In 1982, the German and, frankly, slightly crazy, director Werner Herzog made a film called Fitzcarraldo. It tells the story of an Irishman named Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, who hopes to makes his fortune by collecting rubber in Peru (surely “mining” isn’t the correct word – insert joke about hitting rubber with pickaxes here).
Fitzgerald hatches a harebrained scheme to take a steamship to reach the area in which the rubber resides (again, my knowledge is fairly flimsy here – does rubber, like money, grow on trees?). The main problem is that there is a hulking mountain in the way, so Fitzgerald – Fitzcarraldo – as he is known to those who don’t quite speak his language – enlists the help of local natives to drag said ship over the top of the mountain and back down the other side. Clearly having learned nothing from the Grand Old Duke Of York, he pushes himself to the very brink of his sanity and… well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out.
For Herzog, the film’s plot was a metaphor for the creative process. The irony is that both him and his lead actor, Klaus Kinski, nearly drove themselves mad whilst making Fitzcarraldo. Labouring on a huge artistic undertaking in the Peruvian jungle will do that to you. Life imitated art, and vice versa.
But why am I blethering about cinema, you might ask. What has this got to do with Home Economics. Well, without meaning to sound like a drama queen, I have recently found myself relating to Fitzgerald – or Herzog, or Kinski, or whoever. I’m just back from Paris, and I’m already thumbs deep in pages and pages of copy for the final two books in my cookbook series. Both veg. and cake. are due for publication this coming September, so I am doing the final readthroughs of the typesets. Well, I say reading, but what this actually entails is a long and laborious process involving a ruler, endless patience and very sore eyes. When you are literally checking every full stop you do begin to feel as if you are dragging a steamship (or steamed pudding) up a very big hill. A mental one, but a very big hill nonetheless.
For example, I have been ensuring cake tin sizes are right for the volume of mixture, and looking at tolerances and the multiple variations that consumers could make in recipes at home. Each of these is a very elongated process in itself – in this regard, “finishing a book” isn’t signing your name and closing the cover.
In short, I’ve been recipe testing as if it was going out of fashion. Each of the recipes in each of my cookbooks is tested five times: for Aga, Rayburn, Gas, Electric and Electric fan cookers. Believe me, that’s a lot of testing.
But, after a grim and tedious long, I can catch my breath as I am ambling down the other side of the mountain, my own personal steamship behind me. A weight has indeed been lifted from my shoulders.
Incidentally, during a BBC interview, Werner Herzog was actually shot in the stomach from afar, presumably by somebody who didn’t like his work. Thankfully, this is yet to happen to me at a cookery demo.