Monday, January 21, 2008


There is a big difference between world events which happen while you are working, and those which happen while you’re not. Equally, there’s a difference between the smaller, everyday happenings, and in something of an inversion of Wordsworth, it is difficult to recollect emotions or events ‘in tranquillity’ when you got up at 6.15am and haven’t had a chance to stop until 8pm. Events are recollected in a rush, and emotions often writhe like fish out of water sometime before midnight.

But don’t worry. This isn’t a post about how, woe is me, Belfast is in work mode again after Christmas. I just noticed something about myself while slicing Panettone last night. Let me explain.

Panettone, properly made, is a joy. It is a bread so rich and moist and sweet, so packed with candied zests and fruits, that it is entirely fitting that it only ever makes an appearance around Christmas. I had bought a large loaf from Sainsbury’s and spent the holidays — among other activities — happily toasting several slices for breakfast and mumbling blissful sighs. Even if there was nobody else around.

But it’s a difficult bread to get your fingers around. Being soft, and encased in the paper equivalent of a cake–tin which has to be peeled away from the side, even getting a couple of good slices is a tricky affair. And delightful too, since you can pick at the wreckage of your latest attempt while happily surveying the pile of lovely books you got just a few days ago on Christmas morning.

Last night, however, was different. I’m off work today so I don't know why I got impolite with the latest loaf. I was, otherwise, relaxed. Perhaps it was the plane crash at Heathrow a few days back. Perhaps it was the wisdom tooth I will have extracted next month. (It isn’t painful but it’s coming out anyway.) There just seemed too many things to think about when the latest slice crumbled as I tried to keep it thin and even for a Panettone-and-butter-and-marmalade pudding. Suddenly, I hated the bloody thing.

Which was really unfair. I was hurting it far more than it was hurting me, after all. And torn Panettone actually looks far more interesting on the bubbling, golden, fragrant surface of the finished product than pristine pieces would. I don’t remember losing my temper with mince pies when news of the Boxing Day tsunami hit the screens a few years ago; I was positively calm and thoughtful in the face of the news that Bam had been more or less flattened by an earthquake.

What I realised about myself last night was simply this: that when my mind takes something in, it’s a while before it can put it down again. Awarenesses and concerns jostle beneath the surface. And when you’re in the frame of mind where the word –surface– conjures images of the grey plastic of your desk at work and the lighter grey of the dentist’s chair, you really do need a big serving of something special to clear everything up.

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