A Tin of Biscuits


We are emerging, blinking, into the light. Groping our way out of the dark, tentatively confident, following a 48 hour power cut.  We daren’t blow out metaphorical candles, lest we chase the electricity away. My grandmother stubbornly refused to bring the washing in off the line when a storm threatened in case we scared precious rain off. I am reminded of her as I write.


There wasn’t any laundry on my line though – when the rain came down, heavy and soaking and black; my washing machine has been languishing idle for most of the week.


And I have tried not to.


I have to try to pin my softly malleable Outpost days down. Define within them some sense of direction, a purpose. Or they will slip between my fingers and escape beyond my reach like the slippery yolks of freshly cracked eggs. And I shall have nothing to show for them.


What shall I do today? I ask myself when I rise.


It is harder when there is no electricity. The house comes lurching to soundless standstill so that the encouraging prompts of text messages and music and the internet are muted as power leaches from the vehicles that transport them into our muffled far-away isolation. And in the absence of lights to cast a friendly glow upon a room made gloomy by storms outside, it seemed cold and unfeeling.


That silence and the dark rendered the Outpost especially trying this week.


I sought to follow my small daughter’s example. I battled to keep as busy as she. I sat on a floor with her and made gift tags for presents which we later wrapped. We sourced last year’s Christmas cards and cut and pasted and coloured with felt tip pens. In the almost total absence of anything remotely festive about our geography (no Christmas Carols emanating from non existent malls, no decorations in the absent supermarket) I have found my little girl’s determined persistence to infect me with her excitement touching and, in the end for how could it not be, contagious.


But this morning when she awoke after a bad night of dreams that torched and flared her sleep so that it was not deep, she was uncharacteristically tearful. She had no energy for Christmas, she said. I was especially glad, then, that she had worked so hard to communicate her eager anticipation to me.


Let’s make biscuits, I said. Once, perhaps, once when I had a life, a busy one with friends and school runs and commissions and places to be, I might have thought baking biscuits an indulgence. Or dismissed it: too Earth Mother, I am more important than that. But now, now when I know that a single task, no matter its apparent banality, might be the only thing that stands between me and insanity, I try not to think of the life I used to have.


And so we did. Make biscuits. We pummelled soft dough with floury hands and rolled it on a board and cut it into hearts and moons and stars which we decorated. And I think Hat’s day was better after that.  


And I stuck my tongue out at the Outpost and thumbed my nose at it. my little girl is bigger than you are. For in spite of its trials, it did not beat me this week. I’m not unscathed. But I am still standing.


And I have a tin of biscuits to prove it.











16 Responses to “A Tin of Biscuits”

  1. Grannymar Says:

    That biscuit looks inviting!

    Having children around at Christmas makes all the difference.

    I hope you have a happy time this year!

  2. Mapesbury Mum Says:

    Hey – and how I would love to go back to a few of those evenings with power cuts so there could be no TV’s, DVD’s, computer games just good old family evenings around the table playing games in candle light. My children have no idea what I’m on about! We’re just about to bake cookies. Tonight our community will gather in the little Dell nearby for Carol Singing, mulled wine and cookies. Despite living in a concrete jungle, it can also be quite lonley. Our neighbours have made big ‘inroads’ in building a special community where we actually know our neighbours and its beginning to pay off! Am looking forward to it!

  3. The Finely Tuned Woman Says:

    I live in a town, but sometimes I feel as alone as you on your outpost, but I haste to add that it is a self imposed loneliness when I just don’t have the courage and energy to meet another human being. Then I feel I am in exile. So, I am feeling quite a bit of empathy with you today.

  4. Iota Says:

    I cheated the other day, and bought ready-rolled cookie dough – tidy rectangular sheets of it with greaseproof paper in between. I decided it’s better to cheat and do it, and have fun. Everyone enjoyed using the cookie cutters and sprinkling red and green sugar on top. If I’d been snooty about supermarket stuff, as I usually am, and insisted on making my own, and rolling it out, getting flour everywhere, it would have seemed a chore, and I would probably not have done it, on the grounds that there wasn’t enough time (although it’s often motivation, not time, who is the thief).

    Christmas for cheats. That would be a good title of a book (or maybe Delia Smith has already done it).

  5. rosiero Says:

    We rely so much on electricity these days, it seems impossible to imagine existence without it. Apart from the lack of TV, computers and other powered entertainment, how do you manage with food storage in a hot climate with a 48-hour power-cut?

  6. Tamara Says:

    Before electricity we had a charcoal fridge – a big cupboard structure – a thick wall of charcoal in between two holding walls of chicken wire. Drip water on this and the inside is cool as a fridge. Sort of.

    Urgh. I’m reminded of my 13 year old self – so boooored.
    What did I do? I read. and read, and read and read.
    And when we made cookies – oh those days were absolutely the highlights.

    good luck, and don’t forget to go for those walks.

  7. Mr Farty Says:

    The last time I experienced a power cut was at this time of year, i.e. winter in the northern hemisphere. We never had central heating or double glazing in those days – yes, I’m that old – and the bedroom window would completely frost up. But if we opened it, held our breath and quickly looked out, even in the big city we could see a thousand stars glittering against the black velvet sky. Then the power would return, the street lights would come on and all but the brightest stars were banished once more.

    So thanks for helping me dredge up that memory.

    Mmmm biscuits…

  8. Tom Says:

    Dear r m- I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas and that you have a joyous and prosperous new year!

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Grannymar, and for visiting – nice to see you

    Mapesbury, i am sure the cookies were a deliciously roaring success. and i hope your evening was too. i am glad you have neighbours so determined to make useful dents in your community.

    Ah, Finely Tuned, thank you: empathy is often the best company.

    Iota, that is precisely what i need for next culinary exercise, mince pies. i hate rolling pastry, i hate that it grimly hangs onto the counter top, determined not to be coaxed into the shapes i urge it into, it sweats against my efforts and sticks faster and i grow hot and bothered and think uncharitably non Christmas thoughts. As to how to cheat at Christmas. Perfect.

    Rosiero, i stand and guard the fridge door jealously. Anybody that needs anything from within is allowed to only open the door a mere crack, snatch the required as fast as they can and close the door before too much of the chill escapes. A useful exercise, and one that keeps me busy too!

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Tamara, thank you for reminding me that the baking was probably as much of a joy for Hat as it was for me. Thank you for reminding me that this lonely mothering thing is important and that the little tasks within the parameters of that mothering are equally so. And yes, i shall keep walking!

    Mr Farty, what a lovely, lovely picture: stars brilliant before the neon steals the limelight. I shall be especially sure to appreciate our stars tonight – always big and bold in dark African skies – thank you for reminding me to.

    thank you Tom, you too.

  11. Hadriana Says:

    I don’t know whether this is any consolation RM but I am convinced that we are all destined to go back to living life as you are living it now. The difference is…that you will be better equipped to cope with it! Have a great Christmas and wishing you all the best for 2009…hopefully it will bring lovely things for all of us! Hx

  12. Stinking Billy Says:

    Beautiful writing, sheer poetry.

  13. Susanna (A Modern Mother) Says:

    Beautiful post, as always.

    We are making “cookies” today too.

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Hadriana, and you too: a very happy Christmas.

    Thank you very much, Stinking Billy.

    Susanna – thanks. and i am sure they will be delicious – the cookies. (why cookies in some places and biscuits in others?).

  15. paradiselostintranslation Says:

    We had a 34 hr power cut last week. it was cold & miserable. I have taken to baking a lot too. Maybe it’s like your jam making. I find it soothing & it feels constructive & creative & life-sustaining. I can’t do it of course during the many power cuts… But the reason I have so much time for baking, writing, thinking is because I no longer have the life I had, I don’t have the chimera of busy-ness to make me feel important or useful or needed.
    It’s very unfestive here (former communist country, so no celebrations or holiday) & people writing about their Christmas parties, family gatherings, concerts, panto trips makes me feel even more disconnected. And then when they don’t write at all, I know they are too busy to even tell me how busy and full their life is.

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    oh paradise. ”chimera of busyness”. how perfect. i know how you feel. as to “And then when they don’t write at all, I know they are too busy to even tell me how busy and full their life is”- that made me feel something like sadness mixed with a huge measure of relief: so it is not just me in my quiet isolation who loses friends to busy lives. x

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