I’ve always been a bit funny around the house.
By that I don’t mean I roam the hall and landing telling jokes, I mean I’m a bit particular about things that probably wouldn’t bother other people.
Take Mrs Canavan’s shoes. When she comes in from work, or a run, or wherever, she will take them off and place them next to each other but with the left one on the right side, ie. the wrong way round.
What kind of lunatic does this? How could anyone position their discarded shoes in such a manner? It’s as unsettling as making polite conversation at a dinner party and finding out the chap you’re sat next to is a serial killer.
She does it every single time and every single time I look at them for several minutes, trying to ignore it, but it eats away at me until I am compelled to walk over, bend down – not an easy thing to do at my age – and pick up the left shoe and place it on the left side, so the shoes are the correct way round.
Another thing Mrs C does that I find incredibly annoying is leaving the top off the toothpaste. She has done this every morning and night in the eight years we have cohabited. Most times I can just about cope – I will wearily place the cap back on the toothpaste in the same way a parent tidies up after their thoughtless child - but some evenings my frustration boils over and I erupt, screaming in her face, ‘can you not just put the top back on the bloody toothpaste, just this once?’ The only thing that has prevented this leading to divorce is I’m too embarrassed to list the reason for separation on our decree nisi certificate as ‘irretrievable differences due to Colgate toothpaste lid’.
There are other annoyances. She never rinses her plate after a meal, so that when I come to wash up later it takes 35 minutes of vigorous rubbing with a brillo pad to get rid of the leftover lasagne stain on her bowl. She never turns off the downstairs lights before coming to bed, as if that kind of chore is beneath her, so that I have to trudge down the stairs every night to do it. She leaves big unsightly clumps of hair on the side of the bath (Her: ‘It’s not my fault, it’s what happens when you’re breast-feeding, your hair falls out’. Me, lovingly: “That maybe so darling but having to breast-feed doesn’t stop you from collecting your shedding hair in some loo roll and flushing it down the damn toilet”).
In the interest of balance – in case Mrs Canavan sues for defamation - I should now list my faults. But I can’t because I haven’t got any.
Anyhow, moving on, the point I’m trying to make is that I’m the kind of slightly obsessive person who gets annoyed by the habits of others – although after spending an afternoon with my sister, Ruth, I have realised I’m not on my own. Indeed I feel I met my match.
Now I dearly love my sister. Sure as kids she told me red and black fruit pastilles were poisonous and that I had to give them to her so she could ‘throw them away’ (it was five years before I clocked on to her devious game, and only then because I wandered into the kitchen when she wasn’t expecting it and found her shoving the seven fruit pastilles I’d just given her down her mouth). But despite that I love her and she’s a belting human being.
However, our relationship was tested to the extreme when I used her kitchen to cook tea the other day.
It was Sunday and I said I’d make the whole family a meal – sausage casserole since you ask. I know this isn’t a traditional Sunday tea but I found 20 sausages at the back of the fridge that were slightly out of date and so I had to use them up somehow.
‘What are we having?’ asked my mum when I told her I was cooking. ‘A chicken or lamb roast?’
“Erm, sausage mum,” I replied.
“Yes, and they’re past their best before date and look a funny colour,” I added.
I’m pretty sure she was quite excited about the evening meal…
I didn’t have time to make it at my own house, so took it to my sister’s and cooked there.
What I didn’t realise, though, is that my sister is rather picky about the way things are done.
Alarm bells began to ring when I casually took a wooden spoon out of her utensils jar and gave the mushroom I was frying a stir.
‘What are you doing?’ she said with such venom that for a moment I thought she was addressing someone stood behind me, someone doing something awful, like shooting a small cat in the face with an air rifle.
But then I realised she was talking to me.
“I’m, erm, stirring the onions and mushrooms,” I said, hesitantly.
‘Why are you using ANOTHER wooden spoon?’ she shrieked, several octaves above her normal speaking voice. ‘There’s already a wooden spoon on the side.’
“I’m sorry,” I stammered, feeling more ashamed than I could ever recall when it came to a wooden spoon.
‘That’s just more washing up,’ she bellowed.
I began to trim the leeks. ‘Not like that,’ she barked and snatched them out of my hand. She then informed me she’d watched a programme where Glenys Kinnock (that well known chef) had prepared leeks a particular way. ‘You see, you cut a cross at the top here and then put it under the tap so the water goes all the way through and washes away any dirt because leeks are filthy inside’.
I cut the carrots incorrectly (she likes them round, not in batons), used the wrong pan (‘that’s not non-stick, if it burns rest assured it’ll be you buying me a new one’), got in trouble for not putting enough sauce in the casserole (‘any vegetables above the water level will burn,’ she announced dramatically) and then – when washing up (which I assumed would be a nice gesture) – I left too some soap suds on the pots and soap suds can ‘cause cancer’.
I wouldn’t say we fell out during the course of the afternoon – well, possibly just the once when she lunged at me with a kitchen knife after I didn’t trim the mange tout to her satisfaction - but our relationship was tested.
It will be a long while before I cook anywhere other than in my own abode.