New potatoes and lentil curry

It’s one of those days. A wet one half way through the school holiday. House full of bored children. No more telly till teatime. Playschool and Rainbow are finished. We’ve spent the morning painting. It was going well until my friend’s daughter fell off the chair. With the black paint in her hand. Black’s the absolute worst. It’s labelled ‘washable’. In reality it’s indelible.

The kids have eaten. Finished with the home-made play dough. Piled upstairs to play hide-and-seek. I can hear them stampeding round the bedrooms. I crawl under the table. Scrape green play dough off the floor. The odd bright orange Noodle Doodle. Scrub ineffectually at the splashes of paint I missed earlier. The paintings are hanging on the clothes’ horse in front of the boiler. One or two so thickly slathered they’re still dripping. The doorbell rings. It can’t be three already. I haul myself off the floor. Brush the fluff off my knees. The voices overhead are rising. Intervention will be needed soon.

Veronica’s an old-school social worker. Brogues. Tweed suit. She sits down at the table. I push aside a pile of plastic pastry-cutters. A letter from the Inland Revenue. Daubed with red paint. I offer her tea. It’s a three-sugar day. I’ve been a foster carer long enough to know what that means. Two four-year-olds poke their heads round the kitchen door. Veronica waves. They run off. Giggling. The incipient fight’s obviously fizzled out. As I pour the tea, I start apologising for the mess. She holds up her hand.

“I love coming here. It’s so lived in. I always worry about houses that are too tidy.”

Fast forward thirty years and more. We’re on the allotment. Digging up what’s left of the early potatoes. The woodlice have had a field day with all the rain. We loosen the plants with the trowel. My grandson pulls them up. After one or two he’s got the idea. Can’t be fussed waiting for us any more. He yanks at the next plant. It’s loosely rooted. He flies backwards into a heap of mud. It’s a soft landing. A messy one though. He rinses his hands in the water butt and carries on.

I’m not sure where we lose that easy acceptance of the messiness of life. How the grown-up need for everything to be ‘right’ starts to seep in. I grew up believing there were two ways to do everything. My parents’ way. Or The Wrong Way. To take half a dozen freshly-dug new potatoes. Let’s say. Cook them in a lentil curry. Never. Not in a million years. New potatoes were boiled. With mint. Dished up with butter. No gravy. Period. Any deviation was sacrilege. Punishable by extreme disapproval.

The same disapproval we mete out whenever anyone doesn’t Do Things Our Way. The celebrity who has / doesn’t have cosmetic enhancement. The overweight / too skinny woman. The guy with too many / not enough tattoos. Those kids in designer label / charity shop clothes. The rich. The poor. The person who doesn’t know how to slice bread properly. Did you know there was a right way to slice bread? Trust me. There is.

We feel safe when we can pigeonhole people. Good. Bad. Right. Wrong. Us. Them. Simples. Never mind there are seven billion different Right Ways to do most things. And counting. Truth is life’s messy. Complex. Breathtaking. Hair-raising. Wonderful. Things that seem ‘right’ can turn out to be horribly ‘wrong’. And vice versa. Children never come in designer packaging. They’re often covered in paint. Play dough. Flour. Soil. Sand. And that’s OK. Potatoes always come caked in mud. But we don’t always see it. And it’s fine to put them in a lentil curry. Really it is. Even … especially … when your grandson dug them up this afternoon.







I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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