I had a moment the other evening when I realised my life had hit an all-time low. My mother comes round every Tuesday and stays overnight, ahead of baby-sitting my daughter Mary on a Wednesday (not a very exciting sentence I concede, but important in terms of the story to follow).
My ma, bless her, is at that stage of life where she requires meals at a certain time. Tea has to be at 5pm, she explains, ‘because you know I’ve got problems (voice drops to a whisper) down there (gesturing to her lower portions) and if I eat any later Steven I’ll be up with stomach cramps and wind all night’.
To be fair, this is true. She does have a bowel issue. Indeed we go through as many toilet rolls in one day of my mum being at our house as we do in the remainder of the week. Even the girl at Sainsbury’s knows the situation. When I pop in every Tuesday morning to buy a 16-pack of Andrex she’ll say, ‘your mum round later?’
So because my mother requires her tea on a Tuesday at 5pm, and I don’t get home from work until gone 5, I always spend Monday evening cooking so her food will ready for her to warm in the micro when she arrives.
This Monday, however, I had a badminton match on the other side of town (it was a thrilling encounter; Wendy and I beat Margaret and Bill 21-18, the winning point courtesy of a quite sensational backhand smash played by me, reminiscent of Lee Chong Wei’s memorable shot at the 2013 Malaysian Open. You must recall it surely?)
It meant I didn’t return home until 10pm, and when I burst through the door – wearing badminton trainers, shorts and smelling exactly like you’d expect a man who’s spent the previous three hours running around in energetic manner to smell – it was with a heavy heart that I realised I needed to begin making tea.
In truth I’d hoped Mrs Canavan might have done it. As I departed for badminton, I’d mentioned to her that all the ingredients for a spaghetti bolognese were in the fridge and that “I’ll start making it when I get in”, adding for dramatic effect, “though I’ll probably be home pretty late.”
I lingered for a moment waiting for her to helpfully and thoughtfully respond, ‘don’t worry darling, I’ll cook it as you obviously won’t be home till late and it’s the last thing you’ll want to do when you get in, and besides I really should cook your mother a meal at least once this year because Mary is my daughter too and she’s coming all this way to babysit her’.
However, Mrs Canavan didn’t say that. Instead, without taking her eyes off Masterchef where a bald chap with bad nasal hair was making a roast pork belly with a chargrilled peach salsa, she replied: ‘I’m tired. I’ll be in bed when you get home so try not to make too much noise when you’re cooking.’
And so it was, at 10.20pm, and dressed in sweat-stained badminton gear, I threw some mincemeat, onions, mushroom and chopped tomatoes in a pan and made – if I may say so myself – a very nice spaghetti bolognese.
I finished this task at about 11.15pm – and then came the moment I realised I really need to take stock of my life.
The finished dish was too hot to put in the fridge but (and at this point I have to confess I am a bit OCD about my food; if I leave a milk carton out of the fridge for more than 20 minutes I have to bin it) I couldn’t bring myself to leave it on the kitchen surface all night for fear it would go off.
So what I did was set my alarm for 3am, the idea being that I would come downstairs and put the spaghetti bolognese in the fridge.
I duly did this, though the meal was still a little hot so, in the early hours, with every other sane person in Britain tucked up in bed fast asleep, I sat in the kitchen nursing a cup of tea and waiting for my mincemeat to cool to a satisfactory temperature.
I finally put it in the fridge around 45 minutes later and trooped back upstairs and as I lay in bed, with my morning alarm due to sound at 7, I wondered if there were any other 42-year-old males on the planet doing the same thing?
I decided the answer, unless they were suffering from severe mental health issues, was probably not.
I was knackered the entire next day but happy in the knowledge that I had done a good deed and my mum would have a lovely meal to devour when she arrived at our house at 5pm. I got home from work at half past and the spaghetti bolognese was untouched in the fridge.
“Why haven’t you eaten?” I asked my mum.
‘Oh, sorry love,’ she said, ‘I meant to tell you I had a late lunch with Barbara so I don’t need any tea tonight.’