Ma is a dab hand at shepherd’s pie. I ask her how she makes it. Minced lamb of course, otherwise there’s no shepherd. Mixed with a sliced onion, and with pepper and salt, for no other spices exist in her kitchen. No frivolities like tomato added. She gives me the job of doing the mashed potatoes. Are they organic? Yes, they are. Look at the eyes in them. The potato peeler is pointed at the end to deal with them in summary fashion. ‘Salt in the water,’ Ma tells me. ‘Turn the gas down when they boil and wait till they’re fairly soft.’ The bit I like best is to use the potato masher, a spherical metal plate at the bottom with elongated holes in it and a sturdy handle, topped in wood painted yellow with green rings. ‘Add a knob of butter and some milk first!’ After the initial assault, I move over to a fork and whip the potatoes into a creamy froth. Then Ma takes over, covering the meat and twitching up the mash into a host of small spikes that will catch the heat in the oven and turn it into a host of brown peaks.
‘Now we just pop it into the oven.’ ‘How hot?’ I ask. ‘Around medium.’ ‘For how long?’ ‘Until it’s done.’
I wanted to ask Ma about life too. Now it is a quarter of a century too late, but I know her answers would have been the same.