Monthly Archive: November 2018

Panettone Cat – reprise

The Panettone cat
would never ever forget
the A&Gshaadi
Lardi lardi dardi

The memories rung like dumplings
Across the summer somethings
Sing
Sweet party party A&Gshaadi
We love the love hearty lee.

So with singing will make fly
the moulting pussy fur of time.
Them again – like a year ago,
really, so, wow!

Like a panettone boxed and bowed
Miaow, miaow, miaow
Oh love and shadi like a horse and carriage
Limoncello, vanilla, almond and chocolatt
We lap it up like a panettone cat

Sing
Sweet party party A&Gshaadi
We love the love hearty lee.

Burnt

Our car was a Ford Cortina in beige. Once it might have been gold but by the third owners – us – it had lost its glister. The colour fitted the occupants. We lived in a beige Bromley suburb in a beige brick house behind a ‘hint of caramel’ front door – beige. Our life was dull and safe. That is until Dad discovered Campingaz.

Dad was a fan of camping shops, though he had never camped. He was a thrifty chap and the idea of a holiday which required no investment in such necessaries as a tiled roof appealed to him. Thus our Saturday morning shopping trips to Bromley High Street typically ended with the three of us in Blacks cataloguing the tents, sleeping bags, guy ropes, and walking boots. At twelve years old, these goods promised the sort of adventures that my timid self could imagine but never execute, but to Dad they offered ‘savings’.

‘Adventure’ to Dad and Mum was framed by the experience of being bombed almost to blazes in the war. Dad described to me the occasion when an oil bomb ripped through their flat, and the scraping and rattling sound of shrapnel from the anti-aircraft guns dropping onto the ruptured roof as they waited for the bomb to explode. (It didn’t.) Dad had only one leg so he was a warden, specialising in preparing for a gas attack. Luckily one never occurred, but how he managed to scramble over the nightly accumulation of rubble in the Lewisham housing estates I really don’t know. As she was walking back from work Mum saw a stray bomb land on a primary school in Catford. That was how they met, picking up burnt bits of children.

Nowadays ‘adventure’ meant going to the library, shopping in Marks, walking our vicious red setter Grace, and frequent Saturday afternoon car rides. The Campingaz was intended as an enhancement to the car rides. Cocooned in its blue tin box, printed with instructions in French and English a luggage catch hid a series of deft flaps that displayed two spare canisters and a base to rest the burner.

Caution determined that we avoid too much excitement all in one go. This particular car ride would be unambitious, no more than 25 miles there and back. The participants would not include my sister, a perpetual dieter and dismisser of fried food, thus allowing room in the car for Grace, who in any case forbade us from leaving her at home if there was any prospect of a walk.

Mum intended a tea consisting of Walls sausages, fried eggs, and tinned tomatoes. This would be complemented by a fresh cream cake, delivered by the milkman this morning and currently defrosting, and McVities chocolate digestives. As the Gaz stove would be occupied with frying, she also prepared a small flask of tea with sugar for me, and a larger flask of Gold Blend, with a plastic bag of Coffeemate (a recent and much-admired discovery on the shelves of Safeway). To top off this assortment, she had found a bag of barley sugars left over from some travel sickness incident, and a single Express Dairy yogurt which nobody wanted but she insisted had to be eaten. For Grace, there were Bonio biscuits.

After a forty-five-minute drive, the Cortina was berthed in a lay-by somewhere north of Tunbridge Wells. We were sitting on folding chairs between the open car doors, which acted as a windbreak, squeezing some warmth from an indifferent English sun. The view was of a field through a gap in the hedge. The spot was chosen for the grass, a bin provided by Sevenoaks District Council, and the gap in the hedge, which provided access to unobserved penny-spending, invisible even to a double decker bus.

Dad took care to remove the spare canisters and place them on the parcel shelf before lighting the stove. At the beginning of the year, Miss Hutchinson had instructed us at length about the danger of Bunsen burners, but given Dad’s war time expertise we knew we were in good hands. The blue tin provided a sort of tent for the device as well as a flat base. Because it was outside and in common with a tradition that hitherto I had been unaware of, dad cooked. This tradition emerged quite naturally from nowhere. I had never seen Dad cook before and it was almost as embarrassing as catching him without his artificial leg on a night-time hop to the toilet. Once the Spry Crisp and Dry was bubbling, Mum opened the packet of sausages, Dad lanced them with a fork and dropped them into the pan. The eggs and tomatoes would wait until a later round of frying. Dad’s face beamed with delight. We knew why, and Mum and I joined in with the beaming. This was hot food outdoors. Proper food, smelling – and soon to be tasting – just like the food Dad had more or less every day. No reading restaurant menus outside to check the prices, no awkward looking at the tablecloth while we were served, no non-Walls sausages, and best of all no bill. Mum and I felt loved and hungry.

Grace meanwhile had smelled the sausages. She had been resting in the grass unenthusiastically licking a Bonio. With no one to bark at and no other dogs to bite she was much less present than normal and we had all forgotten about her. Grace combined athleticism with focus. This was demonstrated by the acceleration she achieved in crossing the ten yards from her dining spot to the frying pan, and the precision with which she hit pan, Campingaz stove, and Dad simultaneously before disappearing with a sausage through the gap in the hedge into the fields. Meanwhile Dad, Mum and I spectated this event as if we were catching up with an old Laurel and Hardy movie. By the time we had gathered ourselves the entire back seat of the Cortina was ablaze. Instinctively I stepped back into the council bin, which seemed to hold me like a supportive adult at the scene of an accident. Which I suppose this was.

And then wonder came to pass.

With uncanny agility Dad leapt to the back of the car, opened the boot, and threw Mum a large can of water used to fill the radiator. For himself he grabbed an old blanket he kept for the frequent winter breakdowns or when Grace’s blanket became too unsavoury for the back seat. He threw it on the grass and Mum doused it with the entire contents of the can. As Dad shut the front kerbside door, Mum moved to the other side of the blanket. The two of them raised it as though folding laundry and somehow managed to launch the blanket like a salmon over the back seat. Dad snatched the two spare canisters from the parcel shelf and Mum slammed the door. Almost immediately the flames subsided, black smoke filled the car, and the back window cracked. Mum and Dad retreated to the council bin and cuddled me.

A green double decker bus swung round the corner and pulled up down the road. Inside, a crowd of primary school children, presumably on a weekend trip, massed at the windows. Grey faces peered at us. The driver came over. Were we OK, what had happened, the car was ruined, did we want a lift, tell the dog to stop barking.

We wanted a lift.

I was designated the front seat with Grace, who was asleep. I had the best view of the overhanging tree branches before they scraped the roof of the bus and enjoyed being the eldest on board other than Mum and Dad and the driver. Mum and Dad were in the back row, bathing in children, who had already forgotten about the smoking Cortina that smelled like breakfast and were singing songs. The children did not seem to notice that Mum and Dad were crying. I knew it wasn’t about our Cortina, or our burnt tea.