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About A Week: A Boiled Onion - And Other Important Things In Life

Blustery dark November. Time to think of the serious things in life, says Peter Hinchliffe. The important things, such as bacon sandwiches and boiled onions.

THE nights are drawing in. The leaves are falling fast. Now we draw the curtains before tea.

This is the time to batten down the hatches for winter. Time to consider the serious things in life.

Such as bacon sandwiches, and boiled onions.

My great delight on a cold winter's night is a cooked supper. Eaten by the fire.

A log fire, for preference. With that magical wood-smokey smell which has been making us feel safe and comfy since, the days when we huddled round a blaze at the cave mouth.
In this smokeless age, tucked away in our brick "caves," most of us have to make do with a gas fire. And that is cosy enough when the north wind is rattling the windows.

So turn up the gas, pull your chair closer to the warmth, and settle down to enjoy that bacon sandwich, or a boiled onion.
I have a friend who, though sensible in every other respect, is convinced that suppers are bad for you. Particularly cooked suppers.

"Suppers make you fat," he lectures. "They play havoc with your digestion. Supper is a recipe for a sleepless night. Never, ever eat after sundown."

Well, I like suppers. I sleep like a log. I don't know what indigestion is. And I weigh less than 11 stone. So there/Brian!
My mother worried when we didn't eat. She believed in a cooked breakfast, a cooked lunch, a cooked tea, and a cooked supper. It was her firm opinion that bacon sandwiches built up your strength. Boiled oinions had the power to cure all ills and prevent every ailment. They were good for the nerves.
Her sandwiches came in well-buttered home-made teacakes, with so much bacon that it was difficult to hold the bread together.

Two teacakes each. Three if we were hungry. We were usually hungry.

It occurs to me that you may be unfamiliar with the supreme gourmet delight offered by a boiled onion.

Take one large onion. Boil it to per; fection. Dab it with butter. Splash it liberally with vinegar. Sprinkle generously with black pepper. Serve with two or three slices of rough brown bread. Eat. Enjoy.

"Get that down you, and you'll never have a cold," my mother said.

Honesty compels me to admit that despite the onions, plus a daily supplement of cod-liver oil, I got colds galore. Winter was one long sniffle.

However, I also acquired an enthusiasm for boiled onions which remains undiminished these 50 years on.
The nights were colder when I was a boy, in the time before duvets and central heating. You needed all the help you could get from a metal hot-water bottle tucked inside an old sock.
It didn't pay to hug the bottle too hard, then fall asleep. If the sock came off, you were in for a painful awakening. I still have marks on both wrists caused by bottle blisters five decades ago.
Often there was ice on the inside of the bedroom window on winter mornings. The quilt would have slid to the floor. Limbs would be as solid as if they had been in the fridge overnight. Except we didn't have a fridge in those days.

Overcoats never dried out from the beginning of October to the end of March.

I only had the one overcoat. Made of utility wool, which soaked up moisture with the enthusiasm of blotting paper.

I wore it to school. I wore it when I played out. I wore it when I went sledging.

I wore it when it rained, when it hailed, when it snowed.
After I'd gone to bed, my mother would drape the coat over a clothes-horse in front of the living room fire. Before it had properly begun to steam, the fire would go out.

We didn't have a clothes creel—a rack for drying clothes, which was hauled to the ceiling near the kitchen fire by means of a pulley and rope.

Just as well. I once got severely smacked for tampering, out of curiosity, with a neighbour's creel. I untied the rope, to be amazed by a sudden smothering snowfall of drying knickers and underpants.

In winter, I went to school shivering and damp. Came home shivering and damp.

An anorak or a parka would have seemed like a gift from the gods.

Come the first snowfall—it snowed every year—and I would put on a pair of old Wellingtons.

Come the first snowdrift, and in I would jump, with both feet. Result: snow packed down both boots, and drenched socks.
Further result: more sniffles and sneezes.

Some folk call them the good old days.

I think of them as the cold old days.

Happy days though, despite the ice, and the rising damp.
Some of my relatives lived in the gatehouses of a large estate on the outskirts of Huddersfield.

During the day they were in the right-hand gate-house, where there was a coal fire.

Come the cold, cold night, they would get changed in front of the fire, then scuttle through wind and rain in pyjamas to the unheated left-hand gatehouse.

Now that really does make me shiver!

Stand aside there. I'm just dashing out to buy some prime onions.

And a pound of lean bacon, cut at N.4.


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