I said this story was too ludicrous for public consumption but have decided to serve it up anyway. I don’t think it’ll destroy my credibility as a writer, though it may not exactly add to it. But if you can’t be daft in Blogland, what’s the point of it?
Ah, but of course – Blogland is somewhere else. It wasn’t actually me that wrote it, you know, it was the Bloglet. I don’t write things like that: I’m trying to get a novel published and I’ve even written poems. No, it was someone not too closely associated with me, and I’m being kind enough to blog it for them. Any resemblance to my work, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
*A spurtle is a Scottish porridge stirrer.
Spurtle’s porridge factory in Slough produced all kinds of porridge. It came in forty-eight shades, from light oatmeal to deep maroon. For special occasions they even took orders for striped porridge, in colour combinations such as mid-khaki and apricot pink. This was a speciality of their chief porridge chef, Mr Scrimmington Oatsheaf, who himself was striped in rather fetching shades of pale pink and cream.
The owner of the factory was Mr Josiah Spurtle, who unlike his father Eliezer and grandfather Habakkuk had had a lifelong aversion to porridge. It was they who had built up the factory into a world-class business, leaving Josiah to carry it on as best he could. Because he couldn’t bear the taste or the smell, he had encouraged Mr Oatsheaf to develop new porridge flavours to complement the colours, including the hugely popular smoked haddock with white chocolate and onion. As well as this, the talented Mr Oatsheaf had excelled himself by creating frozen porridge, known as Frorridge, a healthy alternative to ice cream, and Sollidge, cakes of solidified porridge with fruits, nuts and spices, made especially delicious by the addition of Marmite.
The inspiration for coloured porridge had come from Mr Spurtle’s wife Myrtle. Walking into the living-room one day, in a dress of self-striped blue velvet that matched the curtains, she exclaimed, “I’ve got it! I know exactly what people want. Designer porridge in a range of colours to tone in with their furnishings. Just the thing for the Oatsheaf colour co-ordinated porridge bowls.”
Josiah leaned back on their oatmeal-coloured sofa and stretched out his long thin legs. ” What a wonderful idea, my love,” he said admiringly. “I thank Heaven for your love of porridge.” For she adored it and ate a bowlful at every meal.
Myrtle went over to her husband. Short and porridge-plump, she was no taller standing than he was sitting down. “Yes,” she beamed, stroking his hair, which stood up from his head like a shaving brush. It had once been glossy brown but had now faded to the colour of gruel, a form of porridge that he detested above all others. “It is rather brilliant, though I say so myself. And I think this Oatsheaf has what it takes to bring our new porridge to the world. You had better make sure you pay him properly for it. We wouldn’t want to lose him to our competitors, would we? Just think what he might do with tapioca.”
Mr Oatsheaf had brought his culinary genius to bear, creating flavours and colours of dazzling originality and making Spurtle’s a byword for all things porridginous. One of his most recent triumphs had been a wedding cake for the Spurtles’ daughter Pyracantha. The three-tier cake, made entirely of Sollidge laced with brandy, was covered in frothy snow-white meringue and decorated with golden spurtles, one of which Josiah Spurtle solemnly presented to his new son-in-law, Terence Peashoot, in the hope of their continued collaboration. Terence could not bear to tell Josiah that his heart was not in porridge but in pease pudding.
After the wedding Mr Oatsheaf asked to see Josiah Spurtle. “Mr Spurtle,” he said, the stripes on his face standing out more than usual, “I’m very much afraid I can’t continue making coloured porridge. I no longer believe in it. I want to go back to making porridge-coloured porridge.”
“You can’t do that!” gasped Mr Spurtle. “Our reputation depends on coloured porridge. We’ve just had an order from the Prince of Wales for two hundred litres in deep moss green.”
“I know,” said Mr Oatsheaf sadly. “And I will make sure he gets it. But after that…”
“After that, what? If you won’t make coloured porridge you will have to go, Oatsheaf.”
Mr Oatsheaf smiled. “Let me try what I have in mind, Mr Spurtle,” he said. “It may not be coloured but it will be unlike anything else, I promise you.”
Mr Spurtle reached up to flatten his hair, which was standing unusually erect. “Hm,” he said. “I’ll give you a week to make a trial batch. And if it doesn’t cut the – er – porridge you can say goodbye to your job.”
Mr Oatsheaf smiled again as he left.
Within a week the trial batch was ready to be sent to two hundred of Spurtle’s most loyal customers, some of whom had been eating Spurtle’s porridge since the time of Habakkuk Spurtle. Mr Oatsheaf took a factory van and delivered the porridge personally, in special insulated pots designed to keep it hot for up to twenty-four hours. As soon as he had handed over the pot he rushed back to the van, so that the customers would discover the surprise for themselves. He saved one final pot for Mr and Mrs Spurtle.
“Is this a joke?” Myrtle Spurtle said when she opened the pot. “It’s nothing but ordinary porridge.”
“Oh dear,” said Josiah. “I did hope he would pull something off. Why don’t you try it anyway? I can’t face the stuff.”
As soon as Myrtle put her spoon into the porridge a rainbow appeared all round the bowl. It pulsed and expanded, sounding a faint but very beautiful high note. When she sampled what was on the spoon, it was not only the best porridge she had ever eaten but also tasted of Christmas pudding and brandy butter and rhubarb crumble and strawberries and cream, not to mention tiramisu and hot chocolate. As she ate, the rainbow continued to expand and contract and the note became an elusive melody. As soon as she finished the rainbow disappeared, and the melody with it. Nobody would have known there had been anything but porridge.
“Well, well,” she said to her husband, licking the spoon. “Did you see that? Did you smell it?”
“See what, my love? You mean the porridge? It just looked like porridge to me.”
Myrtle realised that the porridge’s wonderful effects were known only by the person eating it. She tried to tell her husband so but couldn’t convince him.
“That’s it for Oatsheaf,” he said furiously. “He’s been having me on.”
When Josiah got into the office next morning, there were so many emails and phone messages that he had to put production on hold and ask the staff to go through them with him. Every one of the messages told him, with joy and amazement, the astonishing effects of the porridge. Even more amazing was that each person’s portion had been different. One had whirled round and round in the bowl and tasted like a full English breakfast – starting with porridge, of course, and ending with toast and marmalade. Another portion had set off a shower of coloured lights – like fireworks but perfectly harmless – and run a gamut of flavours from polenta (which had a certain resemblance to porridge) to spaghetti carbonara and pizza con pepperoni. In fact it seemed as if the porridge could tell what the person’s favourite foods were and somehow reproduce them. And in every case only the person eating it was aware of its marvellous properties.
Josiah Spurtle sent for Mr Oatsheaf at once. “Oatsheaf,” he said. “This is pure genius. How did you do it?”
“Ah, I’m afraid I can’t tell you that,” Mr Oatsheaf replied mysteriously. “Let’s just say I understand porridge.”
Soon Spurtle’s Surprorridge, as it was quickly named, had become a gourmet sensation. Pots of it were sold at inflated prices in exclusive delicatessens and people queued to buy it. ‘If you thought our coloured porridge was special’, the poster read, ‘you must try this’. Mr Oatsheaf was asked several times to demonstrate the Surprorridge on television but he always refused, saying some things were better kept a mystery. Each time he refused, sales went up even more. Josiah Spurtle kept raising his salary and eventually made him a director of the company.
Mr Oatsheaf bought a large house, with a locked cabin in the garden where he conducted his porridge experiments. He often tried to persuade Mr Spurtle to try the Surprorridge, but when eventually Josiah put spoon to bowl, he alone among the millions of afficionados tasted only porridge.
Mr Oatsheaf shrugged. “It must know you don’t like it,” he said.
After a year or so, when the novelty had worn off and new products had come on to the market such as self-frying sausages and grow-your-own cheese, sales of Surprorridge began to fall. By this time Mr and Mrs Spurtle were living in a huge mansion and had bought another one for Pyracantha and Terence. To Josiah Spurtle’s regret Terence had not joined the porridge business but instead had begun to develop new lines in pease pudding. Terence had held secret talks with Mr Oatsheaf, but nothing had come of them.
Then one day Mr Oatsheaf announced to Mr Spurtle, “I’m not making Surprorridge any more. There’s no future in it and I’ve had enough. I need to give my creativity full rein.”
Terence, who happened to be visiting the office, looked at Mr Oatsheaf expectantly.
“I’m going to Australia,” Mr Oatsheaf said. “There are possibilities there in semolina.”
Josiah and Terence both looked aghast. “So what am I to do about Surprorridge?” Josiah asked. “It’s become my life. You’re not taking the secret with you?”
Mr Oatsheaf smiled his mysterious striped smile. “Well, yes and no. There is one person here who loves porridge enough to be able to do the things with it that I can. You may not have noticed, but I have already been teaching her.”
At that moment the door opened and Myrtle appeared, wearing a delightful tunic in oat-coloured slubbed wool and trousers of a darker matching shade.
“Yes,” Mr Oatsheaf said. “Your wife has a huge talent. She has already been able to create almost perfect Surprorridge. The lighting effects aren’t quite symmetrical yet, but the rest…” He made a circle of his thumb and forefinger. “She will take Surprorridge to undreamt-of heights.”
Josiah stared at Myrtle in utter amazement. “But why didn’t you tell me?” he said.
“I wanted it to be a surprise – like the Surprorridge.” Myrtle smiled at him and then at Mr Oatsheaf. “What I’ve always said is, you can never go wrong with porridge.”
Josiah did not look quite as happy as she had expected – but then he had never understood how wonderful porridge was.