Five-minute memoir: Jon McGregor recalls an ominous omelette

 

I was 13, I think. My parents were out. It was late summer, and I had the kitchen window open and the radio turned up loud and I was wondering what to cook for tea. For the sake of some nostalgic detailing, let's say it was "I Am the Resurrection" by the Stone Roses, and that I was lunging around the kitchen playing air-drums during the extended instrumental section. I was feeling adventurous. I decided to make an omelette.

Had I ever made an omelette before? Possibly. Did I follow a recipe? Of course not. I hunted around the kitchen, rattling off drum-breaks on the worktops, and found eggs, cheese and oil. That didn't seem like enough. Maybe I should add some onions. I went to the vegetable rack by the back door, where I found carrots, potatoes, cauliflower and a brown paper bag of some small baby onions. Or maybe they were shallots? Whatever.

I warmed the oil in the pan, chopped the baby onions/shallots/whatever, softened them until they began to colour, whisked the eggs into the pan, grated the cheese over the top, scraped around the edges, folded it over, turned down the heat, and tipped the result out on to a plate.

And then, because my parents were out, I went and sat in front of the television to eat it. The omelette was burnt on the outside and a bit undercooked in the middle. The onions/shallots/whatever tasted slightly burnt. But that didn't really matter. Because look at me now! Cooking for myself! Eating in front of the television, listening to loud music with the windows open!

I was basically all grown up and independent already. Pretty soon I'd be living in a squat and hitch-hiking to free festivals, probably. In the meantime, I did the washing up, closed the window, and went out.

I walked across town to meet up with a couple of mates. I started to feel sick. We hung around for a bit, kicking a ball about and trying to impress a girl who lived in the same street, and then everyone stood back while I puked into a drain. And this wasn't the standard, break-your-stride, fairground type of vomiting: this was serious, prolonged, purgative throwing up, the sort of thing I've since come to associate with written accounts of shamanic mescaline experiences.

I don't think the girl was impressed. Someone's mum came out with a bucket of water and sluiced the gutter clean. I said I thought I should be getting back now, and walked home on my own. The next day, my mum asked if I'd seen the daffodil bulbs she'd left by the back door. I asked whether "by the back door" meant "in a brown paper bag on top of the vegetable rack". Yes, she said. Why?

This was over 20 years ago, and still, at family gatherings, it only takes someone to mention omelettes, or onions, or daffodils, for the roar of "Don't eat the daffodil bulbs!" to go up and a wave of laughter to come crashing in my direction. Somehow, the joke has always been on me. The fact that I wasn't the one who left the daffodil bulbs in a brown paper bag on top of the vegetable rack is mostly overlooked.

The story has become one of those legends which all families have, where the facts are obscured by the central narrative; in this case, that the absent-minded kid who always had his nose stuck in a book cooked daffodil bulbs for his tea.

But sometimes, when I tell this story outside the family, people are shocked not so much by the fact that my parents left poisonous horticultural goods in the vegetable rack (have I made that clear yet? In the vegetable rack?) as by the way I'd been left at home to cook for myself. But then, those are usually the people who turned up at university with a suitcase full of instant-noodles, and took their laundry home once a month. What would they know?

My parents encouraged me to cook for myself from an early age, to get involved with shopping lists and budgets, and to take pride in serving decent food to others. (Even when those others were calling out about how much they hoped you weren't cooking omelette.) And part of that encouragement involved giving me the space to work things out for myself, and to make plenty of mistakes along the way.

On balance – and it's an admittedly delicate balance – I'm glad to have had the occasional poisonous mishap as part of the gift of independence which my parents so generously gave me. It's a gift I'll be trying to pass on to my own children, along with the instruction to clearly label horticultural goods.

Jon McGregor is a writer. His new collection of stories, 'This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You', is published by Bloomsbury

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore