International Writers Magazine - From our archives - On Listening to Mother
ask Mummy to turn on the oven to 170. You might have to wait for
her to do this because shes always busy. After shes
taken the washing out of the tumble dryer, her mobile phone will
probably ring: London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling
down. Its fun to sing along whenever Mummys phone goes.
fun, except now shell be busy talking to someone for a while.
Anyway, what do you need to do next? Open the fridge and take out the
butter. You need 125g, which is easy to work out because its half
a pack. Put the rest back.
Then ask Mummy to measure out 100g of sugar and tip the butter and sugar
into a pan together.
Next find the golden syrup, which is somewhere different every time
you need it, but hunt around and you will probably find it in the end.
You need to dig out 4 big spoonfuls of syrup and put it into the pan
with the hot butter and sugar. Then mix it all together with a big wooden
spoon. This is fun.
Now get Mummy to weigh out some flour. She thinks about 10 ounces is
right, but if you dont know what an ounce is like, get her to
weigh it. It will come to 320g. You need to mix the flour with two very
special ingredients one small spoon of bicarbonate of soda and
two small spoons of ginger powder. Except Mummy might put in three spoons
of ginger because the person on the other end of her mobile phone is
Aunt Honoria who is upset, and Mummy needs to try really hard to calm
her down a bit.
Now theyve started talking about holidays, I think. Aunt Honorias
family is going to somewhere called Valletta in a couple of weeks, but
Uncle Malc isnt going with the rest of them. I overhear Aunt Honoria
saying that hes more interested in going somewhere else with a
piece of fluff. That seems odd to me. How can fluff be more exciting
than going on holiday to Valletta? Its where Granny Flavia lives
in a big sunny house by the sea. She has silver-grey hair, bakes her
own bread and is always smiling.
If you dont know, or dont remember, what Valletta looks
like, you can pull Mummys arm and ask her. She will remind you
the town is golden-brown like copper, and the sea is blue like the purest
sapphire. Then shell tell you that the weathers lovely and
hot there even at this time of year, but not as hot as the pan with
the butter and sugar and golden syrup in. So be careful and stir it
again just to make sure its all really well mixed.
Now put the flour and the ginger and soda stuff into a bowl and then
pour in the melted sugar and syrup from the pan. Mix it up until its
like very thick golden porridge. Get Mummy to pull it all together and
somehow the mixture will turn into a wonderful ball of something she
says is called dough. While she does this you can pick up her phone
and find out if Aunt Honoria is still there. If you do, you will hear
a dog barking and Aunt Honoria telling someone to get the Dan-dog to
shut up a minute because shes trying to think about the Valletta
trip and talk to her sister on the phone and wipe up the lunch things
and make a shopping list all at the same time.
Wasnt Aunt Honorias dog called Sooty, not Dan? Perhaps shes
got a new one. If you like, you can wait, listening to the phone for
quite a while, because the Dan-dog wont stop barking. In the end
you have to give the phone back to Mummy.
Now, roll out the stuff called dough with the wooden rolling pin until
its thin. If you measure it when Mummy says its about a
quarter of something called an inch, youll find its actually
six millimeters thick. If it sticks, get Mummy to unstick it, because
otherwise you can get into dreadful mess with it. Wait for her to finish
talking to Aunt Honoria if necessary. Dont try to unstick it yourself,
OK? If you can hear Aunt Honoria crying at the other end of the phone,
pretend not to, because Mummy and her are talking very privately now.
Mummy looks out of the kitchen window and says she knows. In fact, she
says she knows three or four times.
Now comes another fun bit, after you find the biscuit cutters, which
are usually somewhere in the big cupboard in the corner, but they move
around like the golden syrup. The fun bit is cutting out the shapes
of your gingerbread men. Put them on the funny paper thats see-through
and put the paper on the baking trays. Cook them a few at a time for
9 minutes each, unless they are still underdone, in which case give
them up to two more minutes till they are brownie-gold. The colour of
Valletta, you say to Mummy. She tells Aunt Honoria what youve
just said, and we all laugh together.
Get Mummy to take them out of the oven. Wait for them to be cold enough
so they dont burn your fingers. Then taste one to make sure theyre
all right. Give a piece from a broken one to Mummy. Shes probably
still on the phone, and if she is she will be sitting down now running
her hands through her shiny black hair that reminds you of your own.
You might be able to still hear Aunt Honoria on the other end of the
phone. This time shell be saying that men are all good for nothing.
Mummy will say she knows a couple more times. And then shell say
that none of them are really up to much. Just look at Marty, for instance,
shell say. He had a snake inside his trousers and his eyes were
always glued to some womans bottom.
That makes me laugh, because it sounds so silly that Mummy must be joking,
but when I giggle she looks at me crossly and tells me to taste a gingerbread
man instead of dropping eaves.
Anyway, Marty used to be my Daddy, a long time ago, but I still remember
him. He wasnt like Mummy says at all. He was kind and gentle,
and there was definitely no hissing coming from inside his trousers
like there would be if he kept a snake there. And of course his eyes
were glued into his own head like everyone elses. Mummy can be
so stupid about some things. But she is right about a lot of other things,
so maybe all so-called real men arent very good. Ill find
out for myself soon enough, she says.
No, whats really important at the moment is that men made of gingerbread
definitely are good. In fact theyre totally, totally scrummy.
And, to me, thats all that matters.
© Steve Slatter May 2009
Steve Slatter has been a freelance computer professional for a very
long time indeed. He has a recent first class honours degree in Computer
Science from the Open University but has yet to use it to further his
career, He lives in Hampshire, England with his wife.
and Burger Vans
I still wake up with a start whenever I hear a door slam in the
dead of night. I listen without breathing for as long as I can, hoping
I wont detect the diesel throb of a taxi drawing up, or hear a
familiar deep voice asking to go to the Central Rail Station
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