“Would you like yoghurt with your sticky toffee pudding? There is yoghurt in the fridge…”
And so was rounded off another classic meal next door with the Old Man and it was a classic of its kind, highlighting all the reasons why The Old Man should not longer offer to host meals and why my relatives should avoid putting him through the perceived ordeal.
It all started when TOM invited three to lunch: Fiona (granddaughter no.1), Chris and great-grandchild Edith (now 5 months). Unfortunately they then declined due to Chris’s work commitments, with TOM making it clear to Fiona that he would have to fathom a way for him and Gill to consume the joint of beef he had taken out of the freezer. So he devised a second plan and invited Hugh and Sally with their two teenaged boys, Will and Barney, whom it was safe to assume would make a decent job consuming the available food.
I was blissfully unaware of this until he saw me as he was driving out on Friday and he asked me when we were going to Liverpool. I told him Tuesday. “Oh…” he said. “I thought you were away on Sunday….would YOU like to come to lunch with your brother too?”
There is no easy answer to such a question. To say no would blatantly be rude. To say yes, puts more stress on him, and leaves you with a feeling of throwing away a couple of house of your life for nothing.
“That would be nice” I said, already picturing the stressed nature of lunch with my father.
So, if one assumes that Gill was always going to be a fixture for lunch, his catering numbers had gone from four plus a baby, to two (just him and Gill), back up to six (him, Gill, Hugh, Sally and the two teenage food processors), to eight (all of the above plus Claire and me). He was just getting to grips with this after his morning foray into Castle Cary, when Fiona called back, oblivious to his burgeoning guest list, and worried that a perfectly good piece of beef might go to waste, announced that she and Edith would come to lunch, without Chris (who was going to work…)
After the regulation conversation with him whereby I offer all the vegetables from the garden and he says that he does not need them:
“I’ve been given some”
“You know there are a lot of carrots still in the garden”
“No, I didn’t – I bought some”
He had, thankfully, planned to use some of the King Edwards and one of the Crown Prince Squashes. Anything to do with royalty is acceptable, it would seem.
We did offer to help by agreeing to make a pudding, though the Old Man was very much hanging on to the reins in terms of getting the main body of meal done in his new Alpha stove (more of that another time). He was a little concerned whether his roasting tray would fit in the oven but otherwise it all seemed on track.
And so, when Hugh and Sally arrived with boys in tow, I went next door to say hi and see how things were going.
Not well was the clear impression. On the one hand, the kitchen was sweltering. This was not such a great surprise as the house itself is enjoying central heating for the first time ever, after TOM had it installed last month. But the kitchen should not have been that warm, even allowing for the fact that in addition to my father’s sizeable frame there were two large teenagers and three other adults filling the air space.
The temperature was further raised by the fact that TOM was – at 12.30 – only just draining the par-boiled spuds prior to roasting. A 1pm lunch was definitely not going to happen. And this was further pushed back when it was noticed that the meat was not cooking as quickly as expected, due to the fact that the roasting tray WAS too big for the oven – and so the door had been slightly ajar for the last hour and a half. So, if you can’t stand the heat, don’t get out of the kitchen, just shut the oven door.
But before the temperature could drop appreciably Fiona and Edith arrived – with Chris, smiling broadly, bringing up the rear. “I thought one more would make no difference as you have so many for lunch anyway” was the not unreasonable justification for Chris to join the merry throng before getting a train to work later in the afternoon…
….But it did not meet with overwhelming delight from the now ragged Old Man.
I had decided that this was not wort getting upset about elected to open a bottle of wine to relax. TOM refused to have a glass (he had not planned to open any) “It’ll kill me” was his bald reasoning.
So, as I retired to the living room to chat with my nephews and ponder my impending inheritance, it was left to Claire to salvage lunch by rustling up some yorkshire puddings, some runner beans from the freezer and finishing the beef off in our own oven, while also making the crumble which TOM had assumed she would make in addition to the extra desert she had offered.
But the Old Man had recovered his joie de vivre sufficiently to offer the obligatory plastic carton of yoghurt to accompany Claire’s sticky toffee pudding. Why, why, why does TOM have to offer yoghurt with every pudding he serves? I could be cruel and say that it did not do his arteries any good, but then that would be harsh. I shan’t say it. But in the meantime I will continue to clog my own blood flow with full fat double cream to accompany my home-made sticky toffee. Yum.
So, miraculously, the equivalent of the feeding of the five thousand was accomplished. No fishes were hurt in the making of this meal, and I am not sure that we would have been able to collect twelve basketfuls of left overs, but a crisis (or maybe a famine?) of biblical proportions had been averted. And we have learned a new chant for the next time relatives my father invites relatives to lunch:“Two, four, six, eight, How many need a dinner plate? Three, five, seven, nine I think I need a glass of wine”