I knew things weren’t quite as they should be the moment it happened.
‘Won’t be a minute,’ I trilled through the kitchen door, on the other side of which the Gremlin stood patiently waiting, shopping bags and car keys in hand. ‘Just putting on my socks and boots.’
Only then remembering my socks had actually been on for some time. That the five-limbed thermal cosiness I was currently aiming my toes towards was, in fact, a glove.
I blame Christmas, of course. We’d travelled to Yorkshire, carrying Christmas with us in the back of the Disco. Back seats down, several heavy duty storage boxes and bags for life packed and stacked, floor to roof with the almost-entire contents of our kitchen cupboards, fridge and freezer. All the trappings required for not just Christmas lunch but Christmas Eve’s promised ‘meat and potato hotpot with a crust’. And presents.
‘We’ll come to you for Christmas,’ we’d said to his newly-widowed mum, ‘on one condition: we’re cooking’. An offer which turned first into a logistical exercise – second guessing what Mother Gremlin might have in her own kitchen drawers, unwilling to risk not having just the right knife or that all-important grind of sea salt to hand. And second, into an entertaining game of ‘You didn’t need to bring that, I’ve got one of those’ Bingo.
‘Good luck keeping her out of the kitchen!’ said one pal. And we did draw up plans to station the Gremlin at the door, barring all comers, not least those who insist on wearing their pinny over their Christmas Best anyway ‘because I don’t feel right without it’.
But once the Bingo card had been filled and we’d established against fierce apprehension that, yes, the second smaller oven/microwave COULD be used as a conventional oven too without fear of spontaneously combusting the kitchen (and provided the evidence with a rummage through the manual), and once the compromise had been reached over who should set the festive table (clue: not us), we were left to our own devices.
The Gremlin shuttled around as sous chef, periodically shouting ‘Yes, chef!’ and, Mother Gremlin eventually took off her pinny to enjoy being spoiled rotten. Everything went according to plan and dinner arrived on the table at exactly the moment given. I’d say it was a success. But thank God for a car full of kitchen knick knacks.
Ah, go on, go on, go on….
No trip to Mother Gremlin’s passes without at least one reference to my not having ‘eaten very much’, despite me chomping through the very same plateful as everyone else around the table. On this occasion it was the hearty helping of meat and potato hotpot with a crust which failed to impress.
(Okay, so the Gremlin and his brother polished off a second lot but they’ve got hollow legs. And this isn’t my point).
Seems like only yesterday I talked about the whole ‘thin shaming’ thing but it was January 2017, shortly after a complete stranger (a gentleman, though I use the term loosely), leaned towards me during a rescue team Christmas bag packing session, to advise me I needed ‘feeding up’. I could ‘do with a good meal’, he said, or I’d ‘never lift a stretcher with those muscles’.
I don’t really care about him or his ilk, but how do you explain to those you love dearly, whose very concept of love is to feed you, that thanks to a very dodgy relationship with food in my late twenties – the untangling of which took several years in self-sought therapy (little sympathy then for what would now be billed a ‘mental health issue’) – I’m now possessed of a particularly sensitive ‘stop-the-hell-shovelling-food-in mechanism’. So sensitive that even the sight of too much food on a plate can render me appetite-free (the Bulimia Diet: not a long-term strategy or lifestyle choice I’d recommend). How do you say that, when it’s so far removed from their frame of reference as to be incomprehensible?
But it’s an overweight, unhealthy world. I had it too, the ‘no pudding till you’ve eaten your dinner’ line, but we have to get past this idea that everything on our plate MUST be eaten regardless of how much there was on that plate to start with. Once upon a time, this might have rung true, but have you seen portion sizes now?
My hard-won approach to food now is this: eat what you like, when you like and stop eating when you’ve had enough. And, erm, maybe put less on your plate to start with?
Then we can all eat pudding.
Fishless fingers and battered blossoms, anyone?
Remember that ‘vegan fish and chip’ shop, reportedly struggling to convince people it was real fish on the menu (despite it clearly not being)? Well the plot thickens. Much like the batter.
Sutton and Sons is a mini-chain of upmarket fish and chip shops in north and east London. Tis they, it seems, who’ve opened the vegan version, selling ‘fish’ made of banana blossom. When battered and fried, I’m told, the tear-shaped flowers ‘bear a striking resemblance to fish’. Er, no they don’t. They just look like something that’s been battered and fried. It could be anything in there.
Meanwhile, Waitrose is pushing out ‘fishless fingers’ built from seaweed and tofu which at least have a whiff of fishy provenance, and Sainsbury’s is tempting our palates with vegan smoked ‘salmon’. Also known as carrot peelings.
Pardon me if I stick to the real thing.
Back in #2017, I also made a few predictions for the year ahead.
‘The doom-mongers will persist in their glass half empty view. Those handcarts will rumble on to Hades. Human beings (and cats) will continue to entertain and embarrass, destroy and delight us. Rock stars and film stars, and sadly even people we actually know, will depart this ragtaggle world for a better place, taking a part of us with them whilst somehow also leaving their whole selves here, with us. Forever in our hearts.’
And how right I was. Since then the Gremlin and I have lost family, friends and colleagues. So many famous names found better things to do than hang around here, last year alone, it was hard to keep track. The world seems to turn ever darker, the doom-mongers, now raddled with thirst, shriek ever louder.
Believe everything you read and the wheels are off the wagon, Hell is but a flicker away – cats, with or without cucumbers, our only salvation.
We’ve seen #metoo erupt then turn in on itself, with women in some corners of the world less respected and more abused than ever. There’s a toddler in the White House, a trained assassin cracking his knuckles in the Kremlin and a power-hungry hamster with a sidewall in Residence Number 55.
But sooner or later, this too will pass. One day, I promise, we WILL look back on this and wonder what the dickens all THAT was about. The grown-ups might even be back in charge.
So here’s my advice for #2019 (modified only slightly from #2017): dance not like Ed but like Theresa (because you and I both know this is how we would ALL dance, given a spotlit podium, an audience of rictus-smiling back-stabbers and the two years she’s had). Gaze out that window. Have faith, in the inherent goodness of the majority of mankind (the bits you don’t see or hear about often enough).
Eat butter. In fact, eat what you like but eat well. Laugh! No, laugh a lot! Be kind to each other. Keep topping that glass up. And stop being such a bloody misery on my timeline.