After ten years, the most I have ever lived anywhere outside the ancestral home, I
am moving house. By now quite adjusted to the notion, I am able to be mostly philosophical, feeling blessed that for so long I have dwelled in such a lovely location, close to town and beaches and friends yet far enough removed to enjoy the privilege of complete country quiet.
One thing I won’t be missing is the kitchen. Or ‘kitchen’, to be perfectly correct. I have in another column alluded to what constitutes this particular element of my home – possibly even to the reaction a colleague had the first time he visited me here. Given my gastronomical leanings it was quite understandable that he had envisaged a suspension of serious cast-iron cookware from ceiling hooks, like in a French provincial kitchen; I was conscious of having relinquished a certain credibility in his eyes as a result.
Like so many residences on the Far North Coast, mine is a two-roomed cottage on acreage, the improvised short-term dwelling of the previous inhabitants while the main house was being built. It has indisputable rustic charm with its wood-beamed, slightly sloping ceiling and weatherboard walls, its pot-belly stove and its outside toilet. One room is combined bedroom and living area and the second combined living/dining area and ‘kitchen.’
The latter consists of a small gas oven in one corner beside a plywood bench-top not quite three feet wide, a sink and draining area, a refrigerator and a set of stern grey metal lockers like you might find in a gymnasium locker-room and probably originating from one. This is my pantry, whose doors I keep fiercely closed all the time in order to prevent entry by my resident rodents and cockroaches which still mysteriously find their way in. Two sets of slatted vents admit smaller creatures, so that even though I enshroud opened packets of dry goods in endless layers of plastic, weevils will invariably wing their way out of the rice or the rolled oats or the semolina I am about to cook with. Weevils and worse.
The fridge is a social embarrassment. Gaffer-taped shelves contain a precarious assortment of jars and bottles which periodically break free, to roll and loll around my unsanitary floor. Several shelves are completely missing so in effect what I have is a cold box – the fact that for about six months I have been meaning to buy a new refrigerator but have somehow still not done so fills me now with immense smugness. I’m moving out anyway! I have heard my silent rebuke, lately, as I slam the door shut and hear from within something else snap off.
The stove is relatively new, so for the past few months I have been basking in the luxury of all four gas rings actually being useable, but especially an oven that doesn’t go out as soon as I lower the temperature. For over two years what I cooked on, and in, was nothing short of a disgrace – and a potentially lethal one at that. Toward the end only two rings functioned, one being the wok one and that so explosively that I never dared ignite it. The oven itself nearly blew my head off on several occasions – certainly singed eyebrows and an oddly shaped fringe were common experiences. One day I had noticed a cotton wool-like substance sagging from the grill section so I pulled it away, and kept pulling, unravelling yards of the stuff which I realised with horror was the insulating component.
I am deeply sad to leave this place – and yet when I think about a real kitchen with storage space and cupboards containing crockery I do not have to wash prior to every use, when I think about all the Dinner Parties I will throw and all the trouble-free cooking I will do, I can hardly wait to go.