Smoke Signals

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Feb 28th, 2011
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A column of smoke plumes up over my toaster. Then it’s a head-on rush to beat the smoke to the smoke detector and get the door shut before the detector causes an emergency call-out… for which I have to pay, if it’s a false alarm.

Smoke signals.

The ink in my soul is all about communication.

I am a lousy cook. No, honestly. I am about as bad as it is possible to be without actually being fatal. If I start cooking, folk who know me well have been known to check to see where the fire extinguishers and exits are.

At my absolute worst, the frying pan caught fire, and in one of those moves I can only describe as completely insane, I grabbed the handle and kinda threw it at the sink.

And I missed.

The pan bounced on the windowsill, narrowly missed setting fire to the blinds, and fell out of the open window, thus destroying my downstairs neighbour’s window box before flipping upside down and extinguishing itself on the wet grass below.

The miracle was that I had a sitting room full of people at the time, and we all escaped unscathed from that peculiar little drama. And I have yet another funny story for my collection. Told you I was weird, didn’t I?

My culinary misadventures began at an early age. My mother and my aunt are truly horrible cooks too — it sort of runs in the family. Truth is, I get distracted and lose interest.

I have a secret personality trait which doesn’t help, either: I like to victory dance, banghra-style. So if I start dinner and a really infectious tune comes up on my iPod, I usually have to break off to indulge my guilty pleasure.

You have to bear in mind that this is like singing in the shower (okay, I do that too): it only happens if there isn’t an audience.

Anyway, there have been cakes missing vital ingredients, a lemon meringue pie that went blue and blotchy (don’t ask what chemical process caused that, because I haven’t got a clue), spaghetti that welded itself into a solid mass, and something that was supposed to be Baked Alaska… but patently wasn’t. If Alaska is a rock-strewn wasteland that’s all squidgy in the middle, then maybe… but it definitely wasn’t baked anything. And my attempt at Moules Marinieres comes under the heading of cruel and unusual.

When I was a child, after my grandmother passed on, my mother used to do the cooking. Oh, boy… the miracle is that I survived to adulthood, and that dinner guests survived the soup course.

Dinner guests… well, if they were of the male persuasion, they were usually invited to partake of an after-dinner liqueur. There really isn’t a kind way to put this, but those liqueurs had been my father’s, left over from the days when he was a carefree bachelor with his Bond Street shoes and his Savile Row suits. Bearing in mind that my parents got married in 1953, and my father passed away in 1977, and these dinner parties were taking place in the 1980s–you can imagine the contents of those bottles decades later. You had to be a fairly hardy soul if you dined at my house.

Sometime in the years between making it to adulthood and before I got married, I picked up the trick of masking culinary incompetence with eye-watering amounts of garlic. My cooking may have lacked the milk of human kindness, but the Count himself wouldn’t be turning up any time soon.

Great, my culinary skills would kill a fully-grown moose, but keep Dracula at bay. Bet that was a precaution you didn’t know you ever needed.

All this might lead you to the conclusion that I wouldn’t give house room to cook books.

Not true.

In a curious reversal, one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever had was the Good Housekeeping cook book. Okay, nothing I make ever looks quite like the illustrations, and good housekeeping… hmmm… ‘house’ is basically where I crash and store stuff… I prefer to keep moving when possible.

Perversely, my culinary skills improve immeasurably when I’m cooking out on the trangia (aluminium cook set). Then, I can actually manage not to poison anyone.

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