In the shop the shopkeeper smiled when I picked out a long white buttoned tunic with a tall chef’s hat. I went into the changing room, buttoned myself into the costume and stepped into a dark dingy street of tall thin houses where small thin children crouched in doorways, huddling together for warmth and comfort. I was wondering what to do when ahead of me I saw cooks dressed like myself all heading off somewhere.
The collection of cooks walked through the city, up to the gates of a Palace, past the guards and into the Palace’s kitchen, where hundreds of cooks were already busy – cooking and basting, roasting and tasting. I wondered what all this cooking could be for.
And then I found out.
Each time a cook had finished a dish a fanfare was sounded and the cook proudly took the delight into a great hall where sits a concerned King, a distressed Queen and in between them a bored, grumpy, uninterested little Princess Annabella. And whatever the dish laid before her, and however much her parents extol its virtues, Annabella does not eat. She will not eat.
Each time, her parents send the dish back mournfully to a growing mound of uneaten delicacies and the next cook tries their luck. But it is always in vain.
“Excuse me” I said to a servant. “I have an idea, if the King will let me try it.”
“Anything!” exclaims the exasperated King.
I tell the cooks to prepare for a banquet, rushed out of the Palace, run down the streets of the city and found the poor hungry children again. There’s to be a feast at the Palace and you are all invited.”
I returned to the Palace with the ragged and bedraggled hungry children, took them into the imposing hall, where the table is now piled high with fantastic foods, and tells them to help themselves.
The children cannot believe their luck, and feast their eyes on the gorgeous fare. Then they tuck in. A boy offers Annabella a plate of cakes. The King and Queen hold their breath. She takes one, then another. And soon she is eating and laughing with all the other children. “Can they come back next week?” she asks the King. “Of course, my dear, they can come every week.”
A man appears and asks me to take a spoon into the kitchen. Then I found myself back in the shop. I thanked the shopkeeper and with a smile walks home to Festive Road. The children here aren’t hungry.
I solved the Princesses problem because I knew the children need the company of other children. Nothing can make you quite as happy as making other people happy.