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The International Writers Magazine - From our archives - On Listening to Mother

Gingerbread Men
Steve Slatter

First, ask Mummy to turn on the oven to 170. You might have to wait for her to do this because she’s always busy. After she’s taken the washing out of the tumble dryer, her mobile phone will probably ring: London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. It’s fun to sing along whenever Mummy’s phone goes.

It’s fun, except now she’ll be busy talking to someone for a while. Anyway, what do you need to do next? Open the fridge and take out the butter. You need 125g, which is easy to work out because it’s half a pack. Put the rest back.
Then ask Mummy to measure out 100g of sugar and tip the butter and sugar into a pan together.

Next find the golden syrup, which is somewhere different every time you need it, but hunt around and you will probably find it in the end. You need to dig out 4 big spoonfuls of syrup and put it into the pan with the hot butter and sugar. Then mix it all together with a big wooden spoon. This is fun.

Now get Mummy to weigh out some flour. She thinks about 10 ounces is right, but if you don’t know what an ounce is like, get her to weigh it. It will come to 320g. You need to mix the flour with two very special ingredients – one small spoon of bicarbonate of soda and two small spoons of ginger powder. Except Mummy might put in three spoons of ginger because the person on the other end of her mobile phone is Aunt Honoria who is upset, and Mummy needs to try really hard to calm her down a bit.

Now they’ve started talking about holidays, I think. Aunt Honoria’s family is going to somewhere called Valletta in a couple of weeks, but Uncle Malc isn’t going with the rest of them. I overhear Aunt Honoria saying that he’s more interested in going somewhere else with a piece of fluff. That seems odd to me. How can fluff be more exciting than going on holiday to Valletta? It’s where Granny Flavia lives in a big sunny house by the sea. She has silver-grey hair, bakes her own bread and is always smiling.

If you don’t know, or don’t remember, what Valletta looks like, you can pull Mummy’s arm and ask her. She will remind you the town is golden-brown like copper, and the sea is blue like the purest sapphire. Then she’ll tell you that the weather’s lovely and hot there even at this time of year, but not as hot as the pan with the butter and sugar and golden syrup in. So be careful and stir it again just to make sure it’s all really well mixed.

Now put the flour and the ginger and soda stuff into a bowl and then pour in the melted sugar and syrup from the pan. Mix it up until it’s like very thick golden porridge. Get Mummy to pull it all together and somehow the mixture will turn into a wonderful ball of something she says is called dough. While she does this you can pick up her phone and find out if Aunt Honoria is still there. If you do, you will hear a dog barking and Aunt Honoria telling someone to get the Dan-dog to shut up a minute because she’s trying to think about the Valletta trip and talk to her sister on the phone and wipe up the lunch things and make a shopping list all at the same time.

Wasn’t Aunt Honoria’s dog called Sooty, not Dan? Perhaps she’s got a new one. If you like, you can wait, listening to the phone for quite a while, because the Dan-dog won’t stop barking. In the end you have to give the phone back to Mummy.

Now, roll out the stuff called dough with the wooden rolling pin until it’s thin. If you measure it when Mummy says it’s about a quarter of something called an inch, you’ll find it’s actually six millimeters thick. If it sticks, get Mummy to unstick it, because otherwise you can get into dreadful mess with it. Wait for her to finish talking to Aunt Honoria if necessary. Don’t try to unstick it yourself, OK? If you can hear Aunt Honoria crying at the other end of the phone, pretend not to, because Mummy and her are talking very privately now. Mummy looks out of the kitchen window and says she knows. In fact, she says she knows three or four times.

Now comes another fun bit, after you find the biscuit cutters, which are usually somewhere in the big cupboard in the corner, but they move around like the golden syrup. The fun bit is cutting out the shapes of your gingerbread men. Put them on the funny paper that’s see-through and put the paper on the baking trays. Cook them a few at a time for 9 minutes each, unless they are still underdone, in which case give them up to two more minutes till they are brownie-gold. The colour of Valletta, you say to Mummy. She tells Aunt Honoria what you’ve just said, and we all laugh together.

Get Mummy to take them out of the oven. Wait for them to be cold enough so they don’t burn your fingers. Then taste one to make sure they’re all right. Give a piece from a broken one to Mummy. She’s probably still on the phone, and if she is she will be sitting down now running her hands through her shiny black hair that reminds you of your own. You might be able to still hear Aunt Honoria on the other end of the phone. This time she’ll be saying that men are all good for nothing. Mummy will say she knows a couple more times. And then she’ll say that none of them are really up to much. Just look at Marty, for instance, she’ll say. He had a snake inside his trousers and his eyes were always glued to some woman’s bottom.

That makes me laugh, because it sounds so silly that Mummy must be joking, but when I giggle she looks at me crossly and tells me to taste a gingerbread man instead of dropping eaves.

Anyway, Marty used to be my Daddy, a long time ago, but I still remember him. He wasn’t like Mummy says at all. He was kind and gentle, and there was definitely no hissing coming from inside his trousers like there would be if he kept a snake there. And of course his eyes were glued into his own head like everyone else’s. Mummy can be so stupid about some things. But she is right about a lot of other things, so maybe all so-called real men aren’t very good. I’ll find out for myself soon enough, she says.

No, what’s really important at the moment is that men made of gingerbread definitely are good. In fact they’re totally, totally scrummy. And, to me, that’s all that matters.

© Steve Slatter May 2009

Steve Slatter has been a freelance computer professional for a very long time indeed. He has a recent first class honours degree in Computer Science from the Open University but has yet to use it to further his career, He lives in Hampshire, England with his wife.

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