Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Door handles.

The town had that uncanny height-of-summer stillness. It was midday. You expect a curtain to move in a window or a dog to snarl as you walk down the street past the sleeping houses.

It was forty degrees, a hundred-plus on that old scale they used to show on GTV-9 next to the black and white clock in between programs. Epic Theatre. Point of View. TV Ringside. Epilogue. I walked past the houses and down the hill and then there were shops that were once stables and blacksmiths and grain stores and banks for newly-dug gold. I pushed open a door and went into a cavernous old building that could have been anything.

Talk about another world. It was pitch black until your eyes got used to it, and then it was just dark, with pinholes of light in the corrugated iron ceiling above ancient timber rafters. I don’t know what it was then, but now they call it the Restorer’s Barn. It creaked in the heat. In a rainstorm you wouldn’t hear yourself admiring the old wares. The pinpoints in the ceiling made shafts of sunlight and they fell on the concrete floor and lay there and burned your eyes. Later they would move and change shape and climb up the sides of old chairs and glint off old glass lamps.

I went up some old stone steps past barrels of antique saws and planes and axes, and then up some more dusty ones to the top level where timber furniture stood next to endless rows of old crockery, glassware, crystal and lamp shades. Where do you start? On the lower levels are second hand stocks of every possible item fitted to any house built in the twentieth century. Window locks, door handles, keys, shutters, architraves, bell pulls, knockers, drawers, light switches, keyholes, 1950s chrome bath taps with red-hot and green-cold nuts, brass garden taps, anything made of bakelite, levers, and those mesh-covered circles of anodized steel they used to fit into the sides of kitchen cupboards as air vents. Plus every kind of cupboard latch from those press-button and lever ones from the 1940s to the flush spring-loaded ones where you just nudge the whole door. 1970s?

You go into a place like this not knowing you need anything. But it’s time I replaced two 1980s door handles in white with gold leaf circle and a flower in the middle. Fake Victoriana. Bizarrely, they are not on the same door. One is on one side of the kitchen door; the other is on one side of a bedroom door. Both have as their mate the original 1940s pressed steel handles. The Restorer’s Barn had dozens of the originals. Two door handles will meet old friends.

I came out hours later having forgotten where I was and the time of day. But it was still hot.