How can a potato cause that much trouble?

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Columnist Darryl Morris writes about his wrangle with the typical British potato.

I’m cooking dinner and there has been a potato disaster. The potatoes and I usually have a solid relationship. They know what is expected of them and I know what is expected of me. Fifteen minutes on the boil. I just need to be sure to get the water to temperature before putting them in and we’re all happy. It’s a mutual understanding on which many successful dinners have been built.

Not today. Today is a bad day for Darryl-potato relations. I did my due diligence. I check the sell-by date and pre-boil the water in the kettle, timing it to coincide perfectly with the cooking of the fish – an altogether more unpredictable partner, but one that hasn’t let me down as yet.

The fish is in the oven and the potatoes begin to simmer. It is coming together nicely. I stand back and admire my diplomatic handiwork while sipping from a glass of fine red wine like the great kitchen leader I am.

Just a couple more minutes and they’ll be done.

It’s time for the knife test. The fish has softened and is ready to serve. Now I’ll slowly slip a knife into the side of one of the potatoes to check how they’re coming along. It’s a simple process. I’ve done it a thousand times. A pain free slip in and out. I imagine they are taut on the surface and fluffy in the middle. They know what they are doing. It’s the safest bet you’ll find.

In and… wait. I panic as the knife jams. This isn’t slipping in like usual. They are tough. My panic gives way to confusion. There must have been a mistake? I replay the build-up in my head and… yes… I was spot on. Perhaps they need a few more minutes. That’ll be it. A few more minutes pass and I go again with the knife. Jam. I feel sure I even hear it clang. Rock solid. What is this? They have deceived me. I did everything by the book. I played my part to perfection. I am owed fluffy potatoes with a taut surface.

“This is an unmitigated disaster,” I yell to my girlfriend Michaela, “it’s gone horribly wrong.”

“Just start again,” she yells back and her naivety astounds me. You cannot simply ‘start again’ and expect everything to be fine. The world changed today. The normal order of events has been skewed.

“Let’s just order a take-away?” she says and I scoff again. We can’t lean on others. Asking for an intervention shows weakness. This is an hour of great need, for sure, but we cannot waiver. I didn’t rise through the ranks of the house, from lowly hoover-boy to supreme kitchen leader by ordering takeaways.

The fish. Not something you’d naturally bank on in a crisis, but it’s the only hope I have left. I gasp as I catch the reflection of my fraught look in the oven door. I couldn’t have imagined the day I would turn to the fish in such desperation. I quickly unwrap it from the tinfoil and it crumbles through my fingers, taking with it the last facet of certainty the world had to offer. It’s over-done. Of course it’s over-done. You can’t have expected the potatoes’ act of deception to go without consequences.

When that erosion of trust occurs, it is hard to rebuild. Decades of goodwill and understanding can be wiped away in a single bad decision – an act of stubbornness or defiance – or whatever this was. There are rules. We have spent generations building order. We have set standards and agreed to live by them. These constructs protect us in ways we often can’t see. We happily continue with our lives, not knowing that all the time we are propped up by an unseen understanding of what is right and wrong. When somebody bulldozes through them, to fit an agenda or just by accident, things change. We lose sight of who to believe. Damaging individualism and anarchy are never far away. Our peace and prosperity is fragile. It exists on a knife-edge and the slightest turbulence can plunge us back into a darkness that a generation gave their lives to pull us out of. Donald Trump. Brexit. Jersey Royals. I will not have it. Not in my kitchen.

“You’re an idiot,” says Michaela after enduring my lecture, “I’m getting a take-away. What do you want?”

“Fine,” I sigh, “anything without potatoes.”