19 April 2010

Oh dear. I really do have that many tins in the cupboard. Soup tins and spaghetti tins and bits-of-plastic-in-a-metal-sauce tins, but mostly, soup tins. I’ve only been in this flat a year ot two, or there would be yet more.

Tomato and minestrone and tomato-with-a-bit-of-basil-in-it and I’m not exactly going to run out of vitamin C, am I, if there’s suddenly a crisis in the British supply chain, although I’ll never be able to use that saucepan for boiling milk again.

At least it’s not just me. My parents’ larder has tins amalgamated from three different households. Sometimes when I visit them I open the larder and stare into it as if something inanimate will speak up and tell me what to have for lunch. (I’d really rather that it didn’t.) Who on earth bought that flavour of soup? There’s a good chance she isn’t even on earth any more.


These Fokkers

22 March 2010

This one might be too good to keep down in the comments on another post, so let’s put some oral tradition to work.

As far as I can remember, this is how my mother told the joke about the Fokkers. It might not be very far at all. I might just think it came from her because the air force is in it; I might just think it’s set in a girls’ school because she went to one. (But this is how we tell stories, isn’t it? And why Pygmalion and Faust and Oedipus and Leviathan go round the world and end up looking like this?)

So the famous British fighter pilot, Douglas Bader, visits a girls’ school. He’d lost his legs in a plane crash ten years before the War, and he sits at the front of the great hall with a tartan rug over his thighs. Was this at my mother’s school? Let’s say it was. My mother’s French teacher is in the audience, the same one who scared the girls because she never wanted to take off her gloves.

‘The Battle of Britain was the hardest,’ Bader says. ‘The Luftwaffe was the strongest it had ever been. I was flying in the Big Wing, and suddenly, out of the clouds, these Fokkers appeared.’

Some of the girls laugh, the ones who always do.

‘I looked out of my cockpit,’ Bader says, ‘and one of the Fokkers was right on top of me. I came out of the sun and shot him down. The Fokkers were swarming around me thick and fast.’

More of the girls laugh. The teacher takes control. ‘The manufacturer of the aircraft is called Fokker,’ says Madame. ‘Please, girls, be quiet.’

‘That’s as it may be,’ Bader says, ‘but these Fokkers? They were flying Messerschmidts.’


22 February 2010

Somebody has been to the utility cupboard and dug out the Brilliant Torch.

The Brilliant Torch didn’t take its name from any epic fantasy-type sense, but got so named because its three different lightbulbs were more than enough to make an eight-year-old say ‘Brilliant!’.

They still make a twenty-eight-year-old say ‘Brilliant!’, if they’re lying around unexpectedly on the kitchen table.

The first bulb is a torch. An unflappable, straight-down-the-middle torch, the kind you’d want investigating a crime scene if these familiar walls suddenly turned sinister.

The second bulb is a fluorescent tube. Too large for the casing and oddly blue, never as bright as its size would lead you to expect. It still made the difference between entertainment and boredom overnight on an ill-judged, the only ill-judged, family camping trip.

The third bulb is a warning light, flashing off and orange. When you turn it on in the night-time kitchen, it looks as if the emergency services are attending on the bridge, coping with what the terminally selfish make them cope with there.

These must be new batteries, if the torch still works. The ones I remember leaving in there would be older than the government.

I flash the warning light around the kitchen and go to illuminate the cat.


18 February 2010

Somebody I don’t know emails my mum’s sister-in-law, who emails my mum, who emails my dad because she’s lost my email again.

There’s footage of her dad, my grandfather, ten years after the war in archive newsreel on a history website. He did something extraordinary over there, other people did some extraordinary things for him, and a small mission of mutual thanks had been organised.

He looks like my mum. It would be stranger if he didn’t. The plummy announcer helpfully reads out his name.

He’s the only one of his companions in civilian clothes. The plummy announcer didn’t need to read out that.

The war broke him and even did its best to break his children. I’m inquisitive by nature, but this is one time I’m not sure whether I want to keep asking. What did his squadron do? What did one bomb – they bomb – we bomb – with his kind of plane?

Pancakes and lightbulbs

16 February 2010

Pancakes were the same as lightbulbs. Both of them were a rigmarole to fix and a source of grumbling family resentment if they didn’t get done at all.

Pancakes needed hours of preparation. They were serious stuff in serious mixing bowls, not to be jeopardised by Mummy, I want to help!. I can’t remember what we did if my dad was out at his society, whether we waited for the next day or whether his absence would simply never have been allowed to happen. There wasn’t proper supper before pancakes, just a sandwich tea, so that we didn’t take in too much stodge. We didn’t toss the pancakes: it would probably have finished my mum off.

My mother changed the lightbulbs too. They needed all the electricity turned off, and a ladder found, and couldn’t be done unless my mother had a spare hour and a half. As I grew up, I wondered why it all had to be such a drama, especially when it meant doing my homework under two anglepoise lamps for three weeks flat. Eventually, I took it into my own hands. The other eighty minutes were for getting the ladder out and putting it away again.

After my mother went back to work, pancakes made for one of the year’s most stressful days. If an emergency was on, or if she was simply too shattered by what she’d seen to cope, we couldn’t have them. We waited for the phone call that always seemed to come during Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the BBC.

My mum had lemon on her pancakes and my dad had jam. I don’t know whether I parsed that into mummies have lemon and daddies have jam. It didn’t stop me asking for the jam.

Proof that my mum’s nature was sour and my dad’s was sweet: tempting, then, but wrong.


Now: quickly, shop-bought, heated, after work, standing up, too fast, too thin, lifting the second one off the glass plate with a fork before the first one’s away.

And I have maple syrup.

The Cat Fairy

7 January 2010

When David Anthony Durham’s children were learning to read, they started receiving letters from the Reading Fairy of Western Massachusetts.

When their beloved cat disappeared, they wrote to the Cat Fairy for consolation. And the Snake Fairy… well, yes, it turns out, there is such a concept as a benign Snake Fairy.

My family is in good company.