Tuesday night was pancake night and this year we made potato pancakes for a savoury change. It’s usually maple syrup, or lemon and sugar, or blueberry and ice-cream or even mandarin segments and lemon yogurt.
The pancakes were crunchy and delicious. They have to be cooked well to develop that crisp, salty, potato flavour, like classic potato cakes from old-style fish and chip shops.
Next morning, the children were walked over to the church at ten o'clock from their classrooms for the Ash Wednesday mass. The school principal had invited parents and grandparents to attend if they were free.
The priest distributed the ashes. Towards the end of the service, a phone rang. Or, to be more precise, it chirped. Whoever owned the phone had made its ring tone a bird's noise. In the church, it sounded odd, like someone had brought their pet budgerigar along. Some people looked around.
A woman at the end of the pew in front of the one I was in put her hand into a handbag and pulled out a phone which, now out in the open, chirped louder. More people looked around. She poked a red fingernail at her phone, put it up to her ear and said hello to it.
Meanwhile, up in front, the priest was leading the Lord’s Prayer.
"Thy kingdom come," he said.
"Oh, Angela, it's you," the woman said. It was a statement, not a question. "I'm not in the office." She was in her late 50s and was dressed for work. She wore a no-nonsense black jacket over black trousers, her hair was red-dyed and cut short, and she was wearing a pair of those dangly sharp earrings that are about a foot long and would cut your head off if she turned her head suddenly and you were close enough.
"On earth as it is in heaven ... "
"Who?" the woman spoke. "What? She shouldn't. It's not her job," she snapped. It might have been the first time in history that someone has snapped in a church, or at least this church, during the Lord's Prayer.
" ... and forgive us our trespasses and lead us not into temptation ... "
"That's not right. I'll handle that when I get back," the woman went on. "I'll be in this afternoon."
She kept talking. The Lord's Prayer finished and the organ started playing – Palestrina or Allegri or Byrd or something similar – and she talked over it, glaring at the pipes as if they were making it hard for her to hear her phone. Bloody middle ages music, written by some dead white male and still bothering people five hundred years later. Well, I don’t know what she was thinking, but it could have been that judging by the expression on her face.
"Just tell her to go on with the power point presentation," she said into the phone.
"Peace be with you," the priest said.
"See you in the office," the woman concluded. She tapped her nail on the phone and returned it to her bag. Some of the older ones in the congregation looked like they had seen a ghost.
3 tablespoons flour
4 medium potatoes
Salt, olive oil
Grate the onion and potatoes. Place in a tea towel or muslin and squeeze out excess fluid. Combine with flour, eggs and a good pinch of salt.
Heat oil (optional) in a non-stick frying pan, fry tablespoons of batter, press down slightly to flatten out, flip after a minute or so (go by colour and texture: crispy golden brown) and serve when other side is done. Serve with sour cream.