Ian McMillan: My fry day night and Saturday morning

THERE are certain rites of passage that live with you forever: first kiss, first go at getting on a bike, first time you stay up all night, first time you drink a pint of beer without grimacing. There are two rites of passage that I associate particularly with Saturday morning, however: The Fire and The Fried Egg.

Let me explain: when I was about 10 years old, I felt on the verge of adulthood but wasn’t quite sure what adults actually did, especially in small villages near Barnsley. I’d seen them going to work and ironing shirts, but I didn’t feel ready for either of those tasks, particularly as I was still in short trousers even though the short trousers in question were in a kind of mature gentleman’s green corduroy.

No, I was looking for something simpler, an easier door to push into the brightly-coloured world of the grown-up. I decided on the relatively easy tasks of Lighting the Fire and Cooking Some Breakfast. In the winter months, my dad would lay the fire the night before, knotting and twisting old copies of the Yorkshire Post and adding three or four strategically-placed sticks. He’d then be able to light it straight away when he got up so that the house would be nice and warm when my mother emerged. He’d then cook himself a hearty fry-up, doing the egg last, making sure the yolk was perfect for the dippy bread.

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That would be me: firemaker and cook, a pre-teen alpha male in a Bonanza dressing gown. I plucked up the courage to ask my parents; after some discussion and a lecture on the possible dangers of matches and the gas cooker, they said I could. I felt like my voice was lowering and a ’tache was sprouting on my upper lip. I was a big boy, about to saunter into the real world.

In fact, I was so excited on the Friday night I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed, alert as an owl. My dad snored like a Honda 90 accelerating down a side street. I stared at the ceiling, the lights of passing cars moving through the room like the light of a photocopier. I was going to Make The Breakfast! I was going to Light the Fire! Eventually, just before Colin Leech delivered the milk, I fell asleep. I stirred hours later to the sound of my dad whistling in his bed to try and wake me up because he wanted his cuppa.

I hurtled downstairs, disorientated. I grabbed a match. I lit the gas. I decided just to do an egg, to fry it to perfection. I shattered the egg and the shell and yolk and white into the pan. I ran into the room and lit the fire: the Yorkshire Post flared up so quickly (must have been Bernard Dineen’s column!) that it made me jump back and fall over. I banged my head on the china cabinet and yelped. I smelled smoke and thought my hair had caught fire.

It wasn’t my hair: it was the egg. I pulled the frying pan off the gas and burned my hand. I rushed into the room and threw coal on the fire like I’d seen my dad do; I threw too much and some went on the carpet. In fact, quite a lot went on the carpet, which turned as black as the yolk on the burned egg.

My dad came in, and I started to cry. “Maybe next Saturday, son,” he said.

Aye, maybe…