Ian McMillan: Stirred to action by the spell of porridge

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Years ago whenever I was working away Down South I used to stay with a mate of mine called Roger, and his long-suffering wife.

She was long-suffering because, to put it mildly, old Roger didn’t stir his stumps very much. He was supposed to be a painter and decorator but the only thing he ever seemed to decorate was their settee: he decorated it with his angular frame as he lay there “catching up with his reading”. I’d go out of the house doing my various poetry jobs and Roger would wave me off from the settee; when I returned, drained from versifying, Roger would greet me from the settee. Roger was, in the old-fashioned phrase, one of them that Wouldn’t Have It, even when there were jobs around and houses that needed decorating.

What he would have, though, was the porridge pot: Roger the so-called painter and decorator was the best porridge-maker I’ve ever seen; the only time I didn’t see the settee attached to his bum was when he was stirring the porridge pot on their vast Aga. His porridge was sublime: tasty, different every time, filling and slow-burning in the way that it released enough energy throughout the day to enable you to complete your tasks; in Roger’s case, it helped him get to the settee without breaking into a sweat.

I often think about Roger when I make my porridge each morning, and when I eventually devise my hit TV Show It’s Porridge Time! I’ll have Roger as my faithful assistant. I love making porridge. It’s the daily ritual that kickstarts my morning and sets it off to move slowly through the gears. Old Roger had all the time in the world but I live life in the fast lane, or what passes for the fast lane in the post-industrial Dearne Valley, so I have to make mine in the microwave. I know, I know: I can hear you tutting from Great Heck to Heckmondwike and back to Slack. All I can say in reply is: Ding!

I scoop two scoops of porridge from the container into the plastic bowl that once had a Christmas pudding in: I find it’s just the right size for the amount of porridge I like. I put the microwave on for one minute 20 seconds. As the bowl turns and turns I get a banana and some figs. I slice ’em and slice ’em, all the time pretending that I’m on TV. I get some nuts. I get some sultanas. I get some honey. I’m lining up all this stuff against the microwave clock, rushing like a contestant on a game show.

The microwave dings. I test the porridge. Just a bit longer; just a tiny bit longer. I throw the banana and the figs into the bowl. The microwave dings again, this time a little impatiently. I test the porridge again. I’m like Goldilocks as I murmur ‘That’s just right’, I pour it into the bowl or, to use a proper Yorkshire word, I teem it into the bowl, over the bananas and the figs.

I get the nuts and the sultanas and I sprinkle them artistically over the porridge.

I dribble the honey over the lot. I stand and look at the bowl. If a bowl of porridge is a work of art then this is Leonardo’s The Last Supper. Or, to put it another way: The First Breakfast.

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