Overawed by the fridge to end all fridges

At the touch of a button, ice cubes tumble at will. Not the boring ones I make. Exciting ice cubes
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WHAT I used to like about camping holidays was the basic kitchen - two gas rings, three saucepans, a wooden spoon and a washing-up bowl. I'm not one to boast, but I could cobble together some pretty impressive meals for a family of eight with this unpromising batterie de cuisine. A friendly neighbour on one campsite in Brittany - she was from Basingstoke - taught me how to make real mayonnaise on a plate with a knife, an accomplishment I have since passed on to my daughters and to anyone else who doesn't cut me short with, "Oh God, not the real-mayonnaise-on-a-plate recipe again".

Walking through the appliance-covered prairie lands of what a well-known London department store chooses to call "The World of Kitchens" recently with a friend in search of a fridge, it struck me with some force that the more gadgets we have to prepare food, the less food we seem to prepare. Take microwave ovens. Another friend made me a cup of coffee in hers the other morning. "And they're brilliant for doing mange-tout al dente," she said, over her shoulder. She was looking in her new fridge for croissants to go with the coffee. Have you ever tasted deep-frozen microwaved croissants? "Don't worry about me I'll just have the coffee," I said.

I'd better tell you about Sarah's new fridge. It was the reason I had been asked to accompany my other friend to the World of Kitchens, for ever since she had seen Sarah's, she could think of nothing but acquiring one for herself. It's enormous, less a fridge than a spare room. One side is the fridge - shelves, 12 of them in all, wide enough to accommodate a full-length Loch Fyne salmon, and enough room in the door for butter, eggs, cheese, cream and milk to justify a personal delivery by Low-Loader from the nearest organic dairy. The other side is the freezer, 12 huge drawers stuffed with Marks & Spencer's pre-cooked meals, ready to be al dente'ed in the microwave.

But the coup de grace is the gadget that provides instant iced water and ice cubes. It's built into the outside of the freezer door, and looks unnervingly like the stainless- steel bowl that the dentist asks you to spit into when he has removed your old filling. To one side is the tap for iced water, to the other is a chute from which, at the touch of a button, ice cubes tumble at will. Not just boring square ice cubes like the ones I make in a modest metal tray in the freezer compartment of my old fridge, but exciting ice cubes. You can programme it to produce round, heart-shaped, polar bear-shaped and now, apparently, Phantom Menace ice cubes without which, Sarah said, no home is complete.

The moment you come in the door, she offers you iced water like an American waitress in a diner. Her children whimper if their fizzy drinks have the wrong sort of ice cubes: "But Mummy, I did ask for goldfish, but you pressed the wrong button and now I've got these beastly footballs," protests four-year-old Flora. "I'm so sorry, darling, why don't you give them to Archie and I'll make you some goldfish right away," returns their devoted mother.

Now let me tell you about the outside of Sarah's new fridge. It cost an extra pounds 800 (the fridge itself was pounds 8,000) to have it finished with a light cherrywood veneer to match her kitchen. You can hardly see the light cherrywood doors so covered are they in fridge art. When my kids were small I bought magnetic alphabets to stick on the fridge door from the Early Learning Centre, because they were "fun, educational and easily wiped", and all their friends had them. For two years we had "I hate Miss Brimblecomb" on the fridge door, plus a few other fun educational slogans. But in the end they fell off, leaving only a handful of the sort of letters you pick up in an impossible Scrabble hand.

Sarah's fridge has magnetic cut-outs of Elvis and Marilyn nude, and 20 different outfits to dress them in. It's incredibly amusing to dress Elvis in one of Marilyn's frocks. Better still is the poetry pack, with 100 random magnetic words from which you can make spontaneous haikus and sonnets. You'd expect words such as "love", "moon", "always", "aching", "I", "you", "but" and "roses", but what about "slime", "nevertheless", "grunt", "multiply", "weasel" and "corps"?

"Archie's verse is surprisingly mature for a child of six," his mother said as we watched the talented lad move "unbeknownst" from his line of iambic pentameter and replace it with "greaseball".

Maybe I need more poetry in my life. Then again, maybe I need a new fridge. I need somewhere to store all that mayonnaise. Or maybe I'll just get Sarah to make me some pound sign-shaped ice cubes and dream on.