My mother, Jocasta Innes, died last week. I am composing a eulogy – and wondering how it might do justice to her, and how to read it firmly.
She wrote all her life. Strapped for cash, and with a family to feed, she dived into her repertoire of cheap, delicious and essential meals, and bundled the recipes up into The Pauper’s Cookbook, which threw a lifeline to countless students and newly weds. A countrywoman in those days, she wrote The Country Kitchen, her own favourite – and used her experience of buying junk and wielding a paint brush to write The Pauper’s Homemaking Book. You don’t have to be rich to look good and eat well, she said, and she burst through layers of magnolia and professional diffidence to popularise secrets vouchsafed to the well-to-do. Paint Magic sold a million copies around the world, and sparked a domestic revolution in colour and effect.
She moved back to London and took on a mouldering heap of a house, defying demolition orders to turn a dosser’s squat into a sort of jewel. Her conversation was mercurial, brilliant and fiery, and she had such energy and appetite for life, love, books, people (and dogs). I thought her indestructible.
After all the obituaries in the papers, perhaps the best glimpse of her is this, given by the Gentle Author and re-issued by popular demand: