New Scotland Street Chapter 28: Do angels cook?

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‘Well?” Matthew said to Pat as theyleft Lyon & Turnbull’s auction rooms that Saturday. “What did you think?”

It was a clear day, and the sky above them had that washed, thin tone that is typical of summer in Scotland, a sky devoid of heat or glare, or the murky pall by which industrious humanity asphyxiates itself elsewhere. High above them, a jet traced an arc of vapour trail on its way westwards, a thin line that stretched out and then dissolved, white into blue. Pat pointed at the plane, a tiny, silver speck, and said, “I wonder where they’re going?”

He looked up. He imagined the protected capsule of people hurtling through the sky; and here they were, bound to the stone of the pavement, standing, doing their earthbound things, and he was just Matthew, and she was just Pat, and they were not terribly important in the scheme of things.

“Who knows? America, I should think. Or Canada. Maybe coming from Paris or Amsterdam and shooting over Scotland without noticing it.”

“And they don’t know about us, standing far below them, thinking about them.”

Matthew laughed. “No. They don’t know about us.”

“Quite a thought, isn’t it?” said Pat.

Matthew looked at her. “You’re coming over all philosophical, Pat.”

She smiled back at him. “Am I? Well, maybe.” She shrugged. “It’s just that I 
find – at the moment, that is – that I’m thinking a bit about where I am, so to speak.”

“You’re here. You’re in Edinburgh. And we’ve just stepped out of Lyon & Turnbull and …”

She cut him short. “Oh, I know, I know. Existentialism. I know all that.”

“Well, then …”

“It’s just that I feel that something’s about to happen to me.”

He hesitated. “You’re not feeling dread, are you?”

She seemed surprised. “Dread? Why should I feel dread?”

He explained that sometimes that was what people felt. They experienced a sudden moment of dread when they thought of just how helpless they were in the face of … in the face of what? The world? The ultimate pointlessness of human existence?

But Pat was not feeling dread; nor fear; nor trembling. It was something else, and she could not explain it to Matthew because she was not sure that she understood it herself. So she looked at her watch instead and said, “Well, I think I’ll get back to my flat.”

“But what did you think? Did you enjoy that?”

She nodded. “I found it a bit scary. When you went up to a thousand for that …”

“Scottish School painting? The man and the dog?”

“Yes. Because you don’t know, do you, and it could be … well, it could be nothing.”

Matthew looked self-satisfied. “Yes, but I wasn’t alone, was I? There was somebody else after it. He must have thought the same as me.”

“Maybe. But then you don’t know, do you whether he just liked it because he liked pictures with dogs in them. Something like that?”

Matthew was prepared to concede that possibility, but he had no buyer’s regret. “It’s one thousand well spent, Pat – I bet you anything.”

She said that she hoped this was the case. “But I really should get going.”


“Why because?”

He did not want her to go. “Because you’re going out to dinner this evening? Or cooking for somebody and have to get the stuff?”

She shook her head. “I’m not going out. I was just going to make something for myself.”

“You could have dinner at our place. Elspeth would love to see you.” He had not thought about the invitation and he had no idea what Elspeth had planned, but she liked Pat and he could always offer to do the cooking himself. Or James could, although he had cooked for the last three nights in a row.

Pat hesitated. “Elspeth might have other plans.”

Matthew shook his head. “I could phone her. Should I do that?”

Pat looked up at the sky. The vapour trail had almost disappeared. “All right.”

Matthew’s pleasure showed. “Do you want to go home first?” he said. “You could come out to our place by bus. There’s a bus that goes to West Linton and Biggar. You could get that. It’s pretty regular. Just remember to get off at Nine Mile Burn. We had somebody come out to see us who was reading the paper and next thing he noticed he was in Carlops.”

They agreed that Pat would catch a bus that would get her to Nine Mile Burn at six. “I’ll bring the boys up the drive to meet you,” said Matthew. “They’ll think it’s a big adventure.”

“Good. I can’t wait to see them. They must be growing up so fast.”

“Average speed,” said Matthew. “They’re talking a bit, although it’s mostly nonsense. And they’re covered in bumps and bruises because they run everywhere and fall off things. They’re boys, you see.”

“Oh dear.”

“But they recover.” Matthew paused. “And James? Have you met James yet? He’s our au pair.”

Pat shook her head. “I didn’t know they made male au pairs.”

“They do. And we’ve got one. He’s amazing. He cooks like an angel.”

Pat frowned. “Why do people say that? Cooks like an angel. Do angels cook?”

“I haven’t really looked at the iconography,” Matthew replied. “They’re usually depicted hanging about in choirs. But I suppose some of them cook.”

“And James can?”

“Yes. And he’s really good at other things. He’s fantastic with the boys. You should see him – they worship the ground he walks on.”

“That must be useful.”

Matthew nodded. “I think you’ll like him.”

Pat said nothing. Cooks like an angel. She was thinking of what it would be like to have somebody in the kitchen – a man, yes, a man in the kitchen – cooking for you. And then when the man had finished cooking he would serve you whatever it was that he had cooked and you would taste it and say This is divine! And perhaps add, You cook like an angel, you know. And he would smile, and say, I love cooking for you. And then he would put on some music and say, I know this is really corny, but couldn’t we dance? And you would say, Why not? And he would take your hand and you would dance right there, in the kitchen and it wouldn’t matter that your flatmates had left the washing up in the sink and there was a cup with lipstick stains around the rim and the food waste bin needed emptying …

Matthew was looking at her. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I was just thinking.” And then, quite casually, “This James … why is he your au pair? I mean, what’s he doing? Learning English?”

“His English is fine,” said Matthew, smiling.


“So, he’s on a gap year.”

Pat sighed. Too young. Cooks like an angel, but is still a cherub

“But he’s amazingly mature,” said Matthew.