cynically, I could say that money good or bad couldn’t buy you this kind of PR. But I don’t feel cynical right now. I feel delighted. Overjoyed. Jubilant. To paraphrase the words of ‘New York, New York’, the city in which I currently abide, I feel like king of the hill, top of the heap.

Thankyou, Mrs Moneypenny.

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