One of my writing friends, Cath Mason, is a poet. Lest this conjure an image of a clichéd fright speaking in sing-song doggerel about spring flowers, let me assure you: Cath is a good poet. Funny, sharp, clear-sighted. She writes about peculiar and very specific things, such as a baking potato that jumps out of its own skin in the oven, or the octopus in a German zoo that makes a habit of rearranging the furnishings of its tank. Her website is here.
She's the kind of person for whom friends clip odd articles from the paper. She dips into esoteric books on quantum physics, fractal geometry, the mating habits of songbirds. Recently, she revealed that she'd learned the answer to this question: "What strange South Asian mammal smells like a batch of fresh-buttered popcorn*?" and that she could imagine creeping through the jungle, sniffing, and saying, "Is someone making popcorn?"
(*Answer: the Asian bear-cat.)
Cath and I meet for writing sessions when our schedules permit. Sharing a table at a coffee shop and hunching separately over our notebooks, we come up for air and company every few hundred words.
One morning, she told me that one of her great and abiding joys was tea and toast.
She's from Lancashire, in the northwest of England, which anchors her opinion with a certain gravitas. It was not just the crunch, she said, and the strong flavour of tea (it's hard not to adopt the British spelling to align words with accent), but the moment itself: the house quiet and herself alone with her mug of tea and a piece of toast.
I rarely have toast. French toast, yes, of course: as means to a maple end. And of course, toast is the only way to corral a BLT. But toasted slices of bread? Solo? Buttered? That's just crazy indulgent.
And yet. Today I found myself watching the toaster-oven do its slow thing: glowing and incinerating invisible crumbs, bending the air with heat. I took a sip of tea and wondered about this imprecise process. Not knowing how the toaster oven -- set midway between "Light" and "Dark" -- would perform, I couldn't let my attention drift. As it is wont to do.
It's a vocational hazard for writers, daydreaminess. I would never describe her as ditzy or absent-minded -- still, Cath does seem to save her deepest attention for the things that most catch her interest. Like strange potatoes and jungle creatures that smell of popcorn.
Keeping an eye on the untried toaster-oven, I wonder: is close observation part of what brings Cath joy? To be present during the transmogrification of plain bread into something golden and fragrant?
While I pondered toast and attention and writers, the toaster oven tried to do its darnedest. The aluminum body barely containing a dragon's instincts to singe and carbonize. I prevailed. The result was lightly toasted, a slice crispy yet tender, with a perfectly melted skimming of something butteresque. It was sigh-worthy. Absurdly gratifying.
Perhaps tea and toast is but a minor joy in the wider constellation of wonders stretching around us, still, it deserves its moment of appreciation.
About the Blog
A lot of ground gets covered on this blog -- from sailboat racing to book suggestions to plain old piffle.
Trying to keep track? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or if you use an aggregator, click the RSS option below.
Old school? Sign up for the newsletter and I'll shoot you a short e-mail when there's something new.