Follow one crying eye on

From phlegm to traybake, and back

Mouth-breathing. A most unattractive and uncomfortable activity. Especially with accompanying dribble.

What started as a strange and mildly irritating dry cough more than two weeks ago turned into the mother of all head-and-chest colds, the like of which I do not readily recall. Exactly where all this unpleasant mucus comes from I cannot begin to understand. I can only hope that its creation is using up the vast number of additional chocolatey calories I have consumed in my quest for comfort since the onslaught began.

I choose to blame the builders for my ailment. As mentioned here before, they were generous in their liberal spreading of virus(-and expletive)-laden breath in recent weeks and it would perhaps have been a stronger constitution than mine to resist hosting a few of their friendly little bugs. Initially though, I blamed the chap sitting next to me when singing the St John Passion as he had seemed to cough every few bars in the dress rehearsal and the onset of my own little cough (little did I know…) seemed to fit the timing of such acquisition. We’ll never know, and the blaming of others hardly helps the wheezing.

The developing ailment meant that I was not bothered about the long and featureless Easter weekend. The only remotely exciting part of Easter this year was a drive down to a small industrial estate at the end of a lane in deepest Surrey countryside to view some paving for our new patio area. The flagstones, for which we had received a very competitive quote on the telephone, were very brown (the clue was probably in the name “Autumn Brown” but the pictures on the website had looked to be just what we wanted) and we immediately and unanimously disliked them. No wonder they were cheap.

Of course, we found something much nicer and made a quick purchase at a much higher price. Ah well, I suppose we will have to look at the patio – through our wonderful new glass doors if they ever arrive – for the rest of our days, so they definitely need not to be horrid!

As I continue to hack and sniff around the house, I slowly realise that the new appliances in the emerging kitchen space are connected to the mains and can be activated. I sift through the enormous pile of booklets and paperwork in the smaller of my two sparkling ovens in search of a few simple operating instructions. It rapidly becomes apparent that the manuals are so lengthy they require an entire magazine-length format, and – unlike the usual multi-lingual pamphlets to which we have grown accustomed over the years of occasional electrical goods replacement – English is not to be found at the front, the middle or the end of the first mag I pick up which appears to be entirely in… Danish! The next is in French, then come German, Dutch and a fourth un-immediately-identifiable language before I give up and decide to do something altogether else for a while.

Of course, being a linguist by training, I could attempt two of these brochures if I were showing off, but sadly – in the privacy of my own incompetence – I realise that supper would be after midnight if I went that route. My preference is therefore to look online. There will almost certainly be a whole section of Youtube devoted to the woe-begone digitally-impaired housewife searching for an on-switch on her shiny new and completely flat-surfaced appliance. 

There is.

I watch for a few minutes and conclude that life is too short to endure any more of this cheerful so-called guidance. The urge to create a few spoof reels of my own is almost overwhelming, but is nipped in the bud by a more existential hunger. Actual hunger.

Naturally, when it comes to it, I muddle through the extremely straightforward controls in no time at all and the heating of a ready meal is achieved without a hitch. (Note/excuse: Ready meals are pretty much all there is to hand at present. Some weaning off these may be required at the end of this building process, but now is not the time.)

Once my snottiness settles to no more than a persistent chesty rattle, the days become sunnier and – on the rare breaks between effing builderly joshing and interminable (and largely ineffective) vacuuming – birdsong can be heard in the garden. I venture out for an hour’s weeding in the still-sodden flower beds, and am rewarded by the company of two fluttering robins (known in my mind as Emma and Dad – even though, of course, this is nonsense) who cannot wait for me to retreat indoors before seizing on the plentiful worms wriggling in the overturned soil.

Energised by this unaccustomed burst of Vitamin D, I decide to put the larger new oven to the test and cook up one of the few proper dishes I had been in the habit of creating before all this Grand Designs palaver took over our lives. No matter that the kitchen surfaces are temporary chipboard with oodles of sawdust and plaster residue. Don’t care that the tap has been unfixed and wobbles perilously if I forget and the hob is currently on the floor pending a worktop templating visit which I thought was happening on Friday but was an incorrect diary entry (my bad). I don’t mind at all that I will have to totter back and forth along the corridor to our temporary kitchen room to fetch all the ingredients from the temporary larder and the old fridge freezer. This will achieve much-needed “healthy” steps. 

I am nearly ready to begin, when I remember why I did not do this earlier in the week. I cannot locate the tray-bake dish. I have looked in several cardboard boxes in the spare bedroom – twice in fact, which is annoying given that they are just that tiny bit too heavy for me to move safely but I do it anyway – and thoroughly in the cupboards in our temporary kitchen, and under our bed (where other trays are located, but not this one), and in the loft-roof-spaces (where all sorts of interesting things are hoarded, but no kitchen equipment) and I begin to wonder whether the ingredients I had optimistically purchased yesterday will go to waste after all. Of course, the possibility of creating something else with these same standard ingredients in a different receptacle is entirely beyond my addled brain even though, uselessly, it occurs to me now in the comfort of my temporary office (the previously unused armchair in our bedroom).

I do a Sudoku to calm down.

One more search. I contemplate the cardboard boxes in the spare bedroom. Maybe a third look? But this is a large earthenware dish I’m looking for, and I surely cannot have missed it twice already?  Aha, perhaps it’s under the bed in this room rather than our own bed? I’m quickly on my stomach on the rug before I remember that there is an “extra” spare bed stuffed under the main spare bed, thus leaving no room for anything else at all. I bet I’ve just not looked properly under our own bed. So, up another flight and I fling myself unceremoniously into sniper-crawl position on the carpet and rummage once more under the bed – to no avail. I lie for a moment longer approaching quiet (and hungry) despair, when I glance – at mouse level – across to the wardrobe. Under which is lurking not only the elusive tray-bake receptacle but also a forgotten lasagne dish. Double hurrah – although of course by this stage I’d rather have a pasty.

Proof!  In amongst the dust is a beautifully clean oven cooking my supper. With windows still not installed, this is a brilliant space for unobserved dancing too, if only I had the breath!

Dear reader, in fact the traybake was a small triumph – actually, not so small and there are leftovers for tonight – and I delighted in watching it almost silently bubble and brown through the wonderfully clean glass door, but all the dusty searching has not helped my elderly lungs and I’m still honking, creaking and rattling like a veteran miner *.  Clichéd ending = “Ah well, onward and upward!”

*Note to self: Fact checking not always a good idea. Do not Google ‘miner lung disease’ again, at least not until coughing has ceased.  I almost certainly don’t have pneumoconiosis…







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Follow one crying eye on