The sweetest message received today from Cathy reminded me that I have been away from virtual reality far too long. And I also realized that I was fast slipping into a bout of Januaryitis - a complaint which grabs me by the neck every year, and every year I blame different causes, but really the problem is January. No sooner have we put away the decorations on New Year's Day than I feel the urge to take to my bed and fall into a deep sleep, perhaps waking in time for Valentine's Day.
I was sure that this year would be different, but this morning as I found myself pondering the faces visible in the fabric of the dress I had just ironed, I began to recognize the symptoms.
Luckily the faces weren't speaking to me, for then I really should have fallen very far, but I took myself in hand and decided to make a loaf of bread. Which decision was more momentous than at first it might seem, as I hadn't done this by hand since we bought a breadmaker a couple of years ago.
For those of you out there feeling a bit Januaryish, the recipe is very simple and quick - just take 1lb of strong wholemeal flour (about 400g), 1tsp of salt, 1tsp of dried yeast and 1tsp of dark muscovado sugar, and if it is chilly out, then warm your flour a little first (in an Aga or an airing cupboard). Heap it on the table, make a little volcano hole in the middle, and pour in warm (not hot) water a little at a time, gradually mixing it together with your hands, until the dough holds together. If you put in too much water, just add more flour to absorb it. And then knead January away for about ten minutes.
You need a small, buttered loaf tin - warm this, too, for yeast feels the cold, knead your dough flat, roll the ends in, and push down into the tin. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for half an hour (I use the back of the Aga) and then put in a hot oven (200C) for 20 minutes, until the top is nice and crusty, then remove from the tin, and put back in upside down on the rack for another 5 minutes for the base to crisp up, too. Remove from the oven and admire your homemaking skills.
Making bread completely obliterated the gloom which had descended upon me after spending my day off scrubbing down the kitchen. Bread is delicious material evidence of domestic industry, while shiny worktops will be crumb-bestrewn in a mere trice.
And perhaps part of my melancholy is that I do not have the luxury of affecting Januaryitis any more: as some of you will know, the Head Chef is on the point of departure from the world of paid work. I am quite prepared to regard this as a big adventure, but suddenly find myself with mixed feelings about taking on the role of family breadwinner rather than breadmaker. For the past twenty years of motherhood I have worked part-time and I have to admit, with the benefit of hindsight, it has all been rather nice. It has allowed me to study and create, and always with the thought that I could do a bit of this and that, and chop and change, in the comfort and confidence that the Head Chef was bringing home the bacon.
Well, now the Head Chef will be rearing the bacon, and I am the one marching to the beat of the wage slave. [I do find his little lists of things to do so very endearing: a wonderful mixture of the rustic and domestic.
What does he want with old pallets, or is that bulk bins? He has obviously taken the books I gave him for Christmas to heart. I hope that he will remember to clean the loos (does he know how to do it properly?)].
Quite serendipitously, I have been able to get more work on the employed and self-employed front, so I will be able to buy lentils, and won't have to eat bacon, but that is as far as the expenditure will be able to go. Unfortunately, I will have to moderate my profligacy on the yarn and haberdashery front, as my skills are not anywhere near as remunerative I would like them to be - I dream about button shops run on the Ginger and Pickles principle.
So, in my usual roundabout way, I have come to the nub of things - more time at the grindstone, and less time at the needle (and in the blogosphere). I need my sleep and have never been one to burn the candle at both ends - quite the opposite, in fact, I prefer to be awake only when it is light. And so at the moment I am having a little trouble making ends meet in the middle. [As evidenced by finding a muddy button in my purse: how did that get there? Did I accept it as change in a shop? The mystery of its provenance is quite maddening.]
So thank you one and all for all your wonderful good wishes over Christmas and the New Year: I have not forgotten you, and will be making my visits as time allows. And when I am absent, just imagine me slaving over a hot keyboard, and demanding that my slippers are warm by the fire when I come home, then falling asleep under a newspaper after supper. Although I think washing the car is really a step too far.