I’ve been thinking of the old-fashioned letter and how we hardly ever send or receive them anymore. How much delicate, passionate and truthful writing is now lost? An email is never the same. The reply can be too swift. It’s more like a conversation – indeed, increasingly like a conversation given that we now spend so much time texting.
Today, out of something like loneliness, I decided to treat some of this blogspace as a letter, a letter to you - lost friend. By the time you’ve lived half a century, you’ve lost some friends along the way, either due to a falling-out-of -friendship, change of geography or a blow-up argument. I’ve lost friends to all three of these – and to a kind of disinterest that can settle in like dust. Let’s say you were lost to geography – a kinder reason than the others.
I have a new room. It’s my step-daughter’s old room. My daughter moved into when she moved back home but an infestation of some minute mites – unidentifiable by the naked eye – forced us to change rooms. I had been in her old room, a pale blue room decorated with the occasional green turtle wall decal and with a pale blue dado frieze she chose when we first moved in. I loved that room. The window was easily visible from the desk and just outside I’d put a birdbath that is always heavily used by different birds ranging from the too-large currawongs who balance carefully on it, to the tiny handfuls of wrens who flick in and out.
I’m now in a room that was painted a bright almost-apple green. The window is sideways to the desk and looks out, through a large tree, onto the blank side of my neighbour’s house. Birds come to the tree and I’ll put a birdbath in on this side before summer. I had hoped that moving from one side of the house to the other would improve my internet service for audio things like Spotify and Skype, but it hasn’t. It’s the only room that hasn’t yet had wooden blinds put in, but at least the curtains are new and clean.
I’d feel hemmed in and sad if the room wasn’t just that much larger. In summer it will be unbearable – it’s one of the warmest rooms in the house and it will be like working in a sauna. I’m not looking forward to that. But, for the moment, I’m enjoying be able to spread out and introduce yet another bookcase into the mix.
But I didn’t really want to tell you about all that. I wanted to talk about bread. Specifically, I wanted to talk about sourdough and marriage. I’ve been making sourdough – which generates quite a bit of floury mess in the kitchen, if you’re aiming for the correct hydration. Then there’s a sloppy mess of dough that needs to be pushed around, rather than actually kneaded. To clean your hands after pushing this around for five minutes, you use white flour and rub vigorously. Bits tend to fly around.
The Accountant is uneasy about this activity. First he hovered. Now he tries to absent himself from the kitchen. Afterwards he cleans up my cleanup. He joyfully eats the baked bread. It’s just the initial stages he resents. He doesn’t enjoy cooking. Left on his own, he survives on a mixture of take-away and camping meals – sausages and mash, scrambled eggs and chops. A satisfactory meal for him is one composed of protein and two veg, one of which, at least, has escaped being burnt.
Today I took my dough mix outside, onto the deck, and moved it around where I would make least mess. Did he notice my effort to maintain harmony? The bread, rising now in its little cane basket, is a spelt loaf. I wish you were coming over for dinner. We could cut it, still warm, and eat it with the oxtail stew the Mothership gave me.
The Accountant won’t eat oxtail, but I love the glutinous flesh, falling from knuckled bones. It was one of the first things I learn to cook when I moved out of home. I think I rang my mother from a pay phone to get her recipe, which I then tweaked over the decades. A pay phone – STD because I was living in Toowoomba and she was in Brisbane. That was back when we wrote flurries of letters and checking the mail was a daily excitement.
Dear you, I hope your kitchen still smells of garlic, ginger and lemons and that you have paused in your dinner preparations to half catch at the edge of memory, a meal shared years ago.