It’s been a busy couple of weeks. And yes I know, these days everybody goes on about how busy they are, as if being stressed is some kind of status symbol, but I promise you I don’t relish being so full on. Personally I loved April and May, what with all those bank holidays and bonus days off. The work/life balance was right whereas at the moment it’s way off kilter. I’ve got a new job presenting on a shopping channel which launches next week so have been rehearsing and training for that, my new book comes out in a month, I’m finishing my third novel, the children’s calendars are stuffed to the brim and my husband is about to go away on business for a week. All of which you need to know in order for the following story to make any sense at all.
The day before yesterday I phoned my best friend on the way to work and ranted, in a way you only can to someone you’ve known for two decades.
‘And today’s going to be such a long day,’ I wailed ‘And I haven’t really slept because I’ve got insomnia because I’m so stressed, and hubby’s away next week when I’ve got to work every day until midnight so I need to sort out 900 hours of childcare, and the kids will be needy and sad so I feel GUILTY, and I’m not working tomorrow but have millions of bits and pieces to do but also have people coming for dinner and no idea what to cook….’
At this point her answer machine cut me off, terminating my stream of angst. To be fair I didn’t blame it.
Still, my friend called back within minutes, having actually listened to my tirade (a proof of friendship if ever one was needed) and what’s more she’d managed to decipher in seconds which part of my monologue I needed her to react to most.
‘Right,’ she said, and I could tell she meant business. Could tell she understood a fellow female was teetering on the edge of hysteria. That I was feeling completely OVERWHELMED.
‘I’m texting you the number for your local deli. Phone now and order their stuffed chickens,’ she instructed. ‘Then, all you have to do is pick them up, make a salad and some potatoes and you’re done.’
It was as if the clouds had parted and someone from on high, someone celestial, had shown me the way. I felt enlightened. I felt a bit…. daring, for cheating with food is something I never usually do. Ordinarily I love cooking. Love the whole process of deciding what to make and then producing it. But on this particular day it felt like someone had rescued me. If I ‘bought in’ I would be able to cope. I would have time to do my ‘bits and pieces’, and it would be fine. People would understand. Frankly I’d been so busy they’d probably think I was a mentalist if I didn’t cut a few corners anyway. And so it was that I ordered the stuffed chickens and got on with my day, less neurotic and thankful to my clever friend.
The next day, due to the fact I didn’t have to spend hours cooking, I got on with my bits and pieces (bits and pieces being an all encompassing phrase that women in their thirties and forties use to describe all manner of tasks. On this occasion mine included exercising for the first time in a fortnight, buying a present for my godson’s birthday, buying guinea pig paraphernalia for my daughter’s friend’s birthday, talking at great length to the pet shop about our fish, which spends more time upside down than not, getting through tonnes of admin and work e-mails, cleaning the house, doing the washing, buying food, going to the osteopath to get my back clicked, looking after the children and picking up the stuffed chickens.)
The chickens looked nice. They were less chickens really, more parcels of poussin tied up with string and stuffed with pork and herbs. I immediately decided however that I wouldn’t be fobbing them off as my own. After all, I have never boned a piece of meat (ooh matron) in my life and have certainly never ever been arsed to tie up anything you can eat with string.
Eventually hubby got home and helped get the table ready and the kids to bed and then our friends arrived. We were all having a nice time and when it came to serving everything up I took the chickens out of the oven to many oohs and aahs. So far so good, but then we started to carve them and to my alarm they looked a bit pinky inside and a bit…well…. unappetising really.
‘So what’s that then?’ someone asked, looking mildly alarmed at the colour of the meat.
‘Oh, that’s just the pork they’re stuffed with. Don’t worry it is supposed to look like that,’ I assured them, while secretly wondering if a night on the toilet lay ahead for us all.
Charlie, my husband, said to me quietly ‘These don’t carve very well do they?’
I gazed at the chickens which had sort of collapsed in on themselves and were looking less and less appealing by the second. Sort of like grey and pink mush.
‘Just get it on the plates,’ I said.
Sitting down, everyone was very polite and helped themselves to lots of veg and potatoes.
‘You didn’t make these yourself did you?’ asked one of our guests, a lovely girl who’s a good friend and work acquaintance of Charlie’s.
And here it was, crunch time, time to explain that no I hadn’t made them and that yes, they did look a bit weird didn’t they? And this answer was on the tip of my tongue, and yet for some reason known only to the inner machinations of my peculiar brain this isn’t what came out. To this second I’m still not sure why.
All I can say is that what I experienced might well be like what happens to mass murderers when they hear voices in their heads telling them to do things. To put it another way, the normal me, the one who’s usually pretty down to earth about stuff, and who feels strongly that not making other women feel less able is hugely important, was punched in the head, literally knocked out flat by the other part of me that was dominant at that precise moment. The part of me that was exhausted, strung out, sleep deprived, in need of a long holiday, a hot bath and possibly a good shag, which was skulking in my brain rocking and twitching, took over and said, after an unnaturally long pause ‘Yes I did. I did make them’
Hubby looked baffled.
‘Wow,’ said our friend. ‘They look really complicated. How did you go about it?’
‘Well…..’ I said, feeling drowned by my own lie ‘I… er….. bought them… boned them…’ I said tentatively, wondering if that sounded like I’d performed a sex act on them ‘And then stuffed them with pork and herbs before… kind of, tying them up.’
‘Right,’ she said and in that moment I think she probably knew I was talking absolute bollocks.
Much later that evening as we climbed gratefully between the sheets I said to Charlie ‘The chicken was a bit weird wasn’t it?’
‘It was alright,’ said hubby, his eyes shutting already. ‘It just looked a bit like cat food. Why did you say you made it?’
‘Don’t know,’ I replied truthfully, hot with embarrassment just thinking about it.
‘You did yourself a disservice,’ he added. ‘Your cooking’s much nicer.’
‘Oh right,’ I blustered ‘So now you’re having a go at me are you for not making something are you?’ I retorted hotly, feeling defensive and gradually more and more embarrassed that I’d passed off the stupid, dodgy looking ruddy chickens as my own creations.
‘No,’ he sighed, clearly wishing I’d shut up and go to sleep. ‘I’m giving you a compliment on your cooking. Besides, I think they all knew you hadn’t made them anyway.’
‘Really,’ I said, now truly mortified to the point where I knew another bad night’s sleep was on the cards. ‘Why?’
‘Because you went weird and replied really slowly so it was obvious.’
‘Oh god I’m so strange,’ I whimpered. ‘The thing is I’m very tired you know.’
‘I know,’ he said, and with that he fell fast asleep, leaving me to ponder in the darkness the fact that lying hadn’t really achieved anything. In fact, it was clear to me that the only thing I had stuffed by doing so (and it certainly wasn’t the chickens) was myself.