Jane’s family continue in lockdown – now with a guest.
Friends send pictures of their “virtual dinner party”. I cannot think of anything worse. One of the upsides of the current situation is that avoiding social engagements no longer requires elaborate excuses. Holding real dinner parties is bad enough – all that competitive cooking, being forced to stay sober till the guests arrive and then spending three hours from 11pm trying to get them to leave. Who wants to be glued to a lap top while others slurp and guzzle in close-up? Obliged to artfully arrange the background and put on make-up to do it? Of course, I like a Zoom chat as much as the next woman. But in pyjamas. With a bowl of crisps.
Not that there is much dinner in our house anyway. The corn-fed, free range chicken I was about to lovingly baste has very definitely, despite being within its sell-by date and properly refrigerated, gone off. I hold it at arm’s length, nose suitably wrinkled, wondering what you do with an inedible five-pound bird. It hardly seems fair on those collecting the bins to allow it to fester in a wheelie, so I leave it down the garden. The gulls circle warily but by morning the chicken has disappeared. I assume fondly that the local fox has taken it to feed his cubs. I hate waste.
Since undertaking Dry January – not a period I want to dwell on – I have found myself on the mailing list of Alcohol Change UK, the charity that discourages heavy drinking. Their email this week, urges us to “do something amazing” – presumably in a bid to distract us from hitting the gin – and raise money for them through the “2.6 Challenge”. Suggestions include doing the plank for 2.6 minutes, doing 260 star jumps or – astonishingly – seeing “how fast you can eat 26 biscuits”.
My eyebrows go up but my sister – never one to let the grass grow under her feet if there’s a complaint to be made – is already on it.
“Is this for real?” she has written to them crossly, citing the danger of choking and the effects on the already-rising obesity rates, as just two of the risk factors of such a proposal.
“Jenni” from the charity comes back promptly, promising to pass on the feedback and do her best to “act on it”. My sister is only partially placated, having moved onto the ill-advised encouraging of 26 handstands, which could cause dizziness. Meanwhile, I’m questioning the wisdom of the under-exercised doing 260 star jumps and the likely potential for coronaries.
“Quite irresponsible,” I reply, my blood now thoroughly up. “In fact,” I summarise with conviction, “you’re probably safest getting slaughtered.”
It is an alcohol-free day (yes, I do have them sometimes) so the evening looms longer than usual. We can’t begin a new drama because tomorrow heralds the start of not only ‘The Gangs of London’ (recommended on yet another list of what to watch) which we might want to binge on, but the second series of ‘After Life’, which I adore. Needing a stop gap, my son and I decide to sample the Netflix series of separate vignettes: “Inside Number Nine”, (weird but strangely compelling) as suggested by my friend Jacqui, and are on number three when we hear the familiar slap of the cat flap. Several seconds pass and Nugget does not appear.
“He’s got something,” I say. “You go.”
My son leaves the room and I hear him yelp. “Nets!” he cries.
“It’s big,” he gasps, when I arrive brandishing two butterfly nets, one of which is broken.
“Is it a rat?” I shriek, going into a full-blown scream as something large thunders across my foot. So far we have only welcomed field mice (and a couple of frogs) but I live in fear of something more hard core.
The cat is useless. Every time the rodent appears, he pokes it back under something, the better to play with it later. Tom and I chase it at high speed across hall and kitchen until it runs up the dining room curtain, and perches boldly on the pole. I scream again. It is massive. It is also feisty. When eventually captured, this “mouse” fights all the way to the front door.
Friday early hours
I have woken from a jumbled and alarming dream about an oversized rat with burning eyes. Robbed of nocturnal kebab wrappings down on the seafront, could they be coming closer in a hunt for food? I spend the next hour on Google images comparing tail colours, size of feet and proportion of head measurement to body length, between various types of rodent. At 4 a.m. I slump into the pillows reassured that we were indeed dealing with a mouse, albeit a fat one.
I can only conclude as I doze off, that this particular specimen had taken Alcohol Change UK’s 2.6 challenge and eaten far too many biscuits…
Disappointment of the week
The chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall always seems a frightfully nice chap – I sat opposite him outside a BBC recording studio once – but I’m glad he’s not cooking for me during lockdown.
In a Times article entitled “How to make a meal with three ingredients” he proposes combining sausage, cabbage and pasta. Commenting only: “add some salt and pepper if needed.” How much do you NOT want to eat that? Luckily, I also have ideas for dishes with three ingredients that are quicker and more appealing.
Chips, salt and mayonnaise, for example. Or bread, butter plus cheese. My son has gone further and developed a lock-down favourite of a mere two components: Mature cheddar & onion crisps and Macdonald’s burger sauce of which he has secured a stockpile. I haven’t succumbed to temptation just yet but you’re welcome. You really are.