Between the time I finish work and the time I pick up Chotto-ma from school, I have one hour. An hour, if I'm ruthlessly thrifty with it: if I overtake old ladies on oedemic feet, and brush past sweet children selling cookies for charity. If I soften, I lose a quarter of that hour. A quarter; that's one slice of a four-slice pizza, when all the food you have for the whole day is that, one pizza.
That's all there is to it; it's my hour. Groceries might need buying, but not in that time. A phonecall might need to be returned, answered. But later. It's not that I do much with The Time. I certainly don't use it well; I don't know if I use it at all. I just know that I need it. I need an hour by myself like I need a drink of water.
I usually walk to the same café every day. It has an old, draughty door, through which the clatter of crockery and the clutter of conversation slip out onto the pavement. I take a coffee, go up the rickety stairs, take a table by the large sash windows, face the wall covered in books, and then, and then I do nothing much. Sometimes, I read. Sometimes, I'm too caught up in Nothing to read. Sometimes I just stare at the yellow-orange trees outside. Their leaves are leaving them now.
Do you have an hour like that?
My café smells pungent, of old drapes and spilled wine. There's such comfort in old, imperfect places don't you think? Even in old, imperfect people, for that matter. Doris Lessing died yesterday, at 94. Her books are here, on the bookshelf, at the café; there are some on my bookshelf at home; all filled with her chiselled, articulate thoughts; 94 years of carrying that mind inside her body. Couldn't have been easy.
And from those grocery bags, here's something I cooked this weekend. It came together from what I had at home; unplanned. It serves no real purpose either, apart from tasting very good. And that's all there is to it.
Halloumi, Avocado & Pomegranate Bruschetta
drizzled with Chilli-Aniseed Oil
Slices of halloumi
1 avocado, coarsely mashed, or sliced into slivers
Dry red chillies
Grill the slices of halloumi on a flat pan, with a drizzle of olive oil, till lightly browned. Heat olive oil in a small pan, drop in a few red chillies and a tsp of aniseed. The chillies don't add much heat, just a lovely smokey flavour. When the aniseed is lightly browned, take it off the heat. Cut slices of rustic bread, layer it first with the avocado, then the halloumi and top it with the pomegranate. Drizzle your bruschetta with the aniseed oil, making sure some of the aniseed get in there too.
"Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible" - Doris Lessing