My cooking days are numbered, it is one of the things about old age that they don’t warn you about. Cooking becomes a stressful chore not worth bothering with. I am now a self respecting rabbit, who munches on vegetables which need no cooking. I like meat, I am greedy, but beetroot, lettuce, celery, cucumber, and occasionally a boiled potato or, very daringly, a tin of tuna is my everyday fare.
But the gentry require more. I invited two couples for Sunday lunch. I must have cooked thousands of roasts in my life time, I have six children and 20 grandchildren for goodness sake and used to run two households.
But I am out of practice with cooking and I’m also out of touch with the gentry. There’s a nice couple who have had me over and another nice couple who have also had me over. That makes two nice couples who I owe back. I start to worry. They will fill the tiny kitchen and put a strain on the number of plates I possess – so I try to keep it simple and do without cheese. Four friendly folk is hardly an occasion for a “tis”. However I haven’t done any housework since October and if I light a fire in the morning, because I’ve invited them for lunch, I’ll have to go out into the cold and fill up the log basket twice in one day, brr. Decision, decisions, decisions. This is where old age lets me down. Which is the important decision and which is the less important?
A rib of beef was purchased at vast expense. Just thinking how much beetroot I could buy, my rabbity whiskers twitch. In my heyday – about 30 years ago, Potato Dauphinoise was a speciality of mine and very good it was too. Vegetables have to be thought about, there are all those runner beans I popped in the freezer in August; I feel more in control. Getting in the stride of things, there’s the blackberries as well, surely I can conjure up a blackberry and apple pie?
I do my conjuring tricks. The food is prepared and looks alright. With fruity language and not enough room to put anything, I light the fire in the sitting room and I’m ready. It is already stressful, a feeling I never thought I would have with cooking and the guests haven’t even arrived yet. But just imagine the delightful conversation, entertaining both me and them. I’ll just fill the sink with hot water to warm the plates…
The first guests arrive, I bung them in the sitting room and pour a glass of New Zealand wine, bought on the grounds that the New Zealanders haven’t been making wine long enough to make truly dreadful stuff. We chat, I’m given some lovely flowers. Then I remember the veg, I must drain the veg. I flee to the kitchen and am brought up short by the Niagara Falls in my kitchen. Oh dear, the tap to warm the plates up was left on. Hot water has overflowed the sink and there’s about an inch and a half sloshing happily all over the kitchen floor. And I smell over cooked veg. It used to be so natural to me and I can’t work out what to do. I wade through the kitchen to the cooker. This is one of the punishments of old age. I drain the veg and because my bungalow has an electric oven they continue to cook or do I mean burn, yes, I mean burn. I ignore them then face the flood.
Can I help? Is a mantra that many of us say but few are called to actually do something.
“Rachel, you can give a hand, there’s been a bit of a disaster.” Every towel in the tiny bungalow, there are three, is laid reverently on the kitchen floor. Rachel does stirling work with a dustpan and scoop, the next lot of guests arrive, I shove them in the sitting room and force feed them white wine, then dash back to the kitchen, relieve Rachel from scooping up water and appear in the sitting room, charm personified.
Living on my own, I have so much I want to say, about the coming elections, the recent massacres, global warming and how original and clever I am. They bore on about shooting,
“A left and a right and got both buggers.” I mention I’m off to Uzbekistan where upon we have a good half hour of holidays the others have been on,
“No, darling that was the year before”,
“I’m sure it was Delphi”
“Oh you silly old man, it was Aleppo, don’t you remember”.
They go, the washing up remains, the fire goes out, I feel what a wasted opportunity, now they will never know how fascinating I am. It’s back to celery and cucumber and my comfort zone. Yes, I too was once gentry but have some how slipped out of the mould. Or where they always like this and I never fitted in? To use Pepys’s favourite expression, “And so to bed” I’ll do the washing up in the morning. The floor might have dried by then.