I know I wasn't alone this Christmas in seasoning my offerings with sneeze. Up and down the country competent cooks, tolerable trifle titivators and practised poultry preppers will have been struggling to juggle the ingredients for the multiple yumptious accompaniments to that special meal. I trained as a chef at one point in my varied career, so as long as the items on the list are on standby in the fridge and on the shelves, pulling off the annual feast doesn't faze me.
There I stand, up to one elbow in chestnut, the other in apricot stuffing. My hands couldn't be greasier and that is the moment when the phone goes and my nose twitches.
I am surrounded by raw foodstuffs: the goose, devils on horseback and pigs in blankets to my left; the bread sauce, leeks and peas to my right; cranberry straight ahead; parboiled spuds, parsnips and carrots behind me and my hands encased in stuffing. My nose is full of onion and pepper scents. There is nowhere to turn my head and sneeze safely. I don't have a cold, but you can't always ensure a dry sneeze. I look at the phone, still ringing and utterly incapable of offering aid. There is a tissue in my apron pocket (yes, I wear an apron, ok?) but with hands covered in forcemeat what can I do?
I lift my head to the ceiling and sneeze upwards, no doubt creating a cloud of unwanted spice to descend on every part of the deliciousness about to be cooked. I tell myself that this is the magic ingredient I was missing. I wipe the stuffing from my hands and answer the phone.