Monday, 12 October 2009

A funny thing, soup

Hullo ma wee blog,

I woke up gently smiling with Paws distinctive laugh in my ears, or so I thought. Must have been in my mind in reality of course.

It was still deeply dark and my lovely G had a couple of hours or more at least before she would be stirring for the start of another week. Octobers chill occupied the room with us, crept in, no doubt, from the bedroom window that's perpetually open except when we are away from home. As is my habit once awake, I stole off quietly to the kitchen, the kettle, and the table by the patio door to the garden. The first place to warm when the boiler strikes up and brings the house to life for the start of the new day.

In my dream we had been just chatting, Paw and I, chewin the fat, in his last place in the sheltered housing complex, a few hundred yards from the house now belonging to my brother and I where he had lived with Mum.

Its in the village where Gordon and I were brought up. A small and still close knit community of mainly ex miners in what was the South Ayrshire coalfields of Scotland. We moved within the village to a bigger house, both rented from 'the cooncil' as the local authority is colloquially called. I had been raised in the village from birth. Gordon, 5 years older had been with the family close by for a couple of years before they settled there, but Dad lived all his life within 5 or 6 miles of Gadgirth Holm, where he had himself been brought up in one of four small room and kitchen houses.

The flat in the sheltered housing complex was small but an ideal and safe place, specially adapted for those who are disabled or with mobility problems. Dad, who had struggled to recover after breaking his hip in a fall at home shortly after Mum died, was comfortable and safe as possible in the lounge, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom that made up his flat, surrounded by a few precious items from the main house.

We were laughing about soup, Paw and I. Something we did on a regular basis. In fact we did it every time I visited after Mum died, both at home and at the complex.

Soup is important in many ways.

Mum became blind in later life and Dad, who latterly in his working life had been a social worker in blind welfare, took up the reins as househusband to cook, clean and care for Mum on a day to day basis. Mum didn't let him do this unsupervised you understand. She had difficulty accepting her limitations in many ways and never really let him forget that she was still boss in reality.

His point of view on this was that the silly old bat couldn't see his comical eye rolling expressions of 'Aye, right' and his shrug of the shoulders as he agreed to do whatever she was ranting on about at the time, and then proceeded to do things in exactly his own way anyway. It wasn't always a calm household latterly. It could be like WWIII and often he was entirely to blame. Talk about communication!

And one of the main bones of contention was soup.

And silly me, I tried to mediate about it.

Alistair, Ambassador of Soup!

Now, they both approached housekeeping from completely different ends of the spectrum. Actually they approached housekeeping from different galaxies! But that would never have been an issue if there had not been a change in dynamics when Dad took over the day to day running of things due to Mums sight problems.

Mum was canny with money as, to be honest, we never had much around when I was growing up. She was never a particularly good or a confident cook either, and those two things I believe, were always uppermost in her mind when it came to shopping. So, she would carefully plan out what was on the menu, for how many, and would buy and prepare accordingly. Especially prepare. To her to have over bought and more critically to have over produced was a cardinal sin. We were never hungry, nothing like that, but Mum could make an entire meal and have absolutely just the perfect amount of every ingredient on the plate. Not a spare carrot, pea or potato, no extra helping of pudding. Nothing. Nothing was wasted because there was nothing to waste. Stuffed bairns and no waste. In her mind, that equalled perfection.

Now Paw, he came from a very different school of thought.

Granny R was a talented and prodigious cook, baker et al. She was often able to turn the humblest of fare into a feast.
{ She could also turn a wee boys stomach on one particular child unfriendly recipe, but that's for another post all together ! }
So Dad was brought up to understand that where there was any extra production it could be recycled. There were endless possibilities for the creative mind: Stews, curries, rissoles, fry ups, sandwiches, pasta dishes, sauces, salads.

And of course, there was soup.

Now also lets just remind ourselves, here and now, in fairness to Maw, that although Dad had been exposed to and experienced all that creativeness growing up, that was no guarantee or indication even, of his ability to do the same, and especially to the same kind of quality. But he had the ideas.

Boy, did he have the ideas......

So budgeting and buying volume was a secondary concern to Paw when he was unleashed onto the grocery world. By that time, financial restraints too had become a thing of the distant past and his mind fair burst with ideas and concoctions. He was eager,he was creative, he was dynamic, he was out of control.

He was often just plain bonkers!

Plain eating Maw was subjected to the very best and the worst of his culinary expeditions. And when he got it wrong she was often minded to tell him in ways that would leave him in no doubt that she was unimpressed. She believed firmly that she had to be like that, to get through to Dad. She was wrong. Didn't make a blind bit of difference. Paw was an optimist. He thought that just because he had not quite been successful today didn't mean that a wee bit o' experimentation tomorrow wisnae gaunny work.

And if there were left overs;

Well he began to make soup.

Another can o' worms.

Mum liked simple soups. She was a good soup maker herself. As usual it was all carefully planned, costed and produced. No waste. She liked simple tastes too, vegetable, cream of chicken, Cauliflower, scotch broth etc, not too thick but not too thin.
Dad liked good hearty soup. Filling and substantial, thick almost to the extent of the old spoon standing comment. Chunky. Very chunky. Even I asked sometimes if he could really tell the difference between soup and stew.

A good soup, and to be fair to him too, he could make several great soups consistently, was produced by the gallon. For two of them. To his preferred consistency. Sometimes, he could be persuaded to thin it a little, but sometimes not.
He would have it two days running. Mum liked a change. He would freeze the leftovers for later use. Mum didn't trust freezers. More accurately Mum didn't trust Dad and freezers so she resisted the temptation to have his frozen soup at every opportunity

Being the optimist, Dad believed that if a soup wasn't quite working out to plan it could be improved by adding just another ingredient. If that didn't work, then he would try ANOTHER ingredient and so on. If at the end of the day he wasn't quite happy with the result, he would freeze the lot while he searched for inspiration. I don't think he ever threw anything away.

The soup situation was often fraught.
I tried to mediate. And failed miserably.

The usual situation of course. Caught walking into just the worst argument about absolutely hee haw of importance and manfully, dutifully, sensibly even, trying to bring calm and reason to the situation so that it could be dealt with like adults. After all, these are your parents you say to yourself.

'Couldn't we just agree that to argue over a pot of soup was just a wee bit ridiculous, ha ha he he............'

Ended up being mauled by both sides, made to feel completely partisan for not taking one side or the other when it was { obviously} perfectly clear that not taking a side meant that each of them thought I agreed with the other!

Crivens, Jings and Help ma Boab!

I think at one point I may even have phoned my solicitor brother to ask for advice or it may just have been to talk to another sane adult.

Eventually, they tired and I was able to mediate through the means of hot tea and a biscuit. As I didn't visit all that often due to distance, things even became affable, jocular, but definitely calmer. Temperature taken and meltdown receded. Phew!

I looked in the freezer and it was overflowing of carefully packaged,labelled, dated and star rated for quality, tubs of soup. There was a pot on the stove just made and one from yesterday that couldn't be frozen and stored due to lack of space.

" Look Dad, Let me take some of these soups back up the road for me and the lovely G. That would help wouldn't it? You know how G loves your soup!!"

And so it was agreed.

Of course on every visit after that I had to take at least half a dozen, and sometimes double that, portions of soup out of the freezer and take them back home. Even after Mum was gone, I always checked the freezer and did the good thing, happy that soup making was keeping him active and interested as well as making sure he always had something warm to eat at his fingertips. He would rummage through the freezer and tell me back over his shoulder what he was willing to part with and we would laugh, long and loud, about the sometimes odd and bizarre concoctions.

A funny thing, soup

Soup was the last thing I ever took from his house.

Apart from that last time and an odd few tubs of the good stuff I would stop in a lay by and put the still frozen cartons into a bin at the side of the road, wondering what on earth the binmen might think if they were found as the bin was emptied.

After all, I have a freezer full of soup at home.

Make it myself ye ken.........

Just like Paw taught me...........


Morning's Minion said...

Alistair; This is a beautifully written essay. Gentle humor, the wry assessment of our parents that has to happen at some point when we are no longer children.
When I moved from the neighborhood of my raising some 11 years ago, my Mother was still on her feet [though shakily so] still ruling the household, as it were, doing the shopping, paying the bills, driving her own car. My Dad, almost to the time of his death at the end of August, had part time jobs--maybe as much to escape Mom's endless domineering as for the spare cash. Mom spent the last nearly two years of her life in a nursing home when she became too physically frail and mentally confused to be safe at home. My Dad was perfectly capable to take over paying the bills, balancing the checkbook, doing his own shopping, and I think [judging from a distance] that perhaps at long last certain elements of his personality came into their own without the constant repression of my Mother's disapproval. The dynamics of any union are complex and regarding our parents from the stance of our own middle age, is sometimes rather disturbing. So much that we take for granted as children takes on a different aspect.
That said, soup is a wonderful thing. I consider myself a good creator of soup. Nothing exotic, mind you, just well-seasoned kettles of hearty nourishing stuff: beef/barley; lentil/tomato; cream of potato with corn and bacon; numerous nameless brews which start with sauteed onion, celery and whatever is around to add by the handful or cupful. I don't know how to make a mere two servings of any kind of soup!
Thank you for sharing these memories--I enjoyed the details of persons and places.
Errr--I wonder how many years I have left to make soup before my daughter comes down the adjoining driveway to clear the fridge and dump my leftovers!

Alistair said...

Hullo MM,
Thanks for your comments and I absolutely agree about how difficult and different and sometimes funny it can be to see the amazing parents of your childhood through the eyes of an adult, especially when that adult is you.

I'm sure you have many years of trouble and interference free soup making ahead. :]

kind regards....Al.

Alistair said...

Thought I would also go back - in the interests of total honesty - and put that last line in too......

Bovey Belle said...

Al - how I agree with MM about this touching and wonderful piece written with such a perceptive eye. I too love making soup but I am the only one who enjoys it now my eldest daughter is away. The menfolk are not "Soupies" (big babies morelike). I also always make too much, and after two days can't face it again, so yes, it ends up in the freezer. Sometimes, months later, when there is a big hogget due, I will go through and with a heavy heart, heave several containers of soup, like vegetable bricks, into the ditch between us and Next Door's farm (fortunately it's the ditch where much has been dumped before and since our arrival). But do I ever learn, and make a small portion? Nope . . . Guess I'm related to your dad!!!

I have also, sadly, reached the stage where my "children" think they know better than me and gently rebuke me, or suggest, perhaps I would be better doing it THIS way, and when my 18 year old son stands up straight and pats me on the head, I know that dotage is practically staring me in the face!

Alistair said...

Hullo BB,
Jings, thanks too for the lovely comments. Like many of the other posts I didn't really have to think about it, it just came out in a few, well maybe a bit more with my typing skills, moments. I had a giggle while I wrote it too. It was nice to wake up with his laugh in my head. A first too, to date.

Your comment about the pat on the head made me remember too that momentous day as a teenager looming over a frustrated and very furious Mum when, exasperated, she went to slap me, only to find her wrist caught firmly in my hand, followed swiftly by the other hand as it was coming up too. - See I wasn't always so nice.

She stood there trapped and howled her frustration at me, stamping her feet until she burst into tears and was gently released and folded into a big cuddle while I said I was sorry - still careful not to let her go of course until I was sure she wouldn't do the dirty and lash out at me again. Women can be vicious you know!

I had quite forgotten about that.

Kind regards......Al.

lom said...

A lovely story, your mom and dad sound like they were a great couple

AJC said...

Thanks for sharing. I've often fallen victim to the "one more ingredient will save this soup" trap. Disastrous, always.

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