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“The piccalilli was the lurid colour of jaundice”

I continue to read very little. At the start of the year, I wrote this piece about “Reader’s Block”, prompted by Nigella Lawson using the phrase in a feature called “Books That Made Me”. I have read the odd book since January but am mostly out of the habit. My 14-year-old daughter has been making far better progress, working her way through many of my old paperbacks and a few newer books of her own. She has also been given a pile of Kate Atkinson novels by my mother-in-law, and has started reading “Life After Life”.

I am sorry to tell you that I have never read anything by Kate Atkinson, although many of her books come highly recommended. At least it makes answering questions about her work very straightforward. If anyone asks me a question that begins, “Have you read that Kate Atkinson book …” the answer, currently, is no.

I can, at least, quote you one of her descriptions: “The piccalilli was the lurid colour of jaundice”. My daughter asked me, a few evenings ago, what it meant. She has never seen piccalilli. Nor have I for at least 40 years, and I have never tasted it. Like “Sandwich Spread”, it’s something my brother ate when we were children, but I never did. It’s yellow, as you probably know. My daughter has never encountered anyone with jaundice either, so a sentence that compares the colours of two things that she has never seen didn’t really work for her. And she wasn’t entirely sure what “lurid” meant. I did my best to explain the three unfamiliar words to her and wondered if it would be worth buying a jar of piccalilli for further clarification. A picture is, apparently, worth a thousand words. How many more words would an actual jar of the stuff be worth? Perhaps that’s the way to go, unless the UK’s “supply chain issues” have caused the supermarket shelves to be empty of piccalilli, along with so many other, more essential, food items.


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