Monday, January 01, 2007

An untraditional beginning

The holiday season is over and, judging by the spring in my step this morning, this can only be a good thing. I was not rough, of course, and a million miles away from the whore-of-a-nick I would have been in had I joined in the vodka session next door at the Poles’ house as I had so wanted to. It wouldn’t have ended up simply as a vodka session though, you see, as I would have turned up myself with a good dram and got me and them even more horrible, probably passing out at the table by about 3am and having to be carried home.

For there wasn’t much other than a table there. It was almost a proper Highland Hogmanay in fact, with people sitting around sober with all the lights on and the only action being the occasional rapid and synchronized right-arm-raising of three ugly men and the sparking up of the odd heavy Eastern European fag. Admittedly this action became more frequent and animated as the night wore on, and suddenly they had got enough inside them (about two litres) to be able to launch some extremely large rockets by hand in the street out front. Trying to explain why you don’t drink in such circumstances is futile to say the least, especially when you have less than a dozen words in common of which most relate to drink anyway.

So the first and least surprising hurdle I came up against on this annual celebration of alcohol was the disheartened feeling that, culturally, the human race was missing out here. Had I been drinking, naturally, the evening would have been very different indeed: language wouldn’t even have entered into it after a while, and we would have stumbled or been carried to our beds buoyed every so slightly by the bonds we had made. It would have made us happier neighbours. Because in the main it doesn’t matter a flying fuck where you come from once the playing field has been levelled by a few bottles of hard spirits.

The next hurdle, however, was much more of a struggle. There was nobody around by me and the Wife; it was one minute to midnight; and I had in my hand a heavy bottle of good, cold Champagne. Nothing in the world seemed more normal, more human, than to share a simple glass of this wine at this moment, and I had been anticipating my reaction to this all day. Because the dreadful thing about being addicted to something is that you cannot unravel what is “you” talking and what is down to your dependency. I felt as if I wanted to show to my Wife that she was worthy of my breaking down for this single occasion, but I couldn’t take the risk. It was then that I think I fully came to terms with the reality of my predicament – the lonely trap of sobriety.

This morning I felt better about it. It was nice to be up doing things with the children early in the morning in the knowledge that there wasn’t a single person in the world right now who is likely to call or knock on the door. I hung around in my all-round dish-cloth again, nipping outside in the crisp quiet air with my coffee for a strong blast on the last of the grass, before returning to my prep.
It didn’t take long at all to slice a few carrots, sprouts and greens, parboil some tatties and boil up some shallots, rosemary and peppercorns in some red wine. So I for the eldest to help me make a buttery apple and apricot crumble too, the topping made from equal ratios and full of toasted almond flakes.

Once again I was cooking as if for a family of 6-8, when the reality was that my only dining partner was lying crippled upstairs and would probably still be in her dressing gown by the 3pm schedule. I mean for fuck’s sake, I had before me a bloody 1.5kg rib roast. Those bastards always look smaller in the shop, but I suppose I should have noticed when it rang up £20 on the scales – all measly one-rib of it. It is really tricky to cook such a thin slice, so I chucked it on the rack with a good hand-full or two of floury tatties, parsnips and some smoked bacon chunks that needed to go, all of it waiting below the sprawling joint for the beefy baste of sweet yellow fat, and cooked it for 40 minutes. I don’t fully understand why, but there is something incredible beefy about a rib roast, the eye having the texture and bite of fillet yet tasting like the darkest marbled steak you’ve ever had. The sauce was equally meaty, based on a tub of veal stock and good red wine. All roast dinners look the same after a while, even if they are traditional New Year’s Day affairs.

The festive holiday season ended the moment the last mouthful of hot fruit crumble and sweet whipped
Devon cream entered my mouth. And I cannot say I am too upset by that fact.

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