Soup for Miracles

Saturday, 31 October 2009

My cousin Angus was a pyromaniac before he could walk. Not an arsonist, let's just get that straight. He loved, respected and was enraptured by fire. Not just the flames, but the whole religious ritual. Before the NS's abdication, we lived in Cumbria in a house on a cliff with a fireplace that all the children could stand up in together. Every Christmas Eve, the dads bundled us overexcited kids into wellies and waterproofs and marched us through the gloaming over the field with the Roman remains, scrambled us down the brows and onto the beach to womble* for the Christmas Log.

This huge lump of tree was then hauled back up the cliff using old rope, chains and as much bot-power as social services would let them get away with. Whining was verboten, especially with Santa's Fairies on constant lookout for places to leave the apocryphal lump of coal. The Northern Socialist would then channel his inner Thoreau and build the fire using the Guardian, twigs, the scantest bit of coal and finally, the Christmas Log. This would then burn for about three days, sparking and whistling. Strange colours would flame out of it, whooshing among the crannies and no doubt getting us kids all well off our tits on chemical fumes. No matter. While the grown ups were in another room shrieking to Morcambe and Wise, we would lie in the dark, rapt on the hearthrug, Christmas lights twinkling, and make last-minute bargains with Santa.

Angus always came the closest to getting a coal-stuffed stocking. He hated leaving the fire, and would push Santa's fairies to the limits of patience dragging his feet in protest at the unfairness of leaving his place of worship by the hearth. In the morning, he was always first downstairs, loudly lisping tales of still-burning miracles to bedrooms flurried with wrapping paper and spent stockings.

When I was at University, he came to stay with me for a night in my terraced hovel. I assumed at fifteen, he'd be keen to enjoy cheap unsupervised booze. Instead, I went to the pub and he stayed behind, cleaned out the chimney in my dank little room and built me a crackling, beautiful fire.

Seven long years ago, he married a wonderful girl. They waited to have a baby. And waited. Through all the cousins' babies, he kept the fires burning. He taught my son and nephews how to use a chainsaw and took them on tractor rides and always smiled. It must have been very hard for them - I cannot think of two people more suited to parenthood. Last month, at long last, they had a son. Many tears of joy were shed, many glasses raised, many fires lit.

Today they came for lunch and I met a bonny happy baby. His parents beamed non-stop. While Angus inspected the chimneys, I made them a firey soup.

Angus's Soup
Fry onions and garlic in the time-honoured way. Add a teaspoon each of cumin and smoked paprika. Chuck in several handfuls of red lentils, add two cartons of tomato passata and top up with (sorry Antonio) vegetable stock. Simmer while you hoist a month-old baby onto your shoulder and breathe in the smell of skin and wonder. When the lentils are tender (about 40 minutes) serve with rustic bread and eat with one hand, patting the sleeping baby with the other. Feeds vegetarians and carnivores alike.

*"..making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind.." For more of this click here.


  1. You're making a sentimental old Tante cry! Did Angus mention the sweater you nicked?

  2. Oh, this is so lovely. As usual.

    I have to tell you something: I am convinced you are much, much more than you appear here. You are mysterious. You must be a writer. I'm intrigued. I also love your blog as I've said before.

    Will you reveal more or will you forever remain a secret?

    Just curious. . .

  3. Anon - you soppy shite. Of course he mentioned the bloody Mulberry jersey. About two minutes after he arrived and just before his son threw up on me. I told him you've got it. He's coming round next week to burn your house down.

    Tish - Your comments are fuel (oh, really, we're SO over the flaming references) to my soul. Thank you, thank you. No, I am not mysterious, just the product of an unconventional life. Ask anon.

    I might reveal what really happened to Angus's jersey one day.

  4. Tell us more about NS abdication.

    I thought the "Mr Big" of the North East did a bunk to avoid the attention of the rozzers cos of his racketeering activities.

    And could you recount the time you thought that the Colonel's packing heat was a reference to the weekly celebrity magazine.

    Am making a lemon risotto for chums today.

    Have you read yon Booker Prize winner "Wolf Hall"?

  5. Guava,

    All in good time, respect the Witness Protection Prog and remember the innocent bots. The racketeering came later anyway.

    It certainly didn't look like a magazine to me.

    Yum. That sounds heaven, but surely a little outre for your circle? I hope nobody plops raspberry jam in the middle. I've just made a choc pavlova.

    No, do you recommend it? My reading is hideously military- and secret service-focussed at the moment as a result of some rash bet.

  6. I'd like to hear more about the Colonel. He sounds really interesting. You must feel blessed to have such a romantic be-medalled figure in your life.

  7. Nothing like a new baby in the realm to keep everyone grounded in what's most sublime about being here.

  8. Hullo. Following the command of ADG to say hello a la Anglaise. Hmm. Els? My best friend's parents are both from the UK. They named her Elspeth and called her Els for short. In America she thought better of it and called herself Liz. She now lives in Belgium so I guess she got her karmic retribution, no? Again, hullo.

  9. Anon - Colonel, bugger off and sort out world peace. Get off my blog, I know it's you.

    ADG - yummy babies, they are heaven,

    LPC - How funny, I was in Belgium for years - a well-kept European secret. I bet she's having a ball. It's a wonderful place. Unless you're an arsey 18 year old like I was. Thank you so much for stopping by - have long read your blog and adore your peaceful thoughtful take on this world. Very flattering you visited - please come back.

  10. Just found your blog and it's wonderful! And, the last entry struck a chord. My husband and I had a long wait for our two miracles. They are such a joy. Thanks for such a moving account of your cousin's journey to parenthood. It's a beautiful thing!

  11. JMW - Thank you so much for the visit and your incredibly flattering remarks. So lovely too to hear about your miracles! Wonderful, aren't they? And how fast they grow...

  12. Beautifully written. ADG said I'd enjoy your blog.

    My college had the yule log tradition. The president of the college would dress up in a Santa Claus suit and read "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." Our biggest rival was UVa and the passages referring to Hoos down in Hoo-ville always broke everyone up. Then each student was given a bit of holly to toss onto the fire with all attendant bad fortune and wishes for a better year.

    That may be the only thing I miss about those years.

  13. Mr Elegant - hello again! Yes, am afraid that I too would have sniggered at the Hoos. Love the holly thing though, may shamelessly steal it for this year!

    I'm sure it can't have been that bad?

    So glad to see you here - was worried you would blank me over my recent rash dissing of the Murphys...


Please leave a comment if you can be remotely bothered - anything you have to say is valuable and I absolutely love hearing from you all. Elizabeth