It was as clear as day. There I was, sitting on the wooden stool on the stoop of Wright Brothers at Borough Markets.
There’s an oversized oak barrel for a table in front of me and a rosy glass of pink wine to my right.
The hustle and bustle of the markets is starting to pick up. There’s some Ticklemore cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy in my navy canvass bag and some pork sausages from Ginger Pig nestled next to it. To my left is a pint of prawns. It’s squat glass crammed with cold cooked shellfish. There’s a gloss of mayonnaise and some dangerously sweet soda bread and a pat of cool, sweet yellow butter.
It’s bliss. And then the panic arrives.
Where is the baby.
My god. Where is the baby? I’ve somehow, mystically found my way back to London. I’m sitting, square in the middle of my old life. And I left my tiny son squalling and probably soiled in his cot in Sydney. Cue the panic, the frenzy of sprinting to Heathrow, getting on a plane, then back to Waterloo (the down under version). It’s at the point where I’m frantically trying to get a taxi in Sydney, elbowing myself to the front of the queue, choking back harried sobs that I usually wake up.
I’ve woken up because of a mewl and cry coming from the cot that’s five feet away from me. I haven’t abandoned him.
Surely, surely I’m not the only new parent who has had these sorts of dreams.
There is so much to love about this caper of parenthood. The first day when you tap your baby on his chest and say ‘Will’ and then you tap yours and say ‘Mummy’ and he breaks into a gaping, gummy smile. The furzy softness of the inside of his calves. The way he pushes off against you in the bath, taking glee in the feeling of water rushing over the crown of his head. And while the whole breastfeeding thing; the hours of attaching yourself to a pump, the cracks, the grazes, the sting and the pinch- plus the sweat to try and shift some of the sly 5 kg deposited on you from the drugs you took to bring the milk back to the party- all of that, seems completely worth it the first time he reaches his upper hand up from the slack position on your chest and tries to stroke your face, mid feed.
But there’s stuff to be missed. The freedom of proper long lunches. Of late nights, without the niggling concern of how you’ll stomach the 2 am and 4.30 wake up calls. The ability to waltz out the door without checking that there’s a spew cloth, a bottle and a spare nappy in the bag (because you only go without once- lucky for us, that horrific, clothes soiling incident occurred while visiting someone in a paediatrics ward of a hospital. And do you know what they have in paediatrics wards? Spare nappies.) I’m not even going to wade into sleeping ins or the ability to wear a pair of pants without a drawstring waist or a shirt that doesn’t open down the front.
But most of all, it’s the ability to concentrate fully on something that’s missing. If I’m honest, I’m struggling to bash out the final bits of the book. Mainly because the kind of ‘down periscope’ immersion that I’m used to delving into when hard up against a deadline just isn’t that easy when there’s someone squeaking beside you. I remarked yesterday that writing while being sleep deprived was like siphoning blood from a stone. To which one of my oldest and wisest friends remarked ‘Tor, really, how did you think this was going to go down? Writing a book in the first 12 weeks of his life?’ She has a point. I didn’t go into this blind. I sensed it would be like this; grey, hard, sharp edged. In so many of the hours when he sleeps, I now work. But nothing good ever came without graft.
So I’ve had to resort to bringing in others for some short periods of #WillWatch. Both paid and un paid, it’s kind folks who will take him for a walk, take him to the park, take him… out- so I can have an hour or two of focus. It helps. There’s a door in my head I just can’t open when I’ve got one ear open and one eye cocked towards him.
And I guess it’s that knowledge that when he’s out of sight, I can so easily be in another mind that brings in its wake the dreams of solo seafood lunches on the other side of the world- and later the mad panics to reclaim him.
In the past few days I’ve found myself whispering to him when I collect him after he cries from his cot; ‘I haven’t forgotten you’. Sometimes I wonder if I’m saying that to him, or to myself.
There is no real solution. But what there can be, are pints of prawns at home. There is no more rustic, relaxed and civilised lunch than a DIY prawn cocktail. It’s a British pub classic- and a paragon of self sufficiency. It’s everything together on a platter; protein, sauce, salad. I find it’s worth laying out some carbs to stretch it further- a slice of soda bread is a shining inclusion.
All that’s really needed are some good quality prawns- either buy them cooked, head on, or poach them yourself and allow them to cool. Then it’s frisee lettuce, some good home made aioli (splodge of tomato sauce for Marie Rose sauce optional) and a finger bowl.
If you want to wedge them into a pint glass and pretend you’re footloose and fancy free, once again overlooking Borough Market on a lazy Thursday lunch, go for it. Otherwise just eat straight from a bowl. And be sure to enjoy every single bite.
Pint of Prawns/Prawn Cocktail
Serves 1 – though easily doubles/triples for a crowd
12 king prawns, head on.
1 double handful of frisee lettuce, washed
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup of neutral tasting oil
3/4 tbsp ketchup/tomato paste
half a lemon
Here’s how we roll
1) If your prawns are raw, gently poach them in simmering water with lemon slices until they have turned coral and are just cooked through (should take around 7-8 minutes on a gentle blip, though smaller prawns will cook much quicker).
2) Remove the prawns and allow to cool. Arrange in a pint glass if you fancy.
3) Make your aioli- whisk the egg yolk in a clean bowl to get some air into it.
4) Drizzle the oil, drop by drop in, whisking well, all the time. Don’t pour freely until you have a confident emulsion. If for some reason you don’t and all you get is an oily slurry, take a new bowl, crack a new egg yolk into it and drizzle the old mixture in, drop by drop, whisking constantly. That should work.
Stir in the ketchup/tomato sauce and season well with salt.
5) Serve the prawns with the aioli, frisee, some soda bread and half a lemon for squeezing. And a bowl for the heads. And a finger bowl filled with warm water. That’s always nice.
Wright Brothers Borough
Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
11 Stoney St Map
Camberwell, UK SE1 9AD
(020) 7403 9554
Tube: London Bridge