The two windows of my mother's kitchen faced north overlooking her vegetable garden with the row of bean poles along the fence. To the left of the windows was an in-built larder where we would store butter and jam and cheese and bread, but it was also crammed with gadgets and boxes and an old basket to collect bread crusts. When this was full, she would cook bread soup, a dreadful concoction. The smell alone made me gag. But from time to time we were made to eat it in memory of how she suffered during the war when there was nothing to eat. I like to think she needed this form of cruelty to reassure herself that those days were over.
But she could also be found in a white lab apron, with a neat row of clean bottles and the juice extractor humming and steaming, full of red currants and sour cherries. In summer, we would sit around the table with scrubbed hands carefully placing peach halves into bottling jars, while she measured sugar and sterilised the clips. In December, cigarette in hand, she would watch us cutting out Xmas cookies from the dough she had cursed at just minutes earlier. Shortcrust was not her forte, but her yeast dough always rose to perfection.
My mother's kitchen had clean surfaces. You could run your finger along the top of the fridge or the backs of the chairs anytime. An entire cupboard was dedicated to the various appliances and dusters and brushes we would need to carry out our household chores after school. You could open the cupboards and find neat rows of boxes and tins and orderly stacks of cups and saucers. But pushed well behind the tins and folders with recipes and the brown-cream striped pottery tea set from Denmark and the heavy stainless steel pots, in the back of the cutlery drawers and inside those neat boxes with the pastel coloured lids there was chaos. A grimy mix of spare buttons, rubber bands, hair clips, shop receipts, aspirins, newspaper cuttings, Xmas cards, dried up biros, broken crayons, candles, long lost notes from school never signed or returned and - if you were lucky - nail scissors, a pen that would write, coins, stamps.
My mother's chair was right beside the window with her ashtray and her collection of medicines within reach on the window sill. She would sit there for hours, smoking, her feet against the radiator, waiting.
Coming home on the last bus at night I would try to sneak past the glow of her cigarette shining through the half-closed kitchen door. But of course she had been waiting, hissing and where do you come from at this hour as I was frantically fabricating stories involving cinemas and well behaved girl friends and ice creams, when only a short while ago I had been leaning against a wall at the bus stop kissing and smoking and drinking beer. I don't know what she believed or thought of me. I didn't care and, really, I don't think she did either.