Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Best Served Cold

There are many bad things about spending time at my dad's, but one of the worst has to be the food.

I am in charge of catering at Pappa Weasel's, but he pays for all the groceries. So for ease, and to keep my conscience clear, I buy, prepare and eat what he likes to eat.

However, what he likes to eat is, basically, lard*.

Lard with peas, potatoes and gravy, with tinned semolina or a lardy pudding and custard to follow. And white bread to mop the gravy with, because brown bread tastes like cardboard, and no vegetables because vegetables aren't very nice (apart from peas), and certainly no foreign muck. Just meat, thank you very much, and meaty lard.

(Especially steak and kidney lard.)

I am fat, pallid and greasy thanks to this assault on my normal, lard-free diet. I yearn for fruit. My greatest joy on returning to Cardiff on my days off is the trip to the supermarket where I dance home laden with avocados, peaches, blueberries, lentil curries, cottage cheese, wholegrain bread and unsweetened pro-biotic yoghurt (organic, natch).

However, Easter weekend brought a blessing.

My brother-in-law did a barbeque on Saturday night. So My Lovely Sister whipped up a mean old salad. A huge salad. Salad and some. Yes.

It was a very nice salad. I noticed Dad helped himself to a sausage, a burger, some French stick, but kept his plate entirely free from greenery.

There was lots of salad left over. And as chef, it is my duty to ensure leftovers are used up efficiently.

Which means the last two days we have had SALAD. So much salad. Endless salad. Salad and some. Yes. Salad with fish cakes; salad with cold chicken. Tomorrow, salad with ham.

Yay salad.

The thing with my dad is he will uncomplainingly eat whatever you put in front of him, even if he hates it. A weird kind of politeness, I suppose. Or perhaps his institutionalised upbringing? Boarding school from the age of 5, then straight into National Service: no choice - eat or go hungry. A memory of rationing too. Waste not want not, and all that.

I watched in silence tonight as he chewed grimly through mounds of celery, beetroot, lettuce, capsicum, spring onion, cherry tomatoes, cucumber. The sight of it pleased me, in a very mean-spirited way. I thought of those times when I was small when I'd struggled with my dinners.

When I'd retched and choked on bits of gristle, and he'd forbidden me to spit them out, snarled at me until I'd swallowed them.

When I'd bitten into a chicken thigh and my teeth had gone squish through something that felt unpleasantly like rubber tubing which leaked a bitter-tasting liquid into my mouth that made me gag, and he'd roared that I was being ridiculous.

When Mum had served up heart for dinner that one time, and I, revolted at the idea of eating something's heart, couldn't bring myself to try it. He'd screamed at me, spitting apoplexy inches from my face, pinched my nose tightly until I'd opened my mouth, then forced a forkful in. Hovered threateningly until I'd chewed and swallowed. Spent the rest of the meal in a simmering rage.

Ah, beautiful beautiful salad.

"The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."

Bon appetit, Dad.

* when I say lard I mean pies, obviously

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Don't Ask

Today, helping my dad to compose a text message took more than two hours and necessitated the use of a vacuum cleaner.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


My dad said something not negative today.

A rare event, so worth reporting.

This is how it happened.

I drove him out to Cliffe Pools to look at birds. Parked by the lake.

A cool wind rippled the water while the sun blazed down from a high blue sky.

"Why don't you go and sit on the bench?" I said. "Get some fresh air. It's a nice day."

He levered himself out of the car and lowered himself gingerly onto the wooden seat. Raised his binoculars, studied the lake.

"There are never any birds here whenever I come," he said.

I looked at the shelduck, the geese, the lapwings dotted about, and said nothing. His misery-laden attitude frequently grinds me down to silence.

"They say this place is teeming with birds. Well, I've never seen it like that."

I grunted, because he was clearly expecting a response. It seemed to do the trick. In his world, this is what passes for conversation.

After a while, he spoke again.

"This really is rather pleasant, this weather, isn't it?"

Not even I could argue with that.

"Yes," I said.

I waited for the qualifier. There was none.

Fucking hell.

Did he just manage to say something straightforward and moderately upbeat?

I think he did.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A beautiful spot, even with the world's dreariest man for company.

Only birdsong out here.

I leaned on a gate, closed my eyes, and listened.

Turned my face to the sun.

Lifted up the front of my T-shirt so the breeze played across my belly.

Felt my cheeks, my arms, start to scorch.

That cool wind, the latent heat - this is a Wellington day, I thought.

Opened my eyes to find Dad staring at me, a strange twisted sad-smile on his face.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the way home, Dad noticed a row of trees.

"The thing about poplars," he said,"is that in France they are very evocative, but over here they look positively scruffy."