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Four people in New Zealand own a tagine. Laurie, the editor of Phoenixine is one, I am another and I have no idea who the other two people might be.

It all began when I went to have dinner with Laurie and Annette and Kath as is my occasional wont. "I’ve got a new gadget," said Laurie, exuding pride from every pore. "Tonight I will cook you a tagine dinner."

I was puzzled, but polite. "Wha’?"

A tagine, Laurie explained, is a Moroccan cooking device. Apparently the originals are completely ceramic and are used in a fire, but his, manufactured in Europe, had a cast-iron base thus making it easier to use on the top of the stove. The meal to be cooked is prepared in the normal manner in the cast-iron base, then the heat is turned down to very low and a funnel shaped ceramic top is placed over the base. The dish simmers very slowly for a couple of hours. The steam condenses inside the ceramic funnel and runs back down into the dish. All the goodness is trapped inside, nothing evaporates and the long slow cooking produces an incredibly tender and flavourful meal.

All this was explained as Laurie chopped and sautéed and simmered. Beer was consumed and much praised. Cats were stroked, books were discussed, geeky tales of computer one-upmanship were swapped. Several aeons came and went. At last the meal was ready. The tagine base was brought to the table. Chicken breasts swam in a savoury sauce.

"Help yourself."

I helped myself, and took a bite.

Instant orgasm! Seldom has anything quite so breathtakingly delicious slithered down my throat. When the moans of pleasure finally subsided, I had reached a decision. I needed a tagine of my own.

Across the road from our office in Auckland is a kitchen shop rejoicing in the name of Milly’s. I went in and looked around. They had lots of sexy kitchen stuff, but no tagine. I enquired at the counter.

"I’m looking for a tagine," I said. "It’s a …"

"Ooohh! I know what that is," said the bouncy lady. "We had one of those in a few weeks ago. It looked fascinating. I was tempted to buy it myself."

"Can you get another one?"

"I’ll ring the agents and ask." She picked up the phone and held a long, muttered conversation. Eventually she came back to me. "They imported four on spec about six months ago," she said. "They’ve got one left. It’s $250. Do you want it?"

The price rocked me a little, but memories of Laurie’s cooking stiffened my resolve. "Yes please."

The lady went back to the phone, and the deal was done. Delivery would take about four days. She gave me a docket.

"I’m away on business for the next couple of weeks," I explained. "Can you hang on to it for me when it arrives, and I’ll pick it up when I get back?"

"No problem," she reassured me, little realising how wrong she was…

Two weeks later I went back to Milly’s.

"I’ve come for my tagine."

Blank looks all round. Tagine? Everybody had forgotten me and my order. I produced the docket with the details. Oh yes. That. Someone went to look in the delivery room. No tagine. There was much scratching of heads. Where could it be?

"Why don’t you ring the agents again?" I suggested. Faces brightened. What a good idea. The phone was produced, a number was dialled and another long, muttered conversation was held. The lady came back looking solemn.

"They’ve sent it off to a craft show," she said. "They are trying to encourage orders so that they can import some more. You can’t have it for another two weeks."

I began to get annoyed. "Two weeks ago," I pointed out, "they confirmed the order and said I could have it in four days. It is MY tagine. What right have they to whisk it off to a craft show to try and drum up business without asking me first? I am distinctly unimpressed with their business ethics and their customer relations."

Again the phone was invoked.

"They are very sorry, and they apologise," said the lady. "They really do want it for the show. Without it they will find it difficult to take orders, so they probably won’t bother importing any more since it took so long to sell the last batch."

"That’s not my problem," I said.

"They say you can have it now," she continued, "since it was promised to you. But if you’ll let them keep it for two weeks, you can have a 15% discount."

"I’ll have it now, please," I said. "They have annoyed and inconvenienced me with their actions. So I’ll pay full price and have it straight away, just to be awkward"

She look flabbergasted, but the next day I had my tagine, the last of the original four.

And oh! the food! Next time you come for dinner, I’ll do you this wonderful Jamaican Lamb dish I’ve found. You’ll love it, I promise. But don’t go looking to buy a tagine of your own. There aren’t any, and it’s all my fault…

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