Sunday 19 December 2010

Skating on black ice.....

I was amused whilst watching Miranda last night ( I honestly don't really like the show but I honestly really do like her....go figure) when her Dad, deliciously played by Tom Conti, kept referencing the treacherous black ice. The treachery of black ice was of course my own Dad's first fear, the moment snow flakes appeared in the sky and, as a child, I eagerly awaited it, imagining it to be much like the blanket of oh-so-wanted white snow. Except black. It's fear spread throughout all plans and events, curtailing trips after dark, cancelling carol concerts, pantomimes and parties, my Mum's brow furrowed as my Dad looked skyward, weighing up the possible outcome of any journey anywhere and deciding staying in would be best, while I tearfully looked on. Now, Miranda calls upon her own experiences I believe, and is a good deal younger than me, so therefore I must assume that all Dads, of all ages, fear the treacherous black ice, above all else. And it made me laugh. Perhaps that's why I like having her in my home.

However, I did not let the treacherous black ice, white snow and inevitable gray slush stop me from venturing out this weekend. Oh no. I travelled in the blizzard to Gypsy Hill to admire my friend, the Doctor's, enormous conifer. We drank small black coffees in his large, newly decorated, open plan kitchen. And while cars scudded and slid gingerly down the hill, we walked through the squeaky, fresh snow to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the Norman Rockwell exhibition. Our friendship was forged in New York, so the paintings of apple-cheeked-Americans in milk-bars and on front porches, set against the bleak midwinter setting, suited us perfectly. It got dark and we stayed out, drinking whisky & ginger in a wood-panelled pub while the Doctor mused on how much it looked like upstate New York. I thought it rather more like Dorking but no matter. Then we snow-ploughed our way back through the empty streets, to Gypsy Hill, to eat tapas, alone, in an empty restaurant. It was delicious, it had effectively been cooked....just for us.

Sunday brought more fun in the snow. I met my mate Dave for our annual Christmas do. Once, many years ago, whilst between careers, we came up with a sure-fire-quick-fix business idea, called 'Done & Dusted'.....but that's a whole other story. The business never really got beyond the planning stage but we did implement the office Christmas party and we make sure we never miss it. This year we decided to meet for brunch at the feverishly fashionable, A Little Of What You Fancy, much recommended by Fashion's Most Wanted, in Dalston, the 21st century, uber-hip, cutting-edge home of all that is mad, bad and the next big thing. And it was delicious: creamy scrambled eggs with slabs of excellent bacon and spicy Bloody Marys fortified us for a walk to Brick Lane, popping into the Geffrye Museum, because we never had before and it seemed churlish not to. Then we fought our way through the dazed Sunday tourists and confused leftover-clubbers, to 18 Folgate Street, Dennis Severs' House. It has taken me 6 years to finally get here having walked past it forever. We were told to leave our 21st century selves outside, and so we said goodbye to all that is hip and groovy and Spitalfields, and entered the 18th Century, Huguenot home of the Jervais family. Lit only by candle and open fires, we wandered alone (unheard of in these days of health and safety) and in silence, although the urge to whisper did overcome us on several occasions. Amusingly, there are notes dotted about the rooms reminding those of us unable to shut up to do just that. It is the most brilliant experience. The house is a time capsule of it's day, appearing untouched and as if the various family members have just left the room, their meal interrupted, a half empty glass of wine on the table, a guttering candle in need of replacing, a log spitting in the grate and outside the sound of horses hooves as a couch drives by...... every one should go.

Top tip: If you haven't sorted it by now, forget it, because the tree tops are glistening and even if the children aren't listening....I think I hear sleigh bells in the snow.....

Monday 6 December 2010

Being good ....for goodness sake....

I knew the game was up when waking one Christmas morning, the pillowcase at the end of my bed did not bulge jubilantly with miss-shapen, hastily wrapped gifts but instead sagged limply, a few small packages nestling forlornly at the bottom.

'Less presents, yes,' my mother said, thoughtfully, 'but more expensive.'

And of course she was right. The garish, colourful craziness of kids' toys were replaced with smaller items comprised of silver and semi-precious stones, heady smelling scents and citrus-enfused potions for bath and body replaced Kerplunk and Mouse Trap. No more the hardback annuals of youth, instead Twiggy by Twiggy and the Vogue Book of Beauty, a chocolate-brown, fringed shoulder bag in softest suede, a starter-pack of mini-Mary Quant lipsticks and a bright-yellow tin emblazoned with the Mary Quant flower logo, full of fat, waxy colouring crayons for eyes, lips and cheeks.... I couldn't have been happier if Mary Quant herself had climbed out of my pillowcase.

I can still remember the bitter taste of loss as the train where I'd left my bag, replete with my Mary Quant booty, pulled out of the station. Feet frozen on the platform, the sense of something-wrong-but-not-sure-what hanging low in the air and then the shattering realisation that my fabulous day out in Brighton with my best friend, had ended in the certain loss of my much prized macquillage....

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and last week, despite the weather outside being frightful, I went to something called a 'Holiday Singalong' at the Purcell Room on the Southbank. Billed as an evening of festive merriment with Harry Shearer (legendary base player with Spinal Tap and the voice of many characters in The Simpsons), his jazz-singing wife, Judith Owen, and .......friends. We were surprised to find the place was packed, cheek by jowl you might say, with gays in chains and uber-hip chicks in strange headgear and vertiginous heels. Who knew this was their fan base? It turned out they were there to see John Waters, appearing in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.... which made more sense. No matter though because we were soon rocking around the Christmas tree. Audience participation is not my first choice for a night out but, fuelled with a pint of wine, I was soon singing from the same hymn sheet as Richard Thopmson and Ruby was nothing if not an eclectic cast. We listened to hip-harpist Lucinda Belle and the gorgeous Jacqui Dankworth (who looks and sounds just like mum Cleo Laine) sing a fabulous version of 'Baby It's Cold Outside' to her new husband pianist Charlie Wood.....just like her dad...... and yes, outside it was a winter wonderland.

Top tip: check out this fabulous emporium of all things vintage: Detail, and from now until Christmas just enter XMAS on the checkout to receive 15% off!!

Thursday 2 December 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow....

How do you know you're getting old? When the sight of snow flakes makes you groan with with fear and alarm at the thought of so many undone tasks, delayed trains, potentially twisted ankles and bruised butts rather than whooping with joy and punching the air in the certain knowledge that chaos plus cancellation equals untold fun. I'm still in the 'isn't it pretty' phase but it's early days. I remember my first winter in NY. We'd spent Christmas in Jamaica (so brilliant...but that's a whole other story) and got back on a Monday.

'Has it been snowing?' I asked the cab driver, fearful we might have missed the magic of a snowy Manhattan.

'Nope, not much.' he replied.

On Friday it started and didn't stop till April. April!! I kid you not. It was the coldest/biggest/whitest winter since the beginning of recorded time. But it was great. Well the first couple of months were. I even saw my one and only ice storm which is quite and extraordinary sight. But the thing is, everything worked. Snow ploughs cleared the city's avenues and streets, dumping tones of snow and ice in the river, everyday. The subways worked, the city schools stayed open, taxis came and went, the side walks were cleared. We'd go out in the evenings, all dressed up in full arctic kit (I still have my oh-so-horrid, green puffy coat, $25 in an Old Navy sale, glamorous it may not be but it works). We'd drink martinis and make snow angels on the way home. And the heating....oh what joy when the clank of those pipes herald the arrival of the heat, controlled from some distant boiler-room, buried deep in the bowels of the building.....

But life is very different here. A bit of rain and it floods, a couple of hot days and people are dropping in the streets, government health warnings are issued. And now it snows and everything stops. It's as if we've never seen anything like it before. Hello...was everyone on holiday last winter?

I have a friend..... waxed, plucked and packed for a quick trip to an Indian beach ....hoping to fly this weekend who's panicking big time. And were I in that enviable position I too would be cursing the weather Gods. However, I'm not. North London hasn't so far taken much of a hit, not compared to my friends in the south who assure me they're still trying to shovel a path to the tube. So I'm lucky. I'm lucky I can pay the bills again so the heating is set at Bombay, I can walk to Waitrose and the cinema, I can bake Nigella's scones for tea, my needs are few...... And the city is half empty as everywhere else is claiming a white out. It's quite nice really.

Top tip: check out this fabulous emporium of all things vintage: Detail, and from now until Christmas just enter XMAS on the checkout to receive 15% off!

Friday 26 November 2010

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue......

It was the best of was the worst of gigs....

I was invited to spend the weekend at the home of a much loved, mildly eccentric, very dear friend who, pre-empting the rush for tartan blankets, has bought a house in Worthing.

'It's called the Dylan Project,' he said, 'In Shorham, we've got tickets, you must come down, it'll be great.'

And why not...... I bought my ticket to the gig online and, in order to avoid the vast sums demanded at stations, I bought my train tickets ahead of time too. Then my dear friend announced he was sick and being a bloke he wasn't just ordinary sick he was super-sized-dying-almost-dead-sick.

And so it was, I found myself alighting at the railway station in Shorham-by-sea. Alone and in the dark, I trundled my weekend-away sized wheely case down the deserted road. We weren't in Kansas anymore. Despite it only being 6.30 I was panicked on the streets of Shorham. Freezing cold, I found a pub and, resisting the urge to shout, 'I'm from London, I'm just visiting', to the six locals who'd tuned as one to stare, I ordered a whiskey and ginger ale, for medicinal purposes, the price of which would barely buy you a coke back home. Result. And waited for my dear friend's lovely girlfriend to rescue me.

And she did, whisking me away from the hinterland and into downtown Shoreham's heady nightlife. If not by the sea exactly we were definitely near water and the strip was buzzing, they even have a shop which sells fine chocolates and fancy clothes. Together. In the same place. An interesting and bold move I thought. They have a wine bar, and a woodeny-looking gastro pub and a lighting store that sells giant disco balls. We ate delicious crispy whitebait and triple-cooked chips in 'Chambers', housed in the former Town Hall and were waited on by possibly the friendliest, young staff I've ever encountered. Honestly, if ever you're in Shorham go there. Then it was off to ........ Ropetackle.

It may sound like a Dutch nightclub but Ropetackle is an arts centre. Getting in was our first challenge as the front doors had 'no entry' stamped across them. Interestingly, once inside I noticed they had 'no exit' stamped on the other side. But that was not the only odd thing about the evening ahead. Uncharacteristically for a gig, the 8pm start time appeared to have been diligently adhered to and as late entrants we were told, by the octogenarian who took our tickets, we would have to wait till the end of the song before we could sit down. Sit down!?! Once behind the closed door we were greeted by the sight of a sea of gray-haired couples sporting fleeces and high-waisted jeans, sat in the brightly lit room, enjoying the band. Struck by an attack of nervous hysterics, I stuffed my scarf into my mouth while my friend steered me towards the trestle-table-bar-facility, nestled at one side of the room.

And the band played on.....

An avuncular crew, dressed in relaxed fit denim and with only the keyboard player sporting sunglasses, but they may well have been prescription, they were all men of a certain age. Indeed, at one point the guitarist suggested they do a song they'd already sung. The lead singer, dressed in regulation rock'n'roll black, came with more than whiff of past excesses, as all good lead singers should. A wiry gent, one Steve Gibbons, late of The Steve Gibbons Band of the 70s, (think one of those blokes from a Never Mind The Buzzcocks line-up) and who, according to wikipedia, would most definitely have a few tales to tell about the glory years, blew with confidence into his array of harmonicas. They were indeed a competent team and a good deal more coherent than Bob ever is, choosing, it seemed, songs mainly from his back, back-catalogue. I'm a fan of the great man and I only new about half.....'Signore' I shall single out for a special mention. But if Dylan had become a wedding singer I think this is what he'd sound like.

To add to the Twin Peaks meets Spinal Tap: the sequel, experience, we noticed a handsome youth with streaky blond hair and a wispy goatee, sat centre front, his eyes fixed lovingly and not a little alarmingly, upon Mr. Gibbons throughout the performance. And after, he leapt to his feet, clutching his vinyl collection, requesting autographs and photos. He can only have been about 26. I blame the Internet.

The band certainly seemed to enjoy themselves and the packed house loved it, despite being told to stomp their feet and rattle their dentures during, 'Everybody Must Get Stoned', and even gave them a standing ovation....well, those of them who could stand. Surprised I may have been, and closer in age than I like to think, at how old these revellers were, lest we forget, these over-sixties, with their flowing gray-locks and M&S hippie-summer separates, were at the coalface of the festival scene. These were the naked, dancing peaceniks with flowers in their hair, the pot-smoking, afghan-coated students of the summer of love that spawned the Glastonbury's, Latitudes and Big Chills that we now take for granted. We owe them our festival fun.

Despite the on-site bar facility, during the interval, an elderly lady with a large badge bearing the title 'Volunteer', came around the seated audience selling tubs of ice cream. She sold out. The times they are a changing......

Top tip: check out this fabulous emporium of all things vintage, Detail, and from now until Christmas just enter XMAS on the checkout to receive 15% off!

Saturday 20 November 2010

One more cup of coffee 'fore I go......

It's cold today. Outside the the leafless trees poke the sour-milky sky, grayed like a bad white wash, neither wet nor dry, a Saturday fit for nothing. My son calls to say he is up the road. I don't know why he's calling to tell me this but I seize the opportunity, rarer and rarer these days to communicate with him.
"Where are you?" I ask.
"By the green," he says.
"Do you want to go The Diner? Have some brunch?"
He does so we do.
It falls well short of the American model it tries to emulate but I enjoy the experience: sitting at a table, eating with my son.
"I'm drinking filter coffee," he says, "you get free refills, like in America."
I have the same and we order pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage, and pretend we are in New York. He was too young to have his coffee refilled when we lived there so his memory is borrowed from the movies.

Outside, the good denizens of Islington go about their busy weekend business. Every other man appears to be wearing a small child strapped to his chest, one even has a specially adapted coat in which his infant is swaddled. Their woolly-hatted, baby heads wobble back and forth, their chubby baby arms jut straight out, like a fleet of B 52 bombers, their tiny baby mitten-fists clutching at life. One bearded and bespectacled father causes my son to point and laugh, he's a dead ringer for the funny one in Hangover. I laugh too and our coffees are refilled.

Sunday night brings a big moon, looming high over the roof tops that fill my window. The silver-gray clouds conspire to obscure the white light, hammer-horror like. Roast chicken with garlic, chili and cinnamon, roast potatoes, baby carrots and cavolo nero, lots of red wine and Ottolenghi's ginger, rhubarb cheesecake. It's a better day than yesterday, tomorrow is another day. Bag packed for Monday morning, lists made, laundry still damp, hanging limp on the dryer, plates piled..... who ever's not working can wash them. And there is a light at the end of my Sunday night telly dilemma: Any Human Heart, Channel 4..... oh joy of joys and Jim Broadbent....... please do not disturb.

Top tip;: check out this fabulous emporium of all things vintage, Detail, and from now until Christmas just enter XMAS on the checkout to receive 15% off!

Friday 12 November 2010

New York, New York........

At the very front of the top deck of the No. 19 bus, I sit immobile, watching out of the window. It's my favourite seat despite the attempts of the designer, no doubt some faceless committee who had clearly never travelled on a bus, to ruin everything by installing huge windows which render it a travelling greenhouse should the summer-sun dare to show it's face, ripening the passengers within. But now it's Autumn, the sky is blue, my seat is safe and everything has turned to amber and orange, it makes me feel like I'm in New York. Warm sunshine on a cold day always reminds me of living in America: coffee to go in a blue and white cup, 'we are happy to serve you' emblazoned on the side, copper-coloured leaves crunching under foot in Central Park, my 6-year old son, a dead ringer for Noddy, kicking them high, killing the baddies while I try to read the Sunday Times. Hard though it maybe to imagine, there was once a time when travelling anywhere without a hot beverage in one hand and some kind of baked goods in the other, did exist in London and the closest one got to a cappuccino was a frothy-coffee. So being able to walk into my corner deli and buy a coffee .... to go ...... was very exciting indeed.

I still miss the city. I miss my daily breakfasts in Les Deux Gamin, on Waverly and 4th: bowls of cafe au lait and a croissant, watching Rupert Everett eat his tartine and talk to his dog in French. I loved living in the West Village. I used to walk my son to his school looking up at the Empire State Building and walk back in the shadow of the Twin Towers. It is hard if you never saw them, to imagine just how much they dominated the downtown skyline. Without a child in tow, one may not notice that New York is a city of parks and playgrounds. I spent many happy hours in Washington Square Park where junior would play chess with the old guys for free because they said he was good for business, drawing a crowd as he sat , feet barely able to touch the ground, chin cupped, brow furrowed in concentration, almost winning ...... yet again. Or catching the sun over at the Bleaker Street playground, bare legged, sitting on the bench with the single-moms-from-hell, eating cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery, while our children searched for their precious Power Rangers lost in the sands of time, somewhere beside the swings.

This was before Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney had moved into the neighbourhood but even while I lived their the neighbourhood was changing. Rents were rising and Mayor Giuliani's work was almost done. The wet fish shop was gone and the vintage store on the corner of Bleaker and Morton had become an emporium of fine food. Even the hardware store on 6th Avenue had closed down, where the women wore tobacco-brown coats and always had fag on. They sold paper bags of nails and screws, counted out from wooden draws that lined the back wall, light bulbs, sink plungers, bath plugs and chain cut to length. All gone and replaced with magazines and greeting cards.

For me, Manhattan never failed to deliver and I loved it with the same passion I disliked Los Angeles. And despite the popular myth that New Yorkers are un-caring and rude I found to the contrary. I lost my purse three times while I lived there and three times it was returned to me ...... intact ....... having arrived with a five year old and a fist full of phone numbers, I was shown nothing but kindness, consideration and generosity of spirit. I lived in a tiny apartment with a miniature bath tub, hard-wood floors and an open fire. And when I sat out on my fire escape .... just like in the movies ..... I could here someone practising their opera scales and in the distance, the sound of a saxophone...... Back in London ten years now, how long did it take me to get over leaving? Any day now .....

Top tip;: check out this fabulous emporium of all things vintage, Detail, and from now until Christmas just enter XMAS on the checkout to receive 15% off!

Monday 8 November 2010

An Angel at my table.....

So, I have a story I will tell you and you can make of it what you will. Several years ago I met a friend of a friend who was very into Angels. She was writing a book about them and told me all about it. Now I'm quite into a bit other-worldly hoo-ha and I like the idea of having a Guardian Angel, Wings of Desire and all that. So I listened intently. She told me I was very angelic, asked where I lived.
'North London', I replied, 'near the Angel.'
'Of course you do.' she said.
When the book was published she sent me a copy and it's a lovely book.

Now, feeling somewhat fed up last week, rather lacking in work from the many and varied freelance jobs I do, and rather broke, I happened to pick up the Angel book and read the bit about being successful and solvent. Apart from asking the Angels for help it suggested sprinkling angel confetti on your bills ........ OK I thought, whatever. The next day I happened upon some of these tiny silver angels at a friend's house so I popped one into my purse...... why not? Half an hour later I got a call to come do a last minute make-up job for an eminent director who was being interviewed. And today I have been offered another job on an on-going basis ......... what can I say? The spirit has moved me.

Downton Abbey is over, for the time being, and what a roller-coaster it was. Am now bereft. How will I cope without (my) Hugh Bonneville? It's going to be a long, harsh winter.

Top tip: Co-Op Fairtrade Chocolate Brownies.....I know, I know but just try them.....

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Thyme on my hands.......

So......guess what time I got to work today?? The thing is I was away this weekend and yes, I did put my watch back and I did make the most of my extra hour....drinking homemade Sloe Vodka as it happens.....but when I got back to London I failed to adjust my alarm clock (even though I'd remembered to remind the 20-year-old-son) and so it was, I arrived at the churchyard I usually cross to reach my designated bus stop (sounds like I live in some Austin-inspired village rather than central London doesn't it....) to find the gates chained. Wonder why that is, I thought. Perhaps because it was half seven and not half eight in the morning? However, so smooth was my journey to East London I have vowed to get up an hour earlier every Tuesday......we shall see how long this lasts....

So, the weekend away........ having enjoyed my recent sojourn in the French countryside so much, I thought I'd give equal opps to the English countryside, and I headed off to the Isle of Wight, where a friend with a birthday has a beautiful converted barn, nestled in a leafy hollow, deep in the south, that looked suspiciously like the French countryside. Having arrived late the night before, and feasted on holiday-flavoured fish & chips, birthday-celebration Prosecco and cakes I'd cleverly sourced in London, from Ottolenghi's outrageous selection of fancy goods, I awoke to the sound of rain lashing the roof and not one but two text messages informing me that the weather in London was ........ wonderful.

But no matter the weather, this was the country and we had activities planned ....... mainly involving the outside. So, after a much-bigger-breakfast-than usual, involving eggs, mushrooms, muffins and lots of coffee, we set out on 'The Walk'. I have discovered that going for a walk in the country often starts with a drive and this walk was no different as we had decided to go along a the coastal path. Parked up we set off and it was epic, the dense clouds fought for space, hanging low over a dull ocean, then suddenly sharp shards of sunlight cut through the grey and turned the sea silver. As we walked, the sky turned brighter and bluer and I sucked in the salty, fresh air, feeling fitter by the minute. Then it began to rain. Big, fat, exceptionally wet rain. The kind of rain that would be accompanied by a potential love interest if it were a Richard Curtis movie, to wipe away the rain drops that splattered my sunglasses and dripped from the end of my nose. So we sought refuge at the cafe in Steep Hill Cove and had a pot of tea and a Colin Firth to go.

We collected wood for the fire, went to a movie, won a pub quiz, picked sloes from the hedgerow and bought chicken fresh from the farm where the turkeys were already gobbling nervously, and roasted it with garlic from the island and thyme from the garden and ate it with my favourite new discovery: Ottolenghi's Mejadarah, a delicious dish of rice and lentils that's oh so easy to make. I'm lucky, I live practically bivouacked at the back of this fine emporium of exquisite cuisine but for those of you who live further a field, here is the recipe:

250ml sunflower oil
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
250g green or brown lentils
2 tsp cumin seeds
1½ tbsp coriander seeds
200g basmati rice
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp ground allspice
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
350ml water
Heat the sunflower oil in a medium-size heavy-based saucepan. When very hot, carefully add a third of the sliced onion. Fry for five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice, golden-brown colour and turns crispy. Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with two more batches of onion.
Meanwhile, put the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain into a colander.
Wipe clean the saucepan in which you fried the onion and drop in the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over a medium heat and toast the seeds for a minute or two, until they release those distinctive aromas. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil, then add the cooked lentils and water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on very low heat for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat, lift off the lid and cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes. Finally, tip the rice and lentils into a large mixing bowl. Add half the fried onion and stir gently with a fork. Pile up in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.
Yotam Ottolenghi is chef/patron of Ottolenghi in London.

Top tip: check out Sloe Gin or Sloe Vodka...... utterly delicious

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Close encounters of a celebrity kind......

I'm sick ........I feel like death, I look like death, it all hurts......I've got a horrid cold, as a woman I don't do flu. It came from nowhere, out of the dark, about 6ish on Friday evening, bit of a sore throat that was all. I was shopping for food I was going to cook for lots of people to eat. And I was doing this for a friend. I couldn't say no, the show had to go on. And it did. Of course once the Lemsip and the red wine kicked in I felt fine. However, there's no such thing as a free dinner and on Saturday I felt pretty rough. But again, I was committed to an event and it's only a cold for godsake. So, heavily medicated and wearing a fat, red jumper, eyes misted in mascara, a hint of delirium in my demeanour, I gently sweated through another evening. Could have been fever, could have been a hot flush, who could tell? By Sunday I was practically hallucinating.

Of course the meds only mask the symptoms, what I need is a hot water-bottle and bed. Instead, I forge on in a gentle fug, everything seems a little other-worldly which isn't bad, in fact, it feels like Christmas, traditionally the time I fall ill. However, this feeling of being out of it does not just preclude the use of heavy machinery, opportunities can be lost too. Once, way, way back in the early 80s, mid-way through a summer cold and heavily medicated, I was seated at a cramped table in a subterranean London restaurant: Food For Thought, a popular emporium of fine vegetarian cuisine ..........still in Covent Garden ..... it might have been a storage cupboard in a former life. A woolly-haired man with a big nose and glasses sat down opposite me. He wore khaki shorts and a khaki T-shirt with the words 'Temple Of Doom' emblazoned across it. He unfurled a large copy of Variety, looked straight at me and said:
I glared wearily back, nodded politely. Being unfamiliar with such familiarity I continued to peruse the listings pages of my Time Out whilst working my way through a large bowl of unevenly cooked brown rice. I was far more interested in a devilishly handsome boy at the adjacent table who bore more than a passing resemblance to a young Michael York. The boy was deep in conversation with a small, elderly man who had something of the Einstein about him: his old piano teacher, his Latin master, Oskar Schindler? I would never know. By now the nods and smiles of my wannabee, khaki-clad, lunch partner had increased quite alarmingly and he'd begun to irk as I felt the space between me and my spicy tofu being invaded. My blatant staring at the boy next door (a subtle technique I employed to attract members of the opposite sex in my youth) had gone unnoticed. I lost interest and turned my attention to the nodding man in khaki. But by now he'd given up on me. He shook his Variety for the last time, smiled, and bid me farewell. I looked again, said good-bye, vague recognition flooding my mind. As his sun-kissed limbs gambolled up the stairs the light was Steven bloody Spielberg. Like a moment from a movie the lights flared, the violins soared and I basked in the reflected glory of a close encounter of a celebrity kind. If only I'd engaged in conversation, smiled, tap-danced, just acknowledged his existence ........ who knows what might have happened. At worst a trip to the 'Temple Of Doom' set, a glance at Harrison Ford? At best a few million in alimony. If not for that cold I could have been Amy Irving........

I have subsequently discovered we've all got this cold, well almost all of us, certainly everyone in London. Friends are coming forward with their own favourite cures, I'm currently swigging All In One during the day and doing the hot toddy by night in order to complete the gruelling schedule of work and entertainment. I feel so out of it now, for all I know I could be better. Last night I went to a screening of The Kids Are All Right which was excellent. I went to bed with hot whiskey and lemon, thinking about lesbians but dreaming of the ex-that-broke-my-heart ......... looking remarkably like the lion in The Wizard of Oz ........ what a nightmare.

To tip: Laugh and cry in The Kids Are All Right......oh Annette do I hear the sound of Oscars?

Thursday 21 October 2010

I know when to go out....

But I want to stay in. 8 things in 7 nights: two movies, one gig, one play, one film festival thing with eminent actor/director/writer, one dinner party and a pub quiz at the Union Chapel.......and there's more, there's always more. This is just the nighttime stuff, things happen in the daytime too. Don't get me wrong, I'm got complaining.......well maybe just a little bit.....I love living in one of the most vibrant, happening, stupendous, read-all-about-it cities in the universe. But London is also a tube-crunching, elbowing-out-of-the-way, salt-in-the-wound, late-night, kebab-in-yer-gob, city of extremes, and it can be exhausting. Not to go to the many and marvellous galleries, museums, theatres, cinemas, cafes, bars and restaurants, with all their equal opps, ethno-diversity would be churlish and quite honestly a waste of a perfectly good city. So out we go. Otherwise we'd be in Dorking.

But the thing is....... maybe it's an age thing, maybe it's a seasonal thing..... I just want to stay home, under the duvet, on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, anywhere with a TV, watching winter telly. Because even with modern science allowing me to watch whatever whenever, it's hard to keep up. And everything makes me cry, whether it's Ann Widdecombe (clearly getting the Michael Portillo make-over and fast becoming a national treasure lite), almost whirling around the Strictly dance floor, or Dame Maggie scoring points over Penelope Wilton in Downton Abbey, ITV Sunday 9pm, which I'm loving for all it's stand-aside-madam, pre-war-Sunday-night-pomposity and the excellent Jim Carter whose nose must have it's own agent by now, entering ever room as it does, several minutes before anyone else. And now I have a supersized crush on Hugh Bonneville to deal with too. Not to mention Single Father, at the same time on BBC1, to which I have now become hooked. Is it just me, or is David Tennant rather vulnerably cute? I think he's very good, who knew? I missed what I believe was his masterful Hamlet, opting to see Jude Law instead when they were both strutting their stuff upon the stage (there is only so much Hamlet anyone person can take....) which I now rather regret. Jude's was OK, from the squat school of acting, as in he would randomly squat down on his haunches to deliver any given speech as if eyeing up a particularly tricky boules movement. And then of course there's Mad Men, Don Draper what are you doing? So many shows, so little time.......

Top tip: stay in and listen to Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service, 6 Music Sundays 4pm

Saturday 16 October 2010

French without tears.......

I lay on a lounger, canopied by twisted vines, knotted through with climbing roses, my bare legs and pale toes warmed by the hot autumn sunshine; I am in France, enjoying the last of the pink wine ......... not now of course, now I'm back home, swaddled in winter woollies, playing catch-up with the sky plus (oh the anxiety of trying to get through Mad Men and Downton Abbey before they roll round again......). But, for a few days, I was away.

'Do you like chestnuts?' asked my friend.
'Yes I do,' I said, 'I love them.'
I had decided some time out was needed. So, armed with a ludicrously cheep return flight to Rodez (honestly, it cost more to get to Stanstead and back.....) I'd packed my ryan-air-sized-suitcase and wheeled off to the Aveyron, in south central France, to stay with an old friend and her young family.
'Right then, lets walk up the track and get some,' she said, 'kids....'
Entente cordial reigns supreme in this multi-cultural home, made-up as it is of a German, two from Vietnam, two from Mali and a Brit..... all abroad. Really, it's like visiting the UN. I stuffed first my pockets and then the children's, with the shiny, fallen chestnuts and we trudged back to the house: an old stone farmhouse, beautifully restored over the many years they have lived there, with the creative eye of a real artist.

'Do you not prick the nuts first?' I asked.
'No,' said my friend, 'I don't think so.'

And so we sat in the heavenly kitchen, hand-painted, patterned walls, strung with chandeliers and the kids' artistic endeavours, listening to the sound of exploding marrons, buried deep beneath the embers of the range. And drank the pink wine.

It wasn't a long trip and I have never visited so late in the year before, but a change, as they say, is as good as a rest. We picked the last of the red tomatoes and yellow courgettes from the vegetable patch, all part of the beautiful garden, it's winding paths and stone steps leading to hidden treasures buried amongst the flora and fauna (gardening: an unknown skill my friend developed after leaving London 20-odd years ago, with enormous success) and we ate soft cheeses and ripe figs sitting in the sunshine. This is an area silenced but for the sound of rutting bulls and the squawk of force-fed geese, this is peace and quite on a grand scale, no roads rage or sirens whale, just the occasional whine of a moped and the bark of a distant dog. And the crunch of gravel under foot as more pink wine is brought to the table.

I ate thick slabs of moist date and walnut cake, baked with the walnuts collected by the children, and stirred the quince jam made with the quinces that hung heavily from the tree close to where we sat and ate, which would fall suddenly with a thud; their heady, perfumed scent still haunts my nostrils. I slept soundly in a large, attic room with a small, single window, waking every morning to a view of butterscotch-coloured cornfields and undulating, French-green, countryside, studded with ex-pats. It was good. Could I live there? Without my sofa cinema, theatre, openings, private views? No, not right now. But I can still eat, drink, play........

Top-tip: go see 'The Social Network', so, so entertaining and absolutely why I've never done Facebook.......

Friday 8 October 2010

A girl's best friend..........

'Wow' I said, pointing at the diamond ring on the third finger of my girlfriend's left hand, 'You never mentioned ....'

'Oh no,' she said, 'It's not an engagement ring.'


'Well it is an engagement ring, but it's not mine. It's my Great Grandmother's.'

It was a beautiful, princess cut, several carat classic.

'And you're wearing it why?' I asked.

'Apparently,' she said, 'It's a bloke magnet.'

'Really?' I said, 'How so?'

My friend then went on to explain that wearing the ring suggested you were already desirable as someone desired you, also you could be flirtatious without being seen as a man-hungry-desperate-singleton, commitmentphobs would see you as a non-threatening flirtation and the adventurous viewed you as a challenge and ........ it's a waste of a finger not to use it, it looks pretty and made her feel loved; you're never alone with an engagement ring.

'But if you're not actually engaged,' I said, 'wouldn't that be starting things with a lie?'

'You look lovely tonight could be a lie and that's kick started many a romance.' Came the reply. She had a point. An imaginary fiance........ could this be the answer to the home-alone-unhappy-singles?

'Are you sure about this?' I asked, 'Fake engagements, is this what we're doing now?'

'Look,' she said, 'It works in the same way as little kids with a bloke are a babe magnet.'
She definitely had a point there. I remembered how my American ex had taken my son (not his ..... that's a whole other story) to the park on a bonding mission when he was about three and couldn't believe the reaction he'd had from the women he encountered. And one particular male friend of mine always used to take junior off to play football, when he was little, with the express purpose of meeting girls. They thought he was a kind, caring, non-threatening Dad and so would chat away with ease. If he liked them he would then explain that the little lad wasn't actually his, he was just helping out a single-mum, at which point he appeared to be even more kind and caring. Bingo! It is another one of those unfair gender laws that blokes with babies look cute and women with babies look...... like a liability. Hey-ho.

'What about a wedding ring?' I asked.

'No, no, no. Not married. Never married, just engaged.' she said, 'Don't rule out possibilities. Engagements can be easily broken off.'

It sounded like the beginning of a convoluted romcom.

'And it's not really a lie, I will be engaged.' she said, 'Eventually.'

So when is a lie not a lie? A longtime-married friend of mine has recently been flirting for England. She loves her husband and her two young children but 18 years is 18 years and she is, well...........bored. So she has been having an imaginary affair with a very real college she only sees randomly. He has a girlfriend she knows about, she has a husband he knows about. However, last time they had a drunken work related 'meeting' she told him she and her husband were having 'problems' to see how he'd take the news. He was very concerned. Result, now she and her husband are having the best sex they've had for years. Win win? Or playing with fire?

So, I don't know, I do have a beautiful engagement ring, three sparkly diamonds in a row, that belonged to my Grandmother, languishing in the bottom of my jewellery box. Maybe it's time to make use of the ring finger........

Top tip: wearing a beautiful ring can brighten any day......on any finger.

Friday 1 October 2010

Tim nice but.....not really a rock star....

'Let us pray' said Tim Robbins, pulling on his guitar.
Last week Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band performed what I believe was their one and only London gig, at the Union Chapel in Islington, and I went. He was looking very well for a man in his early 50s: dressed in black jeans and black frock coat, the sort usually favoured by the gambler in wild west movies, a couple of stone lighter than when I used to see him and his sons mooching around the West Village when I lived in New York (trailing after someone going in the same direction as you doesn't constitute stalking ..... surely?) Now, I should declare I am a bit of a fan, but most of my fandom is based on fancying him (tall, full head of hair......) and, well, even I have to admit this twist in his career is a vanity project of enormous proportions. And of course being someone who worships at the alter of Susan Sarandon, him being shacked up with her did lend him a certain cache. He has now said his remark about this being his midlife crisis album, made to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs, was just a joke. But, to be honest, although he can definitely hold a tune and play a guitar ....... and has obviously spent a lot of time in his bedroom writing songs ........... there is a reason why Tim Robbins is an actor.

Don't get me wrong he's not awful, sort of Warren Zevon meets Johnny Cash by way of Joni Mitchell, except not as good. He sang a mixture of covers and his own compositions but the lyrics were a tad cheesy. I'm nothing if not a sucker for a cover version and he did them very well which only served to highlight the differences, like they were the proper songs. It didn't help when his were prefaced with things like: 'this is about Nelson Mandela, who I had the good fortune to meet......' The biggest part of the evening, quite literally, was his crouch. Honestly, framed by the curve of his guitar, I couldn't take my eyes off it. Nor could my companion. Or the posse of ladies inappropriately dressed for this time of year, sat in the front row. Actually, I expected the whole congregation to be made up just of women of all ages but it was about 50/50 male and female, albeit almost all middle aged and many were obviously husband and wife combos. Personally, I believe only the French can pull off the cross-over thing. Act, sing? Sing, act? Mais oui, they're all at it. Somehow they can get away with it, possibly because French rock & pop is so ludicrous it doesn't really matter. But the rest? Forget it. Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Madonna, Sting ..... need I go on?

Still, Mr Robbins received a standing ovation from the devotees, who then clamoured to buy the CD on sale at the back of the church. The male midlife crisis may be a bit of a cliche but cliches come from truisms and I don't think it's a coincidence that at 52, and newly single, Tim has decided to fulfill his dreams of rock stardom. Apparently, wielding a guitar and reaching for the mic is now as popular as sports cars, motorbikes, leather trousers and shagging the secretary when men hit that certain age. And why not unleash your inner Bono? It's certainly a lot safer than hurtling down the Dorking Bypass on your Suzuki. However, not everyone needs to immortalise themselves on the front of a T-shirt...

Top tip: Winter's back and so is Nigella ...... stay home and watch food porn, Thursdays, BBC2, 8pm

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Unsafe Text

Would love to see you if in London.
That's what the text said, one wet Wednesday evening. He'd used my name, signed his name: Adam, and then there was an x. And the Adam in question was the Adam in my phone's address book. Well, I thought, that's nice but ........ who the hell is Adam?

Now, part of the joy of old age is the loss of memory. Particularly memory of more recent events. And I couldn't remember any Adam. So, I phoned a friend.
'Do you know if I know anyone called Adam?' I asked.
'No', he said.
I called a girlfriend.
'No', came the reply, 'never heard of him'.
I scoured my little black book which I never leave home without. It's full of everything: notes to self, to do lists, pictures I like, things I want, homemade monthly planners........4 years at art college not wasted ....... and finally, there it was: lunch Adam. In April I had had lunch with Adam, right between the wedding rehearsal and the wedding day of a very good friend. Still no bells were ringing. Someone with something to do with the wedding perhaps? Nope.

Several hours later it came to me. Adam: the friend of a friend, of course, my one and only blind date....... and I wasn't even blind drunk....... he lived in Notting Hill, 50, tall, full head of hair, bingo! The lunch I remembered: a pleasant enough affair, despite the lack of instant chemistry on the menu. But, I reasoned, minds need to be open, judgements corralled, there was nothing obviously awful about him and he'd suggested we do it again. Messages were left, calls returned, but we never actually made another date........ c'est la vie.

So, I was a little surprised at this text, six months later. Surprised, intrigued and most importantly....... still single. I may not look like Angelina Jolie but on a good day I scrub up OK and with the wind behind me I can still zip into a size 12. However, although I may not be so slim, pickings tend to be, as the years roll by, so after careful consideration I replied. My natural instinct was to call him, I prefer voice recognition, there is no nuance in texts and emails and I'm nothing without nuance. But, he'd texted so I texted. He'd put an x so, following his lead, I put an x. A lunch was planned for the following week, details, as ever in the modern world, to be decided on the day.......x

Come the day a dawn text arrived expressing just how much he was looking forward to lunch...... x at a place and time of my choosing........x Dashing, as I was, to a yoga class....... it's what we all do in Islington ........ I suggested he come to my hood (well I'd schlepped over to Portobello Road for him). Imagine my surprise then, after emerging from my class, stretched in both mind and body, to read: Gosh that's a bit of a hike call me x ..... I think it was the use of the word gosh by a middle-aged man after 1945, that had initiated a certain unease or maybe it was a premonition.
'I thought you were still in Thurloe Place' he said.
'No', I said, wishing I'd called him when he'd first texted me, 'Do you know who I am?'
There was a pause, quite a long pause, before he said,
'Of course I do.'
And I knew he didn't.
'You've made a mistake haven't you?' I said, wishing I hadn't spent so much time deciding what to wear.
'No, no, no,' he said.
But I knew he had.
'I didn't even know who you were, it took me hours to remember you, I had to ring not one but two friends and they didn't know who you were either, really, I can give you their numbers, and then I had to really think about whether I actually wanted to see you, I haven't thought about you once in six months, haven't even mentioned you, I only said yes because you asked me.'
..........Is what I wanted to say. But I didn't. And then he said his day was actually busier than he'd thought and that we really should get together ..... as and when ..... but he didn't have as much time as he'd like so we should speak.... as and when ...... and........ I began to realise I was being dumped before the date. And worse than that, I'd put an x and I didn't even fancy him........

Top tip: In matters of the heart voices speak louder than texts.....

Friday 24 September 2010

I've been fashion blog tagged......

The ab fab Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted has thought fit to include A Girl's Guide To Turning 50 in her list of fashionistas to be Fashion Blog tagged........touched, honoured, shocked, stunned, I'd just like to thank her, the academy.......anyway, who am I to disagree, as anyone who has ever read Christina's brilliant blog knows, the woman invented good taste an lives the kinda glamorous life style the rest of us can only fantasize about....thank goodness some one's doing it.

And so:

What is your favourite fashion accessory?
A Cary Grant look alike would be nice, failing that......sunglasses and a hat can cover a lot of sins.

Who is your fashion role model?
Well......I have a big love for Vivienne Westwood because lets face it, the woman is unique, I like things to be a bit quirky. And I like that Patti Smith does her own, age-defying-thing, and Diane Keaton gave me my Annie Hall moment. But I really like my Grandma's style, back in the day. I have a champagne, raw-silk, pencil skirt that was hers, that I adore and a fantastic, Pucciesque print, silk caftan top with matching Capri pants that can only be worn individually for fear the psychedelic design might send people crazy.

What do you always carry with you?
Rescue Remedy, a black, mole skin note book and my Transport for London Oyster Card........oh the glamour!!

How would you describe your style?
Desperate? Wanting?.......usually to be somebody else, closet's a bit like a dressing up box.

What's you favourite-jeans, sunglasses or heels?
It's got to be sunglasses, they make my jeans look glamorous.

What inspired you to blog about fashion?
I don't really blog about fashion and until last year I'd never ever read a blog. The whole blog thing started by accident when a friend was out of work and I was encouraging her to do it. She ended up getting the TV producing job of her dreams and never did it and here I am.......

What is your favourite fashion store?
Anywhere with the sign SALE in the window.......I tend to buy the majority of my clothes second hand, partly because of financial constraint and partly cos I love a bargain. I don't really do second-time-around Dorothy Perks or H&M, but seek out the labels. Most of my disposable income goes to Seconda Mano in Islington, who will sell your designer threads for you. Fortunately, I live in an area where a lot of people wouldn't be seen dead in last season..... so I hoover up all sorts of goodies.

What is your favourite fabric in clothing?
Anything you don't have to iron.......seriously, I'm a shake and go girl. I did buy an iron...for son was about 12 and asked me: "what is this?" I've been out with guys who've refused to leave the house with me, and actually ironed the offending item themselves. Also cashmere gets me every time.......what's not to love?

Who are your favourite designers?
Got to be Vivienne Westwood because she's just such a brilliant person. Barbara Hulaniki, I'm always keen to channel my inner Biba. I like Marc Jacobs, a bit of Prada and am quite taken with what's happening at Celine now.

Would you choose to buy something high quality or make it yourself if you could?
No........I'm probably the only person that can destroy a garment sewing a button back on.......recently snipped through the sleeve of a much loved cardi doing just did it

Who's left that hasn't already been tagged?

A Femme d'Un Certain Age
Forty Not Out
A Rose Beyond the Thames

Saturday 18 September 2010

TV Times

I was watching telly the other day. Nothing new there one might think, except I was watching daytime telly. And daytime telly, to me, is wrong. A forbidden fruit, a guilty pleasure, possibly only allowed during periods of ill health. Who would admit they found themselves with nothing to do so rather than sit in the winged reading chair, reading, or doing a spot of yoga, or learning Mandarin or mulling over the knotty problems of the Palestinians, they'd stretched out on the sofa and watched telly? I watched a show with a very large Michael Ball interviewing a very large Dom Jolly. I'm not really sure of the purpose of Dom Jolly. I think he made a show with a very large phone but I missed it. Anyway, then a very large Clarissa Dickson Wright (unbelievably a year younger than Patti Smith........) cooked something that looked delicious, and they ate it (while I lived in New York me and my gay best friend were obsessed with Two Fat Ladies which we would watch every night at 11.30, he was Clarissa and I was the other one.....). The show was sort of rubbish but with a cup of tea and a Chunky Kitkat I was quite enjoying it, partly because it seemed so wrong......on so many levels. The fact that it actually has a name, 'daytime telly', means it's different. Different from nighttime telly. Even if the show was originally shown at nighttime. Because I come from an age when daytime telly was watched only by the under 5s, unemployed or over 60s. And students. And it was not the smorgasbord of delights it is today. Honestly, it was Sesame Street, Crown Court, a show called Whose Baby, where famous .....ish folk would parade their kids in front of the panel who then had to guess.......whose baby (this would probably be deemed some kind of child abuse today), and Through The Keyhole, not so much Come Dine With Me as come live with me. America had tons of daytime telly and tons of channels to chose from which we all wanted but as we all knew, American TV was devoid of taste, culture and quality because of it. Not like us. And then we got Richard and Judy.

The show wasn't actually called Richard and Judy back then but something like Good Morning. However, the irresistible husband and wife combo soon proved to be the most entertaining thing on it. They flung the door of their private life wide open and we were invited into their domestic bliss, life with the twins, homework, lifting, they were really just like us. Oh how we laughed at Richard's now legendary faux pas, Judy berating and contradicting him in equal measures. And so, the double act of 'Richard & Judy' was born and ran and ran and ran. I was on the show once. I say 'on', it was more a voice over. Having newly returned to England from the Americas, where the TV guide was the size of a Reader's Digest, and being without gainful employment, I was helping a friend run her stall at Spitelfield's Market. She had a handmade greeting card empire and on the run up to Christmas, the Market, quite a different scene then than the one they have now, decided to open during the week, instead of just Sundays. So, I too set about making my own wares (4 years at art college not wasted) and had a fine selection of cards and decorations to flog along with those of my friend. Not being a stranger to market work, I was well aware of the mind-numbing, finger-freezing, toe-throbbing cold that permeates one's entire being about eight minutes after you've set out your stall. So there I was, clad in my many layers of wool, topped-off with the deeply unattractive but ever so warm puffy-jacket (an item of clothing everyone in New York wears to get through the icy winters but does render you a shoo-in for the Michelin Man), a large fluffy white hat that came down over my eyes and a thick home-knit scarf that came up over my nose. Attractively attired and hunkered down on a fishing stool, I was surprised by a chirpy young woman with a microphone and a camera poking over her shoulder looming up before me and announcing:
"I'm from Richard & Judy, we're doing a piece about Christmas Markets......"
So, despite being new to Spitelfields, I talked of the camaraderie amongst me and my fellow traders, the notion of enterprise and of course, the spirit of Christmas ........presents. And thought nothing of it. Until that is all sorts of friends and acquaintances rang me up to say that my nose had been momentarily glimpsed in close up on Richard & Judy, while my musings about the marketeers rang out over the wide shot........ although of course, they never actually watched daytime telly, it just so happened that just as they were changing the video for their tiny children/tuning in for the lunchtime news/dusting too vigorously causing the telly to spontaneously turn on............ it was that precise moment.

Top tip: Mad Men......if I have to explain it you'll never get it.

Wednesday 8 September 2010


I've had a hair cut and I'm not one hundred percent happy. It's OK, not bad, but not great. The thing is hair, or at least my hair, knows when it's going to be cut. I have very thick hair that can, on a good day, be the envy of all, far and wide. But on a bad day, I look like an organic social worker who spends her spare time singing harmonies with one finger stuck in her ear. So, when it all starts to go a bit care-in-the-community I make the call for a cut. And as soon as I do it looks fab. Family and friends peer intently and remark: 'you look good'. I check in the mirror and they're right. I trip down the street and heads turn as I toss my auburn mane and the nearer the day of the coiff, the better it gets. So there I was, working my Sophia Loren meets Julie Christie look and now it's all gone............ a bit boring, a bit too short. I didn't really pay that much attention as the long, dark tresses fell to the floor, so intent was I to devour as many glossy magazines as I could. I once had this bloke cut my hair who was clearly way too over excited to be on a natural high. He talked incessantly whilst maintaining eye contact with me in the could he know what he was cutting if he was looking at me? Clearly he didn't. The result was grim but what do you do once the hair is gone? I hate hair cutting conversation, I just want to drink the coffee and read the Vogue. Fingers crossed my hair is just sulking and will forgive me soon for getting the chop. And, in a couple of weeks, I'll morph into Liv Tyler.

On my return from the salon, I stopped to peruse the fruit and veg at my local greengrocers.........keeping it green and real in north London......I discovered a fabulous fruit new to me: the doughnut peach, a peach that looks like a doughnut, so sweet and jucy and delicious and it kind of makes you think you're eating a wicked doughnut when actually you're eating uber-healthy fruit. Diet food of the Gods, surely. For all I know this delicacy may have been on our shelves for ages, everyone may have been chowing down on the soft white, almond scented flesh, but no one has mentioned it to me. In many ways it looks more like a peach that's been sat upon by a large peach-picker, but no matter, I've discovered them now and shall be feasting on them while stocks last.

Top tip: brighten your dull Autumn day with an easy trip to the countryside, just go see Tamara Drewe, a highly entertaining movie featuring the fabulous Tamsin Greig.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Heading for a spin....

I'm laying on the sofa, wrestling with the knotty problem of a sesame seed, part of my Omega sprinkles, inconveniently wedged between the back molars. I should be working but I'm not. I'm reading. Reading my book and listening to Lauren Laverne on 6 Music. Dancing Barefoot comes on the radio:

'She is benediction
She is addicted to thee
She is the root connection......'

This is one of my most favourite songs. Ever. This is the song I will take to the desert island. I want this song played at my funeral. I love this song. I have seen Patti sing this song many, many times. I have seen her standing on stage, removing her shoes and socks, dancing like a red Indian......that's a native American to this song.

The September sun shines through the yellowing leaves of the plane trees outside my window, the trees that obscure my view and usually keep me in the dark, are sparkling. I should be outside on such a day, enjoying the glorious end of so many wet weeks; the dying days of the season washed up on the beach, summer spluttering it's last before the fall of autumn wraps it up for winter in the amber glow of oranged leaves and smokey bonfires, while fingers, sticky with the butter drips of crumpets, reach for cashmere blankets they wished they'd purchased in the summer sale.

'Here I go and I don't know why
I fell so ceaselessly.....'

But I'm not outside in the sunshine. I am instead, transported to New York, September 1996, to the grassy knoll near the Summer Stage in Central Park. People, strewn across the park, sprawl on the grass, listening in the dark, to Patti Smith. I'm late: the child, the babysitter, it doesn't matter, I'm here now. This is the first gig I will write about while I live in New York. I will even interview the guitarist, Zeke Schein, when I discover he has stepped in last minute and usually works in Matt Umanov's Guitars on Bleaker, spitting distance from my apartment. But I don't know this yet. Right now I can hear the music but I'm too late to meet my mate Dave. He's already on the other side of the fence. I join the line, my hand is stamped, I'm in.

'She is sublimation
She is the essence of thee...'

The Summer Stage is a small, intimate, outdoor venue. Patti, untimely widowed, has recently returned to performing, just as I arrived in New York. How lucky am I? Dave and I have seen her read her poetry on this stage already, and, beaming with motherly, musical pride, introduce her young son Jackson. Armed with his guitar he played what I imagine was his favourite song of the day, 'Smoke On The Water'. The boy was good. But where is Dave tonight? We have no mobiles to navigate us through the shiny, happy people. I buy a beer in a plastic beaker and stand in the crowd, alone, and I think: I will not move, Dave will find me. I look up and Dave walks towards me, smiling, and Patti is singing.....

'I'm dancing barefoot
Heading for a spin
Some strange music draws me in
Makes me come on like some heroine.....'

Top tip: Read 'Just Kids' by Patti Smith and get to unravel the life and times of Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe while you hang-out in the lobby of The Chelsea Hotel with Bob and Janis and Andy and Sam and............

Thursday 26 August 2010

Going off online..........

"No" I said for the third time, "they did not leave a card and yes, I have been here all day ..... waiting .... and nobody has tried to deliver anything."
I had been waiting ..... all day ....... for my Waring Pro Classic Blender, in chili red, a gift kindly bestowed upon me by the ex-ex-ex ....... (father of the children) and for which I was highly delighted and very excited to receive. Except I hadn't received it. It appears that the delivery company in question's delivery system can't process my address (three letters beginning with know the one). This is not the first time this has happened, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the first person who's had a bit of their address drop off in the system, but oh the anger and frustration. And I really didn't want to shout at the poor Scottish lady on the other end of the line because I knew it really wasn't her fault. But I did sort of suggest that I'd taken an entire day off work to be in between 8 and 6 which wasn't strictly true as I was working from home. But I was preoccupied........

What moment of madness had possessed us to do this transaction on line?
"Get it online" he'd said, "it'll be easier, use my credit card and just order it."
Why? I live in London. I could walk to a well known department store in London's vibrant West End (albeit quite a long walk but I could...) and buy it. What made us think that ordering off the online was a good idea? So here I was, on day 2, waiting for my virtual present to get real.

And then you know what happened? The box arrived, I ripped it open and ....... the lid was chipped. I say the lid, it was the little, removable plastic bit that can be removed to allow one to drizzle olive oil while making mayonnaise, and I'm sure lots of other really useful things. It's chippedness didn't really affect the blender's capacity to blend but..... it was a ludicrously expensive piece of kit, bought not least for it's beauty and ability to double as an ornament as well as being an invaluable kitchen aid, so it needed to be whole. At least to start with.

And so ......... I re-packaged the Waring Pro Classic and embarked upon a relationship with Cathy, who appears to run/own/man the switchboard, of a department store in ....... Yorkshire. Yes, apparently I had gone all the way to Yorkshire to buy my blender. We got to know each other quite well me and Cathy, what with the checking and double checking to see if the plastic bit alone could travel without the rest of the blender from Yorkshire to London. It can't. And so the original rubbish one then had to be packed up and picked up by the rubbish delivery company and then it had to get all the way back up north and then a new one had to be redelivered all the way down south..............and now, the Waring Pro Classic Blender, in chili red, stands erect in my pink kitchen. And you know what? It's brilliant.

Top tip: Get back in the kitchen, men may come and go but the Waring Pro Classic Blender is guaranteed for life..........

Saturday 14 August 2010

Postcards From The Fringe.

Barry Cryer snogged me. . . . I say snogged but really it was a hug. Two hugs. And a kiss on the cheek. And I told him he was the comedy God of my kitchen, my radio guru, my life-line of hope and humour, my inspiration.......and then I returned to my seat before Security could escort me from the premises. I was on the terrace of the Loft Bar at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh, watching Barry from afar, plucking up the courage, or consuming a sufficient quantity of wine, which ever came first, to approach the High Priest of Hilarity. Top moment: watching Bazza deep in poetic conversation with John Cooper Clarke. Yes, JCC is still alive, hair quaffed high, weaving his way Bambi-like between the talent...... black-clad skinny jeans on skinny legs, ochre skin stretched over ashen face ........ (a little JCC homage there).

I had spent the day, as I had everyday while on my sojourn in Scotland, walking the length and breadth and length again, of Edinburgh, flyering (the technical term for thrusting unwanted flyers advertising shows, in front of a potential audience) for the show I was co-producing. And I had discovered a hitherto unknown talent for it, I could be spraying perfume in Selfridge's any day now. Perhaps it was the unusual offer of 'make a million before lunch.....' or the fact that a middle-aged woman with glossed-lips (the average age of my fellow flyerers was about 25) was asking 'can you afford to miss this opportunity?' Or perhaps it was because I was neither a youth in a dragon costume or a bloke in blue Lycra. Or decked out in full Victorian kit. Anyway, we had built a show, and they were coming.

I'd never been to the Fringe Festival before, never been to Edinburgh, and it was great. The city nestles against the craggy grey rock, over-hung by Aurthur's Seat, billowing beneath a big sky; clouds puffed high over the hills into the blue. You can see the sea. The streets were swelled by the anoraked couples, back-packed, clutching their fat, fringe programmes and spiral-bound note books, taking notes, traversing the North Bridge looking for The Traverse Theatre, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance Beyond, Pleasance Beneath.........assembling at The Assembly, going under the comedy radar for underground comedy at the Underbelly. And everywhere the gaily coloured, brightly painted talent, towering above the castle turrets: fire-eating, stilt-walking, fast-talking boys and girls, rolling-up to roll you over in shock, horror, awe and hysterics, while tattooed blokes with bald heads strain to view the Tattoo. In Edinburgh you're never more than ten feet away from some bagpipes.

It was a little overwhelming for a fringe virgin. It took me a couple of days to find my feet and not feel physically sick when trying to wade my way through the mighty listings guide, the size of the September issue of Vogue. But I did see Doon MacKichan's moving and hilarious fight with the fates: Primadoona, the wickedly funny Checkley Bush, Rachel Bridge, Sordid Lives, New Art Club Big Bag Of Boom, Viva Cabaret and the jaw-droppingly talented Meow Meow put the glamour back into crowd-surfing (if ever you get the chance run, kicking and screaming to get a ticket), and Nicky Hobday Conquers Space: a girl, a gorilla suit, some balloons in a cave, a perfect end to a perfect Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Top Tip: don't think about it, just have a go.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Let Me Eat Cake........

I'm tired, I feel tired, I look tired, I'm wearing my bags for life.......I need a holiday but instead I'm going somewhere slightly colder and wetter than London. I'm going north to Edinburgh, for work and play, and a chance to claim another husband (......but that's a whole other story). So, in an attempt to gird my loins before a week of what I hope will be fun-filled-festival-frolic's, I've been staying in and watching telly and I've seen the future. It's not good. But, depicted through the eyes of Jo Brand and her able cohorts, Getting On, is brilliant...... and horribly funny; shinning a light on the rubber-gummed chaos that is the spoon-fed world of the geriatric ward. I don't want to go there, who does? Do we start stock-piling the meds now, should the day come when our dignity is forcibly removed by some bloke in a white coat prescribing the drugs, drips and round the clock care that will ensure we can't shuffle off this mortal coil? Or indeed shuffle of to Switzerland, where dispatching the elderly and infirm is beginning to rival Toblerone and the cuckoo clock as tourist attractions.

But, while we are still breathing the ageing process does, inevitably, roll on. As it does for our parents. Having lost several (real and step) I still have a mother. One who has said, since I was a child, 'if I ever end up like that, put a pillow over my head'. And there have been times, since I was a child, when the thought, 'where's that pillow?' has crossed my ungrateful-bad-daughter mind. However, I now think I've found the perfect answer to the minefield that is the day-out-with-mum date. Yes, wisdom is finally catching up with age. Art galleries. I love going to galleries: London, Edinburgh, Switzerland...if they've got a gallery I'm going. Four years at art college not wasted. And so I took her to see the extraordinarily haunting images by Leah Gordon at Riflemaker and then on to The Haunch Of Venison (yes I know ..... it sounds more like we were on an oak-beamed-inglenook pub crawl) where we walked through Joana Vasconcelos' ethereal, fluorescent fairy garden, before bracing ourselves for the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. Galleries by their very definition discourage prolonged conversation and therefore there is less chance of the caustic comments, criticisms and frustrations of a lifetime of misunderstood intentions and unfinished sentences, to bubble to the surface and overflow into an already swelled river of guilt, recrimination and self-doubt.

Having fed our souls it was time to feed our faces. So we went across the road to The Wolseley, a place of calm amidst the endless ebb and flow of mac-packed tourists: it looks beautiful, everyone treats you like something between a long lost friend and Dame Judi Dench and on a good day you might even see Rupert Everett. And they do a delicious tea. If the cinema is my place of comfort and the gallery is my place of worship, then the emporium of fine food is my spiritual home. And my Mum's. We shared moist, mouth-popping, apple & poppy-seed cake, chocolate eclairs and mini-macaroons of the French, rather than Thora Hird, variety, and drank endless cups of Earl Grey, poured from a silver teapot. Bliss. And you can't talk with your mouth full.

Top tip: Cake can solve almost anything, if not a family friend, take a friend out to tea.