A moment of maximum inconvenience

It was Friday afternoon and I was standing there in the kitchen in what might be called a brown study.

Peter Warland

It was Friday afternoon and I was standing there in the kitchen in what might be called a brown study.

I couldn’t remember why I was standing there but then, at my age, this happens far too often. I was staring at the old kitchens stove, a relic of the years, and trying to think what it was that I should be doing.

I had been cooking on that stove for many years, since my beloved had given up attempting to chase me out of the room. I’ve enjoyed cooking and, to give myself some credit, ‘whomped up’ some decent meals, and I already had prepared the desserts for that afternoon’s festivities.

It occurred to me as I stood in front of that stove that it had got itself overly grubby and maybe I ought to do something about it. Friend George always tells me “Never leave till tomorrow what can be left indefinitely” and I should have heeded him that day.

Instead, I took one of the cooking elements apart and peered closely at it. It was coated with black stuff, baked on hard. This puzzled me because I didn’t think I made messes, and I have always wiped the stove top clean after every meal.

I hauled out another element; it was worse than the first and the idea of cleaning the stove there and then began to penetrate my pea-like brain. As I said earlier: I was expecting company at four o’clock sharp.

We’ve been meeting on Fridays at four p.m. for a few years now; I’ve even taken to calling us The Mad-Hatter’s Tea Party but, so far, have refrained from spelling out who the Mad Hatter might be. In a few hours that was going to be apparent.

It was the self-cleaning apparatus on that stove that had attracted my lovely spouse and me, and it was that clever business that interested me that afternoon. I pulled all four burners apart, put aside the electric coils for future attention and opened the oven door.

The four bowls that go under the burners were obvious candidates. They were thoroughly crusted with years of burned grease. I looked at the chrome plated fancy rings that go round the top, decided that I didn’t dare fire them into the oven; I’d think of something clever for them later.

I was about to close the door when I spotted the frying pan. That pan was as black as a witch’s cauldron; it probably had had “eye of newt, and toe of frog,” etc. cooked in it over the years so I thrust it inside and closed the door. I switched to “self clean.”

I then got ready for the arrival of company. That Friday it was my turn to be host and I had already given the living room a good going over with the vacuum cleaner. I wasn’t concerned about the fireplace and the odd shelf; my female visitors are not the type that rub their dainty fingers along shelves and sniff disdainfully at the results.

Then, when the smoke began to billow and the alarm went off, it dawned on me that it might just be a moment of maximum inconvenience. I hit the fan button to full blast and opened some windows.

As I whisked the electric tea kettle downstairs to the family room and tidied up just a little en route, Satan himself was banging at the oven door and great plumes of smoke were pouring forth as if from the gates of hell. This might have been an appropriate moment to switch off the oven cleaner, but I am not that bright; I just hustled my surprised guests downstairs and put the tea water on, then went back for the desserts from the fridge.

It looked as if things had quietened a little in the kitchen and the smoke was dissipating.

We had tea, desserts and cynicism regarding my ineptitude downstairs that afternoon and I left for a more appropriate time to see what might be left of the devil incarnate in the oven until next day.