Well here's the companion to Pieces I never meant to write, but apparently people wanted to read. I did have good fun in the writing though -Eels and all!


April –1917

Dear Nan,

Mother read your letter of April – 1917 aloud the other evening as we were sitting around the fire, and said she couldn't do one better than you for that description of salmon head soup. (Eyes still in –how could you bear eating it?!) Well, she may not, but I can.

You'll remember, of course, how we've been having a royal battle over whether or not to include Eats at our Junior Reds meetings. At first I won, and Olive Kirk was in high dudgeon. So much so that there was nothing for it but to revisit the issue the other day. This time Olive won, and she was as pleased about that as she had been sore the first time. Obviously, as the president I had to be very gracious and all that, but it did rankle –and I couldn't say anything, or Irene Howard would have said it was because I thought I should have the deciding opinion in everything! I really don't –but I'm so often better at knowing what we should do that I can't help bossing them a little! If I didn't our Junior Reds should do nothing but gossip about what frock Millicent Bone wore to prayer meeting or how soon the Crawford family (the Peter Crawfords, you remember, you taught the littlest girl) were out of mourning, and really, that would do the soldiers exactly no good.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that we now have Eats at the meetings, and predictably they are harder to run than ever. And yesterday, which I sat down especially to tell you about, stands out as proof as to why we should never have voted for Eats in the first place. Betty Meade came first with unseasonal mince pies, and that was quite all right. A bit extravagant, given the war, but considering the Green Hat Affair, I concede that that's hardly a stone I can cast. And at least they were edible. Amelia Clow was next with little Hester trailing behind her, and they had brought apple turnovers, though why I do not know, for Amelia always overdoes her pastry, and how no one before has told her is beyond me. Naturally I could hardly seize the opportunity to enlighten her, so I just set those turnovers down next to the mince pies and hoped people would have the sense to stick to Betty's pies –a difficult proposition without recipe cards to say who'd brought what. That's what comes of rationing paper along with the rest, I suppose. Then came Olive with a culinary ambiguity I never did parse by virtue of not getting to eat it. In my defence, my arms were full of a writhing Jims –hardly conducive to sampling delicacies! The crumbs would have got in his hair, you know, which would have demanded he have a bath, and he'd had one already that day. And Morgan is most particular about not bathing babies too often. It dries out their skin, or overmoistens it (perhaps both?) or something. (You mustn't ever tell Susan, but in strictest confidence, I don't think I always understand what Morgan is on about, though I try very solemnly to do what he says by Jims.)

Back to the point at hand; Miranda Pryor came next, and this is what I really wanted to tell you about, for what do you suppose she brought? I'll tell you, for you shall never guess. Eel! And not just any eel, either, but jellied! Can you imagine? I can: I saw them! Hundreds of little pieces of grey, slimy eel laid out on a platter that I'm sure in another life Miranda's poor mother intended for cheese! Oh, it gives me gooseflesh to think of it! Apparently, Miranda had been pickling them (or whatever it is one does to jellify and eel) for Whiskers-on-the Moon. Miranda tells me he is very partial to jellied eel, and I can well believe that because it is Whiskers-on-the-Moon, and you know, I really do not think he is quite normal.

As to why Miranda blessed us with them –that too is Olive Kirk's fault. Miranda had missed the vote about Eats (though she'd have voted For, just to stop the everlasting debate, I feel sure, and dodge the wrath of the House of Kirk), and Olive 'just dropped by' to let her know how it had gone. Naturally between pickling (?!) the eels(!) and keeping that house for Whiskers-on-the-Moon, and trying to slip out at intervals to walk with Jo Milgrave, she hadn't the time to prepare anything else. I don't suppose I would have either, if I were a blue china person committed to the preservation of eels(! !). Why she really doesn't tell Whiskers-on-the-Moon…but that's a different letter.

Confronted with the eels (! ! !) of course, I had to do something. I couldn't decide if I was obliged to eat them or not, but Irene was so very cutting about them that I really thought I'd better. No one else would, after all, and it was hardly right to let them sit there and congeal. I never wanted Eats, as you'll recall, but even less do I fancy wasting the ones we do have.

So there I was, nerving myself to eat one –I could practically feel the rubbery slippiness of it in my throat already, and it would have turned braver souls green, I am sure –when Jims leaned forward, bold as you like, and snatched not one but two off the platter and crammed them both in his mouth! As if he'd never just had a good, hearty portion of bread and milk as prescribed by Morgan. Irene made observations to this effect, but I was so busy scouring my brain for Morgan's opinions on eel and any benefits it might have for babies that I quite failed to respond. (There are none, alas, for I have since looked. I have even –again in the strictest confidence –considered asking Susan, but she is so aggrieved that I go to Morgan before her about Jims that I haven't quite plucked up the nerve. Yet. Eel cannot be good for young digestive tracts, of this I am sure.)

Irrespective of any detriment the eels might do Jims (who is, incidentally, happy as a clam and has been ever since discovering eel), it did break the ice nicely. Miranda was so delighted by his enthusiasm she even forgot to look like a blue china girl –her cheeks went all pink with pleasure. Olive and Betty giggled and Irene –oh Irene pinched his cheeks –when she knows I hate Jims to be pinched –and said 'Isn't he a brave little soul?' There was nervous laughter from the others, and Miranda gave a serene sort of smile and then said –oh, Nan, you'll never guess! –that she'd have to be sure and do spitched eel for us next time, if only because Jims was so obviously taken with the jellies and would love that still more!

Spitched! Nan, have you ever…I am almost afraid of asking, in case I get an answer. But I must know, in the name of defending Jims's health and wellness. What is a spitched eel?! Even Mother doesn't know, and she knows everything. She thinks it might be a dish from Alice in Wonderland but can't be sure –and if she's right, that's no dish for Jims.

In another life I'd have asked Walter, but of course that's quite impossible…So you see, it really is up to you. Only the next Reds meeting is in a week, so you must write back soon!

Love ever,


P.S. Since writing the above, Miranda has dropped in with a recipe so that Jims might enjoy eel at his leisure. I cannot keep it in the house, lest someone realise it, so am sending it on to you for safekeeping. After all, you and the Swallowgate contingent are obviously fluent in the preparation of fish, after the affair of the fish head soup, eel will seem very run of the mill!