Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow's Ear by Ruby Barnes

I'm not the most romantic person on the planet. I do try and remember to buy the long suffering Mrs R a card on birthdays, Valentine's, wedding anniversary and Christmas, but the finer detail of celebratory arrangements often passes me by. Meanwhile, my fictional characters are happily getting lovey-dovey and doing all the right things. But this year was different. I had finished book three of my Zombies v. Ninjas trilogy (which anyway contains minimal romance) and had no active WIP to distract me. So Mrs R was given a (modestly) better birthday deal this February.

The celebratory dinner didn't involve the kids but just the two of us. The restaurant was the award-winning Zuni, her favourite in Kilkenny, and the choice was kept secret right up until we stepped out of the leather-seated taxi. The maitre d showed us to a quiet corner table which ideally suited our mood and we kicked off with a glass of Prosecco, as is our habit. Mrs R looked gorgeous and I had even remembered to wear my bionic ears, so both the conversation and the wine were sparkling. The only downside was I had given the wall bench seat to Mrs R, as it was her preference, and my chair was just a little too close to the table behind me.


We ordered our starters. The birthday girl went for the pork belly confit with picalilli mayonnaise and apple chutney. I opted for cured salmon with pickled cucumber & leeks, wasabi creme fraiche and asian dressing. A party of four arrived at the table behind us and began to talk business. I knew it was business because I had my bionic ears in and one of the party was very loudly spoken. He had an American accent and was talking at high speed and very enthusiastically about A.I. (which I knew to be Artificial Intelligence). In one of my previous jobs I had also been involved with Artificial Intelligence and I have a working knowledge of it. In fact, Mrs R often says I have Artificial Intelligence. Although the speaker's accent didn't have the cadence I had come to expect of California or wherever the AI people hang out, I thought it was really great that Ireland's economy was getting back on track and that Kilkenny, the smallest of cities, could become involved somehow in AI. And I told Mrs R as much.

Our starters arrived and Mrs R's knife and fork were poised to dig into the confit of pork belly when the loud voice proudly announced, 'We have enough of the stuff to inseminate every *** on the island!"

My first thought was an angry one. How dare some visitor call Ireland an island. I mean, I know it is an island but it's our world. We don't think of it as an island. It sounded derogatory. Then the insemination sunk in, so to speak. I looked at Mrs R.

'Every cow?' I whispered across the table to her.
'Every sow,' she replied.
'Yep, we could inseminate them all, every sow on the island,' the loud American repeated, as if he was participating in our conversation.

Mrs R put a forkful of pork belly into her mouth and chewed it slowly with a smile. 'Nice,' she said.
I looked at the wasabi creme fraiche on my plate and pushed the rest of my food away from it. Mrs R raised an eyebrow.
'I don't like the look of it,' I said.

By the time we had finished our main courses we were intimately familiar with many aspects of artificial insemination in pigs, including the importance of a sow being in heat and the key principals of semen-handling. And I was ready to kill one business tourist.
'Perhaps if we were farmers we would find it more tasteful,' Mrs R suggested.


We shared a dessert and joined each other on the bench seat so I could get a look at the offender. By that time their main course had arrived and the Artificial Insemination conversation had dried up. I couldn't tell, just by looking at them, which of the four men at the table was the proud possessor of enough pig semen to inseminate a large island.

My murderous intentions were calmed by a lemon meringue Alaska. We began to jointly and verbally draft a note that we would leave with the pork men on our departure, explaining what are and are not polite conversation topics in such a restaurant but thanking them for the tips, which we hoped to put to practical use somewhere along the line, although it wouldn't be personally as we already had adequate numbers of offspring thank you very much.

Unfortunately, by the time we had finished our dessert drinks, the swine inseminators had shot off into the night. So we never had the chance to share our thoughts.

Just another romantic night in Rubyland.


Andrew Crofts said…
Where would we authors be without the rich pickings of other people's overheard conversations?
Wendy H. Jones said…
Brilliant. Truly brilliant. This started my day off, not only with a smile, but laughter. Thanks for sharing
Jan Needle said…
It's a pity the restaurant wasn't in London. The offender might have got stuck in the Tube, thus sparing you the details. Old joke, sorry. Lovely piece, Reb. Thanks.
Jan Needle said…
Did I really say Reb? I mean Ruby. I think you must have turned my brain!
Lydia Bennet said…
Great post Ruby, 'overhears' are great fun, possibly not so much during intimate dinners! I must say 'AI' means artificial insemination to me before the other meaning, perhaps I spent too much time listening to the Archers!
Bill Kirton said…
Great post, but a reminder, too, of how others can wittingly or otherwise, ruin an otherwise great evening. I'm sure we've all been subjected to voices which have an edge, a resonance, an insistence that drills through all the other ambient sounds. Sometimes, it's the personality rather than the mere voice which has the same effect. In fact, I'm surprised to register the fact that, so far, none of the murder victims in my books have exhibited those characteristics. They're prime candidates.
@Ruby_Barnes said…
Thanks folks. The conversation of others isn't always the right sauce for an enjoyable meal.

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