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A Shout From The Attic: Brain Versus Brawn

...Only on Sundays were breakfasts cooked from scratch. Sunday was a special day, the day of fried eggs and bacon. Even in my rooftop haunt, I could smell Sunday, as its special aroma drifted upwards through the house. However, on common days, the breakfasts were piled into the ageing Creda cooker the night before to await a flick of the ‘on’ switch...

Though the young Ronnie Bray was to learn that not all breakfasts have to be cooked.

For more of Ronnie's engaging autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

It was a long way down to the kitchen from the attic bedroom I shared with my Granddad Bennett. Seven days a week he woke before the rest of the household was stirring, lit the fire, and turned on the electric oven to warm up the lodgers' breakfasts that had been prepared and placed in it the previous evening.

His scraping out of the coal ash from the fire grate in the room that served as dining room and sitting room for everyone except Nanny, as we called Grandma Bennett, could be heard through the wide chimneys in each of the rooms on the three stories above. This acted as an unscheduled alarm, rousing the occupants from deep sleep to meet the demands of each new day.

Only on Sundays were breakfasts cooked from scratch. Sunday was a special day, the day of fried eggs and bacon. Even in my rooftop haunt, I could smell Sunday, as its special aroma drifted upwards through the house. However, on common days, the breakfasts were piled into the ageing Creda cooker the night before to await a flick of the ‘on’ switch.

The lodgers grumbled down to breakfast according to their job commencement times. Most works started at 7.30 am then, although one job I had meant a 7.00 am start. However, due to my inability to get up in the mornings, I never ate breakfast. I would jump from my bed, dress whilst still asleep, and leave the house at a gallop, racing to see who would reach the bus stop first, the diesel fume belching conveyance or me. Most days it was a close run thing. This unfortunate condition of rising late and with reluctance lasted until I became a soldier, when less licence was given to individual preferences such as what time to rise.

There was only one occasion when I got up before my Granddad, and on that morning I decided to play the good fairy and switch the oven on for him. I had never turned the oven on before. In our house, there were many things that children did not do. Pre-eminent among these were, housework and cooking. Because I never ate breakfast, I was not familiar with the culinary delights provided to titillate the palates of our Epicurean boarders. Nevertheless, it was common knowledge that Granddad turned the oven on after he had got the fire started.

Although I rose in time for breakfast on my Good Deed Day, as was customary, I did not, eat breakfast. My thinking was that I was being helpful to my Granddad for whom, of all my family, I had most affection due to his kindness and the attention he paid me. The switch-knob made a satisfying “click” as my helpful fingers turned to the ‘on’ position. My work was done. I felt satisfied, almost, but not quite, smug. “How that would please him,” I mused as I imagined his face at finding the oven turned on and breakfast warming nicely. It has been said that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. That morning, I learned that this was not an absolute truth.

At his usual time Granddad came down, lit the fire, and then went into the kitchen to see to the oven. He came back a few minutes later bearing his morning pot of tea. Of the oven, he spoke not a word. I imagined that he would thank me later: now his incredibly bushy eyebrows were buried down to their roots in a hot, sugary pot of strong tea. I waited in timeless silence. Children did not initiate conversation with adults, so I was not able to broach the subject of the oven.

• What I didn’t know was that when he went into the kitchen, he did not check the oven.

• What I didn’t know was that he did not check it because had no reason to check it.

• What I didn’t know was that not all breakfasts needed to be warmed up.

• What I didn’t know was that some breakfasts couldn’t survive heat.

• What I didn’t know was that the physical properties of slices of the inexpensive but delicious meat-jelly, known locally as brawn, would melt into almost nothingness even in the presence of a gentle heat.

• What I didn’t know was that by some quirk of the malignant fate that dogs the faltering steps of fools, the oven was filled with plates of brawn.

Five lodgers duly went to the oven and collected plates of puzzling warm gravy. Gingerly carrying them to the dining table, they scrutinised breakfast in minute detail before reaching for doorstep-sized pieces of bread with which to soak up the brown slop before eating it. The comments at the table were mostly negative.

Some people, like brawn, can not stand heat. They need special treatment, special care, and more tenderness than most folk, to safeguard their fragile natures. There are times in each of our lives when we will need special consideration for our own special needs.

Children need our gentleness. There are also adults who need special nurturing and care, who would wilt and dissolve if we were not to shield them from the fires of anger, the heat of disapproval, the flames of harsh criticism and the bitter antagonism of enmity.

To these we must extend out protection from the harshness of life, shelter them from what they cannot bear, and surround them with our tender love. It is a duty that cannot be lightly laid aside, and will not go unanswered.

Because thine heart was tender …
I also have heard thee, saith the LORD

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