I bought a second-hand book on Saturday called Cooking in a Bedsitter. (The plan was to mark it up like Language in the Modern World but it isn’t quite suited after all.) I don’t live in a bedsitter now, but I used to, and I used to relish the solitariness and the makeshiftness of everything. It was one room, and in the corner of it was a sink with one working tap (the hot tap, which only ran cold) and a very bad immersion heater above it which ran either cold or steamingly, hand-scaldingly hot. Next to the sink on a knee-high table was an unhappy baby belling, and next to that on the floor an indifferent fridge.

There was a double bed that took up most of the rest of the room, a squalid wardrobe and space for a desk, which I manoeuvred up the stairs along with a folding screen I put up between the baby belling and the bed. I covered the flooring with carefully aligned scraps of carpet from my parents’ house. I lived there for about two years, about two years ago. I remain absorbingly fond of the view from the window, and the plants I balanced between life and death on my windowsill.

Cooking in a Bedsitter is in two parts. Part I is “Cooking to Stay Alive”; Part II is “Cooking to Impress”. They begin, respectively, like this:



No matter which recipe or note or definition you read, they’re all continually throwing glances in every outward direction to land you firmly back in the bedsitter. I don’t think a single one of the recipes is normal. All of them take sturdy account of your limitations: having a single ring to cook on and probably no grill at all; the nearest water supply being down the corridor in the shared bathroom; having a low budget and no means of refrigeration; the landlady suspecting you’re up to illegal cooking and having to conceal utensils, food supplies and, worst of all, the smell of all the frying.

The recipes go on all the same, pages and pages of them, section after section, but they always keep time with the thing underneath, the room and the person and their life, which is what’s going to have to produce the actual food.