Jonathan Milner hasn't just lost his wife, Debbie, for the summer, but his four children too. Three boys and a girl, aged from eighteen months to seven years. His villa, in Abu Dhabi's Khalidiyah Village, consequently looks ever so slightly like the recess bell has just gone and the children have all vanished outside into the garden. A Fisher Price buggy and a couple of empty car seats sit in the drive, and various toys sit motionless in his sitting room.
"I've been fully home alone for three weeks now," he says ushering me in, although Lulu the rescue dog bounds up and sniffs my legs. "I'm going back to the UK for two weeks at the end of July, and they won't be back until September." But Milner, the director of an interiors company, seems to be faring marginally better than last week's summer bachelor, who had been eking out an existence mostly on cheese and crackers.
Milner often cooks for his family anyway, so knows his way around the kitchen. During the week, however, he says he generally has a big lunch at work and then just plays it by ear in the evening. There won't be any specific menu planning for dinner, in other words. "It depends how I feel. It might be good old pasta with a bit of pesto. If I'm really up for it, it'll be a steak and chips. A big slab of meat and lots of veggie stuff."
"So you're relatively healthy then?" "I can be," he muses, before extinguishing that idea by adding that he might alternatively have a shawarma and chips from his local Lebanese takeaway just around the corner. "I'm certainly not doing the weekly shop though," he then adds, explaining that he is usually one of those fathers you see pushing a trolley around the aisles of Spinneys or Lulu in a desultory fashion on Friday mornings.
"But we normally get our fruit and veg from the Mina Port. We go to our fruit man, our vegetable man." We share a grumble about the expensive, bagged lettuce you buy from supermarkets in the UAE, which often goes brown and curly within two days. "Oh, absolutely," he agrees, adding that his weekly foraging at Mina Port produced much cheaper, fresher produce. This kind of application and knowledge is impressive stuff from a summer bachelor.
"Do you get fish from down there too?" "No, I don't do fish. Wifey does but I don't." There seems to be a happy division of labour in the Milner household. His long hours mean that Debbie generally does the cooking during the week, and then has a bit of a break on the weekend. "I will do a Saturday roast, but normally Fridays are quite chilled, and we'll get a couple of roast chickens from the Lebanese takeaway because the kids love those. With lots of bread."
"And the garlic sauce?' I venture. "Yeah. Toum," he replies. Snatching a few more summer bachelor points. "If you were going to do a dinner party, then what?" I ask. "Debbie normally does the starters and dessert, I do the main course," he says. "So either a really good cut of beef for a big old roast, or a rack of lamb." He thinks a bit more."Or a butterflied leg of lamb, that's quite good." "On the barbecue?"
"Yeah, that would go on the barbecue actually." He is duly awarded a few more points for knowing what kind of cut a butterflied leg of lamb is. Where has he honed such knowledge? "I learned watching Ready Steady Cook as a student at university," he explains. "And I used to watch all the Jamie Olivers. They were quite good until he sold out." Sold out? "How can he say, on the one hand eat organic stuff and then show some dead chicken on the Sainsburys ad?" he explains. "But yeah, I do love cookery programmes. Wifey loves Come Dine With Me." He's pretty much self-taught then, having inherited little knowledge of matters culinary from his father. "My dad could burn water. I remember when my brothers were born, all my dad could do was chips and beans so we basically ate at Little Chef for two weeks."
So Milner has broken the mould. "I'll throw things together and see what happens. I am Mr Cook," he asserts, before slightly correcting himself. "If I can be bothered, I'm Mr Cook."