This week, as well as eating oysters, making chocolate cake and cursing Jamie Oliver, I’ve also learnt how to breathe properly. It’s amazing what you can squeeze into a week.
Saturday morning, I drop Daisy in town at her drama group and walk up the hill to do some food shopping, except I never make it to Tesco’s, finding myself instead at The Rub AGAIN. It’s a place where you can walk in off the street and have a 10, 20 or 30 minute back massage in one of their chairs. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a cure for all ills and I’m a little bit addicted. Can’t sleep? Got neck-ache? Been hunched over a computer or carrying children too much? A trip to The Rub will solve it all.
Within seconds I’ve got my coat and scarf off and am leaning forward in one of their chairs, instantly relaxed. The silence is broken by the masseur.
“You’re very tense.” ( Yep, that’s why I’m here)
“It’s because you’re not breathing properly.”
I roll my eyes in the head rest. What does that mean? I’ve been breathing like this for thirty seven and a half years; it’s involuntary, isn’t it? I’m half-listening as he tells me I need to breathe more deeply, allowing my stomach to expand, and letting my breath out more slowly.
I return to pick up Daisy an hour later. As we walk up Lower Goat Lane, I remind her of today’s challenge: to buy her a winter coat. This is not a task she is keen on. She puts up an argument to keep wearing the white fur coat that she got from a car boot sale three years ago.
“Daisy, it doesn’t fit you.”
“Yes it does. It’s just like a jacket now.”
“But it’s not waterproof.”
“I’ll use an umbrella.”
Instead of losing my rag and getting tense, I breathe my way through the argument, just like the man told me to.This turns out to be massively in Daisy’s favour because by the time we’ve reached the market I find myself saying,
“Ok then. Forget the coat. Shall we go for a hot chocolate instead?”
We stand in a long queue at our usual stall (where there would be no change from a fiver for two drinks) but it’s cold and we head further into the market until we find a woman with a big metal teapot advertising milky coffee for 70p. Daisy gets a hot chocolate and I get a cuppa and it comes to the grand total of £1.30! We laugh (money for a cone of chips!) and promise to go back there every week.
We sit in the memorial gardens below City Hall and I let Daisy throw chips to the pigeons, even though it’s strictly forbidden, and give her a simplistic explanation on why there’s going to be a march through the city against mental health cuts. (The current government don’t come out of it very well). It’s all very enjoyable and I think: there might be something in this breathing malarky.
Then three days later the cold weather really comes and I begin to doubt myself. It’s so cold that when Tom goes down to shut up the chicken coop, he finds Ruby, Pearl, Betty and Maria snow-covered, sheltering next to the coop. The cold seems to have frozen their brains and I have to help lift them into the coop because they’ve forgotten what to do.
I fret all night that they won’t make it to the morning, and Ollie and I return at dawn with a pan of porridge to warm their little bodies. Ollie uses a stick to break up their iced-over water while I watch with relief as they peck away at the porridge, steam rising from the pan in the semi-dark. They must surely be the only chickens feasting on gluten-free porridge made with coconut milk, I think.
We walk to school and Daisy complains bitterly about how cold she is (in her too-small coat!) The irony is not lost on me, but I breathe my way through it and even offer her my scarf and gloves. I’m like a new person!
Unfortunately, the breathing doesn’t work in all situations. That evening we return from school with Daisy’s friend, Edie, for half-birthday celebrations. The girls dress up and laugh raucously as they pretend they are married to people called Bob and Nigel, while I stress away in the kitchen. I’ve promised decorate-your-own pizza and chocolate cake (on Daisy’s orders) but the local shop was out of packet dough mixes so here I am, massively behind schedule, trying to follow a Jamie Oliver recipe. Abandon the bowl, he says, sieve the flour straight onto the work surface, he says.
The bowl has a papier mache head drying in it (a drama prop in the making), so I am happy to follow J’oliver’s orders. I make a well in the flour and pour the yeasty liquid into it, and guess what happens? Yep, it floods over and oozes out, quickly surrounding the kettle and running in ravines off the work surface and down the front of the drawers.
“Ollie!” I shout, “I need you!”
I shout so loudly that he actually hears me over the top of Octonauts and comes running.
“Oh mum!” he says, “What’s all that yellow stuff all over the floor?”
I hadn’t noticed the big puddle by my feet.
“Ruddy Jamie Oliver,” I mutter to myself.
“That’s rude, mum,” reprimands Ollie.
“It’s ok, he can’t hear me.” I say.
“He can if he’s dead.” replies Ollie, darkly.
I am still imagining an omipresent Jamie Oliver, who sees all my cooking disasters, while I set Ollie to work on the half-birthday cake. It literally is a half-birthday cake because the other half comes out with me that evening for my friend, Pippa’s, birthday.
“I don’t have time to make a cake and do pizza, so you’ll have to do the cake.” I instruct Ollie.
He obediently puts on a apron and stands at the hob stirring a pan of sugar and chocolate. I get caught up sorting the pizza disaster and forget he’s only five and can’t read recipes.
“This doesn’t look right, mum,” he quietly informs me.
No it doesn’t. I’ve made this recipe many times and yet in my pizza frenzy I put chocolate in the pan instead of evaporated milk and it’s all starting to burn. I’m glad someone is on the ball.
Once he’s made the chocolate fudge icing (and licked every utensil used in its making), I start him on the food processor. Before I know it, he’s made the cake AND quietly iced it, raspberries and all. I don’t know where he gets his breathing techniques from but I could definitely do with some of his kitchen-calm.
This classic Delia cake has been a favourite of mine since the days of childhood sleepovers. Someone, I don’t know who, would always bring one along, and I loved the fudge icing so much (a mixture of boiled up evaporated milk and dark chocolate) that Delia’s Classic Cookery Book was the first recipe book I ever owned.