One terrible thing about being poor is the lack of decent food.
Admittedly, there are worse things, such as council tax bills or having to pile coats on the bed, but they are at least not constant, whereas the lack of good food picks and frets at you every single day.
I've always loved food and, in the days when I had more money, I could spend whole days working in the kitchen, producing syrupy cakes and chewy flapjacks and flamboyant, peppery soups. I also found cooking to be a nudge towards a brighter mood: when feeling glum, you don't want to go out and meet people, and you can't muddle your way through a book, so you just close the kitchen door, tie on an apron, and start flinging flour around. You're soon happily engrossed in weighing and whisking and chopping and then, weary and satisfied, you have something delicious to comfort yourself with. You made something. You did something productive and your dark mood has evaporated with the kitchen heat.
I can't do that now - not on my salary. Getting home from work, weary and sad after my hour and a half walk, there is nothing to greet me but microwaveable noodles and tap water. I sometimes try to recreate the fun and creativity of cooking by perhaps putting black pepper in the noodles, or scattering some frozen sweetcorn through it, but it's just not the same.
Twisting the limp noodles round my fork I think how I'd kill for some real food.
The Proclaimer seems to know this. We've only been dating for a few weeks but he's already worked out that the way to my heart is most definitely through my tummy. He has realised all the things that trouble me: he knows I can't get a train so am walking home; he knows I'm sick with exhaustion; he knows I can't afford nice food. I probably cry out in my sleep about Chicken Fried Rice. It seems he wants to help me, and has developed a way of filling the kitchen with good food without making me feel like a charity case.
He'll send me a text saying What do you want to do for dinner? I feel like a paella.
I'll start to fret. Paella? He'll be lucky! Does he know the price of a tiny jar of saffron? And how am I supposed to afford chorizo? And what about prawns? Well, I hope he likes poky wee frozen prawns from the ASDA Value range!
I start doing sums to see what I'll need to sacrifice for the rest of the month so I can give The Proclaimer his paella.
Then he texts me again. Just send me a shopping list and I'll get the ingredients. Only fair I buy if you're doing the cooking.
I almost faint with relief and text him a list.
I'll get some white wine too. Anything else you need?
I politely say no, but when he comes home that evening I see he's bought an Angel Cake for pudding and he says I'd run out of kitchen roll and tea bags so he got some and he knows how much I love Ginger Nuts so he threw some in, hope that's OK. (Oh Ginger Nuts, dunked in tea! I didn't know when I'd ever see you again!)
Or he may put on a stupid bet with me. Something ridiculous like he'll say it wasn't Julie Walters in Educating Rita and when I go flouncing off to get Wikipedia to prove him wrong, he'll say 'I'm right. There's no way it was Julie Walters. I'll bet you a giant tin of Quality Street it wasn't her.' Then, ten minutes later, he's out at Tesco bringing home my 'prize' and maybe a nice bottle of gin.
In this way he is quietly and subtly feeding me and looking after me, and he is doing it without acting the big man. The Kinky Doctor bought me food, but he would parade me round Silverburn Tesco, pushing the trolley whilst keeping up a steady stream of chatter about how he's my slave and he'll buy me anything, so he was doing it for his own kicks. Shug bought me flowers and presents, but the flowers were always from ASDA with a £3 sticker hastily picked off, and he once bought me a fridge magnet.
The Proclaimer is spending money on me but in a quiet way. He makes it look as though I'm doing him a favour by cooking for him and having him over to the flat. I laugh and shake my head at all the trouble he's causing me with these elaborate meals and all the dishes I have to do but, really, I could weep with gratitude. The long walk to work is no longer so hard as I've had a coffee and a fat bagel with fried egg and bacon to toughen me up, I have a turkey and rocket baguette for lunch, and I'll make a shepherd's pie when I get home with gleaming, garlicky carrots.
One morning, we go to the Queens Park Farmers Market and I don't need to say a word. He lunges at the stall selling ostrich burgers and lamb chops and venison. He tells me he's off mountain biking tomorrow so it'd be great if he could drop by afterwards? He'll be wet and dirty and starving so perhaps he could have a bath at mine and then maybe some lamb chops or something…? He arms himself with packets of sausages and thick slabs of steak. I have trembling visions of searing the venison on the griddle and having it appallingly rare so when you slice into it, the garlic and thyme and olive oil will seep and trickle and mingle with the blood, tinging the mashed potatoes a delicate pink. Oh, I could cry at the prospect.
Then we go to the cake stall and he says 'oooh, I love cake' and gets me to choose one, all the while making it seem like he's grateful to me for feeding him whereas really he's the one looking after me, putting flesh on my bones and colour in my cheeks.
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