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She goes on - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
She goes on
For lunch today I had beef sandwiches lovingly prepared for me by addedentry, leftovers from a surprisingly successful Sunday roast. I say "surprisingly" because we looked through at least five completely different sets of instructions for how to do the perfect roast before deciding on a strategy which split the difference between the various methods and probably combined the worst features of all of them.

I never learned to cook a roast. In our family Sunday roasts were nearly as rare as Christmas; my parents preferred lower-fat options in general, and my dad -- a butcher's son -- disliked meat in general (and has since become a vegetarian). My friends thought my household was strange and wonderful because we had weird food like pasta and salad, while I thought their meat-and-two-veg meals were an exotic luxury and doubtless delighted their parents by asking for more cabbage, please. So everybody won, in a way.

It's a funny business, though, homemaking. First your home makes you, and then you try to make a replica of it, or a reaction against it (or a mixture of both); a museum of the childhood you did have, or a theme park of the childhood you didn't. Either path is full of pitfalls, because the childhood you had no longer exists to be reconstructed (or rebelled against) except in your treacherous memory. Did we really never have roast potatoes except at Christmas? Does it matter? Sunday's roast potatoes (Delia gratias) were entirely edible. We learn so much by accident, by immersion in our families, that it's easy to forget that these skills are learned; that somebody somewhen picked up a book, or asked a question, or went Away and returned with Knowledge, or thought to themself what if... and didn't wait to be told they couldn't.

I learned all sorts of things at home: things like how to take the top off a soft-boiled egg, and how to clean pennies with Coke, and how to make covers for geography textbooks out of maps, and how to make candy-canes out of pipe-cleaners, and how to hack the hi-score charts in Tetris, and how to make compilation tapes, and how to chop onions, and how to keep two children entertained in a car for two and a half days. My dad taught me to do cartwheels when I was four or five years old; he turned a cartwheel on the lawn, lanky legs and bright yellow t-shirt spinning like a pleasure-beach pinwheel on a stick, and said "now you try". I fell a hundred times before I worked out how to do it, but I've never forgotten, and sometimes I turn feet-over-hands down the corridor at work when everybody else has gone home. I want my life to be one long backstage party in an Angela Carter novel, and sometimes it is, sometimes it is. My ancestors are immigrants and dancers and silk-weavers and Salvationists and people who quietly but fiercely wanted their children to succeed, and I don't need to carry their pictures in my wallet.

How does all this make a home? No, I don't have the answers, only questions, but a quilt stitched together from old photographs won't keep your family warm. "I never learned to cook a roast", I say, as if the time for learning had passed by in the dark, my wick forever untrimmed, but a shout from the next room startles me out of my stupor. Stop dreaming, it says, there's bread to be baked. So I shake the strands of cobweb from my head and start sifting flour.
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aldabra From: aldabra Date: February 27th, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
One day, will you come and show Kathy cartwheels? I would so love to have been able to do them. [fx: recreating counterfactual childhood]
j4 From: j4 Date: February 27th, 2006 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes! So long as I am not then responsible for her deciding that cartwheeling is the only sensible way to get to school in the morning... 8-)

Uni term finishes on 17th March, so after that I won't have choir after work / on Sundays / all the bloody time, which means I will be free more often. We should meet up some time after that... Though cartwheels will probably have to wait till it's warm enough to do them outside, I think (office antics notwithstanding)!
aldabra From: aldabra Date: February 27th, 2006 07:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mmmm, there's not a lot of indoor cartwheeling space available here...
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: February 27th, 2006 06:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is truly, truly gorgeous. Mind if I link to it ?

j4 From: j4 Date: February 27th, 2006 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
*blush* (I seem to be doing a lot of that)

And I am touched by the courtesy of being asked, but really, if I minded people linking to my stuff, I wouldn't put it on the public world wide whatsits. :-) Links are good. Readers are good. Especially nice readers who say kind things about my writing. Yes. :-)
burkesworks From: burkesworks Date: February 27th, 2006 07:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I never learned to cook a roast

Now there's a fine opening line for a poem, in a Wendy Cope kind of way. Though I'd have thought you'd have no problems cooking a roast if your baking is anything to go by! Beautiful writing, as always.

asking for more cabbage, please

You're not alone in quite liking cabbage, though brussels sprouts really are beyond the pale.
camellia_uk From: camellia_uk Date: February 27th, 2006 08:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mmmmmm, cabbage... I thought that was just me. Cabbage and sweetcorn are two things that no-one else I know seem to like... but then I ask them, and they've never had either of them raw before. It's like people assume all raw ingredients are poisonous until cooked for hours until bland and soggy. Bleh.

Interestingly, I've never cooked a roast either. I did go out with a guy who made himself a full roast dinner with all the trimmings every sunday, which I thought was amazing... for a while. Then it was just boring, having the same thing every week. Maybe in stressful times there's nothing like the comfort food of home (spinach and potato!!! egg in a nest!!), but there's always room for a spice-rack of variety in the kitchen.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: February 27th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Is cabbage in cream that unheard of ?
camellia_uk From: camellia_uk Date: February 27th, 2006 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
............yes.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: February 27th, 2006 08:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am sending copies of this to everyone I know (with correct credits). Thank you so much for writing that.

But you sift flour for bread? Now that's classy.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 27th, 2006 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
*blush* I'm glad you liked it.

And I don't always sift flour for bread. It depends if I'm trying to do it "properly" in the sense of weighing everything and sifting and not getting any flour on the palms of my hands when rubbing-in ... or "properly" in the sense of Just Knowing how to cook and not being tied to recipes and weights and measures.

I think I am only just starting to realise quite how lucky I am to have my parents as two such good role models for completely different ways of getting things right. :-)
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 27th, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have desires to cartwheel down the corridors sometimes, but never the balls to actually do so; I'm very rarely the only person in, too.

My parents taught me to cook, but I never cooked at home - they mostly taught me by packing me off on courses in half-terms. When I did Christmas dinner a couple of years ago, it was the first time I'd cooked anything "big" for my parents.
emperor From: emperor Date: February 27th, 2006 09:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

I hate LJ

That was me, failing to notice that LJ logged me out while I was reading this post :(
taimatsu From: taimatsu Date: February 27th, 2006 09:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I never know what to say when you write like this, but it makes me want to sing or dance or hug someone really tight, or simply smile till my face hurts.

Thank you.
taimatsu From: taimatsu Date: February 27th, 2006 11:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Two more things:
1) I can't cartwheel. Do you think it's too late for me to learn?
2) Cabbage is lovely very lightly fried, so it's still nearly raw but just butter-softened.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 28th, 2006 11:52 am (UTC) (Link)
1) I don't see why it should be too late to learn! People learn ballet, gymnastics, martial arts etc as adults so it's not as if the body stops learning how to do new things (or the brain stops learning how to tell the body).

2) Mmmmmmm. Indeed. Also lovely raw. And pickled. And actually I even like quite-well-cooked cabbage provided it's got a bit of salt and pepper on it. I think I am generally quite cabbage-positive. :-)
ultraruby From: ultraruby Date: February 27th, 2006 11:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
You are fantastic.

And it's so true that we re-make and unmake and our made by some idea of home. When a cople gets together these two ideas of home quietly collide, and then it's years of negotiation about whether the water had to be boiling first, whether pillowacase need ironing, and how to get red wine stains out of the carpet.

I can't turn cartwheels. It's one of my absolute aspirations.

I can sit in the lotus position for hours, though. My mum taught me that.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 28th, 2006 12:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
*blush* *squeak* Thank you!

years of negotiation about whether the water had to be boiling first

Exactly! In a nutshell.

It gives me perspective-vertigo, if I think about it too hard, the idea that the pinnacle of thousands of years of civilsation is people arguing over whether you should cut sandwiches diagonally. But then the idea of it being expected to be a pinnacle rather than just a random point is just subscribing to the myth of progress instead of accepting a cyclical view of history, and, and.

I'm so excited that everybody wants to learn cartwheels! I never knew it was such a desirable skill! I'll have to write to my dad and thank him. And maybe I should give cartwheel classes in the park in the summer. It could be the new poi. ;-)

I think I can sit in the lotus position, but it hurts. I'm probably doing it wrong. My ballet teacher would be furious if she saw how un-bendy I'd let myself get, but then part of that is cycling muscles getting in the way (or so I tell myself). I really need to get more generally fit somehow.
k425 From: k425 Date: February 28th, 2006 09:14 am (UTC) (Link)
I never learned to cook a roast.

Neither did I, because the kitchen was Dad's domain and we didn't go in while he was doing Sunday dinner. But when I left home I taught myself, with my friends, and it was fun. Although I did have to phone home when doing my first roast turkey because we'd cooked it as long as the formula suggested and it was still pink. Dad was v calm and told me to carve it and stick it back in, which worked fine.

But I never learnt to turn cartwheels. I am envious of anyone who can!
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: February 28th, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hope you'll start dreaming again just as soon as the bread is in the oven.

Some bread and dreams at the moment sounds lovely to me!
ewtikins From: ewtikins Date: March 12th, 2006 11:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well said.

I had many homes as a child; I've now lived in London for six years and it's longer than I lived in any other city. My parents divorced when I was young so I always had at least two homes.

Only in the last few years have I started to give any thought to the environment I create for myself. It's an interesting experiment.

Also interesting is going back to visit my parents after living elsewhere for eight years - my methods have changed, in some instances, where theirs haven't, and some of the things I take as canonical turn out to be more malleable than I had assumed.
_swallow From: _swallow Date: March 15th, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have just found your journal. What a very lovely entry! I'm friending you (as long as that's OK).
j4 From: j4 Date: March 27th, 2006 11:11 am (UTC) (Link)
I've only just got the email notification for this comment -- really sorry if you thought I was ignoring you! Blame LJ. :-/ Thank you for your kind words & of course I don't mind if you friend me...
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