16 MARCH 2002, Page 68

Singular life

Real women

Petronella Wyatt

Iread that Glenys Kinnock is back in the front line of politics — that is, gender politics. For her victim she has chosen the unlikely figure of the unassuming Delia Smith.

Mrs Kinnock has accused Ms Smith of being out of touch with 'real women'. 'Real women"? What is a real woman? I always thought it was one who wore a frilly apron in the kitchen and stayed at home bringing up a burgeoning brood. What, for that matter, is an 'unreal woman'? One constructed as the result of artificial cloning? Someone who has had a sex change and used to be a man like the 18th-century Chevalier D'Eon who spent the first 30 years of his life as a male and the next 40 as a female. (The Chevalier D'Eon was one of the first well-known spies, incidentally. James Bond became Jane Bond.) But, no, according to Mrs Kinnock a real woman is one who doesn't cook. Ms Smith says to keep potatoes from budding, place an apple in the bag with the potatoes'. Mrs Kinnock retorts, 'Real women buy Smash and keep it in the cupboard for a year.'

Delia also says. 'When catering for an evening dinner party, calculate food portions and timings a week in advance, so that you are not rushing on the night.' Mrs Kinnock retorts. 'Real women drop into Marks & Sparks on the way home that evening and buy everything in packets.' Good gracious, what a cat fight. It makes the war in Afghanistan look like, as it were, small potatoes — though without an apple, of course.

No one is a greater admirer of Marks and Spencer's than myself. The assault on their clothes is unwarranted and unfair. Last week I walked into a restaurant wearing a brown suede dress, 'Where did that come from?' my girlfriend asked. Trade' 'No,' I replied, 'M&S.' Many of their outfits are far more appealing than those designed by the great goof Alexander McQueen, god of the fashion pack.

Marks & Sparks aside, Mrs Kinnock is just too, too out of fashion. She is behaving like one of those old-style Labour wives who used to resemble the leaders of Soviet tank corps. Doesn't she realise that cooking is the new black? I'll bet Mrs Blair cooks for her family at home — even though her sister-in-law Lauren Booth once caught Tony making Marmite sandwiches.

But the point is that more and more women are going back to the kitchen. This is not out of some Stepford Wives sense of feminity but because they have discovered what women have known for years. Cooking is exciting, and, like singing, scientists have indicated that it increases the flow of serotonin to the brain, thus making people happier.

I never thought much of cooking till a few years ago. But then I started watching repeats of Upstairs Downstairs. Mrs Bridges, the cook, seemed to have the best time of anyone in the Bellamy household. To her, her pies were little Rembrandts, and her puddings as beautiful as any Botticelli.

I have always recalled a trip to France during which I had eaten the most irridenscently lovely rice pudding, as compact as a Clichy crystal but as moist as newly driven snow. I rummaged through an Oxfam shop and discovered that it contained a recipe for this wonderful dish. Having made it successfully gave me the sort of inner glow you experience listening to a wonderful piece of music. It also occurred to me that I could subsist. I no longer had to rely on packaged food to survive.

In any case, there wasn't much packaged food around when I was growing up. To describe my late father as fussy would be to describe Osama bin Laden as liberal. All our food had to be cooked from fresh ingredients. These ingredients were limited by his own little phobias. He was convinced that sugar, butter, cream and even milk would kill him. When spinach soup arrived at the table he would sniff it suspiciously. If he thought he could detect cream, like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he would place the offending soup in purgatory.

On the occasion of his 70th birthday we took him to dinner at some posh hotel restaurant. This proved to be an error. He examined his first course, rushed from the table into the kitchen and seized the cook. 'Why are you trying to murder me?' he demanded.

Mrs Kinnock should consider herself fortunate that she hasn't got a husband like that. One would have thought she might have rushed to embrace an occupation once mastered by men — like politics. Or perhaps the 58-year-old Mrs Kinnock is going through a sort of dyspeptic midlife crises. I recommend that she try making a soufflé. When her soufflé rises, so will her spirits. I can let her in on a non-political trade secret, too. Don't stint on the baking powder.