After around seven months of living in bachelorhood I was finally forced to concede that I have an inability to measure an appropriate portion of pasta for a solo diner with an average appetite. It was the last Monday in July and I had half of a large sweet potato left over from a chicken, sweet potato and quinoa stew I had enjoyed the previous night and I was searching for something to do with the remaining root vegetable. It is almost always the case in such situations that I find myself asking can this go in pasta? And the answer is usually yes.
I found a recipe for a sweet potato and spinach pasta which was written in a fashion which suggested that someone like me could cook it, and it was accompanied by some pretty pictures which made it look like a mouth-watering meal. I followed the internet’s instructions to the letter and used nature’s measuring instrument – the eye – to calculate how much Penne Rigate I would need to soak up the vegetable stock, thyme and parmesan I used as a sauce. When the cooking time had elapsed and I carefully drained the boiling water from the pan and used a spoon to transfer rubbery and slippery tubes of pasta onto a waiting porcelain plate, it turned out that one plate would not suffice for the amount I had cooked. I immediately, and not for the first time, cursed my inability to measure a single portion of pasta and, in the same moment, decided that I would eat both platefuls because they were there, because hot food is better than food at any other temperature and because I couldn’t be sure of the rules of microwaving sweet potato.
Whilst I didn’t regret my gluten-laden gluttony I quickly found myself becoming weary and lethargic, and before even nine o’clock came my eyelids had taken on parachutes and were heading for the ground. I drank an Earl Grey tea in an attempt to lighten my mind, but it had no effect and I was in bed much earlier than usual. I fell asleep with a great deal less of the usual tossing and turning in the face of the interrogatory street light which glares through the bedroom curtains. Most nights it is like trying to sleep in an old-time war movie, but it didn’t trouble me in the fog of my large pasta dinner. However, by three o’clock in the morning I was wide awake after a particularly disturbing dream.
I could remember it vividly as I lay amongst my tangled 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. The scene seemed to be a flat warming, though despite many features of the place being familiar to me it seemed much larger than the flat I am currently living in. There was a group of people of moderate size – somewhere between 5’5″ and 5’10” – and I recognised many of them. There was music playing and everybody was drinking beer and Jack Daniels with orange juice, which is how I could tell it was definitely my flat. In the kitchen there was a woman who I knew very fondly. She was foraging in my fridge and had come across a large cooked ham. She took it from the shelf and declared that it was hers and that she was leaving with it. I disputed this and argued that the ham was mine, that I had laboured over cooking it for hours and that it was the centrepiece of my food offering for the flat warming party. She scoffed and announced that she was taking the ham anyway. The woman who I knew very fondly left my flat with the ham and it was then that I woke up. I lay in my bed feeling very dazed and confused, because women hardly ever visit my flat and I never keep ham.
As the week unfolded I had recovered from my troubling ham nightmare and walked straight into a waking nightmare as all of my toiletries began to run low in unison. I have an unwritten household policy of replenishing my supply of toiletries in small batches some time before they are finished. There is no conscionable reason for this other than a deep-rooted fear of how a shopping basket filled with Lynx bodyspray, toothpaste, Nivea deep cleaning face wash, 400ml of shower gel, rehydrating moisturiser and a pack of four shea butter toilet rolls would look to a passing stranger. I was forced to confront my fears – as I also was when the summer skies finally broke and turned the colour of a wet dishcloth which has been sitting on the sink for a fortnight and a score of umbrellas exploded open across the pavements – and I went to the supermarket to restock my toiletries. I dropped each of the items I needed into my basket and placed a bunch of bananas prominently on top for perception.
In Aulay’s I was seeking refuge from the sodden streets and the downpour of day-to-day life whilst simultaneously hoping that maybe this would be the night where my soul mate would stroll into the lounge bar and become bewitched by my purple pocket square. Instead I attracted the attention of an Alpine furniture restorer who seemed to have decided that this would be the night that he would seek the therapeutic ear of a stranger in a bar. He clutched his pint of Guinness in his right hand, and my own cold glass became a crutch. His eyes darted wildly from side to side, like a moth flailing around a lampshade, and it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn from innocuous pleasantries to a winding tale of woe which visited such traumas as Brexit and the difficulty of renewing a Visa, civil court cases, small court fines and the habit of women running away.
I frequently nodded my head at the appropriate moments and offered the occasional consolation smile to indicate that I was still listening, though any effort on my part to respond with words and enter the conversation was swiftly cut off with the precision of a tattoo gun and he would go off on another tangent. I looked over his shoulder at intervals and gazed hopefully at the door, wondering if this girl I had never met would walk in. She never did, and as I was standing at the bar I found myself wondering if I would be better off staying at home playing board games, because this search for a woman was becoming more like a trivial pursuit.
Late on Friday night I received a visit from a plant doctor, and we drank beer and listened to Neil Young and Richard Hell and the plant doctor offered to diagnose my family of houseplants. He observed happiness in one, a need for growth in another and the likelihood that I was killing my sunflowers with the water of my love. I felt relieved that most of my plants were thriving and as I went to bed and laid my head on a duck feather pillow, the street light and a hint of breaking daylight yawning against the curtains, I began to consider the possibility that maybe a man who spends his Sunday preparing a chicken, sweet potato and quinoa stew isn’t supposed to have a girlfriend, and is instead more likely to have to repot every now and again.