Friday, 23 November 2012

An Auntie's Auntie

Imagine you are a heavily overweight, wrinkled old Englishwoman who smokes, dyes her hair jet black and simply can't walk a mile. You've never married, perhaps never had a boyfriend, and your non-drinking alcoholic friend thinks you are a drinking alcoholic who just hasn't admitted it yet. You break into song whenever you feel like it, you lace your conversation with references to God and the saints, the time you met the Prince of Wales you called him "Your Majesty," and you wonder if people really enjoy having sex because to you it sounds so messy. You live for food and cooking and love to joke about vegetarians.

And hundreds of thousands of people across the world adore you, because you are (the late) Jennifer Paterson, the elder of the Two Fat Ladies.

Yesterday I was feeling rather down, and needed the presence of a funny, aunt-ish person who takes nothing seriously except God, love and food. And so I got Jennifer Paterson's Seasonal Receipts out of the kitchen and took it to bed with me. And there was her soothing written voice introducing a recipe (or "receipt") for "Autumn braised leg of lamb" thusly:

'I shall entice them to eat me speedily.' The writer of these words was St Ignatius of Antioch who had been condemned to death for his faith and was about to be thrown into the arena with the wild beasts. 'I pray they will be prompt with me,' he continued--let's hope they were. It is his feast day on 17 October; on the 18th, St. Luke's, patron saint of artists; and the 19 is the day of St Jean de Brebeuf and Companions who were the first Jesuit missionaries to Canada and North America. Their area was from Nova Scotia to Maryland, but they were captured and vilely tortured to death by the Red Indians who didn't care for their interference--this was in 1642-49. Their death occurred in Auriesville, New York. What a tale. Let us therefore go to the antipodes for some refreshment [...].

This book, by the way, was not published by a "Catholic publisher" but by Headline. And Jennifer (as she is locally known) became world-famous through the auspices of the BBC, not exactly the most Catholic-friendly organization in the UK, and so it was on the BBC that anyone could hear Jennifer suggest to fellow Fat Lady (and Catholic) Clarissa Dickson-Wright that they pray to St. Peter before embarking on a fishing expedition.

I think the secret to Jennifer's success as a media figure (which she may have been of two minds about) was that she was simultaneously a kind decent person and someone who didn't really care what anyone but God thought. She certainly betrays no embarrassment about being a Catholic--a traditionally-minded Catholic who went to Mass at the London Oratory--let alone any of the the-government-out-to-get-us Catholic paranoia indulged in so frequently by yours truly. And she was as likely to burst into a verse of "The Road to Mandalay" as to enthusiastically second Dickson-Wright's suggestion that they toast the Almighty.

I should love to be like Jennifer Paterson--except for the smoking, obesity and virginity--and with luck I will become a lot like her--perhaps the "gypsy witch"* version. I hope so. It would be wonderful to think that people rescue themselves from the Slough of Despond years after my death just by watching me on youtube:

*A phrase used by one of our faithful eavesdroppers to describe my outfits at parties. It may also refer to my uncanny ability to read men's minds and the frequency with which young girls consult me about their love lives. But there, I'm afraid, the comparisons must end. I am mortally afraid of tarot cards, I cannot play the violin and very rarely does anyone cross my palm with silver. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind owning a donkey and an old-fashioned brightly coloured caravan. I wonder under what circumstances B.A. would let me have a donkey.


Jen D said...

She is adorable! Thanks for sharing! :)

n.panchancha said...

The best! And one of the only shows my dad will watch. Thanks for this.

Also making me particularly grateful for friends who remind me, in whatever way, of these two - people who are unabashedly, and delightfully, themselves.

Urszula said...

A very timely post for us Americans especially, combining food and a single woman :)

Strangely enough, I actually thought of writing to you a while ago and suggesting the Two Fat Ladies as models of happy singles. Perhaps not without fault, but still, truly and happily themselves. I watched the whole series a while ago when trying to recover from a horrible relationship, and found it extremely comforting and inspiring to see these women enjoying themselves traveling the country, and making meals for everyone from boy scouts to Westminster clergymen. Thanks for this piece!

Jam said...

"simultaneously a kind decent person and someone who didn't really care what anyone but God thought" - this is a good way to sum up many good and holy people, I think.

Thank you for sharing, I hadn't heard of this lady and I always like - well, "role model" is maybe too strong - but to hear about admirable people.

Jackie said...

Oooh, I loved this show on PBS! What a lovely individual to read about-- and I loved the YouTube clip show, too.

Hope you are feeling better today, Seraphic! :)

Lena said...

I think it's cool she rides a motorcycle. These ladies look like they are having fun. Great.