Sunday, 26 January 2014


When I was an Army wife, those heady days of early marriage (after the 6 month operational tour, during which, I stayed put in London while the Husband hung out on the Croatian coast), we lived on the edge of Salisbury Plain, the very epicentre of Army land. It was another world, a world where it was normal to panic, having been woken in the middle of the night by attack helicopters flying overhead, only to realise that it was OK and you weren't living in Beirut after all, to be held up on the road by endless lines of tracked vehicles (you don't want to argue with a Warrior, believe me) or to stumble across an ambush party during a Sunday afternoon walk...

One of the valuable lessons I thought I learned during that period was how I would be once I had children and was around people who did not.

I did not initially make many friends in Army land because, in an almost comic role reversal, I was commuting up to London, leaving the house before 7 and back after 8, while the Husband had a leisurely bike ride, or a 10 minute walk to the office. Eventually, someone noticed I was there, and I was invited to join 'the bookclub'.

I had made it!!

"Have you just moved in?"

"No, actually we've been here 8 months"

"I haven't seen you at school"

"No, I work. In London."

"......." [silence]

"Oh you WORK?"

I had many conversations like this throughout our time on 'the patch'. I regaled them with stories of sitting in the same seat on the same train with the same people every morning, and the turmoil a new person sitting in the wrong seat would cause, sushi, bought from an upmarket purveyor of lunch (the glamour of it) , and earning the same (or - GASP- more) than your husband. They regaled me with tales of childbirth, the adhesive properties of weetabix, and the politics of the school gate.

I had no idea what they were talking about, and in that blissful childfree state, found myself thinking "I have no idea what you are talking about, It can't possibly look like that/smell like that/ be as bad as all that."

I would feel excluded from a club that at that time I had no particular wish to belong to - the parent club. It wasn't that I didn't want children, just not then. And after feeling excluded from the club, I would promptly forget it, what ever horror I'd been party to, only for it to reappear, distorted and anxiety-inducing - when my time for babies came.

Of course, we all do it, we who have children. I have 2 emergency caesarians and a child who had cancer at the time of the second one, under my belt, so I'm afraid I'm not going to give up the opportunity to take part in the occasional competitive birth story exchange with other parents. But after spending time on the patch with all these women, I did vow to try not to tell people who don't have children what it's like (mainly the giving birth bit, because frankly, while not the worst, my stories are quite bad), or offer 'advice'. It's basically the same as your parents telling you that you don't know how lucky you are when you're being an ungrateful teenager. You just cannot comprehend how much a child is going to change your life, so as someone who knows, you might just as well not bother..

I'd forgotten this in the early weeks of our first born. Friends who were expecting a baby a couple of months later visited us, and even then, with a few weeks to go, they were talking about their relaxed approach to doing up their house and how they would carry on once the baby was born. They were trying to source some very specific light fittings, as I recall. And I remember the Husband or I saying, heartfelt, "Get it finished before the baby arrives, you WON'T HAVE TIME" and they looked at us like we were deranged. How much time could a baby take? (Blue didn't help by sleeping through the whole encounter as if that was his natural state.)

Since then, I've tried to be more mindful when talking to people who don't have kids; tried not to give them advice, or do that whole knowing "You just wait" thing, but sometimes, it just comes out.

Like now. (I know you were waiting to see how tenuous this link could be). Dahl is one of my favourite things to eat, but I don't think I've ever properly blogged it, and the reason is that it's pretty hard to take a good photo of it. It just looks like baby poo. And before we go any further, any of my non-parent readers, baby poo really is that yellow. There's no getting away from it. Yellow and quite sticky.

The dahl is yellow, but also quite delicious. It's delicious hot and then cold, leftover. It tastes like it should be far more complicated than it is - it is very straightforward and has hardly any ingredients. It's nutritious and the kids, may be surprisingly? I don't know, love it too.

So here it is. Dahl. It's based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's version in Veg Everyday, but I nearly always cook enough for 6 so that there will be leftovers to eat for lunch for the next couple of days with a blob of mango chutney. Delicious, despite looking like baby poo.

375g red lentils
11/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fine salt
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, peeled & finely sliced
bunch of coriander, finely chopped

Put the red lentils in a large pan with 1.2 litres of cold water. Bring this to the boil and skim off any scum that forms. 

Add in the turmeric and salt, whisk the mixture, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes till the lentils are broken down and cooked. Whisk the  mixture up every now and again to help reak the lentils down. Do take care not to cook them over too high a heat because as the lentils break down, they become almost volcanic - almost like a baby's bottom, one might say...

You may need to add a little more water to keep the dahl from getting too thick, but you should end up with something of a porridgey kind of consistency.

I quite often make it to this stage earlier in the day, then heat up later for the final flourish (when you may need to add a little more water).

Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the cumin seeds and cook for 5 minutes, before adding in the finely sliced onion and frying over a relatively high heat for 10 minutes of so, then stir into the lentils.

Add in the chopped coriander, stir through and serve.

Great as part of a larger curry feast, or frankly, cold with a big blob of mango chutney


  1. Having been an army wife myself, I hooted with laughter at this. I never seemed to do what the more senior wives expected me to, and ended up being a bit of an outcast for daring to be different. However as my husband was in a Gurkha regiment, one lasting positive benefit of my army wife years was a passion for dahl!

    1. :-) Gurkha curry mmmmm.I remember one particular 'candlelit supper' while my Husband was in Afghanistan and we were all invited to the Major General's wife's house. I was sitting next to one of the NCOs wives, and she had actually been telephoned in advance and TOLD what to wear for the occasion. The mind boggles...

  2. You're right, it's not particularly photogenic. Sounds yummy, though, and I loved reading your post, made me laugh out loud.

  3. Can't beat a good bowl of poo, I mean dahl!


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