Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Lamb stew

Every Tuesday my elderly neighbour makes lamb stew. The smell of it comes into our house through the cupboard under the stairs, and permeates through the whole house. It smells to me of Ireland in the 50s, of grey stone-walled institutions, with dark brown wood furniture, parquet floors and huge iron radiators. It smells musty and cloying, offending my vegetarian palette. It smells of death and destitution, of huge vats of greasy bones, of gravy and soggy vegetables, watery and pale. It smells of routines, the Church, chiming church bells and kneeling sinners. It smells of Old Ireland, pre-Vatican II, where priests and doctors ruled their scared parishioners. It smells of tradition steeped in fear, of "meat and two veg", of widow's tears and family values. It smells of the old days, of finishing every scrap on your plate because there were children starving in Africa, of dessert redemption, of warm milk in a glass. It smells of darkened hallways, thick carpets and shushed children. It smells of Sundays, of new shoes and cold legs in dresses not to be ruined. It smells of timetables, rules and regulations. It smells of unconscious actions, of infallibility, of Man as Master of All Living Things. It smells of death of innocence, of screaming infant animals in an abbatoir, of resigned mother mammals left with no one to suckle. It smells of  all that, and all that comes to me every Tuesday. And I wonder at the unfailing tradition, the planning, the comfort in those routines. And I wonder will I need that someday. Will I need to know what I'll be eating six days hence, will it help me through the long days alone in this house, my husband dead, my children obligingly doing their duty-calls at set times. I know it helps her, so I close my windows, ignore my churning stomach, and wish her Bon Appetit.

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful post, so evocative. I was just thinking about institutional cooking smells this morning, as I walked through our community centre past the room where they serve lunch to the old folk. Different continent, but much the same smells.

    (God, I hope the food is better when we're old.)

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