When everything is broken, read.
When everything is broken, there are books, there are old books like old friends. Like old friends, they can take you by the hand and tell you, look, it doesn’t have to be this way, look, remember, you met us when you were young and strong and you went into the story, and you will be like that again , and for a little while it seems that you might, and unlike old friends they do not recoil at the utter and profound ugliness of mental illness.
Because there is nothing beautiful in mental illness. There is no joy, or sense, or even rhythm, in constant fear. There is nothing beautiful, or worth having, in wanting only to die. There is nothing beautiful in the dark. We cannot say this enough, because it’s a myth that persists, like knotweed, this idea that there is something inherently exciting, or special, or good in a broken mind. There is nothing good. Only hurt, and loneliness, and fear, and ugly crying by yourself, silently, so nobody will wake, and you will not have to see the hurt on their faces when they see yours.
On those nights, read. I have a pile of books I come back to, when everything is broken, and looking at them now they are the books where people fight the dark, and lose things, and break, and win. They are books where the dark is real, and dangerous, that I read before I felt them. They are safe. His Dark Materials, and the first Green Knowe, and Mary Poppins snatching Jane back from the grandfather in the Royal Doulton bowl in the past, and above all a book by Susan Cooper called The Dark Is Rising. I know it almost off my heart. This night will be bad, it says, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining. It feels true, sometimes. I imagine that this stock, and the soups that it will be, are the sort of things they might eat in the snowstorm, at Miss. Greythorne’s.
This is a stock for the day the dark is rising in you, and the world is black and white with whirling snow. This will see you through the worst days; this is easy, and simple, and good, and comforting. This is good. This is good. Tonight will be bad, and tomorrow beyond imagining, but perhaps the next day, you will feel a little better.
When everything is broken, read; and make this, and eat. You will be safe. It will be okay.
Chicken Stock, chicken soup
10 mins prep., 3 hrs-ish cooking.
Everyone can eat this; everyone can make it. You can do this.
Anything left over from roasting the chicken; the lemon, the garlic, even scrape out the baking tray.
Onions, whatever sort, 2
Garlic, as many as you like.
As much thyme as you can possibly bear to cut.
Any/all vegetables from the bottom of the fridge
Pepper; maybe salt
Once I put two port glasses of Madeira in. It helped. So did drinking some.
|On days when you have no energy, just nothing left at all: chicken stock cubes, or jellies.|
|Big pot, with lid; sharp knife; chopping board; kettle; big spoon|
Get up. I know you don’t think you can, but you can. I promise you can. Hold your book; remember the story. Remember how you made that chicken? You did that. You can do this too. Fill the kettle with water, and set it to boil.
See the chicken carcass? Pick it up, and put it in the big pot. Take the roasted lemon, and the garlic skins, and the fat and the bones, and the scrapings from the tray, and put them in, too. Pour boiling water into the baking tray, and let it sit. Take the onions, and peel them, roughly. Cut them in half, and in half again. Put them in the big pot. Peel the ginger; chop it into pieces. Put that in, and a handful of dried mushrooms, if you have them. Don’t worry if you don’t. If you have the energy, peel and cut in half the new garlic cloves; if not, just put them in. Go to the fridge. Do you have vegetables? Take them out. I found carrots, which I cut up into great big ugly pieces without cleaning, or peeling; and leeks, which I cleaned, by slicing in half and running under the tap, and then sliced; and some very old, sad spring onions, that I ran under the tap, half-heartedly, and then threw in. Chop some chillies, and if you can’t manage it right now, add a hefty shake of crushed. Grind pepper, and a little bit (just a little bit) of salt.
Look how good everything looks, and if just now it seems too much, note it for later: the green, green leeks, and the good white onions, and the orange carrots, and the ready bones. They are so very beautiful, and so good. I know it is hard now. I know. But it will be okay in the end, I promise. A world in which the leeks can be so round and neat, and everything so sweet and fresh is not a bad one; you’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.
Light the hob; be careful of your hands. Set the casserole on the hob, over a low heat; cover with the boiling water from the baking tray, and top up if necessary. Add the Madeira. Put the lid on. Take your book, take a blanket, and fold yourself in to both, like a sea-shell. Read about the storm, and read about light, and dark, and struggling, and perhaps sleep a little bit; let the people who want to look after you look after you. It’s hard, yes. Let them help. Let them help.
After an hour, or two, taste the stock. You can, if you like, add a stock pot. It’s cheating, yes. But it means that it will taste better, and you’ll eat something warm tonight, and good. I always do. Forgive me, please.
Let it simmer. Read some more. Breathe some more. The house will be full of chicken-fog, and warmth, and you will have done something. Taste it. Taste it. Add salt, and pepper. Add anything. Let it simmer. Add more stock pots, if necessary. It should taste warm, and comforting. If it’s too sweet (onions, carrots and Madeira will do that), you can put a little salt, lemon juice, or Thai fish sauce, to balance it out.
Taste. Ladle enough broth into a mug. Hold it in your two hands, and think of nothing but the way the chicken broth warms you through, and how simple it is, and the story. This night will be bad, and tomorrow beyond imagining, but as least you have food laid in, and a good book. One day away from the world will not hurt you. Sleep. Rest. Let your frantic mind fold itself, lull itself. Soon you will see something beautiful; it will surprise you. You’ll see it. We’ll see it. We’ll be okay.
You can pour some more water in, leave the rest on the stove, cover and turn it into easy, easy Thai-ish soup, with coconut milk and coriander; you can freeze it and use it later. Just don’t worry.