Tuesday was one of those crazy afternoons that make me feel like I’m on the set of a sitcom. The sort of bizarre situation where several things happen simultaneously, all converging toward me like a heat seeking torpedo.
It all started with my crazy self planning to cook a fish pie for supper (ok, stop, before you think I’m mad cooking such a complicated culinary feat on a mid week, it’s only because I have a super, magic, marvellous Thermomix – a food processor that cooks, yes cooks. It makes sauces in minutes and steams the fish. It even washes itself up. I know, I bow to the thing regularly).
Anyway, I digress. So, I collect the kids from school and then agree to my daughter bringing a friend home for tea at the last minute (the less organising, the better in my book). She says she loves fish pie, so she got the Yes vote from me. The fish has defrosted so despite my busy morning being on my feet all day, I have to cook the darn thing – no resorting to fish fingers for me.
After getting home, my son decides to depart from his normal rigid ritual of Time With The TV, and do a complicated Ben 10 puzzle. How could I dissuade such a brilliant, healthy alternative?? So, once I’d given him 3 mins of my undivided attention and got him started, I slink off to start cooking.
But then, with fish juice up my arms and possibly in my ears, my husband unexpectedly arrives with an Aussie friend he collected from the station to take to Heathrow (don’t ask, it’s complicated) at exactly the same time as the Turkish window-cleaner who’d I’d earlier ‘hired’ after passing him in the street at lunchtime (window-cleaners are as few and far between as an old man’s teeth, so if i see one in the street I proposition them on the spot!). After elaborately telling me what a wonderful cleaner of windows he is in his thickest Turkish accent, he said he’d be round after 5.30. This was 4pm.
So, after agreeing with Mr Turk on the price and how he’d negotiate his 12 ft ladder through our sitting room, I say ‘Hi’ to the Aussie visitor who immediately strikes me as looking disarmingly like Peter Garrett from 80s Aussie band, Midnight Oil, turned politician. He comes in and immediately makes himself at home like only an Australian can: like it’s his own. Brilliant, I think, I don’t have to do any small talk.
I certainly didn’t. Before I knew it, he was standing next to me in the kitchen whilst I made a valiant attempt to wrestle the shell off the hard-boiled eggs without removing most of the white with it, advising me on the best way to avoid that next time by adding Bicarb of Soda to it when boiling them. Note Bene. You never know where you’re going to get a culinary tip from.
Being an Australian he recognised the Thermomix almost immediately, and was fascinated that I was making the ingredients for a fish pie in it (ok, you DO need an oven to cook the finished product in, I’ll concede that). So, he’s discussing this with me, whilst nonchalantly flicking through a Best Places To Go Mountain Biking in UK book from our shelves for his brother who he’d been visiting in Cambridge. Not the hilliest place in the universe but I didn’t like to ask….
In the corner of my eye, I catch the sight of a Turk carrying a large ladder through our sitting room toward the back garden. The thought crosses my mind to warn the 8 year old girls upstairs that a strange, dark skinned man will appear at their window any minute and start cleaning fastidiously. I decide to not bother in the name of livening up their day.
At the same time, my son breaks from his long, absorbed silence over his jigsaw puzzle and bleats the need for help (cue, husband), whilst I hear Mr Turk now yelling loudly down his ‘mobil fon’ to some fellow Turk about something equally Turkish, I’m sure.
And I stand there wondering why of all days did I have to choose to cook fish pie, and WITH PASTRY which I never normally do. My brain gets split in several directional strands as I try to talk lucidly with Peter Garrett, measure out the ingredients for the sauce into the Thermo-thingy, and make sure Mr Turk gets his £10 which I realise I don’t have. Cue, quick exit up to son’s room to raid his ‘treasure box’ filled with coins, sheep wool from Wales and broken kitchen floor tiles from our kitchen refit last autumn.
I muster up the extra coins and pass them to Mr Turk, muttering something apologetic about lack of notes, and dusting off bits of Welsh sheep wool. But then do the fatal thing of saying what I’m thinking: “I recognise you from somewhere. Did you used to wash dishes at Claude’s Creperie in St Albans 17 years ago?”
“Yes!” he says, giving no clue that he recognises me, the once 25 yr old waitress working 3 nights a week to make up for working for a pittance in London for a small charity to get experience (the fact that I’d recently gained a Masters Degree in International Development tells you how competitive the NGO market was then, and is now). He does remember the owners, though, and launches into a long story about how the owners’ son visited his family during a Turkish holiday one summer but betrayed him by breaking the confidence to his family that he (Mr Turk) smokes (he’d asked him to come back loaded with Turkish cigarettes, so how can you blame him?!). Such was the heinous nature of his crime that Mr Turk said he’d never wash his windows for him, “Even if he paid me one thousand pounds!”. It dawned on me why the feuding between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus has gone since 1571…
Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that the pie was finally finished once the invading Turk & Australian had left, with the help of two 8 year old girls eager to decorate the pastry with the remaining scarps. I warned my daughter’s friend that it might perhaps not be the best fish pie she’d tasted, owing to a million and one distractions. Indeed, as I sat down to eat it with the 3 children, I realised I’d left the salmon out. It was patiently sitting in the microwave after defrosting, awaiting its participation in the pie.
Days like this make me laugh and stress out at the same time. It’s the stuff of family life, which ironically is the stuff that makes domestic, child-rearing, suburban life bearable. I can tell you, I’ll have a strange, tall Australian look-a-like rock singer tell me how to hard boil eggs any day…