Friday 30 April 2010

Gardner's Question Time

Last week the gardens of some of the finer homes in my hood flung open their garden gates and invited the public to wander about their roses while nibbling on homemade cake and (unlimited) tea. Now, there is not much I won't do for a cupcake and a mug of Earl Grey, so I took my good friend, and our hangovers, along for a look see. I have never been what you might call green fingered but I have tried to embrace the big pots ethos with varying degrees of success. It seems the dank corner in which my front door lies is only good for planty, green things and the hot pinks and vivid orange blooms I crave belong to another place. One that gets the sun. So, after taking advice from my horticultural friends, (why is it that perfectly normal people suddenly start speaking fluent Latin whenever you enter a garden centre?) I have now planted Hostas and ivy and ferns, which seem to be doing quite well although I was just about to throw what I believed to be a 'dead' fern away when it recently burst back into life, apparently that's what they do......who knew. Anyway, me and my friend had a lovely time, sitting beside a water feature, under a palm tree ( I kid you not) chowing down on slabs of walnut cake with butter cream icing and raspberry cupcakes, discussing the 'circus' party we'd attended the night before (a tight-rope walker since you ask and I may never get the glitter out of my eyebrows!!) Then we went to look at the beautiful tulips of one of my yoga ladies, she's just celebrated her 95th birthday. She was standing under the tree, proudly displaying her blooms, wearing her trade mark Wellington boots and wrap-around cashmere cardi, her neat white bob framing a lifetime of beauty. She advised me to try Euphorbias in my sun-free corner so ego sum off to B & Q !!

Now I don't know if this is an age thing but I found myself genuinely excited by the Election .....yes I was one of the lucky few who managed to get through the door and cast my vote.... for what it was worth. I went with the son, now of course no longer the teenager, who claimed he was not a political animal and didn't really hold with anything that was on offer, but that he and his friends had decided to vote for change!?!? It was all so jolly in the school play ground in that truly English way. Eager canvassers sporting big grins and even bigger rosettes, huddled together in corners, suddenly united in a common goal to get us voting, armed with their clip boards, making gentle enquiries. Armies of volunteers pointed us needlessly in the direction we were going and one eager beaver got a bit narked when I checked on my boy, insisting he, and only he, was allowed to instruct on how to make the cross of democracy. Had I not had such a busy day on Friday I would have stayed up longer, flicking excitedly between BBC, ITV and the Divine Lauren Laverne on 4, eager to discover what gem of wisdom Paxman might winkle out of Joan Collins or who could top that well known political pundit Bruce Forsyth. It was like some kind of Royal Variety Show nightmare vision of the future.

With all the excitement I lolled very happily on my Saturday night sofa, catching up on Sky plus and thoroughly enjoying Later With Jools, hasn't that Iggy Pop got the shiniest hair ever? Bowie does a good mop top too, whatever drugs they were taking it's certainly given them a lustrous sheen to die for. But for me it was Courtney Love's age defying performance that stole the show with her lyric of the week: 'I'm too young to be this old....'

Top tip: Put on 'Nobody's Daughter', fling open the windows, turn it up to 11 and let Courtney lead us into our dotage.

Monday 26 April 2010

Age cannot wither her......

"I feel like an old man," said my son who just turned 20, "that's it now, no more teenager, it's all over." I smiled, said nothing and helped myself to another slice of birthday cake (a triple-layer devil's food cake with white-chocolate-cream-cheese icing from the Magnolia Bakery cook book, with added blue berries, part of his 5-a-day.... since you ask). They say that youth is wasted on the young and yes, wouldn't I have enjoyed myself so much more if I'd known then, how much worse it was going to get.......

But now, here comes summer, the sun has got his hat on and the days have suddenly started to get longer, creeping up on us in a "goodness, is that the time? I didn't realise it was so late..." kind of way. And with it the long, hot, much hoped for, hazy days of lazy lunches, picnics in the park, lying in the long-grass. Dark glasses perched beneath broad-brimmed sun-hats, arms glistening with factor 25, fingers sticky with ice-lolly drips, it's time to surf the wave of pink wine and chilled Prosecco.

I went through a period in my 30s, whilst living in New York, and buying cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery, when I would only ever been seen on a beach in a one piece. Then I went to Europe. In Spain, France, Italy, anywhere sur le continent, it seems that age is no barrier to the bikini, from the stripey tanga top to the day-glo thong, octogenarians proudly sport their itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny, yellow, pink, purple polka-dot bikinis, unabashed. Tanned hides ripple and undulate across the white sands, with more wrinkles than a Bedouin's saddle bag. So, I thought, why with the onset of old age comes the cloak of the two-piece. As luck would have it a girlfriend of mine has started a bikini empire called 'Nikinis'. Having spent the 80s living in Los Angeles where the daily wearing of swimwear is mandatory, (think high legged, halter-neck in red), she later re-located to the hippy haven of Goa, (string-bikini with beads) so there is nothing she doesn't know about gusset-width, bottom-coverage and adjustable straps. And so, as I prepare to concertina my tummy back into two, tiny pieces of Lycra, I feel it's time to embrace the pre-pool party diet, di-fuzz the legs and suck it in for the summer........after just one more piece of birthday cake........

Top tip: Dr. Nick Lowe (no not the singer.....) skin care products do seem to be delivering their promise!

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Is It Just Me?

A volcano erupts in Iceland and the world as we know it comes to a grinding halt because the resulting cloud of ash is so thick it can bring down any plane fool hardy enough to attempt to fly......and yet, we can't see it. In fact, not only is this monstrous cloud invisible from the ground, but we here in the south of England have experienced the best weather so far this year. Coincidence? Well I don't think so. How come since the day of this natural disaster we have enjoyed unbroken sunshine? The skies above are clear, and blue and sunglasses have become a hand-bag must. Not that I'm complaining, I'm all for a little peace and quiet over-head, it's just's too quiet. However, my trip to Worthing was vastly improved by the splendid sort of sunset one might expect over the Serengeti rather than a retirement stronghold on the south coast.

I was in Worthing to visit a friend who has recently moved there due to fact that it is vastly cheaper than Brighton and it's ersatz neighbour Hove, rather than taking voluntary retirement from the modern world. To show off the south coast at it's best, on the Sunday we took a drive to Little Hampton where I don't think I've been since I was a teenager (something to do with a bottle of Blue Nun and the funfair, if memory serves....) and had lunch at the now famed East Beach Cafe. A favourite with the weekend magazines, this brilliant seaside cafe is housed in the extraordinary Heatherwick building, often reffered to as 'visionary' it looks like something out of The Flintstones. Now I know that living in London I am spoiled for choice when it comes to food, simply the best, better than all the rest, from the humblest bowl of creamy, homemade humus, drizzled with olive oil at a local Lebanese, or going nose-to-bowl with a Vietnames Pho, to macaroons at Sketch or pay-the-difference bubble & squeak at the esteemed Wolseley. And the thing that gets me about food elsewhere is that it tends to live on the dodgy corner of fine-dinning and tries-too-hard. Despite excellent, fresh ingredients and often very skilled chefs, there seems to be the 1990s need to daub everything with a raspberry coulis or, in a nod to the naughties, sprinkle the cod, steak or homemade sausage with blueberries. Simple food cooked well is not enough for the discerning northern diner of epicurean from Ipswich, it is not enough to just pan-fry the salmon fillet, it must be accompanied by a capaccio of carrot, a sushi of strawberry and a smear of jus........enjoy. However, the East Beach Cafe gets it right. We had between us crunch-crispy battered cod, plump-pink fishcakes, mushy peas, spinach and the best chips I've eaten this year.....don't get me started on the sticky toffee pudding and double-creamy vanilla ice cream. And the sun shone. Littlehampton? We could have been sipping our Rose at a cafe on the croisette at Cannes.........if you squinted in the direction of the sea.

However, despite this clement weather, I'm wearing a jumper but this is no ordinary jumper, this is a designer jumper and because it's April it was in the sale. So I managed to save myself a whopping £120 pounds by purchasing this woollen gem and because this is England I still get to wear it even when the sun is shinning.

Top tip: Check out the back of the boutique and clear out the sale rail of next year's winter woolies.

Friday 9 April 2010

Food For Thought

Sad news about Malcolm McLaren. I was never much of a punk fan, a little fearful of The Sex Pistols, although I did become a big fan of PIL, but I did love the McLaren/Westwood world of fashion. I was at art college, living not far from the Kings Road, and we used to go to World's End and dress up as pirates and watch the big clock spinning backwards.....oh happy daze. A few years ago I saw Malcolm on a TV show about food and memories, a sort of my life on a plate thing, and he talked of picking dandelion leaves on Claphan Common when Vivienne was on a macrobiotic binge. Then he took us on a tour of a market in Paris where he was living, and the godfather of punk bought a chicken. It was quite a change to see the one-time enemy of the middle classes carefully examining la poule for freshness. He roasted it very simply with lots of garlic and a good dousing of French white wine. It looked so delicious I made the same the very next day and it was quite excellent. In our house it is still known as 'Malcolm McLaren chicken' so I made it in his memory.

'He's lovely,' said my girlfriend, 'he's going to call you.' I've only been on a couple of blind dates, the first being a blind drunk (I must have misheard....) and a total disaster, the second was very early evening with a very late night DJ and the fact that he was about a foot shorter than me meant it was a none starter from the off. So, despite my reticence, I held my breath. But he didn't call. And then he did. He called to say he'd be away for Easter, he didn't have his diary on him, he would call when he got back, or I could call him, and should he go to Thailand? Because quite frankly, apart from our coffee date there was nothing else keeping him in England....He didn't call. So, in the spirit of 21st century gender equality, I called him. He said he was out, could he call me another time...when he had his diary? I'm not holding my breath.......

And so to the great dating debate: to internet or not to internet? I know a woman who found Mr.Right on the web, indeed his name was actually Mr.Wright and now she's Mrs. Wright. And an Ex of mine has just moved in with the woman he has been dating for the last 2 years, whom he found in cyberspace. However, neither of them live in London and all the girlfriends I know who do, and have given it a whirl, have less successful, although sometimes quite hilarious, stories to tell. One even found herself regaling her newly married gay best friends with the impressive potential of a suitor only to discover they had heard the same story about the same man from another single friend. The big city can turn into a small town just when you least expect it.....

Top tip: For a spot of gory comedy and a complete break from the hum-drum doldrums of daily life go see Kick Ass (incidentally there is no way for an English person to say this without sounding a complete prat)