Over my 10 days in Ireland, I was reminded of something I had thought vanished – the concept of “his dinner”.
This refers to men who are unable to make their own meals, men who must be catered for as if they were toddlers. And the daily timetable of their woman must be adjusted so that she can be home in time to prepare and serve the man “his” dinner. Should the woman have other things to occupy her – her life, or interests, or emergency surgery – then two options are available to the man:
- He can go to the nearest town and have “his dinner” in a bar or take-away
- He can be dispatched to the nearest available woman in his immediate family who will then supply him with “his” dinner
On no account will the man be called upon to actually prepare any food, or do anything more complicated in the kitchen than make a sandwich or boil some water for tea.
Back when I was growing up, this was the common practise, as the vast majority of men went directly from their mother’s care to their wife’s care. And sure, my father worked a lot on the farm, but so did my mother, and she had the added responsibility of taking care of the children. So why she had the task of also fixing ALL of the food, I have no idea. That’s just how it was.
And this, I discovered, is still going on in rural Ireland. Both of my sisters have men who require “their dinners” on a regular basis, and who on occasion get shipped to other houses when the service is not available at their own. Maybe it’s just me having lived half of my life away from home, but I find this astounding and very sad.
Can these men not be curious about food? Aren’t they even the slightest bit interested in how to do simple things like bake bread, or throw a salad together, or fix a casserole? I find this amazing, that otherwise smart and curious men can be so totally uninterested in how to put a basic meal together.
And bear in mind that Irish rural fare is not terribly complicated—for example, I wanted some garlic when I was home a few years ago and was informed by my mother that, oh no, they wouldn’t have garlic in the local village shop. (They did, as it turned out).
While discussing this phenomenon, my mother brought up, as an example of male ability in the food area, the case of my brother-in-law who was so skilled that he could manage to make his own soup and fix some bread with it for his lunch. She said this as a positive thing, and I could only grin inanely, amazed that this was the best example she could come up with.
She also mentioned how versatile I used to be in the kitchen before I left home, in the late 80s. Oh yes, I was very versatile, as long as a thing could be fried, or deep-fried, or squeezed between two pieces of bread. Jamie Oliver of the deep-fryer, that was me.
How impoverished life must be for these men, to have to rely completely on somebody else’s cooking ability their whole lives. And, as well as this, to be deprived the pleasure of cooking for yourself and other people which, to me, is one of the great joys in life: hanging around a kitchen with an apron on, sipping wine, chopping things, tasting your way, trying things out and having a laugh.
Of course, now with divorce being available in Ireland, the risk is that a lot of these men may suddenly find that “their” dinners are not on the table as expected. And this means that they will have to learn to fry sausages in a great hurry, or else get a season ticket at the local Chinese takeaway.
Or perhaps a whole bunch of them can move together in a big house and learn to cook for each other, and we can make a very sad French movie out of it where at least three people hang themselves at the end because the lamp chops were overdone, the mussels weren’t fresh, or somebody didn’t leave the Pinot Noir out to breathe.
And we’ll call it, of course, “Son Dîner”.