“Don’t let them touch water!” exclaimed the gentleman behind the counter, insisting a little too enthusiastically. I was waiting for him to tell me not to expose them to bright light or feed them after midnight, before I realised that for a Ballymena man; potatoes are not a thing to be mocked. He carried on passionately about how, these ‘sunbeam’ potatoes, are grown locally and are best steamed. Then he took another opportunity to remind me, “STEAMED! They must NEVER be boiled.”
The first job when I arrive through the door is to light the wood stove. I leave it with fistfuls of wood chips and some junk the postman has left for us in the mailbox; it’s so nice for big businesses to send us a daily delivery of fat glossy kindling. I’m glad that I can arrive home in some daylight now the days are growing by minutes. Under the steel grey sky I check the chickens and lift the eggs. With the smell of woodsmoke dissolving in the drizzle, I grab the axe and start chopping this evening’s fuel.
Just as the lovely Sharon arrives home with the little people I am guiltily chopping the potatoes. Slicing them into careful half moon pieces I am preparing them for frying. The Ballymena man looms in my mind; he didn’t say anything about frying them.
As I fry, I chop finely. Peppers, mushrooms, chorizo, onions. I cry a little for the onions. Poor onions, they didn’t know what hit them. The lovely Sharon blurs herself around me, making tomorrow night’s pie. When the onions are frying, I make bread dough for tomorrow’s lunches. The little man and the little lady play. Occasionally there is a scream for help; “She’s eating my trains!” “She’s eating my train tracks!” “She’s eating my tractor!” The lovely Sharon tries to prepare the ground for dinner and distract the little man from the his sister’s transport themed eating disorder. “Daddy is making Tortilla.” There is a pause of contemplation. “I not want tort-ee-a. I not like it.” I slave on regardless.
I call dinner time and tell the little man he has a choice; for dinner he can have tortilla or furby. A smile briefly flickers in him before he declares that he wants furby on his plate. He becomes more animated and the smile breaks through his face when he runs in to find a furby already on his dinner plate. He changes his mind and declares he does not want furby. It is quickly replaced by a slice of tortilla, but he knows he has been tricked. The lovely Sharon is also a bit of a critic when it comes to my tortilla. She declares that it needs more vegetables. I know exactly what she means by this cloaked statement; she is not a fan of potatoes. Sometimes I have my suspicions about her. She claims that her maiden name is Irish, and she has jet black hair, and dark brown eyes I could fall into. But, she doesn’t like potatoes? If the Ballymena man and the locals knew, we would be chased out of this place with pitch forks and flaming torches. I keep my suspicions to myself and instead call her bluff, “More vegetables? Alright, next time i’ll add more potatoes.” She glares at me. I crumble before those beautiful Irish eyes, “…or mushrooms, or peppers? Yes, more peppers.”
After dinner I enjoy a rare moment in my life, a moment when I am glad to be short sighted. I hate wearing glasses and I hate the need to wear them. I am so short sighted that I have to wear them during all my waking hours. Sometimes, when I slip out of habit, I get up out of bed and take only a few steps before I realise that I can’t go much further before turning back and finding my glasses. This curse is a blessing when, after dinner, I take the little lady in my arms. I take off my glasses and hide them out of reach; she’ll only try to eat them. I tickle her and we share strange faces at each other. Without my glasses my myopia can see her in beautiful detail. She wears her curious face as she investigates my teeth. No matter how hard her tiny hands pull she cannot get them out. I am glad.
After dinner we sit around an ordnance survey map and try to plan a mini-break away. The little man points out mountains to me, and beaches by the sea to the lovely Sharon. The little lady tries to eat the map.
Thomas the tank engine is called for as we tidy and work around the little people. Dishes need to be done and bread needs to be baked. I despair at my work shirts. I always wash them all together and they always come out of the machine in one heavy lump of knotted sleeves. I marvel at how the machine does it as I sit down in front of Thomas with my bleached rat king.
Just before bedtime the little man decides to help the lovely Sharon dress the pie with pastry. He covers his fleecy Thomas pajamas in flour. We brush the little ghost clean and assure him that he will be fine as tomorrow is bath night, which means new pajamas.
After topping up the chicken’s feed and changing their water, I take a look at the vegetable patches. They look miserable in the cold rainy light of my head torch, but I have to think of summer. I think about growing more potatoes, maybe growing some sunbeams.