Fun with Microwaves


Back in the 1980’s, my father managed to find cheap holidays by swapping houses with people through an agency, which matched up families who live where someone wants to go, with people who want to go there. Back in the 1980’s we lived just outside of Bognor Regis, where strangely some people actually wanted to go, probably because we were about a five minute walk from the beach, which while a little stony around the sea-defense wall, had quite a bit of sand at low tide. Actually for a few years, if the wind and tides were right (or wrong depending on how you looked at it) there was a problem with seaweed being washed back inshore, and the tide would deposit huge amounts of seaweed on the shore, about 6′ deep and 20-30′ wide in points, it would just sit there and rot all summer, really good for the tourist season. i can remember smelling it from Pennyfields, my local elementary school, where it was unpleasant. By the time I had walked home, closer too the shore, it was strong, if I had to take the mutt for a waddle down to the seafront, the smell was strong enough to make you gag.

These house swapping agencies list all sorts of swaps, back then they would publish a book, with all sorts of codes for if pets were welcome, how close you were to amenities or local attractions. There were a lot of listings from the U.S for very long periods, years even, which always seemed a little unrealistic to me. We went to Stockholm this way, I swapped with a teen in Copenhagen, my family swapped a few times with a family in Greenwich who wanted to come down to the seaside for a weekend, while we wanted to go to the hustle and bustle of London for a weekend.

The first time we went up to Greenwich, we actually met the family we were swapping with, I remember thinking they were terribly sophisticated because they drank Earl Grey instead of regular blended tea, I thought it must be a London thing. After that we just simple swapped with them without seeing each other. The swapping agency had all sorts of guidelines for how to leave your own house, leave instructions for any quirks to do with the house, alarms, temperamental boilers, that sort of thing. We usually left a map of how to get to the beach, which was about a 5 min drive, or 5 min by foot, because you could use the twittens, footpaths which cut right through the convoluted cul-de-sac roads on the Summerly-Fields estate, so it was actually a lot easier and closer to walk, although if you were burdened down with beach toys, it could seem a long way. But being able to just walk down to the beach for a walk was awesome, so I could see why people would want to house swap with us.

We got a lot out of it too, from Greenwich we could catch the tube into London proper, and so we went up to London for the lights at Christmas and shopping on Oxford Street. We visited the Cutty Sark, well before it burned to the waterline, and stood on the Prime Meridian at the Royal Greenwich Observatory with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere, and one foot in the Western Hemisphere.

Now as well as being sophisticated Londoners who drank Earl Grey instead of blended tea, our hosts were also Early Adopters of new technology, because they had…..a Microwave….oooh. To us hicks from the ‘burbs this was really fancy, back when home microwaves were introduced, they were big, clunky and expensive, with vague twist dials for timers that could vary the time selected by up to thirty seconds.

So the first morning we were there, all four of us were sitting at their breakfast table, which was round and fairly small, and my father decided he was going to have a soft-boiled egg and soldiers, so mum decided to use the newfangled microwave thingy. Now just remember we had never seen a microwave in person before, let alone used one, and the one in-front of us did not have a manual with it, since the owners were presumably familiar enough with it’s operation now, having owned it a while, and were familiar with all the warnings and use policies. Microwave usage had not yet permeated our circle of society, they were still pretty expensive and unusual, they were not the standard modern convenience they are now, that kids grow up with, and see used every day by their family. They were something new and unusual, that broke the usual mold of cooking rules, and had some unusual quirks which were not readily apparent.

So mum decided to boil dad’s egg in some water in a microwave-proof dish in the microwave oven, rather than just boiling it on the stove, because, well you know, because it was there, so why not use it? That I think was the extent of our knowledge, that a metal dish could not be used int he microwave, we needed an enamel over dish. So in goes the egg, in a dish of water, so how long do you boil an egg in the microwave for? Well you should boil it in water for about five, remember this is going to be a soft-boiled egg so the yolk is nice and runny for the soldiers. So of course mum set the dial timer on the microwave for five minutes, although I think she added a bit when it took the water a minute or so to boil.

Now i have told this story to a few people over the years, and they all thought something should happen to the egg in the microwave, but remember, it is only being soft-boiled, for a lot less time than hard-boiled, so the pressure build-up inside would be less. After boiling in a dish of water int he microwave for five minutes, out comes the egg, and is installed in an egg-cup and surrounded by soldiers on a plate in-front of dad on the round kitchen table.

So for those who have never had the joy of a soft-boiled egg and soldiers, the way to best enjoy them is to open up the top of the egg as it sits in an egg-cup, peel back the shell a little, and take off enough of the now hard egg white to allow introduction of a soldier of toast into the still soft yolk. Now the implements at hand are usually just the spoon you will eat the egg with, so a sharp rap on top of the egg shell breaks it up, you peel it back a little, and lop off the top of the white and enjoy. So, everything was gong just fine until dad took hold of his spoon, and gave the egg just the tiniest of taps on the top, at which point all of the pressure which had built up inside the egg from microwaving was released through the tiny crack he had put in the top of the egg shell, with the effect that the entire contents of the eggshell were forced by the pressure through the hole and sprayed out of the top of the egg like a volcano erupting.

I had been sitting at the table with dad and my sister, as the eruption started we all pushed our chairs back. The egg white and yolk seemed to manage to cover the whole table, incredibly from such a small container, it seemed to erupt for ages, before calming down, by which time we were all standing in amazement well back from the table, stunned by what had just occurred.

I would like to say this was the last time we had family fun with a microwave, but we did not learn from that experience. Not long afterwards, as the price of microwaves came down, we purchased our very own one, which I believe is still at the family home. Anyway not long after acquiring the device, which again had one of those horrible dials, mum decided to warm up some croissant with it, and still not being really familiar with the device, put them in for three or four minutes. As you can imagine, a light pastry like that only needs a few seconds to warm up, and three or four minutes was enough to start heavy black smoke billowing from the device, which alerted us to the crispy nature of the croissant before they could catch fire.


About limey6

Father of four, husband of one, Ex-pat ex cop Englishman living in rural Maine
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