The roast potatoes are in the oven and Aimée is playing ‘Halo’, so it must be Friday.
I didn’t much bother with roast potatoes before Aimée moved in because, like everybody else, my mother made the best roast potatoes, and there wasn’t much point in pretending I knew what I was doing.
I don’t know how my mother made her roast potatoes. She taught me every other recipe in her arsenal, but not that. All I know for sure is that she used a pan – somewhere between a saucepan, a frying pan and a bundt tin – which almost never made it to the sink. The theory was that the flavour of previous successes remained in the pan, so the potatoes only ever got better. I have tried to use this theory to excuse myself from cleaning the oven, but apparently it’s not the same thing.
Incidentally, my uncle makes the best mashed potato in the family. It comes down to a reliance, almost a dependence, on butter and a huge amount of ground black pepper. Really, there is no way to add too much. It never works when I try it, and Aimée doesn’t like mash, so I don’t have to feel inadequate spudwise.
When I was a child, much as I don’t remember a regular Sunday roast dinner, I suppose we must have had them. Presumably during hours of basting, searing and bubbling, my mother would do the crossword, my dad would read the news and smoke his pipe, and I would tear through the kids’ section of the newspaper. It was generally fluff, a few cartoons and wordsearches, nothing especially challenging.
Then, one week, there was a coupon for a dry-slope skiing lesson. As it happened, there was a dry slope not far from where we lived, and my mother was very enthusiastic about the idea of my learning to ski. She had a similar enthusiasm for my learning to swim, but skiing came more naturally to me.
My father never learnt to swim and, as he spent his life predominantly on land, I don’t think he considered himself in any way lacking.
I have seen snow and, like others who have gone before me, I consider the sea something pleasant to look at, but not necessarily an ideal location for domestic bliss. I can imagine a lot of arguments if we lived in an estuary.
I suspect all mothers go through the months and years running up to pregnancy, imagining what their child will be like. I can only wonder what happens if the reality is far removed from what might have been dreamed of.
I think my mother was expecting an adventurer. She travelled to Norway, learnt Norwegian, continued her nursing career, and learnt to ski. I have been known to say, with not a small amount of pride, that she skied the length of Norway. Please understand, I know that Norway isn’t one long ski run. It’s just that, in her years in Scandinavia, she skied an equivalent distance to the length of Norway. She also went off piste, on the black run, hit a patch of ice, flipped several times and broke her nose on a rock just below a fine dusting of snow.
When I was learning on the dry slope, my parents were thinking about a summer holiday, and it seemed quite obvious to my mother that we should go to the Alps. After all, I could just about stand up and I knew what ‘snowplough’ meant, even in skiing terms.
Luckily, they decided not to risk my getting ahead of myself and breaking something vital, and booked tickets to Canada. We had family there, so what we spent on flights, we’d make up for in not needing hotels. My people are nothing if not practical.
There was a friend of the family there who was convinced we were, in fact, cousins. She had constructed a family tree in which she was related to everyone on the planet, including several lost tribes, so I’m sure we were, at least for her purposes, family. We spent a rather sleepless and chatty night at her house, quietly wondering if she’d gone off her meds.
My younger uncle had grown a moustache in the years between his emigrating and our visit to Ontario.
He had married his stalker and developed religious leanings which no-one quite understood, but it was the moustache to which my mother took an instant dislike.
I developed a brief but deep infatuation with baseball, became a lifelong supporter of the Blue Jays, listened to a lot of Whitney Houston and cuddled a terrified cat for much of that fortnight.
Cousins of ours lived on a lake, near a forest full of bears. They had wire mesh at their windows, the glass having been removed for the summer, and hummingbirds hovered at feeders near the windowsill. My doggy paddle turned into a fairly proficient breaststroke by the end of that holiday, where it was a case of swim or die.
When we returned from Canada, a friend of mine had spent her summer in Malta and couldn’t get over the fact that the plane back from Ontario had taken something in the order of nine hours to return us to Heathrow.
“You must have just had a slow plane,” she informed me, going on to brag about how speedy the plane from Malta was. “Or maybe your pilot got lost. There’s no way you went further away than we did.”
We spent at least one lunchtime in the Resource Centre, pouring over atlases, and showing off.