Thursday, May 20, 2010
Kettles and Things
Some incidents in your life come out of the blue. They can be small, barely noteworthy. But your reaction is significant. With me it was the kettle. A shiny new aluminium kettle, that became a mirror to my soul. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Here's how the story begins.
'Mum,' the power's gone,' Seth yelled from the kitchen.
'That's no good,' I called back.
'The lights and the fridge.' His feet came pounding the hallway. 'Your room's dark too.'
I looked up. 'Oh dear, so it is.'
'What about your laptop?'
Sure enough, my computer had flicked over to battery. I had an hour max and a new short story forming.
'Damn,' I said. 'We'll have to check the fuse box.'
The white wooden door opened with a click. Sure enough one of the little switches had stepped out of line. Seth flicked the switch. But the little red fellow jumped back up again. Next, I tried. But that switch was a stubborn little cuss. Every time I flicked, he gave me the bird and poked his tongue out at me.
I looked at Seth. He shrugged. 'We could try some of the other switches?'
'No,' I said, stepping in front of the fuse box. 'Don't touch anything!'
'Come on, Mum. We have to try.'
'It's your fault,' I said, eyes narrowed. 'What have you done to my electricity?'
'Nothing,' he spread his hands wide. 'All I did was switch on the kettle.'
'Then go and unplug it, son.'
I would like to say that was the end of the incident. But here is where the soul comes in. You see, once we'd chucked that kettle in the bin, I started dreaming of a new kettle. Not a white, plastic kettle. Something homely and rustic, like a whistling kettle. A ye-olde-kettle-on-the-hob sort of experience.
Yes, a whistling kettle, I found myself enchanted by the notion.
It would be shiny as a five cent piece with a little black knob on the top and an old fashioned steam whistle that called us merrily to tea. I would cook Welsh cakes and muffins. Hearty casseroles and soups would bubble on the stove. There would be no publishers rejecting my manuscript, no advanced novel tutors telling me hard home truths, no failing to make the Bristol Long List. Things would be simple, old fashioned, the way they were meant to be.
A few days later, I bought the kettle.
Sadly, before I even stepped in the door, doubts began to creep in. What if I set it boiling, then remembered I had an appointment? What if I shot out the door without thinking? What if no one heard my little tin kettle shrieking?
No! We were entering a new phase. Only calm and order lay before me. I wouldn't get caught up in a new short story. Forget I had a family. Spend evenings scribbling in notebooks, or fulfilling corporate writing contracts. I would be a new, in-the-moment, earth mother, Liz.
Unpacking the box, I set my kettle on the stove and gathered the family. Okay, so we'd run out of tea because I hadn't done the grocery shopping and Andrew was sick. But instant coffee would be fine and there were a few stale biscuits in the packet. Besides, once we heard trill of my new kettle, life would take on a Brambly Hedge sort of glow.
Now, here's the thing about whistling kettles. They don't switch off automatically. Nor do they do the fast boil thing.
We sat with our empty mugs — waiting.
'How much longer?' Seth said. 'I have an assignment to finish.'
'Boring,' Priya said. 'Call me when it's ready.'
'I need a Lemsip,' Andrew said. 'My throat is killing me'
'Maybe I put too much water in,' I said, glancing at the clock.
'It's been five minutes,' Andrew said. 'But who's counting.'
Then it happened. A long white spume rose from the kettle's spout. Only, it didn't make the homely, comforting sound I had anticipated.
It blared: like a fog-horn!
'Help,' Andrew dived for cover 'The Luftwaffe is coming.'
I dashed to the kitchen, hands shaking, and lifted the kettle from the flame — silence, an even-the-past-isn't-safe kind of feeling, as one by one, family members grabbed coffee cups and headed back to assignments, chat rooms, and sick beds.
I emptied the kettle, and slunk back to my study.
A few days later, Andrew purchased a new fast boil kettle that switches off quietly.
There are no Welsh cakes on the bake stone. No hearty casseroles in the oven. All Brambly Hedge delusions have vanished. We are a modern family. But I have finished another feature article. My latest short story is ready for submission and I've been offered a new position at the library. Soon the re-draft of my novel will begin.
Meanwhile, I have gained a new sense of persepctive, and at the back of the cupboard, we have a shiny new kettle for use in electrical emergencies.