“Give me a doctor partridge-plump,
Short in the leg and broad in the rump,
An endomorph with gentle hands
Who’ll never make absurd demands
That I abandon all my vices
Nor pull a long face in a crisis,
But with a twinkle in his eye
Will tell me that I have to die.”

W. H. Auden

There are some people who are good at starting creative projects others tend to be quietly proficient at completing them. There are even some who seamlessly embrace aspects of both innovation and conclusion – although in my experience they tend to make up the minority. Whoever you are though, I salute you. I have only ever managed to jostle my way into the first category, the second has remained a worthy ambition and the third has, to date, been an experience as unlikely as my overtaking Usain Bolt on a short dash to the bus stop. But amongst the motley collection of side effects emanating from my chemotherapy treatment, I was to find my thought process re-calibrating, my earlier refuge being nudged out of comfortable alignment.

“Out in mid-channel between the painted poles,
That day I’ll be in step with what escaped me”.

Seamus Heaney

When my diagnosis was first delivered, I had the distinct sensation of having my entire arsenal of loosely organised plans tossed in the air like a jigsaw puzzle. Every part uncoupled from its neighbour, then frozen, motionless, suspended in space like a Cornelia Parker installation. This uncomfortable perception continued for some weeks as my vain attempts to re-unite the pieces came to naught.

Around the same time, I had the unwelcome sense of moving from living to dying. Time now appeared distinctly finite, and although I reasoned it always had been, I had never before been so alarmingly forewarned. In tandem with the credo that life and death are mutually exclusive from the very get-go, a distinct change of perspective had begun to manifest itself. My consultant shrugged knowingly when I broached the subject of my shifting agenda and introduced me to the genial colloquialism known as “chemo brain”. My newly found imperative to bring things together had been bestowed with a droll medical rubric.

This re-alignment of attitude, too vague to be categorized as ambition too premature to be classified as philosophy, incorporated a newfound desire to consolidate. This took me quite by surprise. The initial annoyance I had felt at being colonised was being replaced by the need to crystalise some of the more random moments of earlier adventures. I had the novel urge to start and complete, to synthesise and summarise, to engage with the final spectre of a distinctly secular life.

Years at art school, followed by an even longer period as a loosely professional sculptor, had defined the notion that one aspect of creative motivation is the desire to outwit one’s departure, to forge something more permanent than the transient self. Now I found myself transposing such fervent thoughts to a treasured domestic routine.

I have been cooking for over 40 years, for my wife initially and then, one by one, for my children. It was, and still remains, a pleasure and privilege to feed my family each day. Up until now, I had never categorised the loose collection of treasured recipes that defined the thousands of meals I have cooked for them and their friends. In limbo, strangely suspended, yet paradoxically within reach of a more consummate life, now was the opportunity and imperative to do so.

The mind is like an umbrella, it doesn’t work properly unless it’s open”.
Frank Zappa