Whatever is this world coming to? I looked again at the document. “I can’t sign this,” I said. No punctuation marks. A relative clause so far from its parent verb that it wasn’t even a distant cousin. A spellcheck-reliant secretary who didn’t know the difference between “apologies” and “apologises”. What kind of trust could I give to a lawyer with a document like this when it is my WILL she is creating, for heavens sake! I have to sign this paper in her presence – she whom I have yet to meet (because of lockdown) who has photocopies of my identity, but I don’t hers?
I’ve spent a teeth-gritting life over poor spelling and grammar, and did my best to bring up both children in the sure and certain knowledge of correct written English. One daughter calls me the Apostrophe Police. The other is irritated that she now sees the difference between “less” and “fewer”, noticing its incorrect usage everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. I gleefully I misspell my shopping list, and regularly get missives with mistakes. Fine. Friends love each other’s messages no matter how they are spelled. Children’s notes are especially cherished.
But this is a WILL. It’s hard enough to come to terms with one’s own death without being appalled at the condition of the papers that go with it.
I don’t know why we have waited so long to get these wills written. It might have something to do with what Daughter calls my manic defense against death, and what I call a rich and fulfilling life without time for thoughts of not living.
In order to recognize “our” lawyer, I looked her up on the website. I had a choice from three different blond actors, a black-suited woman, and a gravestone (yes really). I took the black-suited woman as the possibility.
The day of the signing arrived. I drove the twelve miles to Hereford, pulled up and yanked on the hand brake in almost the same spot where I was stung for £25 previously, by misreading their Font 2 printed parking regulations.
We waited outside the solicitors’ building, so as not to sully their reception area with our breath. Then, masks on, we were admitted into the heavily sanitised environment. Eyes searched the walls for a portrait gallery of those who worked here. Nothing. I’d have to rely on website identification. We were sat at tables crammed together to provide enough distance between Us and Them to need a megaphone to communicate. Then waited.
And in came Black Suit, cordial and professional. Her luminous lavender nails hinted at a Life Beyond Legal Documents, which pleased me. Surprisingly, we had a jolly time, full of laughter and bonhomie. Then it dawned: this wasn’t about Death at all, but rather about ensuring a way for the scrapings of our remaining wealth to be given to those we loved. The punctuation-free documents were passed off with a, “I know, isn’t it awful. But that’s the way wills are written these days”.
I wondered how my parents’ generation would have viewed them. I thought of Aunt Dorothy, and my mother – not related, but both sticklers for grammar and punctuation. One of Mom’s stories came to mind:
A teacher was in the middle of a lesson on punctuation when an inspector bumbled in, and stood glowering, arms folded and breathing heavily. Finally, he could bear it no longer and blustered, “Boys and girls, punctuation is a thing of the past! You don’t need to learn this stuff any longer!” The tirade continued as the teacher quietly wrote on the board:
The inspector says the teacher is a fool.
He noticed it and mumbled, “well er, yes, I agree”. Then the teacher added punctuation:
“The inspector,” says the teacher, “is a fool”.
Pasta with Four Cheeses
When we finally have wisdom to know the difference between the things we can, and cannot change, and admitted to the latter, the only way out is to grab some calorie comfort. I have made this casserole for many bring-and-share meals, because it goes well with anything, especially lifting disappointed hopes. Some of you, I know, have been waiting for this recipe.
Put 450g of pasta of your choice in lots of boiling salted water. Be sure that there’s enough salt to taste in the water, before throwing in your pasta. Actually, this wasn’t my choice of pasta (I wanted elbow macaroni). But we’re in a Pandemic World War, so we take what we can get. That’s what we do when there’s a war on.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt 4 tablespoons (4 ozs. 120 grams) butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add 4 Tablespoons flour (2 ozs, 50 grams), 1 teaspoon mustard powder, ½ teaspoon paprika, and ½ teaspoon salt. [Optional extras at this point are onion powder and/or garlic powder – about ½ teaspoon each.]
Continue to cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce doesn’t smell raw. Remove from heat. Slowly add 2 cups whole milk (16 ozs, ¾ pint 450 ml). Return to a medium heat and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and just starts to boil. Remove from heat again and add a small tub of original cream cheese (180 g.)
Over low heat stir until smooth. Slowly stir in 240 grams (8 ozs ) grated mature cheddar cheese, or a good strong hard cheese. Taste the sauce. If it isn’t “cheesy” enough, add finely grated parmesan cheese until it does so.
Fold in the well-drained cooked pasta. Butter an appropriately sized casserole dish, and place half the pasta-and-cheese mixture in one even layer. Now finely dice one mozzarella ball of cheese into small pieces. Warning: mozzarella cheese is STRINGY! Keep the pieces well apart from each other! Otherwise you and your fellow diners can have competitions on who can make the stretchiest string.
Now add the rest of the pasta-and-cheese mixture. Top with buttered bread crumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese.
Bake in a moderate oven (around 375F, or 190C) for about an hour, until gurgly, or bubbly, depending on how saucy the sauce is.