Due to circumstances beyond our control we are unable to bring you your scheduled blog. Here instead is a short story I had kicking about on my PC which seemed very apt for February 14th…
They had met, as many couples do, at a mutual friend’s party. He had arrived with a group of his mates about half an hour after closing time, bringing a much needed burst of energy to the flagging celebration. Cindy thought he was gorgeous, and had sought out Kate, the party girl, for more information.
‘Oh that’s Andy – Andy Prince,’ Kate told her, ‘a friend of Steve’s. He’s ever so nice. I don’t really know him that well, but he’s got a bit of a reputation, I think – a right charmer.’
Cindy was intrigued, but kept her distance.
Later she felt him looking her way. She got that tingling sensation you sometimes get when you just know someone you want to be looking at you is looking at you. When she turned to check their eyes locked across the living room, and – BANG – it happened, just like that: love at first sight, in all its soppy, clichéd glory. Andy had clutched at his chest, miming being struck by (Cupid’s) arrows. Cindy had laughed, almost snorting her Bacardi Breezer through her nostrils. Cheeky sod!
Cheeky sod or not, Cindy’s heart had fluttered like a smitten schoolgirl’s as he made his way across the room towards her. She felt that tingle again as he stopped, took her hand and kissed it. Daft and dangerous, teasing and deliciously cocky.
Their first proper kiss, on the steel staircase outside of Kate’s flat, had been all the confirmation either of them had needed. They were meant to be together, it was written in the stars.
Kate had teased her the next morning. ‘Why Cindy Weller, you old slapper! You were all over him like a spray tan!’
Cindy had poked her tongue. ‘And I will be again tonight if he keeps his promise and phones me later.’
On their first date Andy took her to a wonderful little French restaurant in the older, village area of the town. She must have walked past it often, but Cindy had never noticed the place before. It was quaintly corny, with sawdust on the floor and bleached wood furniture, but the food was fantastic and the ambience perfect.
Chatting over their food Cindy found Andy attentive and considerate. She was sometimes a little shy, and many men, overcompensating, would take over and dominate the conversation. With Andy she found herself contributing on equal terms, which both surprised and delighted her. She told him all about her training at catering college and her dreams for the future; the Michelin stars she hoped to gain and the acclaim and recognition that would come with them. She heard about his work, which he described as boring but to her seemed fascinating and glamorous. He worked in publishing and promotion (which explained the gift of the gab!) and knew many celebrity writers, including some of the TV chefs she so admired.
It was only when they got to the dessert trolley that she realised how little Andy had actually eaten. He was a big bloke – a good six foot two – but had eaten no more than Cindy herself. She selected a lemon tart – one of her favourite things – from the trolley, but could not persuade Andy to try anything.
‘I can’t do carbs,’ he explained, ‘I’ve a lousy metabolism. I was a right butterball as a kid, and it took me years of hard work to get it off.’
‘Don’t be daft – there’s nothing of you!’ She offered him the end of her fork, primed with a sliver of delicate pastry and bittersweet filling.
‘No. Honestly,’ said Andy.
Cindy waggled the fork again, pouting, until Andy reluctantly leaned forward and took it into his mouth. The phrase ‘his eyes lit up’ is usually an exaggeration, but clichés are clichés for a reason, and in this case it would be hard to find a more apt one. Andy almost quivered with delight, running his tongue across his lips to seek out every last nuance of scent and flavour. He reacted, in essence, like a reformed alcoholic becoming unexpectedly reacquainted with his previous tipple of choice.
‘Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. That is bloody good,’ he said. ‘Waiter, can I have one of these too?’
The next night Cindy cooked for him. He made all the right noises, if you’ll excuse the pun, while eating his starter (watercress soup) and his main course (duck breast with sour cherries and wild mushrooms), but when Cindy served the ginger and rhubarb tarte tatin he became as animated as a kitten in a knitting basket. Cindy had intended taking the leftovers into work the next morning for feedback from her fellow students, but in the event there were no leftovers left to take.
After a few months of Cindy’s cooking Andy was struggling with the zipper on his fly. When they were alone, in his or Cindy’s flat, he would undo the button on the waistband of his trousers to give himself some extra breathing room, but when out he would sometimes catch sight of himself in a nightclub’s mirror or darkened shop window and complain.
‘Don’t be daft,’ Cindy would say, ‘you’re filling out lovely. Buy some bigger jeans and live a little – you were way to thin when I met you, anyway.’
‘But what if I get really fat?’ he said, ‘What if I turn into a right old Dr Lardonicus?’
‘Then there will just be more of you to love,’ Cindy reassured him. ‘You could be the size of an elephant, and I would love you just the same.’
And she was true to her words. As Andy’s waistline expanded she seemed, if anything, to love him more. She loved that he loved her food and she loved cooking for him, and when they got married a few years later she loved planning the wedding menu and advising the caterers of the special adaptations she wanted to their standard bill of fare. If she could have she would have done all of the catering herself, but with over a hundred guests to feed that was totally impractical for a lone woman in a flowing wedding dress and veil. Instead she directed, and she directed magnificently.
Through his contacts at work Andy introduced Cindy to the elite of the food publishing industry. Rubbing shoulders with Marco and Gordon and Raymond and Jamie she soon gained a reputation as one of the country’s greatest pastry chefs. She never got around to opening the restaurant she had always planned, but instead invested her time and talents in opening and developing what quickly became the most renowned patisserie in England.
Building on the success of the first she soon had a chain of shops, each one on a prime site in the most select areas of all the major UK cities. Catering for the young and rich, Muffin Tops™ soon became the place for buying cakes and pastries and tarts and tortes and breads and buns and baps or any other of the products you would expect to find on the shelves of a high quality patisserie or steaming fresh from the ovens of a master boulanger. Though her skills were a little too elite to woo TV executives Cindy became something of a celebrity in fashionable circles, particularly after scooping a ‘businesswoman of the year’ award. The tabloids, picking up on her success and newly acquired surname, dubbed her Cindy Prince – Princess of Tarts, which, while not entirely flattering if taken out of context, certainly helped to launch her brand internationally.
But as Cindy’s career gathered momentum, Andy’s faltered. Things in the publishing world were getting more competitive all of the time, and as the world economic climate slid further into recession many of the smaller publishing houses were forced into liquidation. Andy’s position remained safe for a while, but as the market contracted further cuts had to be made, and Andy was one of them. He rallied, at first, taking part-time jobs and commissions with smaller companies and offering his services as a freelancer, but over a period of months he became increasingly disillusioned, and, ultimately, fell into a deep depression. In his misery he found himself turning to his old friend, food, increasingly for comfort.
Sailing straight through ‘chunky’ and ‘plump’ Andy raced full on into obesity – waters he had not negotiated since the unhappy years of childhood. As his compulsion and obsession grew, so too did his waistline. Embarrassed and ashamed he found himself trapped in a vicious circle where he grew less active and ate more, until even the term morbidly obese failed to adequately define his condition.
Cindy, of course, did everything she could to help him, throwing her newfound wealth at Harley Street dieticians and purveyors of ground breaking new products or treatments. But none of their pills, potions or regimens worked, and in the end it was realised that nothing but drastic surgery, in the form of a gastric belt, was going to save Andy’s life.
On a cold evening in November a private ambulance and four burly male nurses appeared at the door of Cindy and Andy’s Chelsea residence. Transferring Andy from bed to wheelchair and from wheelchair to the street they tail-lifted him into the back of the ambulance in a dazzle of paparazzi flashguns. Andy shielded his eyes. Cindy dropped hers and wept.
In the back of the vehicle Cindy looked down at her husband where he lay on the adapted double-width stretcher. She saw his huge, round face and the wattle of fat and chin that seemed to join his head directly to his shoulders, saw the bloated, pear shaped body and the fleshy yet muscle-wasted limbs. She saw his eyes – once keen and sparkling with laughter – looking at her apologetically from the slits of puffy lids as she held and patted his enormous hand in her own.
Bending forward, she planted a kiss on his chubby lips, and as she did so she had a momentary flashback to that long ago night when they had first kissed on her friend Kate’s staircase. She remembered her thoughts then – that they were meant to be together, that it was written in the stars – and wondered now if that kiss really had been their destiny: The kiss that turned her prince into a frog…