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Friday, 20 June 2008

yum yum

For a long time now I have been basking in that Maternal Utopia, the land where I believe that I am teaching my children to cook for, God knows, the last thing the world needs is more useless males tumbling into it, come 18, unable to lift a finger.
I lie about it to other mothers and can imagine arguing the toss with St Peter come the day when I have to blag my way into heaven.
Meanwhile, happy in my falsehood, I can see Jamie Oliver giving me a toothy thumbs up and saying “Gotcha!” or “Sorted!” and Big Bad Gord ruffling my hair while growling, “Fuck Me! Nice one, Mil.”

Only it doesn’t really happen.
Because, simply and truly, they can’t be arsed.
It’s not for my wanting of trying, oh no, because it used to happen.
Sort of.
Once or twice a long time ago.
This is when I instituted the sadness that was Boy Wednesday when they were meant to turn up and show an interest in stirring the pot. I made it as fun as my inner control freak was able. Indeed there are even photos, witness to my moments of Merry Mom, of F9 (when F6) enshrined in clouds of flour. But when push comes to shove, they just couldn’t care less. Not when the option is going down the park instead, that is.
It goes without saying, however, that they are as capable as the next child of staring at the plate in dismay, and saying “What’s this?” Their sullen tones fit to chill the cook’s blood, but neither of them wants to peel an onion or get down and dirty trimming the beaks and knees from a slabby bit of chicken. And who can blame them, frankly? Not when there are staff, called Mother.

I’ve long mumbled – and please understand that I have NOT been to Afghanistan – that it doesn't get much worse than hearing a male voice, related to me by blood or marriage, asking “What’s for supper?”
My mother hated cooking and in retaliation I’ve kept up the pretence that I quite like it for far too long. I suppose I can fiddle with monkfish with the best of them, but the day to day stuff is the stuff of oppression. Very Little Red Hen am I, stomping round the kitchen doing it All By Myself while others lounge on sofas or play cricket. Miraculously, come 7 o’clock they all know to drift in just not when any chopping needs doing. Cake mix brings 'em running, too. Must be magic.
Moreover the treacherous children still maintain that their favourite meal is a certain chicken pie, their father’s signature dish, made maybe four times since time began and only once since 2005, (me doing the dull old pastry, unsung).
Quite why I bother in the face of failure to live up to such culinary riches, I have no idea.

Then last night I stumbled across F9’s “My Food Passport.” This hails from the short-lived days when F9 was the most reluctant Beaver in history (“Oi ‘ate beavers!”). Akela, a sturdy lass, had thought it would be Fun to introduce the Beavers to food from different countries, an admirable quest. The passport, a scruffy piece of much folded paper features a drawing of himself, the sort to muddle a fond parent since it bears a striking likeness to an orc from Lord of the Rings: fierce and with one hand more lobster than human, the other wrapped round an unspecified weapon.
Inside are 5 sections each marked Food, From, Marks out of 10 and Comment. I read on.
Greece fared well, I saw, with its Bread and Hummus. It scored an acceptable 10 out of 10 and was deemed to be “Just lovely” (for a moment I read it as “Just lonely” and felt sorry for it).
Leaping ahead, and finding favour was bread and brie, scoring an impressive 100,000,50 out of 10 for being “so nice and cheesy,” (go, France), but the AA Gill in him was less pleased with Japan’s offerings (Sushi) which scored a depressing 0 out of 10, and the stern comment, “It tasted like sick and it’s just papper” (sic, but of a different sort).

I showed it to him and it sparked a renewed interest in cooking. Something I embraced with off-putting enthusiasm. I suggested he prepare a menu. Which he did:

It’s got to be said, it’s a bit of a heartsinker.
It’s one to save for the grandparents methinks, sort the buggers out.
“Are you sure about that?” I said
“Yes,” he said puzzled, as he and Lolly so often are, at my deep stupidity. I swear those two share genes.
“Meat … and blackberry … in a pie?”

The chicken korma sandwich, toasted, with spinach, bacon, sauce and cheese, does not have me reaching for my apron either. But he loves his Indian food does F9 and back in the food passport his grading of pappadums and mango chutney shows his approval.
“So crunchy” he says, affording it an "Apprentice"-friendly 1250,000,0000000 out of 10. Poor Mexico, in comparison does not stand a chance. The Tortillas and salsa dip apparently “tasted like it had no life,” and gets a grim 2/10.

Meanwhile tomorrow I cook for 20. All on my own. 7 out of 10 will be fine. Sick, funnily enough, will not.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

gone but not quite forgotten

It being boiling hot, F9 has been drifting round in his dressing gown. Seems he needs no excuse to pop it on, but since this is the child who saw fit to wear 5 t-shirts and 13 pairs of shorts to a barbecue on the hottest day of July one year, despite a face like a tomato, I am no longer surprised.
“I want to be toasty!” he wailed, when I got a fit of the grapples and try to wrestle it off.
He makes you feel boiling just to look at him, and the pinkness of faces all round after the undressing fisticuffs is very princess.
“I need comfort,” he said.
I was sad, too. We all are.

For T11 has gone off on a week’s residential fun (archery to zip-wires) and we have been missing him terribly.
My missing peaked at about 2pm on Monday, which was crazy given that I wouldn’t normally even have picked him for another hour or so.
And we'd only been apart 90 minutes. I had spent the morning trying to make his MP3 player work before conceding that I was too old to continue and couldn't be bothered. I was staring, like Lolly, at bits of metal and plastic which I was never going to understand, and instead loaded all of his favourites onto my iPod Shuffle. It means that I will never be free of The Ping Pong Song but who cares.
So come 2 o'clock, I started mourning and panicking, imagining not gap-5 days, but gap years.
"Best thing for him," my mother said briskly. Try as I might, I cannot imagine her mourning my absence much.
“We have to let go, and at least we know they're all having a nice time; and that helps,” said wise, sensible, grown up friend, stating the bleeding obvious and making me feel foolish.
Something I compounded by clutching my hankie, my comfort rag, and whimpering, “I know all that, but I don’t care. I care about me.”
“You just need to relax,” she said in a way that made me appreciate F9’s need to carry a gun at all times. Just what IS Reasonable Force, I wondered, and what Provocation?

Meanwhile my aunt phoned to say that on Sunday evening, my cousin J had had her 4th baby (the others are 5, 4 and 2).
The house, friends, could not be smaller.
The car needs to be upgraded to a sort of bus.
The husband does not drive.
Even J now thinks that that enough was enough and she was only a day in.
Listening to myself wailing about being down to one, I pictured the nappies, the trailing round of 3 tinies and a baby. The laundry. If contemplating that lot doesn't exhaust you, you are no friend of mine. I glanced around and thought that things weren’t so bad.

I went outside and planted up some tubs for the front. No one came to ask for the computer password to be typed in or roll their eyes over my supper suggestion.

Lolly played football without any bossy child removing the ball from her busy jaws. For once, her game reached a natural conclusion. She collapsed, exhausted from actual toil, rather than it being the only option left to her, bewildered by the irritable re-ownership of the ball, uncertain, with the dim look of one suddenly bereft but of what, she's never sure, but stranded to contemplate instead taking up MP3 management. She snored on the ground, contented. (Her promotion to goldfish grade is pending: she's yet to prove her worth since she can't even swim in circles.)

Grabbing the optimistic end of the stick and things were suddenly all quite pleasant.
Oldest boy, whatever his name is, is missed, most indeedy. His luscious kissable skin for starters; the way his tiny freckles startle you and make you pleased because to see them means you are close to him, and he is so very beautiful that this is most gorgeous, flattering almost. And don't get me started on his eyelashes. My eyes brim...

Please don't tell me I'm relaxing, or I'll twitch for a weapon, but meal times are certainly calmer, there is no sly kicking, one of the other, under the table.
Internecine war does not exist with only one side available for duty, a side who has no need to unleash his inner pterodactyl and lapse into strange squawks (one of many tics to prompt a sad shake of the head from my mother, and a "he's not the ticket, you know") or shriek "T11 did it!" I am forced to wonder if, perhaps, indeed, F9 is right and T11 does do it, sometimes.
With no arguments to pacify, there has been no need for a soothing glass of wine. Really. All week. Easy sobriety.
F9 has no one to tell to shut up or to get lost or to be furious with for closing his tractor catalogue. Moreover F9 is into his 48th hour of speaking properly, without going into enraging loonytunes mode, although he does ask E with OCD frequency if he is contagious. Of what I dare not ask.
There is no peri-teenage ringtone nonsense.
At school, the granite features of two grim matrons fiddling with whiteboards lit up in happy memory of the day their children had left home.
“Sad, yes, for a bit,” said the grimmest, trying to look thoughtful and caring, “but the relief, too!” She and Not So Grim chortled.

It being Thursday I could afford for a teeny tiny chortle to stagger into life around my own lazy chops. After all, he's back tomorrow and the limbo waiting will be over. The nest will be full again and my bad temper can swarm back all content.

F9 looked up at me. "Toasty!" he said, in his best Northern accent.
"Toasty," I said.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Do You Want Any Help With That?

On Saturday, I was awoken at the ungodly hour of half past ten by a banging and a rasping sound.
E at play in the sitting room beneath, knocking off nasty coving.
His lack of consideration to my recovery needs following a friend’s 50th was really quite startling. No more Zzzzs for me.
I went downstairs to tell him so.
Finding him covered in dust and grim of mien, I thought better of it and pretended instead that I’d been Up For Hours and Doing Something, a line stolen from F9.
If he is not doing nuffin, he is doing sumfin’.
Either is as good as you'll ever get and possibly more than you need to know. If the door has been shut, the face red and there is the hasty slam of a drawer to boot, then the sense of foreboding is great. Whether it was Nuffin or Sumfin, it is as well to check the presence of credit cards in purse and fear for the knock on the door: Postie demanding a signature in exchange for an iPhone.

Instead, I went into the kitchen to meet the unpleasing sight of Lolly eating a spider.
I hate spiders, so this proclivity might be the one thin strand which that dog can use to tie herself to us, thereby avoiding a sticky end at the glue factory, but it’s not a thing you wish to see. Particularly when it’s a crunchy spider, or, actually, a bulbous, squadgy one, the kind to cling to a tooth and emit.
Indeed I’d go so far as not say that you haven’t lived if you've not been party to this particular gastro experience, which is preceded by a dim stare of intent, her muzzle mapping the ground as if drawn by a subterranean magnet, and finished with a busy pounce. And a rustle or a splodge, depending on type.

I snapped on her lead, too fragile to contemplate burst arachnid innards or bits of beast twitching in her mouth. She licked her lips lustily.
I walked and she bounced through buttercups and snarfed on horse shit.
On the way home, there was still the suspicion of spider about her chops – was it Lolly-whisker or spider-leg? Decisions, decisions. A girl needs a hobby: bored, she licked out strands of broken spider from between her teeth.
It reminded me of F9, when he was F2, glumly surveying a dead crackly tiny something in his hand. Possibly what had been happy to call itself a woodlouse in life. “Broken,” he’d said softly.

When I’d got in late the night before I’d kindly shared with E the details of my own gastro experience:
lots of champers
beef with foie gras
3 dainty puds, puddled on a plate, steeped in chocolat.
Servants, all dressed up and cooking in the birthday girl’s garage. I doubt that I could successfully open a packet of crisps in a garage, but these tux’d chaps not only did just that, but divvied it up to us whinnying old bags, and then took it all away again to wash up back at their gaff. Marvellous.
E was quite rude, however, somewhere around my fourth mention of “champagne” and “delicious,” and reminded me of the frozen Indian feast I’d hastily slapped in the oven for the 3 of them shortly before swanning off out.
“Never again,” he said. “Shit on a plate.”

The morning passed subject to various degrees of frost, with many things and various subjects (spiders, champagne, husbands, wives and dogs) being ignored or unmentionable.
Later, two old people having a bop.
I said as much to E.
We were listening to Moby’s fantastic new CD. E was making bread, I was making a meal out of opening a box of under-bed drawers. (Wrong size, too big, we discovered an hour into putting them together.)
“That’s a bit offensive,” he said. His turn to borrow from F9.
“OK,” I said, “One old person, and his wife, having a bop.”
For sho’.

With redundant storage taking up excess room (an inverse result of its supposed function), there was no actual room for F9 in his room.
He lay on the floor writing a poem about Lolly, that her heart was like an apple sewn together and then remembered that he had a project to do for school, a half term project, the details of which he scanned impatiently. He declared the work finished in about 30 seconds, most of which was spent waiting for the printer to heat up.

“That was quick,” I said, before skimming it and saying, “Ah, no. No copying and pasting it, it’s got to be your words.”
“Thomas did it like that,” he said.
“I don’t care about that,” I said, “No, look, look here,” I dangled Mrs K’s bit of paper.
What she says goes, what I say is rubbish.
He went back upstairs.

After 40 minutes, I called to see if he needed any help. It was that or show interest in bashing off coving. Decisions, decisions.
“It’s just that I’m so slow at typing,” he said.
I went in. He was copy-typing all that he had previously printed out, word for word for word. Laborious. No gaps after full stops. What could one be but sad. Such industry, so pointless. Very drawers under the bed.
But sometimes I worry that he and Lolly share a brain. That they borrow it one from the other, wind it up and strap it tight, usually forgetting to switch it on.
“It said ‘… mywords…’,” he said, with elaborate explanation, stressing each word to aid dimwit mother’s comprehension. Being the reasonable interpretation of one who thought that that meant that he had to input the actual words himself, key by very slow key.

I explained what it did mean.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“Like this,” I said.

I started copying and pasting and changing internet-speak, not to F9-speak, apples and hearts and offensive, but to normal 9-year-old speak:
“with the emergence of …. “ to “when”
and phrases involving rape, mutilation and beating to “they were horrible to their wives.”
It was fascinating.
I could tell you many things about the Yanomami:
the 9 species of poisonous vine used in fishing
that 40% of their men have killed another human being
how they live, up to 400, in a big round house
how there are only 32.000 of them, but 40,000 miners intent upon their gold, trashing their rivers with mercury

I typed on until a sense of silence dawned on me.
I saved the work, being only part way through, and went downstairs.
E was reading with his eyes shut on the sofa. The coving defeated and waiting for the tip.
“F9?!?” I called.
“Goin’ to the park,” he bellowed from the hall, said in tones of one whose shoes were on and whose work was done.