Do I look slightly stressed?
The evening goes like this.
I put the frying pan on a medium heat, starting off some chopped onions to cook in olive oil as a starter for the meal I intend to prepare.
I go out into the garden carrying scissors to pick a big handful of herbs to add to the supper I'm cooking.
I cut bay leaves, marjoram, sage, mint, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary and parsley. I have the scissors in one hand and the herbs in the other. This takes a while, because the mint is right down at the bottom of the garden growing in the shade, I need to circumnavigate trees and step over a fallen rose stem to get at the bay tree, and the parsley is at the top of the garden in the veggie patch. I make a mental note to come back and tie up the rose stem.
The little apple tree next to the veggie patch is in full leaf now, and several self sown herbs are growing on the path. I have to step carefully round them, and cautiously use the stepping stones on the veggie bed to get at the parsley so I don't tread on any plants.
I notice the cherries are plumping out nicely and wonder how to go about picking them as they're so high up.
While cutting the parsley I notice the wind has dried out the ground despite recent rainfall. The baby kale sprouts are coming through and today has been hot and sunny so I really ought to give them some water.
Once my supper is cooked I want to sit down and relax for a while; I'd rather have done the watering before I eat.
One of the foxes that comes to our garden has mange, so I need to bring the foxes' dish up to the house to get their supper, so we can add the homeopathic mange drops to their food. It takes two of us to feed them at the moment, because our herring gull pair has become bold and insistent. One of us feeds the gulls their scraps, and while they are guzzling it down the other of us nips down the garden and hides the fox food under the low-growing hawthorn cover. If the seagulls see us put the fox food down, they come and eat it the minute our backs are turned, so this stealth is vital.
I'd rather have fed the birds and the foxes before I sit down to eat my supper, because once I've eaten and washed up, I just want to relax and watch TV with the rest of my household. I like the quiz programmes, and they'll be on in ten minutes.
I look at the dry veggie garden and the scissors in my hands and think about the onions cooking on the stove and hesitate. I put the scissors on top of the water butt, making a mental note not to forget them after I've done, and water the veggie garden with the two watering cans I filled up earlier. I need to refill them. The taps on the water butts are stiff when the butts are full of water — pressure from inside — so I need both hands. One of my hands is full of herbs that I don't want to crush. I have to be careful. The parsley and thyme stems are a lot shorter than the other stems. I have to be careful not to drop them.
I go across the veggie patch to the path, stepping only on the stones I put down for the purpose so as not to tread on any plants, then round the self-sown herbs and the apple tree to the back door. As I approach the door my gaze falls on the tomatoes growing in their planter. They absolutely must be watered, tomatoes need consistency of moisture in their compost. I water them with their own little watering can that stands alongside them that I filled earlier for this purpose. I used some this morning, so now it's empty, so I should go back to the water butt to refill it. I decide to approach the water butt from the quick, easy side that doesn't involve the circumambulation. I can do it but only by getting a faceful of miniature ornamental cherry and reaching round to turn the stiff tap with both hands but very carefully so I don't crush the herbs. Damn. I forgot the scissors.
I straighten up, push past the little ornamental cherry to reach for the scissors. The tomato-watering can is only small, so it overflows spectacularly while I'm doing this. It doesn't really matter, the water just flows into the veggie bed, but it's irritating because I don't like wasting water. I'm worried about the onions. Are they burning? I'd have liked to add tomatoes and garlic at an earlier stage than this so they could reach the same stage at the same time. It takes forever to peel garlic, you have to be very patient, and I haven't even begun.
I turn off the stiff water butt tap with the scissors in one hand and the herbs in the other. I'm careful not to crush the herbs but I do hurt my hand. I take the refilled can back to leave by the tomatoes and go into the kitchen. Damn. While I was out in the garden someone else has come in to cook their own supper. Now they will be standing in front of the places I need to get to in order to whirl round and chop tomatoes and peel and chop garlic to add to the onions before they burn to a cinder. The quiz programmes start in two and a half minutes. I begin to feel very irritable indeed.
"Did you mean to leave these onions cooking?" asks my housemate. Yes, but I didn't intend them to be very nearly black.
I try to be patient enough to respect the fact that now we are both using the same space in our rather dinky little kitchen. I snatch the onions off the heat, peel the garlic badly, fling tomatoes in unchopped. I look at the herbs, deciding I'll just eat the greenfly not rinse them off. I grab an aubergine (eggplant) and chop it up at lightning speed, ditto a courgette (zucchini), and fling them in.
I break three eggs into a bowl and beat them up as quickly as I can, tossing in a random amount of seasoning. I wonder why I feel so ill and realise I stopped breathing a while ago. I feel dizzy now.
Eventually, being scrupulously polite and friendly to my housemate, I manage to cobble together a disappointing omelette incorporating burnt onions and underdone aubergine and courgette, and greenfly. I wanted to finish it under the grill but that's all part of the oven, which the other person is now using so I can't.
The quiz programme began fourteen minutes ago. I'm annoyed that I missed it. What about the seagulls and the fox? Breathe.
I run down the garden to recover the foxes' dish left under the hawthorn yesterday. We put the food and medicine in their dish, gather up the scraps for the gulls, go outside to feed them, successfully duping the gulls.
Coming back in, I realise I haven't washed up the frying pan or spatula or scissors. I do that, dry them up and put them away (our draining board is minuscule, our pans are few, and four people need to cook their supper — you can't leave unprocessed items lying around).
I take my cold, rubbery, badly seasoned omelette with its burnt onions, greenfly, undercooked courgette and aubergine into the sitting room, just in time for the last round of the quiz programme, on football, about which I know nothing and care even less. So I've missed the bits I like, about arts and books and science and geography and history.
Breathe. I sit down quietly, across the room from another of my housemates, who has been peacefully watching the quiz with a cup of tea. I am really cross, but I don't say anything.
When I was a child, in the little book of proverbs my mother gave me for Christmas, was one that said:
One thing at a time
And that done well,
Is a very good rule
As many can tell.
Oh, yes. That must be why Thich Nhat Hanh drums it into his novices to breathe and smile and only do one thing at once. I must try to remember. However does he find the time? How early does he have to start supper?
Damn. I haven't tied up that rose stem.