The Magic Toyshop is one of my favourite books: to me, it belongs to that strange girlish place between early and late adolescence. The scene below still evokes a kind of childish delight from the description of the simple but delicious-sounding food that the characters eat, and the book is punctuated with many such moments, yet there's a kind of threat of sensuality throughout it that finally manifests in the love affair between Melanie and Finn (that Melanie, and maybe even the reader, is unprepared for, and frightened by). Also touching is the difference between what the 'children' eat, as prepared by their nanny or Aunt Margaret, and Melanie's half-anxious, half-excited fantasies of her future life as a single young woman in a bedsit - preparing Nescafe for herself over a burner, or buying a block of cheese for one.
They ate at a round mahogany table with a stiff white cloth in a dining-room containing much heavy furniture. There was hardly room to move for large chairs and cupboards. Damp stained the walls, which had, long ago, been papered brownly with a pattern of leaves. A distorting witch-ball the size of a football stood in a wooden fruit bowl on the sideboard, in the middle of a mute congregation of bottles of tomato ketchup, salad cream, H.P. sauce, Daddies Favourite sauce and Okay fruit sauce, all with dried dribbles running down their sides. Aunt Margaret carried in an oblong, golden pie from the kitchen, steaming and savoury. Francie spoke a strange grace.
'Flesh to flesh. Amen.'
Then they ate and the dog lay under the table. It put its wet nose on each of their knees in turn, for titbits. It was a white bull terrier with pink eyes.
'Has the dog a name?' asked Melanie.
'Sometimes,' said Finn, 'It is an old dog.'
It was as good as a ballet to watch Finn eat but Francie mopped gravy with bread and chewed bones from his fingers. He was also a noisy eater, as if providing an orchestral accompaniment for his brother. The food was abundant and delicious. There was both white and brown bread, yellow curls of the best butter, two kinds of jam (strawberry and apricot) on the table and a currant cake on the sideboard ready for when they had dealt with the pie.
Aunt Margaret poured fresh tea from a brown earthenware, Sunday-school treat pot that was so heavy she had to tilt it with both hands. They drank their tea very dark and put too much sugar into it. Aunt Margaret presided over the table with a placid contentment, urging them to eat with eloquent movements of the eyes and hands. The children ate hungrily, relaxing over the meal; she must, thought Melanie, be nice if she cooks so well.
When the pie finally changed places with the cake on the sideboard and they all had second cups of tea, the dog, judging it would get no more scraps, came from under the table, stood on three legs to scratch its left ear, shook itself and clawed the door, whining. Finn opened the door and the dog went out, wagging its tail.