Whenever Harriet comes to see me it usually means that something’s wrong. We’ve been friends for more than thirty years and she’s as predictable as a wet English summer. When she’s with me I know that a few hours of my time will have to be put aside for a lengthy exposition of her latest emotional drama, and last Wednesday was no exception to that rule. The only surprising thing about it was her dogged insistence that a bowl of soup was the cause of all her troubles.
“Joolz …I was just passing and thought I’d drop in. How are you and what’s that lovely husband of yours up to these days?”
Before I could even utter a syllable she had made her way to the kitchen and was pulling a bottle of wine out of the fridge faster than a greyhound leaving a trap.
“I’m fine and John is too!” I said wearily, “So what’s up? Is Tom giving you aggro or something?”
Her eyes opened wide in astonishment, “Tom? Good grief no. What on earth makes you say that?” she laughed hesitantly after nervously gulping down a mouthful of white wine.
“Because you live 20 miles away from here and there’s no way you could’ve been just passing. And you never drink before mid-day. It’s not even a quarter to yet!”
The smile gradually evaporated from her face and before I knew it Harriet was sobbing hysterically over my kitchen table and talking in a blubbering, incoherent stream. Her husband Tom’s name was frequently mentioned in the same breath as the home made tomato soup she’d cooked for their supper the night before. I was more than just a little bit confused. Harriet can often surprise me with some of the things that come out of her mouth, but tomato soup was a first, “What’s soup got to do with this?” I said.
“Everything”, she wailed, “If I hadn’t made it he wouldn’t have left me!”
For once in my life I felt really helpless and could do nothing except put my arms around her shoulders and reassure her that he’d be back before she knew it.
“He won’t”, she sniffed, “He said I’d done it deliberately and that it would be my fault if he was crippled for life or if people kept away from him because of the smell!”
By now it was obvious that I was still none the wiser about the connection between a late night supper and her husband’s sudden exit, and it was only after some gentle persuasion that I finally got to the bottom of the mystery. Apparently Tom and tomatoes do not get on, to the extent that if he so much as sniffs or eats one, his knees supposedly swell up whilst his bowels erupt in terrific gales of flatulence.
“How could I have not remembered that?” she said pleadingly. “Of all the bloody stupid things to forget!”
A sympathetic “Oh dear” was the best I could offer in her hour of need. Tom and I never really got on that well but along with his mother, I was probably one of the few people who could actually tolerate him. The really amazing thing was that it took a bowl of soup to finally remove him from my friend’s life, even though he’d probably been planning to cut and run for quite some time and the meal was the excuse he’d needed.
Five and a half hours later Harriet was heading for home and looking a lot more cheerful than when she had first arrived. In the time we’d spent together it had slowly begun to dawn on her that she was now a free woman who owed her liberation to her soup. She offered to leave me a copy of the recipe but I declined.
“Well if you ever change your mind you know where I am,” she sighed wistfully.
“Thanks”, I said, “But I think I’ll be okay. John’s in excellent shape at the moment.”
We laughed and hugged affectionately. Afterwards I went back to the kitchen, opened the fridge and discovered some courgettes and a couple of rather sorry looking lemons on a shelf. As it’s beyond my ability to concoct a spur of the moment banquet, I flicked through a cookery book for inspiration. Lo and behold on page 17 was a recipe for courgette soup: unfortunately one of the ingredients was a pound of ripe tomatoes. Suddenly memories of the conversation with Harriet came flooding back, so in the end I decided to play it safe with an artery blocking supper of chicken in a basket.
* Names have been changed to protect the not so innocent!