Tuesday, October 31, 2006

simple pleasures (4)

Cake had to make an appearance sooner or later, didn't it? Cake is mother-love, hug replacement, over indulgence. In school we self medicate with cake constantly in an attempt to cancel out our bad days. Then the next day we beat ourselves up for eating too much cake.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

simple pleasures (3)

Autumn is here, and the soup making has begun. I love making soup: it makes me feel very virtuous (all those vegetables!), it makes me feel like a domestic goddess (chopping can do that to a woman), and all of this is achieved by a meal that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and cook. My stock recipes are leek and potato (secret ingredient one rasher of bacon), carrot and butternut squash (it's in the rosemary) and celery (no secrets involved), though I also cook a huge range of what my mother used to call 'bitsa' soups, involving whatever vegetables are left in the fridge. For some reason I have never really got into cooking meat soups, probably becasue when I began cooking I was going through the obligatory art school vegetarian phase. I still carry the guilt from the occasion when my mother whispered 'I've put a chicken stock cube in but she'll never know' to me as she passed over some leek and potato soup to a vegetarian friend of mine. Scarred for life, I am.

The other good thing about soup of course is that it goes well with both cheese (what doesn't?) and toast.

Despite my love of all things soupy, one of the few foods that I truly despise is a soup. The abomination which is French onion. Countless people have attempted to persuade me of the deliciousness of this stuff, but I can't bear it. It's thin, it's brown, it tastes bad and to add insult to injury it features wet bread floating upon it. In a word: bleurch.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

simple pleasures (2)

Despite the fact that I love a wide variety of foods, when it all comes down to it I could probably live on toast. And as it happens, between January and May of last year toast in combination with houmous or marmite did form the backbone of my diet (which might explain why I lost quite a bit of weight: maybe I should write a diet book and clean up). When I am on holiday and eating lots of fine food I begin after a couple of weeks to crave beans on toast; which I rarely eat when I am at home. When I have a hangover I want toast and butter. When I am in a hurry and realise that I ought to eat I have cheese or scrambled eggs on toast. If I'm four o'clockish I do toast and jam. There would be a very large hole in my diet were I to give up toast.

And yes, I am aware of the Paul Young song.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

simple pleasures (1)


Thursday, October 26, 2006

activities for the brokenhearted [a retrospective] - 3

Listen to sad songs

1. Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole - Martha Wainwright
2. Destination: Anywhere - The Commitments
3. Love Me or Leave Me - Sammy Davis Jnr
4. Love Me or Leave Me - Billie Holiday
5. Love Me or Leave me - Nina Simone
6. I'll Never Fall in Love Again - Dionne Warwick
7. I'll Never Fall in Love Again - Bobby Gentry
8. Things Have Changed - Bob Dylan
9. Wrong Again - Kirsty MacColl
10. Naufragee du Tendre (Shipwrecked) - Kate and Anna McGarrigle
11. All Things Must Pass - George Harrison
12. End of the World News (Dose Me Up) - Tom McRae
13. Gone - Ben Folds
14. Each and Every One - Everything but the Girl
15. Speaking of Happiness - Gloria Lynne
16. When I Get Home - Ruby Turner

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

cake du jour: special feature - banana bread returns

It is perhaps not such a good thing to have discovered that banana bread goes rather nicely with cheese.

I have today (in between interviewing roofers and contemplating the state of the garden) baked myself a loaf of banana bread. It is delicious, if a little flatter than one would expect. Luckily, I have several excellent excuses for the flatness of my banana bread:

Excuse number one: I used the wrong flour. Plumstead refuses to stock wholemeal flour choosing instead to offer a splendid range of Indian garam flour, so I resorted to wholemeal bread flour, which I knew in advance to be a mistake. I meant to put in some more raising agent but forgot.

Excuse number two: I have no scales. I'd forgotten that I gave my scales to my Mum because she admired them so much. I haven't got around to replacing them and didn't remember this until I got home from the land of cheap scales (the pound shop). I therefore had to convert the whole recipe to American measurements (tablespoons and cups) which was inordinately clever of me but definitely resulted in rather random measuring.

Excuse number three: I think the (pound shop) loaf tin was a bit big and I would have been better off with a half-pound one, but there wasn't one.

Excuse number four: This is the first cake I've baked in nigh on 15 years. I obviously need practise.

In the meantime the cake though slightly flat and rather breadier than I suspect it ought to be tastes bloody delicious. There's rather a lot of cake for one person and I was planning to give some to Erialc for her children to eat, but then I remembered that it has nuts in it and nuts are probably verboten*. I'll just have to eat it myself. It's lucky that I have put in a lot of training when it comes to cake eating and am up to the job.

*Erialc if you see this and are prepared to offer the babies nut-infested banana bread let me know. Let me know quite soon because you and I know just how fast I can eat cake :)



Monday, October 23, 2006

another chance to catch pneumonia

It's been hard enough to get a quote out of anyone to fix my roof. My roof, which was fixed (ha!) the summer that I moved in. That has been quietly leaking into the front corner of my bedroom ever since. Which on closer examination has been vaguely patched by the previous owner of this house with plaster at the front of the parapet. Plaster which I can only assume he tired of applying appallingly to the interior walls and thought he'd stick on the exterior on the basis that he hadn't botched that enough yet. The poor deluded fool.

I digress. It's my flashing. It needs replacing. I have had a couple of roofers come and squint at my roof and tell me that it's cracked where it joins the parapet (oh yeah...shit..shit..shit..), and one friend who also pointed out that my roof is sagging in the middle and is therefore demoted to 'harbinger of doom: ignore at all costs' status. And then the quotes singularly failed to arrive. A combination of work, weariness and the desire to bury my head as deep as possible prevented me from chasing them too hard. And then I had a morning's release at work.

After several phone calls which happily ended amicably I finally recieved a white envelope in the post on Saturday morning. I had been unable to understand why my new best friend the roofer was unable to tell me the price over the phone but concluded that he was following some arcane builder tradition. I ripped the envelope open eagerly, hoping that the price would be less or even mostly the same as the other bloke who at a staggering four weeks after visiting still seems unable to locate his first class stamps.

Wrong. I was wrong. How wrong is it possible to be? Wrong to the tune of three hundred pounds. That's three hundred pounds more than the original 'ballpark figure' I was given four and a bit weeks ago by Mr Royal Mail.

Holy fucking crap, to put it mildly.

Anyone got a long ladder?



Sunday, October 22, 2006

she smoked mentholated cigarettes and she had sex in the hall

Today I am mainly wishing that I knew somone I could send the following email to:

Dear Someone,

you keep hanging round me
and I'm not
so glad you found me
you're still doing things that I gave up years ago

Cheerful One

It seems a strangely aggressive email to send though, and to be honest (and thankfully) I don't actually know anyone right now that I feel this way towards. Not even remotely. Also, I have a nasty feeling that one ought to have given up quoting lyrics at people by the time one is 39. However, the idea once lodged is hard to let go of, so the email now sits in the 'drafts' section of my inbox.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

tout le temps perdu ne se rattrape plus

I'm sifting through about 700 and something emails, the stuff I never bothered to re-direct when I changed to my gmail account. It's junk and mailing list stuff but every now and again I look through it before I delete to make sure no treasure is slipping through my fingers. There is never any treasure.

Suddenly there's a name I recognise from my deep and distant 19yr old past. A girl I knew. A good friend with whom I have had tenuous contact over the past twenty years. I open it up to find halloos and the usual enquiries about what I'm doing and where I am. I'll have to deal with that and inform the her of the new administration, I think.

Then I notice another sentence. She's had an email from a once mutual friend. He sends his love.


The funny thing is, I don't really remember the details of the end of our friendship. I believe I walked away because I was feeling hurt, and then never looked back until it was far too late to return. I used to do that. It's very possible that I still do. I remember the friendship, how important he was, and how I have regretted losing touch. How I've looked for him on busses and trains and in crowded places now and again over the years and reminded myself that there is no point in looking for a 20 yr old when we are both aging. How I've wondered what he looks like, what he does. How it's a bit odd coming now, because the new administration has brought so many changes that I find myself examining all of my past relationships (platonic and otherwise) to see if I can find clues in them; so he has been on my mind recently. How I didn't find any clues, only embarrasment and regret.

He sent me love? Of all the things, I never expected that.

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cake du jour

Fondant fancies never made an appearance at home, but I do vaguely remember Nanny producing them at tea time. Nanny had an exceptionally sweet tooth and it was hard to go longer than 30 minutes in her house without sugar-related food of one sort or another being offered. She compensated for this by only ever offering small amounts. The mini mars bar was a particular favourite: a sweet which I have always loathed and which was constantly pressed into my sweaty hand between the ages of 7 and 12. I ate it anyhow, as I have inherited Nanny's taste for both regular and sweet food (as well as arthritic pain in my little fingers). The fondant fancy would fulfil all of Nanny's criteria, being both excruciatingly sweet and rather small. Nowadays it seems impossible to eat only one. I much prefer the lemony ones but of course will eat a pink one if nothing else is available: who am I to fight the family genes?

Recently a group of us spent some time in school contemplating producing a giant fondant fancy for Trouble's wedding. It is perhaps fortunate that we never got around to it, as the resultant sugar rush would surely be apocalyptic, and South East London cannot afford to lose that many teachers in one go.



Friday, October 13, 2006

activities for the brokenhearted (2)

Run away with the circus

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

cake du jour

It wasn't until I left home that I found out the bananas had been just for me. Quite by chance one day when I was home for the holidays Mum mentioned that as I no longer lived at there, she no longer bought them. I was probably hunting for one in the fruit bowl at the time, as they are still more or less the only every day fruit that I will eat voluntarily. 'Eat an apple' was always my Mother's reply to any expressed hunger, and I've long held a grudge against apples as a consequence.

Banana bread was the result of my uneaten bananas. When they started to go black in the bowl she'd bake banana bread. The result was a plain but distinctly banana-y loaf cake. Pale, with a darker crust and little dark spots inside. Although dry it wasn't one of the cakes that it was acceptable to put butter on (although circa 1983 it would have been Flora). It was a dull sort of a cake: the sort that you would not be tempted to have more than one slice of, and I haven't seen or eaten it recently, in fact probably not since I left home.



Monday, October 09, 2006

merry very merry

Every other Monday I teach the class that I had the year before last as 7year olds. They were a lovely class then, and they haven't changed much. Actually the extent to which they haven't changed constantly surprises me. Alice still bounces up and down like a manic Tigger, Chris is still pushing in the corridors, Hayley still wears her coat buttoned up to the chin and Cassie still gets her pre-PE headache as regular as clockwork. I pointed this out to them the other week and Steve piped up 'I've changed - I'm gooder!' which just goes to show that he hasn't changed, either.

This afternoon I had to teach them music. A quick scan of the plan showed that we had to go over a round that I taught them a couple of weeks ago. It goes like this:

'Hey Ho, nobody at home,
Meat nor drink nor money have I none
But I will be merry, very merry'

Despite it's being something which is unlikely to show up on MTV any time soon the class actually really enjoy singing it. Last time we were singing it in three parts, pretty successfully. We spent a lot of time working on the attack and diction. I like teaching singing. This afternoon I decided that before we went onto the complicated and inharmonious matter of trying to pick out the tune on sets of chime bars with most of the necessary notes missing I'd get them to sing it to me again.

'Can you remember it?' I asked them. Cue much enthusiastic nodding. 'Go on then: let's hear you' I said. I might have la-d them a note. Or I might have forgotten. What I got was one of the finest pieces of South London football terrace Englishese that I have heard for quite a while (Since anyone sang "e's got ve 'ole wewld in 'is 'ans", in fact.)

'Ayy, Oh...nahbodee at 'ome,
Meet nor Drink nor Munnee-av-I-nuN
Bu' I wiwl be meree-veree-me-eh-rreee!'

Bless. (As they say around here.)

I leant back against the classroom wall and laughed. They laughed back at me, which has always been one of their more endearing characteristics. Then we got all the chime bars out, which would account for the thundering headache this evening.



Sunday, October 08, 2006

hammersmith palais

1. A haircut.
2. Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
3. Autumn sun.
4. Unfinishable lunches.
5. Miso soup.



Saturday, October 07, 2006

the revolution is not bloody here

One of the lesser side-effects of being locked in dispute with talktalk is the slow erosion of pleasure in hearing what used to be a tune that I used to quite like - Thunderclap Newman's 'Something in the Air'. Listening to hours of the anyodyne cover version of it interspersed with a self satisfied woman lying about how important my call is to her is a very special sort of torture. 50 minutes of it the other day did for me, really.

I spent another hour this morning going through the call-and-get-cut-off process, and listening to it in between contemplating crying (pointless) and throwing things (pointless and ultimately expensive). In the end decided that my sanity would benefit from some time away from the telephone. A nice shower. The tail end of 'Sounds of the Sixties' on Radio 2. (I know. I am desperately untrendy.)I walked away from the computer and entered the gentle haven of my bathroom.

I showered, and as I began to wrap myself in soft towels what should come on the radio? Yes. Thunderclap Newman.




Friday, October 06, 2006

activities for the brokenhearted #1

Go to the seaside



Thursday, October 05, 2006

a guilty admission

Before I give up and come home sick I spend the morning on release from teaching. It's my once-a-fortnight reward for the psychopathic beginning of the week. I really really need a refresher on the beauties of positive reinforcement, but I digress.

I sit in an office, at a desk. I have a telephone, and an internet connection upon which I can check my email. I don't actually get any email (well, OK, one) but the being able to check feels like enormous luxury. These are background details, they do not fill my morning. What fills my morning is writing a list of stuff what I have done (in an attempt to persuade my head that indeed I should go up the payscale), and collating several sets of information from a couple of forms which I sent out to staff at the end of last term. In both cases I read a few things, write some notes, then produce a document. I also sort through a three inch heap of paperwork and put it into several different folders.

It makes me feel fabulously productive, in a way which teaching and marking books never quite does. I have organised, I have implemented, and I have achieved. Even though my head is so thick and fuzzy that when I try to save something to the desktop I can't work out from the pop-up window where the desktop actually is. (Erialc - 'You're on it already?)

I have this strange talent for producing pieces of paper. For writing letters. For creating succinct forms. For passing out information, collecting other bits in again and then squeezing it down into readable digestable useful documents. I love doing it. I could do it all day. I am a paperwork queen, despite the fact I find it virtually impossible to read beyond the first paragraph of most memos that I get (this admittedly is because they are often so badly written that I lose the will to live by the time I reach the second sentence). I feel bad about it but I like it much, much more than teaching.

I wish I had a job doing stuff like that all day. I wish I knew what job that was, because if I did, I'd be trying really hard to be one.



Wednesday, October 04, 2006

cake du jour

We never actually had Dundee cake as kids. I used to want it, but as the only cakes we ever ate were made by my mum (two a week), and Dundee wasn't in her repertoire, so we never got it. Dundee cake came in a red tin, beause it was bought. We didn't have any money when I was growing up, so we didn't have things that were bought. Especially not foodstuffs. Foodstuffs were cooked, in the kitchen. Now that I am older I realise that this want was entirely about the not having. I have always been prone to wanting things merely because I cannot have them.

At the time though, it was the almonds that made me want it; those whole almonds stuck into the top of the cake in concentric circles. I suppose they seemed exotic. Certainly my mum never stuck things in the top of the cake. Granted, she regularly poured all manner of delicious things over her cakes (things which I would usually get to lick from the bowl), but they weren't almonds, and they weren't stuck in.

I remember the disappointment the first time I tasted Dundee cake. I ought to have known because I don't really like fruit cake, except my mum's. I especially don't like rich and slightly bitter fruit cake, which has no icing or marzipan to distract you from all that fruit. And almonds? They don't make up for the lack of sickly sweetness. In fact, they are sort of hard and tasteless having been through the baking process.

I don't remember the last time I saw a Dundee cake. Were they a product of the 1970s? Or have the citizens of Dundee been making cakes, sticking almonds in the top of them, and stashing them away in red tins for centuries? Suddenly I need to know.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

dublin, dundee, humberside

Bad dreams. For some reason at the moment I am prone to the sort of Sunday night pre-work dread that I haven't experienced for years. It's exceptionally dull, especially at 3.27am (precisely).

I walk into a large white reception area, complete with sweeping desk and a distinguished, suited receptionist who appears to have wandered in from The Third Man. He pushes a small off-white envelope towards me. My initials are on the front. As I take it I hear someone remark 'no, just ignore her'. I go and sit on an upholstered white dining chair in the middle of the room, and pour the contents of the envelope into my palm. It's a shell necklace. Large, and folded. Shell necklaces don't fold I think, and involve myself in the intricacies of something which should not happen. There are small holes drilled into the shell, and little leather rivets which allow it to fold. Ah, OK.

Without warning I realise that I am going to be killed, any moment. In fact, someone is probably lining up a shotgun with my chest even as I am sitting on this chair. I tense, but it is inevitable. I am going to die. On this chair. I sit and wait for the impact.

When I wake up to blunder towards the bathroom I notice a distinct listing to the right. This happens several times. I am clearly far too sick to work. As my mother has been correctly predicting for the past 39 years, I feel better when I get there.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

re-evaluate along the dotted line

I am having a little moment next to the dancefloor, despite the fact that I've had a great time with my friends, despite the fact that I've had three glasses of wine which I discover under the new administration now means 'pissed', and despite the fact that the last act as well as being very funny had a really, really, really nice arse*.I wish I were dancing, I wish I were at home, I wish I were younger, prettier, thinner, blonder, stupider. Mainly I wish I wasn't bloody single.

Trouble emerges from the loos, and we stand for a while admiring the diverse dance styles and categorising them. 'Desperately overconfident' and 'Good grief, a tank top?**' are the two main categories. My moment passes. We abandon the struggle with our limited self-respect and push our way to the centre of the dancefloor, where we run through a lengthy gamut of openly stupid dance moves. These moves were mainly developed as a result of working on a routine for 'Ugly Bug Ball' last summer with a class of very 'special' 7yr olds, and needless to say we fit in seamlessly. We are drawing admiring glances. Or something.

Using the tried-and-tested method of pointing an elbow forwards at head level and following it we tour the dancefloor. There is a paltry selection of geeks, 18yr olds, and those who may be dancing but who may also be stumbling slightly.
As usual, Trouble is propositioned. We make our excuses and leave.

*Oh that arse. I shall be thinking about it for days. I am quite sidetracked now; even through the hangover. Oh my goodness.
** Tank tops are in again. You heard it here first. Don't even think about it if you're over 25. I'm getting one tomorrow. Cable knit.

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