Have you ever had a really spectacular culinary disaster? My most memorable failure occurred when I was an 18-year-old student, living in a hall of residence. Our rooms were along corridors in a brand new modern building, with kitchen facilities (i.e. a sink and a couple of gas rings with a grill) at the end of each. At the opposite end of the corridor was a phone where we could receive incoming calls, our link with the outside world in those days long before anyone had dreamt of mobile phones.
One evening I put an egg into a saucepan of water and set it to boil. At that moment, I was summoned to the phone, as my boyfriend was calling. Twenty minutes of lovey-dovey chat and then I floated back to my room on Cloud Nine, where I picked up on whatever project had been uppermost half an hour earlier. About two hours later, my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten and I remembered my egg. I dashed back to the kitchen, where the gas was still burning merrily, but the aluminium saucepan had been reduced to a ring-shaped heap of grey powder – though the handle was intact – and my egg was a black charred object in the middle of the gas ring. It had split open and the core was glowing red. Nowadays, it would make a wonderful art exhibit at the Tate Modern.
My chief emotion was relief that the gas hadn’t been extinguished and that nothing had caught fire: I have very efficient Guardian Angels, and they were definitely on the alert that evening. I dropped the hot egg into a bowl of cold water and then binned it, along with the heap of aluminium powder and the saucepan handle. There was no other mess to clean up. None of my fellow-inmates had any inkling of how close they had been to a flaming inferno or gas explosion, and I left them in blissful ignorance as I crept back to my room with a heartfelt prayer of gratitude and an empty tummy. Or did I maybe make some toast?