Today I had a phone call informing me of wonderful news. I am bound by a promise not to reveal details yet on my blog, nor to say why there is such a temporary embargo, and so I'd better not even mention who the caller was, nor what the news means to me personally. I will simply say that having had an early lunch at The Gallery Café at the Queens Theatre in Barnstaple, and having begun a leisurely look around the shops, on hearing the news I immediately sped back to the Café for a celebratory glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I explained the reason for this to the girl behind the bar, a mother of four, because I was bursting to tell someone even if it had to be a total stranger. But I must wait for The Word before declaring my news to the wider world. Sorry.
So, tonight I'm going to talk about gas.
There was once a time when the phrase 'it's a gas' was current. It meant 'what's going on now is mindblowingly cool'. It was actually a neat thing to say. But it was an odd and obscure use of the word 'gas' and it always sounded contrived, or at least an 'in' phrase used and understood only by a select few. One associated it with a spaced-out drug-taking subculture, and the louche life of rock bands. It occurs in the Rolling Stones' hit number Jumping Jack Flash, where Mick Jagger (vocals) howls out this tender refrain:
But it's all right now,
In fact it's a gas.
But it's all right,
I'm Jumping Jack Flash, it's a gas, gas, gas.
I can't however remember anyone using the phrase 'it's a gas' after the late 1970s. It's ripe for revival, you know. It would be an economical sound bite for politicians, for instance - a phrase that sounds trendy and positive and approving, and would appeal in equal measure to the Young Voter Of Today, and to the Voter Who Was Young In The 1970s. But it conveniently means almost nothing. The perfect utterance for a hard-pressed Prime Minister. Or indeed a hard-pressed Deputy Prime Minister.
Enough of these vapidities.
As you know, I like to cook in my caravan. I scorn using a microwave oven, and cook with a gas hob and gas oven, just as I do at home. But yesterday evening, just as I was about to start cooking, and was pre-heating the oven, the gas ran out. Oh no! This was a dire problem. Not because I didn't have a spare propane gas cylinder - I always carry two cylinders, and can switch between them. Nor because I might not deal with the emergency in time to see that film a bit later on. No, it was a dire problem because to switch cylinders I'd have to brave the driving rain, and struggle with a spanner.
Thankfully there was immediate divine intervention, and the rain stopped. That left only the spanner to cope with. It had to be used in a confined space, at an awkward angle, and with a degree of strength that I had just about possessed when I last changed gas cylinders, but might not possess now. It was ages since I last carried out this very awkward chore. Supposing I couldn't undo the nut on the hose connector? Even if I cleverly remembered that the thread was the reverse of normal? I could of course ask Phil the farmer to do it for me, but that would be to admit a sad degree of girly feebleness. Fortunately, the nut moved, and I could detach the gas hose and fix it onto my spare cylinder instead. My Intrepid Girl Caravanner Credentials were still intact. I cooked and ate and arrived at the Arts Centre ten minutes before the film commenced - in time for that gin and tonic. And they did let me take it in.
I've turned up the date on which I last run out of gas: it was on 5 May 2010. That was the last night of my 2010 Scottish Tour with M---. A very different pre-op world. Since then I have spent 118 nights away in the caravan, on my own, cooking just for myself. I haven't cooked on every one of those 118 nights. I've had quite a number of meals out in pubs and restaurants. Against that, I've occasionally cooked up something for lunch, as well as in the evening. Let's say that on 100 occasions I've used some gas for preparing food to eat in the caravan. That then is what I can expect from a 6kg gas cylinder: 100 meals. The cylinder I've just exhausted cost me £16 in 2008, so each meal cooked from May 2010 has consumed, on average, 16p worth of propane gas. The cylinder I've now switched to cost me £22 in 2010, and each of the next 100-odd meals will use up 22p in gas. (I knew you secretly wanted to know all these fascinating dates and figures)
At any rate, I can now feel assured that it will be 2015 or 2016 before I need to use that spanner again. A weight off my mind. The last thing you want, on a cold evening late in the year, with rain whipping against the caravan windows, is an exhausted gas cylinder and a test of strength and endurance in the dark!