Sunday, 16 December 2012

Ho Ho.....hum

The halls are decked.....with giant, tissue oh-so-on-trend paper balls......

the pies are baked.....

the cards are made....4 years at art college not wasted...... the tree is in.....

the chili jam.... homemade gift of done.

I've drunk mulled wine, sang carols, done the requisite charitable work, I've stuck cloves in an orange

and been wolf-whistled by a pack of Santas, but still, I'm not feeling it. Nope, nada, nothing, zilch.....the Christmas tree lights are on, but the festive spirit's not home........

Top tip: from Dickens....Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.....

Monday, 10 December 2012

We need to talk about Nigel......

….. Nigel Slater that is. I’ve been watching his show, Friday evenings on BBC1, his Kitchen Diaries. And I’m getting a bit obsessed. Ever since I read in his book: Real Food, that the best thing to do with a cold sausage is to eat it while wondering what to cook, I have been very fond of Nigel. I love his inventive recipies and top tips of what to do with leftovers and odd things uncooked, lurking in the fridge of the fruit bowl. I made his courgettes with pesto and am addicted: ribbons of courgette made with a peeler and tossed with homemade pesto that takes a few minutes to make. And his butternut squash soup where he turns the peel into oily chips, flavoured with rosemary and sea salt, is utterly delicious and eaten daily now. 
I added a lone green chili to one batch and drizzled it with chilli oil, some chopped chorizo to another and chunks of lemony, sauted courgette to another.
I want to eat all the dishes he makes, especially the chocolate and beetroot cake, a slice of which I enjoyed in Teacle & Co. in Hove. I can only watch the show if I’m actually eating otherwise he sends me starving hungy, scurrying to the kitchen for double portions of everything. He made a big pot of the soup and suggested the leftovers be used to make a squash risotto. So far I’ve never had any leftovers……..

Top tip: never watch a cookery show when hungry, that way lies madness.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Putting the freshness back.....

In an effort to improve my lot ……. and my home….. I have embarked on a house-cleaning program. By anyone’s standards, my cleaning abilities are not good and rarely put to the test: the Hoover fights back and my wipe always turns into a smear. When I was more gainfully employed I occasionally gave myself the luxury gift of a cleaner; a random 4 hours now and then to wrangle the dust-bunnies and unleash the Mr. Muscle. I have friends who employ cleaners so I usually sub-let one of theirs.
But now I have neither the money nor the justification for such luxuries. I hate cleaning so much I sometimes just paint over the dirt instead, as I have recently done with my hall because I found some un-used paint under the sink. However, I am not in a position to paint every room right now and so I broke the work-to-do, down into bite size jobs; one a day. Feeling rather pleased having ticked off bathroom window, my home now filled with the sweet scent of polish, I decided to reward myself with a cup of coffee. I used the coffee pot I was given by my now defunct employer, one of those Italian silver ones that screws together and sits on the hob. After awhile I began to wonder why it was taking so long. And what the smell was. Steam was emanating from the pot but no coffee was bubbling up. And something was definitely burning. Then I realised I had loaded it with coffee but forgotten the water. I tried to manoeuvre it from the gas but the black plastic handle fell off having melted. In an effort to stop the pot toppling over I burnt the tips of seven of my ten fingers, then had to wrestle it to the sink with a smouldering tea towel. I unscrewed it wearing oven-mitts and released the coffee grounds, turned to glowing embers. I’d made a mini-brazier. My home is now filled instead with the acrid scent of burnt coffee and plastic.

Top tip: forget the cleaning, go out for a coffee.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Thank you and…….

When I lived in America the one holiday ..... the name given to any day of mass celebration...... I really embraced was Thanks Giving. It’s brilliant. Absolutely everybody goes to see family and if you’re a foreigner abroad they insist you join in …. all are welcome. Everything shuts down from Thursday through Sunday, tumbleweed blows through the empty streets. Even in Manhattan. They eat turkey and cranberry which sometimes comes in a can …… a can shaped lump of cranberry jelly sliced…… and stuffing and sweet potatoes. Sometimes they put sweet marshmallows in the sweet potatoes using recipes that their great grandmother’s used and it’s really sweet. And pies. Americans are mad for pies. They call pastry crust. Where as we might call a crust base with loads of apples or plums or pecans on top, a tart, they call it a pie. Where as we might call a tart with a pastry lid, a pie, they call it a double crust. They make pumpkin pies for Thanks Giving. They also make apple pie and cherry pie and cream-cheese pie and blueberry pie and…. I could go on. All the pies are good… just like mom used to make……and come with cream or ice-cream. Americans love their ice-cream too. When I was a teenager I briefly went out with a boy who lived with his parents in London. I went to visit him and he gave me walnut and maple syrup ice-cream, American ice-cream, kept in the freezer in a large silver tin, bought from a special shop that sold things like walnut and maple syrup ice-cream. This was food of the gods. And Americans. I had never tasted walnut and maple syrup ice-cream. Such things only existed in the movies along with blue-cheese dressing, sushi and Mexican food. The most exciting ice-cream event in my house was the arrival of the Arctic Roll, knocking the slab of Neapolitan off its exotic perch.
Back in Blighty I don’t usually celebrate Thanks Giving but this year, having been in touch with my Manhattan mates to make sure they’re all safe and sound, I got a taste for turkey. So, after much searching I found a small, ready-to-roast piece in M&S and we had our own little celebration. I did a kind of Ottolenghi version with red rice, puy lentils and butternut squash, crispy onions, chili and cranberry stuffing. I didn't make a pie, I made Nigella's Bakewell Tart which turned out remakably well  ……. and I gave thanks.

Top tip: respect flood water…..stay in!!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Movie magic.......

It's not just 007 who's confused by the modern world. While standing on the platform waiting for the tube train, I read an advert on the wall opposite and honestly I understood not one word. I think it was something to do with apps but frankly it could have been for anything....... to me they were speaking in tongues.

I went to see Skyfall and I loved it...... on every level. I can remember discovering the intriguing covers of the well thumbed paperbacks by Ian Flemming, on my Grandmother's bookshelf, amazed that the films were once novels. As a child being taken to the pictures is what my family did ...... as a family. And a new Bond movie was a big deal. To me, they are as much about my Dad as they are about Bond and he would have loved this one. After the horror that was Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's first outing as our hero, I emerged from the cinema definitely shaken but certainly not stirred. So dreadful was it I didn't even bother with the next one, feeling sure it would be a quantum of crap. But Mendes .... Sam Mendes..... has indeed saved the day. It wasn't just that craggy-Craig is so much better than wet-Craig, and that Javier Bardem cutting his toenails would probably be worth at least an Oscar nomination..... in my book. It was like being wrapped in big, fluffy blanket of nostalgia....... a reminder of a world I understood, a world of radio transmitters, exploding pens and my Dad. I loved it so much I went again, just like I did when I was a kid.
I read an article.... in a newspaper....... about children in a remote village in Ethiopia with no school, almost untouched by modern technology, and with not a word of English, who were each given a, not a pill, a computer........ but not given any instruction on how to use it and hay presto! Within 3 months they had not only sussed out how to turn the tablet on but were learning to speak English and singing the ABC song. I wonder how far I'd get if some one gave me a tablet?

Top tip: Go see Skyfall.......... Javier Bardem is worth the price of the ticket alone.....

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Grow up........

I went to a 60th birthday party and she's not one of my parents' friends she's my friend.....when did my friends start turning 60? I made (almost) 60 cupcakes, to take with me, using Lily Vanilli's madeira seed cake recipe, omitting the cream and jam interior and adding the omega-3 seed mix instead, to make the healthy option......yeah sort of.
Also this week I realised I'm older than the Prime Minister......that's never happened before. How can I be older than the Prime Minister?

Top tip: go to the cinema and see Beasts of the Southern Wild...astonishing on every level.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Brought to book.........

It's taken me a year to read a book. Over a year. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen; it's a great brick of a hardback book but a year is a long time.
"You must read this," a friend had said, giving it to me, "I couldn't put it down."
So I did, despite not being able to pick it up. Or rather I didn't. The thing is I could only read it when tucked up in bed, propping it up against my knees. It was way too big to fit into my already over-flowing handbag or be secreted amongst my I'm-not-paying-to-put-it-in-the-hold luggage and come with on holidays and mini-breaks. And so it sat in the bedroom while others took the bus. Yes I did read other books over the year. Slighter volumes that travelled better. In the end I decided to just push on through and finish the book but it just wouldn't end. It went on and on. And when I did finally finish it....... I was a tad disappointed. Some of it was good, some of it was great, some of it was boring but to be honest I didn't really like any of the characters.
My new year's resolution was to actually read..... not watch..... something by Charles Dickens and as luck would have it, there was upon the shelf high up in the hallway, a copy of Great Expectations. I do hope it is with a happier heart that I can report upon the enjoyment I hope to find betwixt its yellowing pages.

Top tip: Nurse Jackie is back on Sky Atlantic....... top telly. If you don't have it put the boxset on your Christmas list.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

That was the week.........

This week I mainly .......
ate cake at Ottolenghi's...... sublime

worked with Ralph Fiennes...... great voice, beautiful eyes, utterly charming
and had dinner at the Afghan Kitchen in Islington...... beyond delicious

Top tip: As Patti Smith said: 'Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't be afraid to be broke.'

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The sea, the sea.......

 I went to Dorset and saw the sea.
 When I was a kid we went on holiday to Dorset every year, Weymouth, for two weeks to stay with my father's relatives. As kids we loved it. I can understand now, why my Mum was less enamoured. For us it was all about  buckets and spades, donkey rides and running to see the man who made sculptures out of sand, pockets full of pennies to play the machines in Alexandra Gardens, ice-cream and crab sandwiches, collecting seaweed and searching rock pools with the bamboo handle of my shrimping net, collecting eggs from my Uncle's chickens, beetroot fresh from the garden turning the salad cream pink and zig-zag cut tomatoes which we never had at home.
For my Mum it was cooking on someone else's stove, washing up in someone else's sink and finding things for us to do when it rained. Which of course it did quite a lot. Coming from Sussex, we had to get up when it was still dark in order to 'beat the traffic', and eat a picnic breakfast of food we never normally ate for breakfast: scotch eggs and cold sausages and tea from a flask which we would spill in the back of the car, while my Dad shouted at either my Mum for telling him to take the wrong turning off the Stonehenge roundabout or us in the back for fighting. And then there was always, at some point, the endless hours waiting for the man from the AA to come and fix the car.
This time I went by train, in daylight, it only took a couple of hours. I went to the Watch House Cafe and drank good coffee, we shared a dish of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon and Eggs Florentine. I walked by the sea at West Bay and the sun shone.
Top tip: go to the sea, the sea and blow away the cobwebs, the cobwebs.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Cherry and Seed Madeira Cake for the menopausal.......

Regular readers might have noticed my enjoyment of baked goods in general, cake in particular. I find cooking quite relaxing too, all the chopping and  mixing and stuff. So, with winter looming and a particularly lovely picture of a Cherry and Seed Madeira Cake in one of the Sundays, it was on with the pinny.

This recipe comes from Lily VaniIli who has a bakery off Columbia Road flower market at 6 The Courtyard, Ezra  St. London E2 7RG. I think it was the word Madeira that caught my eye. That and cherry. I like cherries and believe there a few greater pleasures than a brown paper bag filled with fat, ripe cherries. I think I thought there might be Madeira wine in the cake. There isn’t. Or perhaps I planned to take a glass while making it, who knows. I don’t know enough about baking to know the difference between Madeira or Victoria or Pound cake. I just know I like eating cake. My son likes baked goods too and at times like this, when I have weight-gaining food lurking about, I can rely on him to eat most of it in one sitting, thus removing any temptation from me. So, I set to. However, I did not have poppy seeds as recommended in the recipe, along with pumpkin and sesame. 

But being a menopausal woman I do have bags and bags of omega 3 packed mixes of pumpkin, sesame, linseed, flax and sunflower seeds. So, I decided to combine cake with healthy eating and make a menopausal-mixed-seed-and-cherry-Maderia cake. It worked a treat and was utterly delicious. And I ate half the cake before the son even came home.

Top tip: there are few problems that are not better ruminated over with cake, get baking.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A shoe in...........

September will for me always feel like a new beginning. More so than January 1st. It’s because of the back-to-school syndrome. Even though I’m not at school and I no longer have to get anyone to school, September is a fresh start. It’s a new class, a different teacher, a new bag without a broken strap, clean pages in virgin exercise books un-curled by the abuse of pupil or scared by the red-raw pen of teacher, weary from late-night marking and bored by excuses. And new shoes. Back-to-school shoes came from Clarks when I was a child. And they were horrid. Laced or buckled, they came in thousands of width fittings and only two colours: black or brown. They were fitted by frumpy women or spotty youths who were still growing. Going shopping for back-to-school shoes took hours and hours and was the most boring thing in the whole world. Ever. Being told to sit still and wait while 48 other children had their feet clamped and measured by tape and rule that would denote the only two styles that fitted that particular ratio of length and width: ugly or really ugly. There would be much shouting and distress from my young mother as she tried to wrangle me and my brother into the shop and make us both sit down and stop fighting, which was never going to happen. Fighting was what we did best and my mother was no Kofi Annan. And then after all the waiting and shouting and threatening we would leave with bright green boxes of dark, sombre, sensible shoes that looked like they were only missing the calliper, and would never wear out. All I could do was pray my feet would never stop growing so there might be a chance we would next time go to Dolcis or Freeman Hardy and Willis, anywhere but Clarks.
But that was then and this is now. Now Clarks has changed. Clarks does shoes of fashion. The change came some time ago and this year they seemed to have excelled themselves. They have brought out a fab selection of Mary-Janes …. in a range of width fittings…… snakeskin, suede, patent, I was spoilt for choice. Growing up used to mean not having to get you shoes from Clarks. Not anymore.
Top tip: Hunderby........Julia Davis's hilarious period piece on Sky Atlantic........Autumn telly starts now book the sofa.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Ca va?

It’s always unexpectedly brilliant to make a new friend. I made a new friend when I was in Greece. She comes from Dublin but has lived in France for almost 20 years, teaching English Language and Literature, most of that time in Lille so she knows the place well and lives in a beautiful 16th century apartment over-looking the Grand Place.

She invited me to come visit so I went. I took the Eurostar from St. Pancras Station and an hour and half later I had arrived for the Braderie de Lille, a sort of giant brocante, that takes place every year over a weekend. The streets around the centre ville effectively become the largest flea market in Europe and every restaurant, café, bar serves moules frits.
And it’s fabulous. Cobbled streets, good wine, baked goods and bargains……. What’s not to like? And it was all so French: people reading wine labels, women smoking and bread with everything. I did much mais nonmais oui, ca va and d’accord-ing unlike my usual trips to stay with another friend who lives in the depths of the French countryside, where we sort of live in a bubble ….. albeit a very beautiful-pink-wine-filled bubble. 

And oh the shopping! I only had a small valise with me because, due to my recent economic downturn, I had no intention in buying anything except a tube of Avibon which I learnt about from the utterly brilliant A Femme d'Un Certain Age  (fab for top tips) it's just like 8 Hour Cream...... However, I bought, amongst other things, a fist full of beautiful silk scarves including Nina Ricci, Armani and Carven for a fist full of Euros, a brand new, pink, angora sweater, sparkled with bugle-beads from a store masquerading as a mock Zadig & Voltaire, for a tenner, a huge, old, school map of Afrique du Nord et Sahara for a song and a bunch of saucisson enhanced with herb, nut, olive and fig …. a voila!! Had I had a much larger valise I might have brought back a gold framed mirror, ancient wooden trunks, a ton of French linen, bowls, plates, platters, a couple of decanters, a silver cocktail shaker, some farm implements, a milk churn and a couple of day beds. Who knows.

Top tip: the Eurostar …. quicker and more comfortable to get to Lille than Dorset…..

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Some time to celebrate........

The birthday flowers are all dead, cake crumbed and gone, cards toppled and slid between books. Another year older but this time the wasp of age has lost its sting. It really doesn't matter. Instead I think more about what must be done than worry over what is undone. A job that lasted longer than it should has abruptly stopped. I shall not miss it but it kept me in good account and I shall miss that. The son that once I wondered may never manage to work the world is getting ready to go...... better late than never ...... and so all change. And still I feel OK. The Aegean sands of positivity may be slipping through my fingers but I have little time to mourn, there are doors opening all about me, some wide...... some just ajar. And people to see. And places to go. And there's always more cake......
Top tip: maintain that just-back-from-the-beach tan forever with Dove Summer Glow body moisturiser.....

Friday, 17 August 2012

Stepping over figs.......

I have news to report….out there is a place where the sun shines all day, the nights are balmy and the sea is warm. A land of yogurt and honey and squid and cheese pies and sweet coffee and cold beers. And when you squeeze the fat half of a cut lemon the juice gushes like water from a tap.
This land is Greece and honestly I think we should all go. Now. I’ve been on holiday and where better to go to escape the rigours of Olympic London than the home of the games. I haven’t been there for 30 years for no other reason than I’ve been elsewhere but it’s as lovely now as it was then.
White washed walls, peeling blue paint, pink Bougainvillea, red Geraniums, fat figs squashed under-foot and a one-eyed cat on every corner. And the wine is still as grim. No matter a cold Fix, the beer of choice, is all you need.
I took in the sights and delights of Athens first and then went to Skyros, the most southern of the Sporades Islands and a long way away ensuring a lower foreign tourist hit. It is very popular with the Greek holiday maker. I also heard a few French and the odd German but only one other UK family whilst lounging on my sun lounger.
The island is basically a hill, you’re either going up or down which allows you to eat ice-cream and re-claim your inner thigh. Rupert Brookes, the war poet, is buried there in a corner that will be forever England. We went and found the grave, alone in an olive grove high on a red soiled hill strewn with muddied chunks of marble, wild thyme and goats. It is easily missed and we drove past the first time before my friend spotted it.
“Are you sure it’s his?” I enquired.
“Who else’s would it be?” she replied.
Good point.
We stood as the sun was setting, beneath the weeping olive trees where Rupert’s friends had stood and remembered those that died in war and our own dead. Although like all good poets it was a mosie bite that did for Rupert. Then we left the hill as darkness fell, unchanged since it over-saw the ships sailing to Troy, and went to a bar in the port of Linaria, where you can drink cocktails and float on lilos. Greece ancient and modern and marvellous.
 Top tip:dinner at Tate Modern: two courses £20 or 3 courses £25......and a fabulous view of London Town all lit up.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Absolutely fabulous...........

I have no interest in sport in general, the Olympics in particular. Other than to complain about the traffic/daily disruption/patheticness of our organisational skills etc. of course. However, I had been alerted to The Counter Café at Stour Space, a gallery out in Hackney Wick serving delicious food, which afforded fine views of the Olympic Stadium. As I wanted to go see David Bailey’s East End, a photography exhibition at Compressor House in the Docklands, I thought I might combine the two and have my own little Cultural Olympiad. The sun was out, my friend was in town, it seemed like an excellent way to spend the day. I planned ahead, printed Google maps, booked tickets for the Bailey show and we were off.
View from the train
First, we took the shiny new London Overground to Hackney Wick for Sunday brunch. It was hot and sunny as we made our way through the warehouses filled with artists’ studios. A casual market had been set up by some enterprising folk selling clothes, books, jewellery and bits of random tat; they played music, drank beer and danced in the street. It was reminiscent of a bit of Brooklyn I once knew. We walked along the towpath by the canal, Lilliputian statues lurked in the long grass by the water as we weaved past the cyclists and dog-walkers. 

View from the towpath
The café-gallery was at the end of the road, perched on the banks of the canal, set over two floors in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. 

View from the pontoon
We ordered at the counter and sat outside on the pontoon which rocked gently every time the police speed boat cruised past. We ate potato pancakes, smoked salmon and orange-yoked, poached eggs with extra bacon on the side. And vodka tonics. All was excellent. My friend thought she saw a frog-man in the reeds.
View from the reeds

Then we took the Overground to Stratford and caught the DLR out to Royal Albert Dock, hurtling through London’s hinterland past Canary Warf and the O2. Finally we alighted in the middle of nowhere. Not sure which way to go and clutching our printed map, we made our way across a vast wasteland surrounded by a chain link fence. Two cruise ships….yes cruise ships …..were docked in the docks. Grey and white haired men and women in summer separates and comfortable shoes milled about smoking. Planes buzzed low overhead taking off from City Airport. Two large marquees were pitched in a sort of tarmacked bus terminal, young people were trundling towards a check point in the fence where a lot of men with foreign accents and high-vis jackets barred our way. Waving our map we stood our ground.

“David Bailey,” we shouted, “we’ve got tickets….we need to get over there…..”
They refused to let us pass. We seemed to have hit on some Guantanamo style, Olympic steward training ground. We returned to the station, confused. It was then we realised the exhibition was behind us; a large banner flapped in the breeze proclaiming: David Bailey. Hot and a little bothered we finally tumbled, like Edina and Patsy, through the doors of Compressor House, and were rewarded with a collection of exquisite photographs of London’s East End. 

Top tip: sit at the front of the DLR train for a great view and pretend to be the driver…….

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Satisfy my soul..........

A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian were standing outside the Tube …….. no it’s not a joke, it’s Brixton. Feeling ravenous and looking for redemption? Then try Brixton Village Market and feast on both. My mate Dave and I took a leaflet from each, and headed into the heart of this vibrant, iconic market, a warren of world cafes, to Senzala Brixton Creperie Bar & Café, housed in The Brick Box, deep amongst the African prints, vintage boutiques and pig’s heads. 
Mercifully the market is covered so we sat outside amongst the hip and the hungry. Spoilt for choice we chose to share, first a crispy galette stuffed with a classic combo of creamy goats cheese, caramelised red onion and rocket, then one brimming with crispy bacon, sticky with maple syrup. Both were good but best was The Godfather: bursting with jalapenos and melted cheese, spiked with lip-tingly pepperoni. Service was the slow side of relaxed but so were we after a pint of Normandy cider. Still desperate for a taste of summer, we couldn’t resist one plump with strawberries and melted dark and white Belgium chocolate, topped with vanilla ice-cream. Food of all the Gods, surely?
Top tip: The Hollow Crown, BBC2 Saturday night or iPlayer any night, Shakespeare in all it's historical bloody glory..... just bathe in the language and tip top acting.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

I can't stand the rain.....

I think I've gone straight into winter mode so this week......
I watched TV:
The lovely June Brown, octogenarian thespian Dot Cotton of Eastenders fame and budding national treasure, explored the prospects open to her when she gets old, in 'Respect Your Elders', on BBC1. She is 85. What she reckoned was, young kids should hang out with old people because they like each other quite a lot; if you get them early enough the kids grow up valuing their knowledge, humour, patience and the old folk get to have some fun. Her theory is the children would then learn respect for their elders. All elders. Not a bad idea. She thought a rent-a-grandparent scheme might be good. She also came to the conclusion that she wanted to die in her own bed in her own home. And to that end she had a dog-tag engraved with 'Do Not Resuscitate' in case she collapsed elsewhere. Except the engraver spelt it wrong, allowing the show to end on a humorous note. I like June a lot. She is much older than she appears. Her still slender frame hangs from her sharp cheek bones, her hair is cut into a chic bob she can artfully disguise for any roll. She dresses with flair, is lipsticked and nail-polished, lives in her own home and works. Is lucid and active. And still smokes. Is it the portion control she clearly adheres too that keeps her fit and alert? Or the fact that she has a large family of children and grandchildren with whom she regularly interacts, she is obviously a huge part of their lives? Or is it because she still works, goes out into the world, brings home the bacon, has a job to do?

I went to Margate: 
I saw the Tracey Emin show: She Lay Down Beneath The Sea, at the Turner Contemporary. Her work juxtaposed with Turner’s and Rodin’s drawings of nudes is alarmingly effective. I felt transported from the grey world outside as I walked through the high ceilinged rooms, letting the sun into my soul. We had lunch in the gallery’s restaurant. I had a delicious seafood chowder and through the huge picture window, the clouds scudded the sea making Turner’s view our view. It was quite electrifying.

I took the bus:
I saw Eric Clapton on the bus .... well I say Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton if he worked in IT........

Top tip: what to do if it rains..... go to Margate to see the Tracey Emin show: She Lay Down Beneath The Sea, or any gallery near you and make your own sunny day.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Voices voices beckoning sea .......

I’ve been away. On a road trip. I went to Wales. And then I went to Bath. To see Patti Smith. As a fan of the godmother of punk we devotees have to be beady-eyed and quick off the mark should she announce a tour. Bath was duly booked as there were no dates for London (there are now and we have more tickets.....). And then we discovered she was playing the Congregational Church in Laugharne. Well who could resist? Patti? In a church? In Wales? So, channelling my inner Dylan Thomas, I packed a selection of fetching all-weather-but-mainly-wet gig-garments and off we set. I love a road trip…. any road…. and we took it in turns to drive my mate Mick’s big, comfy, speedy motor. I took the Severn Bridge as the sun came out ….. and soon we were spinning gravel in the car park of our B&B, Keepers Cottage, run by Rose and Marge …. don’t ask just go, they are brilliant: big breakfasts, a big view and even bigger hearts. A swift pre-gig pint of Guinness with other Patti revellers soon alerted us to the fact that the Queen of Punk, a keen participant of the Laugharne Festival in prior years, had that afternoon actually sat amongst 20 of her followers, the chosen few, in the shrine to Dylan Thomas that is The Boathouse, chatted, read and led a Because-The-Night-sing-along…… I was a bit gutted, how long before I let it go? Yeah ….. any day now. Still, she and Tony Shanahan performed a perfectly formed, intimate acoustic gig, that was nothing short of biblical, and we danced home bare-foot and happy. Before leaving Laugharne we explored through the murky mist and rain, the place that was part of the inspiration for Under Milk Wood and I was inspired to write a poem. 
The next night in Bath, Patti with the full band was …..well to use common gig parlance … blinding. The woman must be injecting monkey glands, cavorting about the stage, belting out Gloria and Pissing In  A River with the vim and vigour of a 20 year old, she’s 65 for godssake. And the audience, mainly old it has to be said, took to their feet and rocked through their ages.

When Patti Came To Laugharne…..
Wake walk the winding street
Past high church high
On the hill
Filled before with Patti the song.
Sea below where coracle
Hammered hard in mud rushes
Under gull dived walls of castle ramparts
Flowering overhead.
Men and women work-weave their
New boats
Made ready to dip-bob the running stream.
Pissing in a river we hum to ourselves
And sing think the songs
Patti sang to us
The congregation.
We dance barefoot to the boathouse
Press-nosed glass
To view the view Dylan Thomas viewed
As he wrote
Where he wrote
When he wrote
And we sing the words Patti sang
Under the southern cross.
Then turn grave thoughts to the graveyard
And let the last trumpet sound
It’s call
To see where he
Lay down his head
On mossy bed
‘neath bleach boned white sky
Under milky wood.

Top tip: go to a gig and dance with abandon. Live music turned up to 11 is good for the heart, soul ...... and hips.

Friday, 22 June 2012

My dinner with Adrian…….

Ever wondered what it’s like to dine out with AA Gill, food and TV critic at The Sunday Times, boyfriend of The Blonde, hobbnobber with the stars and Jeremy Clarkson? Well now I can tell you because I did. I say with but what I actually mean is at the table cosily next door to: AA Gill, The Blonde, Sir Michael Gambon and Philippa Hart, in an uber-ultra-uber-trendy restaurant especially created for the uber-ultra-uber-trendy. I was beside myself with joy, well actually I was beside Dumbledore, because I absolutely love AA Gill’s writing. I’m not that bothered by what he thinks but the way he thinks it makes me moan and gasp in hysterics most Sunday mornings, choking on my wholemeal sour dough toast and snorting latte from my nose. And I think Sir Michael is damn fine too, I’ve seen his Pinter.

Shrimpy’s is the latest love child from David Waddington and Pablo Flack, of Bistrotheque, and is housed in The Filling Station, quite literally an ex-petrol station, back of King’s Cross, over-looking the canal: a clutch of tables, bar stools at the bar, big windows, small menu, linen, silverware and glass; think Edward Hopper does The Stork Club. The food is sort-of-south-American and their signature dish is a Soft-Shell Crab Burger. And so my mate Nige and I filled up on salt cod croquettes, calamari, a mass of crunchy soft-shell crab and avocado in a bun, octopus and shoestring fries, where I once filled up with petrol. The thing is, so did AA Gill, The Blonde, Sir Michael Gambon and Philippa Hart, and let me tell you Adrian’s bun was bigger than mine.

“I can see where the other 7 legs went now.” remarked my mate Nige, as their order of octopus and potato arrived.

Because I was snuggled up next to Dumbledore on the banquet, and opposite Adrian, I could see straight through the rectangular window and into the kitchen where, behind AA's head, Tom Collins, the head chef and nowhere to be seen when we’d first arrived on this Monday night but now very much present and possibly air-lifted in when one of the soft-shell-shocked crew recognised who was in (I’m sure Gill's face along with every other critic’s is plastered in most restaurant kitchens) were amassing their food with due diligence in a flurry of fevered activity. Then me and my mate Nige sort of slipped off the radar and might well still be sat there now waiting for dessert menus if we hadn’t pleaded with a waitperson. We shared a chocolate brownie sundae and so did Adrian …… but not with us. It was delicious despite my mate Nige getting both bits of brownie. The service, when we got it, was charming and the bill is big even if the portions are not. Roll on Sunday, I can’t wait to see if we enjoyed our dinner…………

Top tip: fake summer........ turn the heating up high, ware flip-flops round the house and drink pink wine.........

Sunday, 10 June 2012

When will it stop......

Quite frankly I've had enough. Prince Philip is not the only one to get taken down during the Jubilee celebrations by the howling gales. I went to Dorset for the long weekend, to take the sea air, celebrate my Goddaughter's 7th birthday and eat red, white and blue cake. Having enjoyed rude health for the whole winter, before, after and during Christmas..... for which I am traditionally cold-stuffed-and-coughing........ I now have a monumental cold that has resulted in bed June. And so I am going to get away from it all for a short foreign break....... where at least the rain has an accent.
I leave you with a picture of what summer can look like.........

Top tip: Ginger Beer is much better than Barley Water or Lucozade as a sick-bed tipple.