Sunday lunch at mother’s house. “Just a sandwich, Mum,” I had called down the telephone, but she continues to replicate the customary hot Sunday lunch – then called dinner – of the 1950s. Not quite the full roast mutton and the overboiled vegetables and the chocolate pudding with whipped cream, but even on a forty degree day you’ll be offered something hot and a lot of it. These days it’s usually a series of casseroles, unrelated in both design and contents, and always enough to feed an army. Just when you think the table is full, she hauls another scorching baking dish out of the lower depths of the blazing oven. She announces each dish in an increasingly eccentric manner, as if we had no idea what a tuna casserole looked like. “This is lasagne,” she announces, “with meat in it!” Mother sounds like a lepidopterist describing a newly discovered exotic butterfly to an audience of amateurs.
We sat down. Sure enough: “This is a corn and zucchini slice I made yesterday for the boys,” she declared, drawing back the foil to reveal a rewarmed oven dish minus a small square of slice in one corner. “It was a disaster!” she added, not revealing whether the disaster related to the actual food, or that they wouldn’t eat it. ‘The boys’ were my nephew, who attends a prominent boarding school in a regional city, and some of his friends who turn up in varying numbers at random at weekends, using my mother’s house as a pied à terre for their weekend activities. My nephew lives, when not at school, in Alice Springs which is not a practicable weekend destination. His parents sent him to boarding school in desperation and for the close supervision that appears to exist no longer.
“Aren’t they monitored?” I asked. Apparently not. The escape routine is a complicated series of telephone calls between boy, parent and parent of friends who all must consent to an agreed plan that changes the minute they leave the school gate. Apparently school staff are not involved in the negotiations that are U.N.-like in both length and success rate.
The corn slice was fine: grated zucchini and corn baked with egg and onion and cream and baked well. I love those two-day-old crunchy edges. The other thing was a beef casserole with potato and carrot and there was a green salad and a bowl of boiled eggs, radishes, olives and cubed cheese, just to prevent anyone dying of starvation in between the main course and dessert, which was an apricot upside-down pudding. Then the kettle went on. The kettle always goes on. Someone once bought my mother an electric urn. It’s in a cupboard somewhere.