Deborah Ross: Our Woman in Crouch End

Why, in the name of sisterhood, do women never warn you about greaseproof paper?

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Sometimes it's hard to be a woman. It is, I suppose, equally hard to be a man sometimes, which means that it's sometimes hard for everybody, but I think that for women life is especially trying. On top of all the usual agonies associated with the human condition, like the sheer futility of it all, women also face one great problem which, until now, has rarely dared to speak its name. And it is greaseproof paper.

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman. It is, I suppose, equally hard to be a man sometimes, which means that it's sometimes hard for everybody, but I think that for women life is especially trying. On top of all the usual agonies associated with the human condition, like the sheer futility of it all, women also face one great problem which, until now, has rarely dared to speak its name. And it is greaseproof paper.

We all know about clingfilm - oh, yes - and how malevolent that is, sticking to everything apart from anything you want it to stick to and, most particularly, sticking so spitefully to itself that you have to furiously scrunch that sheet into a ball and toss it into the bin so that you can start again with the fresh sheet you will also furiously scrunch into a ball and then toss into the bin and so on and so on until the end of the roll which does make you think: all things considered, is there really any point to clingfilm, beyond a lot of bad-temperedness?

That is clingfilm for you. But greaseproof paper? Why doesn't anyone warn you about greaseproof paper? Why, in particular, don't women warn other women about greaseproof paper? Hey, sisters, what is going on here? Perhaps it is like the unspoken rule that no woman should ever tell another woman what childbirth is truly like. Indeed, if you were to ask me what it is truly like I, too, would fudge and say something along the following lines: OK, imagine someone has stuffed a vast shipment of hand grenades up your uterus, timed to go off at increasingly frequent, increasingly violent intervals over a 17-hour period but, hey, it's all worth it at the end when they hand you a little baby - and you think: Fucking hell, what have I done? I can't love this. Put it in a home! Give it to a nice couple who can't have children of their own! So that is what I would say because, of course, if you did actually spell out how bad it is there is no way women would ever have babies. In short, I understand the purpose of this conspiracy, but I simply don't get the greaseproof paper one.

Famously bad cake

Here is how I got on to it. It was my son's birthday the other week. He is now a teenager. I know my little baby is now a teenager because, already this morning, he's told me twice that he hates me while adding, for good measure, that he wishes he'd never been born. (That makes two of us, matey. Post childbirth, do you know hard it is to not do a bit of pee in your pants every time you sneeze? Do you further know how hard it is to sneeze while clenching your fanny muscles like billy-o to avoid such embarrassment?)

So, it's his birthday, and having spotted a recipe card in Waitrose for - get this - a triple-layer ice-cream meringue cake, he asks if he might have this instead of one of my famously bad birthday cakes. One year my cake was so famously bad that he burst into tears and sobbed: "But I wanted a Power Ranger one from Tesco!" To be honest, I could see his point. Still, that kind of attitude can rather suck the fulfilment out of motherhood.

Uncharacteristically, I agree on the spot. I agree because while it's one thing to have a mother going about clenching her fanny muscles, it's quite another to have one who can't turn out a stunning frozen desert combining layers of crisp meringue with seasonal fruit sorbets when required.

Slipped discs

I get to it and start with the first instruction, which tells me to cut three discs, 20cm in diameter, from a roll of greaseproof paper. I cut out the first disc. I cut out the second disc. But just as I am about to start on the third, I note that the first disc has curled up into the shape of a fat cigar. While I am noting that the first disc has curled itself up, the second disc not only curls up likewise, but has the bloody nerve to skip along the worktop as it does so.

Naturally, I am now very reluctant to start on the third, because who's to say it won't curl itself up into a fat cigar shape before leaping off the worktop, poking me in the eye, and then shooting through the cat-flap while singing tormentingly: "Ha, ha, ha, hee, hee, hee, I'm a greaseproof disc and you can't catch me?"

I try to flatten the discs out. I try with my fingers, my palms, my elbows, my entire forearms, my arse. No joy. They curl and furl and dance all over the shop. I think: I know, I will spread butter on the baking tray and press them down on to that. No joy. And do you know why? Because greaseproof paper is Grease Proof! (Or so I'm guessing). In the end, I have to weigh down the perimeters with pebbles.

I think there must be another way, a better way. This is why I am bringing the whole issue out into the open. And this is why I think it is sometimes hard to be a woman. And this is why you should never keep your clingfilm and greaseproof paper in the same drawer, as they are only egging each other on in there.

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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