13 August Harriet is back for a few weeks; I want to cook a welcome home meal, but even I’ve grown a bit tired of lasagne and Bakewell Tart, although they are my favourites and my Signature Dishes, so I decide to treat her and Jonny to an authentic curry evening instead. We have chicken korma, broad bean thoran, and spicy lentil and tomato curry. I also decide to try making kulfi for pudding; this is a daring leap into the spicy unknown for me as I’ve never made it before, but it’s a traditional icecream thing, flavoured with cardomom. It sounds authentic and show-offy, and I’ve never been one to shy away from a bit of showing off. Who knows, it might become my new Signature Dish. (Although, come to think of it, how many Signature Dishes am I allowed before they start becoming Alias Dishes?)
Once made, it has to be frozen in kulfi moulds. Naturally, I don’t have proper kulfi moulds, so decide to use paper cups and cling film. As you know, Improvisation is one of my many, many, surprisingly noun-like, middle names, and so this seems like a good compromise. It’s quite hard to get the cling film into the cups, though, and once in, it doesn’t look as if the finished shape will look anything like the neat little icecreamy stacks in the picture.
Still, it’s the taste that counts. (That good old culinary stand-by that has come in so handy over the years.) The recipe doesn’t say exactly how long they need to be in the freezer for, but as I have only three hours to go before we eat, it will have to be for a maximum of three hours. They’re very small, after all.
The first course is perfect, and then I announce the kulfi treat that is about to be revealed. Everyone looks suitably impressed (or nervous, depending on whether one is a glass half-full, or a glass half-empty sort of person). The kulfi wobble alarmingly as I lift them out of the freezer.
No, I tell myself (I’ve adopted the glass half-full attitude), they’re bound to be frozen by now. I upend them into little serving bowls. They promptly disintegrate into lumpy discoloured pools. They look nothing like the picture in the book. Instead, they look a little bit like sick.
Everyone’s very encouraging, but, apparently, ooh, much too full after all that delicious food! Even Archie looks at me reproachfully when I tip the blobby leftovers into his bowl.
Clearly, kulfi isn’t going to be one of my Signature Dishes. I doubt very much that kulfi moulds will even make it onto my reserve Christmas list.
14 August “Where is the spare house key?” Mr Young demands. “The extra one that you had cut a few weeks ago?” He catches me unawares. I search my memory bank, but unfortunately I seem to have reached my overdraft limit. Attack is the best form of defence. “I gave it to you,” I say. Actually, this sounds entirely possible. “No you didn’t,” he says. “I’m sure you didn’t.” “Yes, I did,” I say. We don’t waste any more breath on this debate. From bitter experience, we both know that it could take up an unnecessary amount of time, and – as we’ve realised, having stumbled into middle-age – time is running out.
An hour later, he comes downstairs. “By the way,” he says casually. “I found that spare key in my desk drawer after all.” “Oh good,” I say, equally as casually. Today is going to be a good day.
16 August Lucy is moving home for a few months as she is starting her new job. She’s been ringing me daily, with increasing panic, about the amount of Stuff she seems to have accumulated. (Stuff, as every woman knows, is shoes/clothes/make up/handbags/spare hair straighteners/more shoes/more handbags/scented candles/nail varnish; the things that mean no matter how many times you clear your wardrobe out, you still seem to own an ever-increasing pile.)
“I’ve already filled loads of bin bags,” she says. “And that’s after I’ve taken lots of things to the charity shop. It’s never going to all fit in the van.” “Yes it will,” I say. “Don’t worry.” It’s a mother’s job to soothe and reassure, even in the face of almost certain disaster. (It’s not lying, it’s that other thing. Dissembling. With your fingers crossed.)
But apparently it does all fit in the van, somehow, along with her bed and her desk. There is a near disaster en route, however, when they re-open the doors and the only thing to fall out is a box of drawing pins, which they have to painstakingly pick up one by one to avoid a puncture. Surprising really; eighty-five pairs of shoes and twenty-seven handbags, yet the only thing to fall out is a small box of drawing pins.
I make my Signature Dishes for her and Robbie, and their friend and co-mover Sam. Nothing exotic. I’ve learned to manage my expectations. (Sorry; that’s obviously a blatant lie/dissemble. My expectations are about as manageable as a thirteen-year-old after a litre of cider.)
17 August Harriet wants me to sew up some hems for Jonny, who is off to Zante with twenty of his friends. It sounds like a holiday from hell to me, but then I’m not a twenty-two year old boy. He’s cut off the bottom of some jeans to make shorts in typical boy fashion – i.e. unevenly with what appears to have been a pair of blunt garden shears. I have to find the sewing machine, blow off the dust and remember how to thread the bobbin. I make so many failed attempts that I can tell the two of them are losing confidence in me. (Never let your children lose confidence in you. They’re like a dog sensing fear. They’ll exploit you/bite your ankles before you can say Bobbin’s your uncle.) After a few failed attempts, and a great deal of bravado on my part, they’re neatly hemmed (the jeans, not my sceptical audience). Though why I’ve bothered, I don’t know. They’ll be covered with sand, sea water, beer and moussaka stains by the end of the first day, and thrown onto the roof of some Greek taverna by a ‘high-spirited companion’ by the end of the week.
18 August Mr Young is away, so Lucy and I have an evening in together. Just the two of us, and a gently snoring/farting dog on the sofa. Lucy goes up to bed, and I haul Archie off the sofa, then shriek when I spot a huge spider in the doorway – and I mean seriously huge! The size of a football! (All right, tennis ball! All right, pingpong ball, you pedants. But that’s still seriously huge!) I shriek again and call Archie back. He looks around, puzzled. For a dog, he seems to have no sense of smell or perception of small scuttling things. I have to actually point at it, with my index finger only a quivering centimeter away before he spots it. (Even then, I suspect he’s only pretending to see something, just to be polite.) Lucy comes halfway down the stairs and shrieks in sympathy, even though a spider – even one as big as a football – is unlikely to be able to leap over an eight-foot high bannister. Archie obligingly chases after the spider, although he goes in the wrong direction. Then Lucy shrieks again. She has noticed an ominous flashing light coming from up the basement stairs. We both shriek. Archie comes over to join in but, as usual, just wags his tail in the face of the obvious danger threatening the womenfolk Mr Young has left him to guard. Lucy and I investigate to make sure there is no alien space ship, or a murderer with a torch crouching behind the ironing board.
It’s just the failing tube from a fluorescent light. Hoarse from all the shrieking, we go to bed. As does Archie, probably smiling indulgently to himself in a canine sort of way. Honestly, he’s no doubt thinking. Women!