BEFORE YOU SAY ANYTHING, I know what you’re going to say.
“Ketchup on toast? That’s disgusting.”
Okay, I hear you. But just listen to this one thing: you’re wrong.
Toasty, buttery, ketchupy goodness. It honestly, swear to God, hand on heart, tastes like pizza. But cheap, easy, and with no nutritional value whatsoever.
For at least a few months of my life ketchup on toast was one of my staple meals. This was back when I was in New Zealand, working at a ski resort, and living with three of my best friends in a cabin. We were full-time travellers and students, which you can read as: we didn’t have a lot of expendable income.
Our cabin was a “luxury holiday rental” in the summer, and in the winter… well… You know those sheds on the side of the street that look like they haven’t been lived in for years, with boarded up windows and the roof is falling down? Weird sounds come from inside that you can only assume is a family of badgers ready to tear you apart and eat you if you get close? You know?
We named the cabin “Natalie” (after the songstress Natalie Imbruglia, for no particular reason except Torn is a musical masterpiece) and I know she did everything she could to keep us warm during those winter months.
Natalie The Cabin was about 20sq foot of damp, cold, and more damp. It was like living in a cardboard box in the winter. It didn’t have any usual luxuries like central heating, furniture, or a lockable front door. But that was okay. We learned to become very resourceful.
We built our own bunk beds. This meant putting one bed on foot-long stilts and shoving a mattress underneath. This meant that to get into bed, I, drawing the short straw, had to lie on the floor and slowly shuffle my body underneath. Sitting up in bed? Forget it. I could barely roll over without smashing my head on the beams above me. It was like sleeping in a coffin.
The toilet/shower room was essentially outside, so we usually waited until we got to work to use the bathroom so that our bums wouldn’t freeze to the toilet seat. We bought a few radiators (the best one we named Brian), which didn’t do much to warm up Natalie’s cold walls but generally helped to stave off the hypothermia. The kitchen was tiny and everything had a habit of breaking (or catching on fire), so we learned to cook easy, no-fuss dishes, often using cheap tomato-based condiments…
And most of all, we learned to spend as little time as possible at home. We were living in New Zealand so that we could snowboard anyway. It probably speaks for our passion for snowboarding that we were happy to put up with all of Natalie’s faults so that we could live near the mountains. So, we were more than happy to leave Natalie behind and spend every day snowboarding. In the evenings we’d stay at the bars for as long as possible, drinking as much as possible, before drunkenly wandering home, warm with the comforting arms of alcohol, and then clamber into bed, too tired to notice the mould growing on the walls.
At the end of the winter, we burned everything. We had to. Natalie was beyond help. Sofas, curtains, the toaster, a chair or two, the microwave… Every trace of our life there had to go. Yes, I know burning stuff is bad for the environment. Let me just say, whatever had grown in that microwave was more of a hazard. Trust me.
And you know what? Despite everything, despite the mould and the grunge and the cold and the tears we sometimes cried when we opened the door to Natalie, we loved that winter. We learned a lot about life – like that bars don’t notice if you steal all their toilet paper for your own bathroom, and that you don’t need a lot of unnecessary stuff to be happy. We knew that we were lucky, too. Although our home wasn’t anywhere near glamorous, we were living in an amazing part of the world, snowboarding every day, and spending time with incredible people. For that we knew we were privileged.
I have nothing but fond memories of the four of us sitting on the floor around Brian The Radiator, avoiding the patches of mould, drinking cheap beer, listening to the neighbours getting eaten by badgers, and eating ketchup on toast. Yum.