When you are in a relationship it sometimes feels a bit crowded. Right now mine seems to involve me, Guido and a whole lot of soup. The other night he sat bolt upright in bed just when I was least expecting it and he had a light bulb moment. It was a pity he woke me up because I’d just nodded off and was having what was shaping up to be a pretty promising dream involving me and Bear Grylls.
“Cabbage soup,” Guido shouted out loud and then rolled over as if nothing had just happened. Apparently it’s part of his master plan to introduce a skinny soup range to the café menu. Personally, I’m not entirely sure he’s onto a winner.
I lay there in the dark and wondered what Bear could do with a cabbage. The possibilities were endless. It also reminded me of an old neighbour of mine back in the days when I lived alone in my studio flat in Camden. Stick with me this will make sense eventually. Her name was Ivanka. She was Russian. She must have been about sixty years old. She used to dye her hair the colour of flame orange and wore bright lipstick as red as an apple. London is a fantastic melting pot of nationalities but even twenty years ago it seemed pretty exotic to me to live in the flat above someone who came from Moscow. The reason I am telling you this is because my kitchen window used to be right above her kitchen window and the most marvellous smells used to waft up from there. How she marinated potatoes and onions was anyone’s guess. Every time I saw her on the stairwell I did everything within my power to get an invite into her place for dinner to find out. Then one day I met her at the front door carrying in her groceries.
“Chto na uhzin?” I asked her that completely casually. It’s Russian for, what’s for dinner? Her big eyes widened. She smiled a toothy smile. My shallow attempt at Russian had hit her like a heat seeking rocket. Bingo. I’d struck gold. Be downstairs by seven p.m. she told me and I’d find out. She said there would be something I couldn’t resist waiting for me.
When I walked into her studio later that night the lights were out and there were candles on the table and Ivanka had a fluffy dress on and I could see a lot of skin. I suddenly heard the lines from that song – there may be trouble ahead – play out in my head. She poured me some wine. Then she splashed some cabbage soup from a big urn into a big bowl in front of me. It was the sweetest, steamy, most devine soup I had ever tasted in my life. She got all emotional and sang an old Mongolian song and then she asked me if I was ready for dessert. And let me tell you she wasn’t offering me chocolate covered prunes.
When Guido was surfing for recipes the next day I told him about Ivanka and her amazing soup.
“You used to live pretty dangerously before I met you.” he said, “Meeting a mysterious Russian alone like that. Who knows what might have happened that night if she had fed you borscht.”
It’s hard to believe Guido actually thinks that the course of someone’s life could be altered just because of a bowl of soup. But who am I to burst his bubble?