Sunday was the longest day of all when I was a child. The school week flew and shuddered by, depending on when we had PE.
I hated PE. The only time I enjoyed an enviable level of fitness, I was off my face on caffeine.
As a child, I spent a good two years worrying, all but hunched up in a corner rocking back and forth, about the cycling proficiency test. I didn’t learn to ride a bike without stabilisers until I was every day of eleven years old. I had no idea, of course, that cycling proficiency was optional. The mixture of relief and exhaustion was almost too much to bear. Thankfully, ‘Cheers’ was about to come on, so I got over it.
Saturdays were glorious and lasted several seconds.
Sundays went on for months. They were excruciating, hair-shredding, like an infinite hiccup. As a family, we wound up going to church, just to break up the day. Having never had a natural ability to wake up in the mornings, I often let the family down by getting up late on the weekends.
My general lateness meant we stopped going to church before I’d been confirmed.
It was the last time I ever left before the booze arrived.
My dad called his mother every Wednesday and Sunday, from the day he left home until the day he died.
My granddad on my father’s side had served during the Second World War.
While he was off in Northern Africa, my dad was a small boy, growing up in Haringay. From what I understand, based on precious few conversations, which only grow more valuable as I grow older and the sharp edges start to blur in my memory, my dad had developed some form of ‘flu which refused to be shaken off. His mother made him a bed on the sofa in the front room, while his dog, Bruce, slept on his bed in the back of the house.
There was a bomb.
The back of the house fell into rubble and despair. Bruce was dead. If he’s slept in his bed like anybody else, my dad would have been killed.
My grandmother, frazzled from shock, moved with him to Hertfordshire shortly after that.
In their new home, my father’s mother kept chickens and rabbits, to bulk out their meagre rations, and invited everyone on the street to a weekly get-together where they would have roast chicken or rabbit stew.
Rather rapidly, my dad learnt not to name the rabbits.
When my granddad returned from the war, of course he never spoke about what he experienced (they almost never do) but he gutted and remodelled the Hertfordshire kitchen, and bought my dad a flat-coated retriever.
My mother communicated with her father via letters. He had been a world-beating correspondence chess player.
He played against people from all around the globe, and pushed my mother into philately as a child to keep her occupied. She had a stamp collection that would have been the envy of her friends, if they or she had found it even remotely interesting.
Her mother had died young, so my mother was expected to stay home and take care of her father. There was nothing wrong with him. Within a week of the funeral, he had a line of women around the block wanting to cook for and look after him. He was handsome and aware of it. He would be fine.
And he was.
Sundays were always long. I was sent to Sunday School twice, I think. Having never really watched the nightly news, I’d walked in on it a few times and heard about the strikes which were going on in the construction industry in the eighties. Six or seven years old, I threatened to go on strike. I reasoned that, as a child, I was expected to go to school from Monday to Friday. If I was to attend Sunday school as well, that extra time would need to be reflected in my pocket money and whatever additional benefits I made up on the spot.
It wasn’t worth the argument. I didn’t have to go to Sunday school.
So, no Sunday school and too late for church, there was nothing to do on Sundays. And then I started cooking with my mother. She was an excellent supervisor. Not being able-bodied, she couldn’t cook in the chopping-peeling-stirring sense of the word, but she could tell me what to do.
I peeled potatoes for much of 1992. I made myself immune to onion tears. I could stroganoff with the best of them.
Sometime in the later nineties, my mother decided she wanted to cook again. There was no point telling her she didn’t actually do the cooking for much of my childhood, because there had been a good twenty years before that when she had. That was the better memory, so that was the one she leaned on.
She bought a counter-top cooker. The size of a microwave, it was a glorified grill but my mother was delighted with it. Unpacking the cooker, I was already losing patience.
“Do you really think this is going to help you cook?” I asked, to my eternal shame.
She smiled, “Of course. It’s got all these settings. A marvellous machine.”
Unpacked and plugged in, I turned to her. “So? Are you going to cook something?”
She looked at me.
Then at the cooker.
Back to me.
“Well,” she said, “chop an onion, then.”