At the charcoalface

I have crept up here to write. I was under the impression that the sensory cells of the nose become accustomed to smells after a while, and cease to notice them. This, I am informed, comes in handy if you are a fish monger or a dustbin person or a doggie loo happiness engineer.

The cells responsible for obliterating the smell of smoke, however, are slacking shamefully up there in my voluminous nasal cavities. They continue to broadcast messages redolent of charcoal. The messages are insistent and will not go away.

Ah, you say, Kate Shrewsday, you live in a forest: is the forest on fire once again?

Reader, it is not.

The charcoal in question is a lump created here in a perfectly safe quarter of our house. The lump is about 15 by 30 centimetres, resembling nothing more closely than an offering from a Great Dane of mythical proportions. And black as soot; black as night; black as ebony.

Like all black things, it absorbs light. It might be absorbing other things it shouldn’t, and because I gave up physics too early I have no way of knowing whether it is just a great big black light-absorbing destroyer. I am considering sending it to some astrophysicist or another for a check-up.

If it will let me.

Can it be just 24 short hours ago that I walked into my kitchen to find an idyllic domestic scene playing out before my eyes?

Mondays are never easy. The day had been full of contention and I strolled into the kitchen to find my ten-year old daughter, in her pristine school uniform, hauling ingredients out of the cupboard with an alarming sense of purpose.

The flour and that grey pinafore were shouting at me on a frequency only a mother can hear. Through a wormhole in time I could see half an hour into the future, when the grey pinafore was no longer grey but wizard-white. I gazed down it in horror but could say nothing because I was also involved in a de-briefing conversation with my mother in law.

By the time we had communicated the salient points of collection of four children from school, the speedy school-garbed chef had something in a bowl which seemed to be trying to get out.

It was just dough, of course; tameable with more flour. This, I said, is how you knead, my love. Pull it out…and fold…pull it out….and fold…

I was in a dough-trance. It took a few moments for my daughter to wrestle the dough away from me. I was gone, baby: solid gone. After some straight talking, my daughter regained control of the kneading process and we left the dough to rise next to the warm oven.

And promptly forgot all about it.

My husband returned from his German travels. We were interested only in tales of lederhosen, bierkellers and bratwurst. Is it possible the dough became offended? After all, my daughter mused in a little retrospective analysis, yeast is a living micro-organism. Can one cause offence to a micro-organism?

This morning it was clearly furious. Long after it should have been stowed away in 190 degrees to bake to a dusky brown boulder, it had flattened itself to the working surface and settled elastically into a glower of epic proportions. All the goodwill and hippie-peace I had kneaded into its being were gone. The dough was cold and cross. It did not bode well.

Mad and I had a hurried conversation just out of doughshot. Shall we throw it away? Well, it seems such a waste: we have just time to cook it before we leave for the school run…

Intrepidly, I informed the dough that it would, after all, be going to the ball. Is it just my imagination, or did it brighten imperceptibly?

I turned on the oven and I stashed the dough on a baking tray, leaving one to relax and unwind, to find its better self, within the darkened chambers of the other.

And then, Reader, we went out.

The whole what-temperature-did-I-leave-the-oven-on thing is a little hazy. In truth, I have no idea. At one critical moment before we left I remember having one of those moments when I remembered it was in the oven. I thought fleetingly: Thank goodness i remembered! That would have been terrible, leaving the loaf on all day while I was out at work!

And then Maddie asked me to clean her shoes and I forgot all about the oven.

I arrived home at 4:30pm, a full eight and a half hours afterwards. As I walked in, all these concertinaed events which I have related to you flew through my mind. In the kitchen, my daughter and her long-suffering Granny were busy wafting fumes-with-attitude out of every available window.

When I opened the oven, light rushed in to meet what lay there; dancing, fresh-faced light rays met their end in the lowering lump of charcoal which sat on the middle shelf of the oven.

My mother in law suggested the birds might take it off our hands.

I think not.


30 thoughts on “At the charcoalface

  1. Bring it in to school! I’m sure Polly could use it for an original Sports Day activity on Friday – Chucking the Charcoal, maybe? It sounds like it could survive a whole morning of chucking….

    1. Oh hurrah, I’ve tempted you front-of-house, Jan! I think you underestimate the waves of sooty resentment currently emanating from it. It’s verging on X-certificate. There would be young tears well before the lunchtime picnic.

  2. That’s my kind of baking, all right.

    Your kneading reminds me of the times I asked my mother for help with algebra. Within 30 seconds I’d have figured out how to solve the problem, but I had a devil of a time convincing her to return the textbook. She would keep puzzling over the equation and saying, “Now let’s see….”

    If you apply pressure, might the thing become a diamond?

  3. Oh my word, Kate. And to think your initial concern involved only a gray pinafore becoming whitened with flour.

    When you mentioned the lump’s likeness to an offering of a Great Dane of mythic proportions, I howled. We had 3 Great Danes growing up . . . sequentially, not simultaneously . . . and never did they proffer something of such “magnitude.”

    I’m glad the house is still standing . . . even if the residual odor of burnt bread lingers.

    1. Yes, as usual, Nancy, you are the one to spot the silver lining: we do still have a house πŸ˜€ In my mind, when I was talking about big dogs I had in mind the story of the Tinder Box, which has a dog with eyes as big as saucers. It would have to be a fairy tale dog to come up with this offering….

  4. hmmmmmmmmmm, as i contemplate the black-grey beast I wonder if this should go into a time-capsule to be buried in your garden.

    You would never really know about the consternation created by it, but you could have some fun imagining it.

    1. Can you imagine what the archaeologists would make of it, Sidey? What ritual purpose might they accord it… Although with all their methods they might just rumble the fact that it is a piece of dough an absent-minded housewife left in the oven….

  5. If you look closely, there appears to be a tongue hanging out. I think that the loaf became hot and bored and consumed itself whilst languishing the day away. What a tale of yeasty woe, Kate, that is sure to rise to loftier proportions as the years go by.

    I once put some eggs in a pot of water to boil, then promptly took a nap. I thought I was being shot at, until I remembered the eggs, which managed to explode with great force across the kitchen.

  6. I think charcoal is good for digestion… but in small doses! That loaf just wasn’t meant to be:

  7. What a shame that the date has past for entries into the RA Summer Exhibition. Last Autumn we bought back a carrier bag full of chestnuts from the woods in Italy, dreaming of the delicious soup we would make. However, we made the mistake of putting them in the oven without piercing them first. The explosions obliterated the oven window, flew all over the kitchen as hubby ran with them through the patio window doors, and continued exploding in the garden. It took me a whole day to clear up the mess.

  8. πŸ™‚
    what a shame!

    (May I enquire gently if your oven has a timer? A timer has saved me so many times…..)

    1. It has, Pseu, what a sensible question. However, I made a wrong decision. I did not put on the timer…
      Needless today, I will never not put on the timer again!

      1. Has the smell dissipated yet?

        calls for some fragrant candles tonight and a half decent day tomorrow so you can leave the doors and windows open…

  9. Ah, no bird worth its feathers would peck at that, Kate. Put it in the garden though, it looks like a hungry black frog, it should chase off marauding extraterrestrials πŸ˜‰

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