There’s a carwash place in my hometown that does a roaring trade. I pass it most days and there is often a queue of five or six cars. If someone happens to be in the car with me they get the full rundown of my thoughts on paying someone to wash your car: look at those fools, paying someone to do such a simple task, slouched in their heated leather car seats like the useless lumps in Wall-E floating about on their hoverchairs.
There is some added vitriol in the rant if I spot someone I went to school with in the queue, more again if they are driving a nice car. But nobody in our family is under any illusions — paying someone to do a simple job you could do yourself is a bourgeois obscenity.
Curious then that somehow I forgot this firmly held belief when I hired a professional to come clean my cooker. Yes, it is a job I could easily do myself, but no, I don’t want to do it. I haven’t cleaned an oven in years — partly because as a family of six our cooker seems to be permanently in use, partly because I assumed that I will mess up the cleaning agent application and either destroy the cooker, give myself third-degree burns, or, most likely, both.
No, this was not a job for unskilled, soft, easily melted hands like mine. So we paid the €110 and lemme tell ya, it was the best €110 we ever spent. No more wondering what, if anything, was in the oven, trying to peer through layers of burnt grease, for now our oven is at a Great British Bake Off standard of cleanliness, which is important as I have decided that I’m going to be a Pizza Dad.
I toyed with the idea of being a BBQ Dad, but decided against it as I dislike fresh air and undercooked chicken. BBQ Dad is a rugged outdoorsy type, who always seems like he’s one step away from going to live off-grid in a heavily armed compound in Appalachia where he can focus on fondling his meat thermometer and pulling his pork. Pizza Dad is his domesticated equivalent — we would also like to run away, but to Naples, where we could drink wine and make pizza surrounded by our real family, Super Mario, Luigi, Wario and the puppets from the Dolmio ads.
I stumbled into the pizza life by accident — on a grocery shop I forgot which store was the one that did the Goodfella’s margherita for 50 cent less than all the other stores, so I came home empty handed to screaming children demanding pizza. So I made them myself, and they were somehow not just edible, but delicious. This must be how Jesus felt when He invented fish fingers in Bethsaida, I thought to myself, as I surveyed a kitchen left in a similar state to Tony Montana’s desk at the end of Scarface. For just as BBQ Dad thinks that applying fire to meat — a trick being used by humans for 10,000 years — makes him some sort of suburban Bourdain, I think that, by adding sauce and cheese to the simplest dough in the world, I am Heston Blumenthal. But the kids love it, and I am now the go-to for pizza, as I refuse to share my secret recipe with my wife (fun fact — the secret is ‘too much salt’).
Food is completely different from when I was a child. All we ate growing up was meat and two veg. Takeaway was a big deal reserved for special occasions, and almost everything was home cooked. My kids eat a lot more of what we would have considered junk food — it has been a gradual slide over the years as time became scarce.
On our first child, we cooked meals by hand and with love and no salt. Now, me making pizza by hand with grim determination and too much salt is deemed progress.
The people at the car wash are no different — you could say they have too much money, but they too are stuck for time, just like me. I spend a considerable amount of money on food that is, by most metrics, crap. Crap for the kids, crap for the planet, just generally very convenient crap. With a potential food crisis looming, and a diabetes crisis already underway, I think it might be time for me to expand my culinary repertoire beyond pizzas that look like the floor of a field hospital in the Somme. It’s the least my gleaming cooker deserves.