My chance to shine in the kitchen


A COUPLE of weeks ago, we were contacted by our local doctors’ surgery, with a view to arranging flu jabs now that we are supposedly in our dotage.

We decided against it, on the grounds that ancient father in law was a fervent believer in these injections – and every year after being jabbed, he would go down with the biggest dose of the lurgy imaginable.

The experts said it was just a recurring coincidence, but we decided it was safer to take our chances with the bugs of the North Tyne.

And we managed to escape unscathed until last week, when we attended a Burns Supper and sat next to a snivelling and snuffling wretch who had had his flu injection some weeks before.

Whether it was down to him, or something we picked up on our recent eight hour Transatlantic flight, is unclear, but sure enough, a few days later, I woke at 2.30am with a hacking cough and a fit of the palsy so fierce as to make the duvet vibrate.

Fortunately, I know exactly what to do when the ague strikes, and tottered and sneezed my way downstairs to the drinks cabinet, filling a half-pint pot with a half and half mixture of dark rum and Vimto, the Manchester nectar.

I went back to bed all of a dither, sipping the panacea gratefully, and drifted off into a fitful sleep.

By the next morning, the symptoms had all but gone, apart from a muzzy headache – but that may have been the rum!

Soon afterwards, Mrs Hextol started suffering similar symptoms, but resolutely refused to take rummy relief on the grounds she doesn’t like the taste of rum.

As a result, she was struck down by the most virulent dose of flu she has ever experienced, taking to her sick bed for the first time in around 35 years.

When illness strikes, she usually shakes it off like the dog shakes off water after a vain pursuit of a leaping salmon in the Tyne, but this bug refused to be shaken.

She refused to stay in bed at first, and held court from the settee, croaking orders while wearing her salmon pink cable knit cardigan, which I call her Mrs Brown, over her pyjamas.

I had to follow the dog around, hoovering up her hairs, and flick the feather duster over the vast village of Lilliput Lane houses which has grown up on the mantelpiece over the years.

I even had to peg out some washing, but apparently did it so disgracefully that Mrs Hextol had to rise from her sickness to adjust the spacing and peg distribution on the line.

And as a result of her incapacity, I found myself having to cook a proper meal for the first time in nearly 46 years of marriage.

Oh, I could ping things in the microwave, and fry things, and rustle up a pan of chips – or at least I could before Mrs Hextol replaced my beloved chip pan with a new-fangled air fryer on health grounds – but I had never actually boiled a pan of potatoes before.

Mrs Hextol supervised tuber and pan selection, and also set the controls on the oven so I could cook us a couple of pieces of chicken wrapped in bacon.

Keeping an eye on the bubbling potato pan and the sizzling chicken at the same time was quite a task, especially as I was also trying to watch the epic Australian Open final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the same time, whilst also ministering to the stricken Mrs H.

I was quite exhausted, but heroically managed to locate a tin of peas, put the contents in the jug and set them twirling in the microwave.

Though I say it myself, the meal was a triumph, with nothing burnt, and we finished up with two clean plates.

I should perhaps add that Mrs Hextol’s illness and subsequent loss of appetite meant she barely picked at hers, and the clean plates were down to me and the dog.

I was now into my stride, and served up gammon and roast potatoes the next night – although the patient was rather sniffy about the colour and crispness of the roasties, so I made a mental note to have a stiff word with Aunt Bessie about the shortcomings of her product.

The following night came my best effort yet – a lovely piece of fresh cod in crispy golden batter – thank goodness it was the night for the mobile chippy to call at Bellingham!

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