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11 December 2014

Nicholas Lezard: carrying a half-roasted turkey to Finchley on the Tube is an eccentricity too far

Why, oh, why, I howl to myself and to the stars, did I ever learn to cook?

By Nicholas Lezard

An email arrives from a publicist, trying to stir my interest in a book. I cannot blame her. It is, after all, her job. “I hope you’re well,” she begins, “and having a great week.”

This gives me reason to pause and go into a kind of reverie. “Am I having a great week?” I ask myself. And why a week? I suppose asking if I am having a great month too readily admits the answer, “As it happens, no.” Ditto asking if I am having a great day.

I suppose there is something wrong with the adjective “great”, as well. When was the last great week I had? Maybe when I used to go on holiday, before childcare turned holidays into something else entirely. Yes, some time in the early Nineties, in Tuscany: that was a great week, getting blotto on the local wine and grappa with the wife and our friends Nick and Ian. As Horace reminds us, “Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,/labuntur anni . . .” Alas, Postumus, the time flees and being righteous isn’t going to stop you getting old.

So, no, I am not having a great week. I have not, as all sorts of things keep reminding me, had that great a year and when the time comes to bid farewell to 2014 I shall advise it not to let the door bang its arse on the way out.

It is barely the end of November and I am shattered. A combination of too little sleep and not enough food has left me looking more or less like Gollum. My hair floats on my head in lank wisps, my eyes bulge and gleam greenly in the twilight and I scuttle through Waitrose in a ragged loincloth, muttering to myself and looking for sausages. For it is Thanksgiving and I have rashly offered to cook dinner for my ailing parents, who are getting too old to stand around in a kitchen peeling spuds and basting turkeys for hours. Come to think of it, so am I. But I offered and there it is.

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For Thanksgiving coincides, either approximately or exactly, depending on the year, with my father’s birthday and, what with one thing and another, there is a rather strong possibility that this may be his last. It is not given to us to know the hour of our passing but sometimes you can have a rough idea and right now we are concentrating on keeping him going until the Ashes series of 2015.

He once, around the turn of the millennium, expressed severe doubts that he would ever see the Ashes in an English team’s hands again and I sympathised and fretted; for he feels, even more than I do, that a world in which we have not in some way humiliated the Australians is one that is barely worth living in.

But anyway: thanks to my mother being American and my father having a birthday around now, this is all rather a big deal. (You may blame my mother, incidentally, for the autumnal Americanisation of this country. The first American to set foot on these shores since the revolution, she would, in the early Sixties, put a jack-o’-lantern in the window for Hallowe’en. For the first few years baffled crowds would gather round the front of our house, one or two people occasionally floating the idea of burning her as a witch, but eventually they decided they liked the idea and look where we are now.)

At the moment my mind is fixated on this damn turkey. Twenty minutes a pound and 20 over, but it has come to me in kilos and right now I do not have the bandwidth to do the mathematics. I have to go to Selfridges to buy a pair of slippers, the bus to which takes me right to the door of the Wonder Room, whose cheapest watch sells for a four-figure sum and which it always makes me depressed to walk through. I also have two articles to write, including this one, before going up to East Finchley and taking command of a dinner for what was originally going to be six people but is now going to be ten. It has been suggested that I start cooking the bird now and then finish the job in the family home but carrying a partly roasted turkey on the Underground is an eccentricity too far, even for me.

Why, oh, why, I howl to myself and to the stars, did I ever learn to cook? My brother didn’t learn how to cook mashed potato until he was 40 (“I suppose I have to cook this first,” he said, holding up a raw potato as if it were a grenade) and he is a wealthy and successful man. It has made me popular, to some degree, with women but then with that comes a whole other raft of responsibilities and complexities. What I’d like right now is a week in bed. That would be a great week. That would be the greatest.