Our initials rarely have much emotional resonance in our lives. They tend to be forced upon us by others, in the vulnerability of youth or old age. In our schooldays, they pepper gym kit and shoes and books as the long arm of parental law brands its wayward young; in twilight years they start cropping up on gifts from towels to handkerchiefs to Mont Blancs as if to form a protective Alzheimers forcefield. In between, they rarely make an appearance, unless you’re a science fiction novelist, or an American.
For many of us, the first and only time those ciphers have any meaning is when they’re disappearing into porridge. The syrup monogramming ritual is a feature of many British childhoods. As those two exuberant golden squiggles spread and sank into ashen mush with geological sloth, I’d get a thrill beyond simple greed. Watching Lyle’s glowing aureate ley lines slowly submerge their magic in a cinereal cereal bog, then mining them with a cold spoon, sucking bland paste through jolts of caramel sweetness, I felt extraordinarily powerful. When you haven’t long given up the security of the proprietary breast, there’s poignant joy in seeing your newly, worryingly transient eatables marked. Hands off, sister. This food; this sugar: it’s mine.
However, as the rest of my life unimaginably complexified, my taste in gruel pared down to Quaker simplicity. For a while I flirted with the promiscuous falderals of London eateries - the ethical honeys, the winterberry compotes, the vanilla sugars and crunchy seeds and yoghurty fruity swirls –but the more I tried, the more my palate yearned for bland honesty. You see, the perfect porridge should be pure soul paper paste, gluing your brain to your skull and your courage to the sticking-place on boreal autumnal days. It is the fuel of warriors, not moppets, and it should excuse not indulge your tastebuds, presenting unpretentious sustenance in an ancient mouthmound of gelatinous goo.
Truly ascetic porridge purists like their steel-cut pinheads plashed with nothing but water and salt, but if you’re going austere on taste, you have to give the texture a little leniency; really comforting crowdie stems from the sour-sweet lactose stickiness of unseasoned semi-skimmed. And let’s not get ostentatious about the oats, whose glory lies in their democratic humility – as long as they’re not ReadyBrek sawdust, any supermarket pack of robust little ovals will do.
So. Pan, hob, oats, milk. Leave alone to warm very slowly while you don over-the-knee Vivienne Westwood boots the colour of rowan leaves. Start to stir once they’re simmering thick, but always, always leave the final half an inch unprobed for the ambrosial promise of a pan-bottom carbon crust, that thick dark burnt cap which makes a simple bowl of slop into breakfast crème brulée.
Do it right, and you’ll need to chew. You’ll heat up instantly with a ruddy celtic flush, forcing you to fling your snood aside. You’ll feel like you’ll never need to eat again. You’ll stride out, thinking sternly of windblown, heathered hills; buffered, fired, invincible. You’ll think: today, I shall write my name across the world.
Well, maybe my initials, as a start.