When we moved into our house almost 13 years ago, there were only two of us and a cat. In comparison with my two bedroomed terrace our new 3 1/2 bedroomed semi was palatial. We had barely enough furniture to fill the downstairs and we could not begin to imagine how we would ever use the space we had acquired. With four children that's how.
After the arrival of two children it, became apparent that more space would be required if we were to retain any modicum of sanity. So we added a tiny little conservatory (more like a lean-to really) onto the back of the dining room which we proudly called the "playroom". Suddenly, our sitting room could be divested of all coloured plastic and Teletubbies videos. And that was our lot for a couple of years.
But two more babies later and I had a hankering for a big family kitchen to match my big family. I was tired of carrying plates backwards and forwards to the dining room. I wanted a table in the kitchen. After lots of careful deliberation we decided that the best way to achieve what I craved was to brick one wall up and knock down another. Simple!
I then spent months doing what I like doing best - planning. Never has so much thought gone into a kitchen design. I was very clear what I wanted. A big table, a larder cupboard, an island and an Aga. And not just any old Aga. I wanted the big, four oven one which looks like it wouldn't be out of place in an army kitchen and where each oven is large enough to take a small witch a la Hansel and Gretel. At first it looked as if I was asking far too much of the available space, but with perseverance and hours spent moving little cupboards across graph paper I finally came up with a design that might work.
We asked three companies to come and give us a quote. The man from Magnet sucked his teeth, told me that I couldn't possibly have a dishwasher in my island and then came in with the highest quote. I rang a local kitchen firm and they sent a child with a boyband haircut. I wasn't impressed but he listened, made notes and came back with a plan that included all my requirements and one or two extra ideas of his own. The job was his.
"Two weeks," he said. Fortunately we had enough common sense not to believe him. At the time, the two littlest children were both under two and the smallest was crawling and into everything. I felt very strongly that we needed to move out at least whilst the walls were knocked down and the power was off. We moved into a holiday cottage up on Ilkley Moor for two weeks and hoped that the place would be serviceable when we returned. Of course it wasn't but we muddled through. In fact, I was remarkably chilled because my excitement at how my life was about to change far outweighed the inconvenience of washing up in the downstairs loo.
The day my Aga arrived my excitement reached fever pitch. We had spent hours in the showroom selecting the colour and learning how "food cooked in an Aga has its own special quality and that you haven't lived until you have tasted an Aga breakfast". And now here it was. Half a ton of cast iron being assembled in my new and rather dusty kitchen. " You sure you want it here?" asked the fitter " because it'll cost you a grand to shift it if you change your mind." I told him that he had the spot just right and he began to build. By the end of the day it was there and warming up nicely.
I'm still not sure why I wanted an Aga so badly. There's the whole lifestyle thing. Cath Kidston teatowels, a Labrador in a basket, herbs drying on a rack above. I don't think that was it ( although I have two out of three of those). Yes, I did love the idea of the welcoming warmth, the focal point for the kitchen and a whistling kettle but actually it was the whole cooking thing that really appealed. I cook a lot. I have four children for goodness sake. I bake three or four times a week to keep up with their appetites and those of their friends and I love the fact that I can make dinner at lunchtime and it will still be delicious no matter what time it gets eaten. It's also remarkably adept at drying school shoes, coats, snowy clothes and virtually anything that is wet. It will even do the ironing for you if you position things in the right way on top of the hotplates. It has made itself indispensable in my life.
It is quite dangerous though. I haven't had many accidents but the ones I have had have been quite spectacular. The first corker involved a flan ring that fell from my wrist down my arm, blistering my skin each time it touched it. After that I invested in gauntlets to protect me. No longer do I burn the flesh from my arms as I delve in the back of the oven to retrieve some rogue sausage.
The other recurrent accident occurred yet again just yesterday. The whole point of the Aga is that you only do 20% of the cooking on the hotplates. The bulk of cooking occurs inside the ovens to preserve the heat that is stored in all that cast iron. So, for example, if you need to fry onions you would put the pan on the floor of the roasting oven and shut the door. No splatters and no smell. Perfect. Except, when you retrieve the pan you have to remember not to touch the handle. And yesterday I was somewhat distracted and forgot. The oven is 240 degrees, the pan handle is steel and I grasped it firmly to move it somewhere else. The result was reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark but without the pattern. Fortunately, I have cultivated a large aloe vera plant which sits on my windowsill for moments like this and which works wonders on my sore and blistered skin.
Accidents aside though I love my Aga. If the house were on fire and I could lift it, it would be the thing I saved. I simply can't imagine my life without it. Or without my much longed for big kitchen table. All I have to do now is get through a meal without shouting at a child and all will be domestic bliss! Just don't hold your breath.