The Stromness Dinner by Peter Benson – a foodie delight! A Guest post from Northernvicar
I read this book, almost in one sitting. Which isn’t bad for a book chosen for the title! Ed is a builder in south London. He’s based near Guy’s Hospital, so I knew enough about the London environment to enjoy it. He renovates Marcus’ flat, then gets asked to have a few days north to renovate the house in Stromness that was owned by Marcus’ father. I liked the way his journey north makes sense – hire a van, load it up, early start, coffee at Newport Pagnell, lunch at Woodall, break at the border, sleep at Pitlochry, very early start, doughnut in Inverness, coffee at Tain, ferry from Scrabster.
I can picture the house he is working on, the crowds from the cruise ships, the beauty of St Magnus and the ferry ride to the outer islands (though I could not manage four bacon rolls in one crossing). I love the idea that Skara Brae “was made up like the Flintstones. It was like some farmer had lost all his sheep in accident and woken up in the middle of the night a few days later and thought ‘I’ll make an old village in the sand dunes at the bottom of that useless field, tell some nobs from England that I’ve discovered the ruins of somewhere that was built before anyone even thought about the pyramids and I’ll be quids in’” (page 135).
Claire, Marcus’ sister, comes north, staying at a nearby inn, removing what she wants from the house, and Ed is smitten. As well as a decorator he is a chef, and loves cooking for two. She insists he takes some time off, and they travel to see Hermann, an old friend of her dad’s, who is an artist on the island of Eday. At lunch Ed writes “Hermann and I sparred, Claire and Hermann did that thing old men and younger women do when they know they could have had something but time worked against them, and Claire and I danced” (page 200). A trip to the Pier Art Centre at Stromness matches my memory of it – a fascinating building, art I didn’t understand, expensive pencil sharpeners in the shop.
Ed loves his food, He describes the meals he cooks, and the meals he has eaten, in superb detail. I am no gourmet-chef (or gourmet diner), but I love the idea of telling the about the best meal he ever ate as a substitute for telling the reader about a night of amazing sex. Enough details to make me think “lucky man”. Will it just be a holiday fling, or more than that?
This is a really good read that I would recommend; if you haven’t been to Orkney you will want to go, and if you know and love Orkney, you will want tot go back.