Warm in the Kitchen
This early morning, the only warm place in the house is the kitchen, close to the fire, with all the doors closed. The black-out curtains from the Second World War are still in place and hang languidly over ill-fitting windows that let cold air into the house. They must be pulled back in preparation for that first glimpse of day-light. Your elders move in and out, letting in the cold air as they open and close the doors at either end of the warm space where the fire is just taking hold.
Your grandfather banked it overnight with black sea-coal and then he raked the fine, grey ash, with its still smouldering lumps of charcoal, into a warm mound, ready for paper, kindling, coal, and the match. He has also placed a newspaper over the fireplace to create a draft. If the fire doesn’t catch soon, he will throw some sugar onto the embers to aid the blaze. The fire will suddenly flare into life and the room will be quickly warmed. In the meantime, the kitchen, though warmer than anywhere else in the house, is still slightly chilly because the damp night cold has invaded and made everything wet and slick.
It’s great when you’re at your grandparents’ house, but when we are back in ours, my father and mother always leave early, to go to work.
When I was younger, they had to feed me, but I soon learned to make my own breakfast from whatever I found in the fridge. Now I can use a frying pan. I fry bacon first, and then, when I have plenty of bacon fat, I fry bread, eggs, sausage, black pudding, kidneys, tomatoes, mushrooms, and anything else I can find, including laver bread.*
Before I know it, I have become a latch-key kid and, when I am hungry at home, I fry myself an all-day breakfast: eggy-bread or fried egg-with-its-hat on doused in HP sauce for lunch, all washed down with tea to which I add condensed milk and sugar.
But this morning, they have made breakfast for me: porridge. “Porridge, porridge, skinny and brown, / waiting for breakfast when I come down.” And I hate porridge, especially burnt porridge, with a passion, and yes, they’ve burned the porridge again. I hold a cup of hot tea in my hands. I breathe in the steam and it loosens up my chest. The china cup warms my fingers. I prod at the porridge, feed some to the canine mouth that dwells unseen beneath the table, and stuff myself full of toast. Whatever I eat, when the food is inside me, I feel much, much warmer and now I am ready for the rest of the day.
*Laverbread Bara lawr in Welsh: edible Gower sea-weed, a delicacy often called Welsh Caviar.