I am, for want of a more politically-correct term, a kook-magnet.
Not that I’m stalked by curly headed popstrels singing catchy songs that I can’t remember the names of. More that a disproportionate amount of my stories begin with the words, “so I met this person today…”
Cue the tale of the old lady who made me pretend I was walking with her in case her husband saw her and got angry. Because she shouldn’t be out by herself due to her tendency to stop breathing.
Or the twenty minute bus ride I spent chatting to a man who was convinced I was a surgeon called Caroline.
Wherever I go, if there’s anyone even remotely off-balance or out-of-kilter, they’ll find me.
It’s a family trait. I like to think it proves our openmindedness and general friendly nature. In reality, it probably means we shouldn’t smile at quite so many strangers.
Last night was a prime example. After church, waiting at the bus stop. Joel in the buggy, pulling off his wellies. Elvie sitting in the bus shelter singing the ‘Swashbuckle’ theme tune. At the top of her lungs.
Along come two guys. Older. Early sixties probably. One’s on the phone. Grey haired, talking a little too loud, falling off the kerb a few times. Smelling of the pub. His friend is sitting on the floor with the shopping bags, cracking open a can of lager.
Two minutes later, Elvie’s regaling them with tales of how Rudolph really ate the carrots we left for him, and Mr Lager-on-the-floor is getting us all to smell their new lemon-meringue scented candle. It was amazing. Elvie actually wanted to eat it.
Mr Grey-Hair told us that he needs the candles because he lives on a boat, and otherwise all he can smell is the woodburner. That his sister has two boys. That he would have loved children of his own, but never had any.
Conversation lulled. Elvie resorted to her favourite question. “What’s for dinner?”
Beans on toast.
Slightly ashamed. Because, despite the fact that Wes is away, despite that fact that I had been up for three hours in the night with a sleep-resistant toddler, despite the fact that by the time we get home from church dinnertime is long gone anyway, I still feel guilty.
Guilty for taking the easy route. For not having prepared a rainbow coloured, nutritionally balanced culinary delight in the slow cooker earlier. For not being that imaginary, non-existent ‘perfect’ mother.
Mr Grey-Hair overheard, turned to me and beamed. These were his exact words:
“Wow. You must be a great cook. That’s my favourite.”
We said goodbye to our new friends as we got off the bus, and waved them off into the remainder of their lemon-meringue scented evening. We went home, took off our coats and sat down to our beans on toast.
The kids were hungry and tired and cranky. But I didn’t really mind.
It felt different now. Thanks to my kook-magnetry. Thanks to our new friend and his slightly drunken enthusiasm.
It wasn’t just a thrown-together plate of last minute beige.
It was a meal. A perfectly edible one. In my own house. With my own children.
Mr Grey-Hair would have loved it.
Thanks to him, I did too.