Thursday, January 31, 2008

From IC to DB in one short, stormy moment ...

There was a massive, unexpected storm here this morning: icy sleet blown by the kind of sideways wind that picks up twigs and bits of debris from the road and dumps it all against the windows and on the roof, 'Wizard of Oz' style. It didn't last long, though - only just long enough for me to take my cup of coffee to the kitchen window and watch it all going on, with a Joy Division album fading to the finish in the background.

Ah, Joy Division; I haven't listened to them properly for ages. But I finally got around to seeing Anton Corbijn's Ian Curtis biopic 'Control' the other night at the Little Cinema, and my fascination was refreshed. If you haven't seen the film yet, do yourself a favour and go, even if you were never a JD fan in the first place - it's tenderly wrought and beautiful to watch. Yes, it's sad - how could the tale of a young life that ends in suicide not be? - but I'd rather leave a cinema feeling genuinely moved than commercially manipulated into a false sense of emotion. Am I making sense? Probably not; I haven't really 'got it together' in terms of making myself understood today, and I'm clearly not in 'professional review' mode. And every time I make an attempt to articulate the overall feelings that the film left me with, I'm left thinking more about how, if only someone older and wiser had been on hand to actually talk - or rather, listen - to Ian Curtis at the time, he'd still be around today.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, go and see 'Control' ... and if you do, tell me what you think about it afterwards (tip: pay particular attention to the opening scenes in the first 20 minutes or so: sulky teenage boys lounging around listening to David Bowie, smudged mascara on their cheeks and dreamy looks on their faces. Talking of which - oh come on, when aren't we in the mood for a treat like this):

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I just called (in!) to say I Love You

No really, I did! Those deadlines are tripping me up again ... and okay, I have to admit it: a slight hangover is having its wicked way with me, too. But oh what fun I've had/am having while the pressure is on! Details will duly be revealed as soon as my time is my own again (and the red wine is out of my system). For now, here's a little itty bitty something that was originally intended for the Valentine's Day issue of Venue but has since been deleted from the page plan. As the wise folk always say, waste not, want not - and seeing as February 14th is fast approaching, somebody out there might find the following pearls of wisdom come in very handy indeed.

You're about to say I Love You. Or are you? DO NOT commit to those Three Little Words if you’re:

  • Feeling guilty and looking for a fast-track to forgiveness
  • So drunk you’re likely to vomit before you get to the word ‘you’
  • Not sure of the person’s name/telephone number
  • Being put up to it by your mates
  • Trying to put a cat among the pigeons of an existing relationship
  • Feeling bullied into thinking it’s the right thing to do
  • In the habit of using your ex-partner’s name at key moments in your new relationship
  • Calling a Premium Rate number
  • Being interviewed for a job/talking to your boss
  • Playing a game of emotional blackmail
  • Merely trying to talk your way into somebody's pants
  • Lying

But DO go right ahead and say it when:

  • You really mean it. When the time is right, you'll just know ...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Feeling Angelic?

With a few obvious exceptions to the rule (mainly noodle or cous cous based), food that comes in a ready-to-reconstitute packet can’t quite throw off it’s Bad For You, wartime or student budget image - the classic triumvirate of conceits that earn such products a prime location on any guilty pleasure seeker’s shopping list. But of all the reconstitutable powders that magically turn into food, Bird’s Angel Delight rules the roost.

Launched in 1967 as ‘a soft, smooth and sophisticated luxury you’ll love to serve’, this powdered pud was an instant hit. Back in the days when spaghetti was served on toast, Angel Delight provided the ultimate afters: a sweet, thick, creamy gloop, insanely moreish and yet as insubstantial as candy floss. But unlike our childhood days, AD hasn’t disappeared. The packaging has funked up a bit since the 70s and ‘Forest Fruit’ has been added to a line up that still includes the chemically charged tang of butterscotch, the sickly, synthetic-tasting banana and the surprisingly rich chocolate. Children of the 90s probably just cut the powder into fat lines and snort it, but aficionados whisk it with milk, wait five minutes and start slurping. The best bit is finding a little wodge of unreconstituted powder that somehow escaped the whisk in the middle of your fourth spoonful; only then do you get the full-on, intense hit of your flavour of choice, thrown in to sharp contrast by the smooth, mild-mannered slop that surrounds it.

Whisk up some guilt today.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2008, at last!

Okay, the time for me to ditch the ditzy blonde who has been greeting us all as we enter the disco is long overdue. Down she goes, relegated to 'previous' rather than pole position, where she belongs. She was never going to stick around for long, anyway - blondes never do.

Anyway, change is in the air in general, outside of the realms of this little shindig. The full moon that hung over Bath last night, bathing the streets in a silvery-pink glow, was still hanging around at 8am this morning, adding an ethereal, silky texture to the sunlight that was already kissing the tops of the hills. It was as though the world needed all the extra light it could get - don't we all? It's been grim down here lately - rain, rain and yet more rain; dark grey skies and mud all over the pavements. But this morning, there was a literal new dawn - one that I knew we were gearing up for even before I saw that generous moon appear last night.

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself actually mustering up some enthusiasm for a trip into town. After what seems like months of slumping around the house in my slippers, I got up even earlier than usual and put all my energy into a Valentine's Day dining feature that had been hanging around on the schedules for way too long; by 2pm, I was free to trot down the hill and put all my skill and judgement into finding birthday presents for Mike (he'll be either 6, 42 or 79 on Sunday, depending on his own personal outlook on the world). Job done (I can't go into detail here, for obvious reasons), and it was time to go and do some real work at GP: new menus, plans for the future and a newsletter, being silly all the while. From the office window, I noticed that panto season has finally given away to a more stimulating programme at the Theatre Royal; "It's Behind You!" indeed - and thank goodness for that. And then we went off to take our regular Monday night table at the Boojon (see review below, if you can be bothered - it does sort of tie-in with the general theme of this post). Change may be in the air, but the best rituals ride those soft, gentle breezes and move along with us.

The Boojon (restaurant review)

Tradition is for life, not just for Christmas. Similarly, resolutions revolve around existing patterns: too shiny and new, and the good old ways just aren’t going to make them welcome. But although old habits may die hard, new ones eventually find a confident foothold, too.

Take the regular curry house get-together that established itself as a start-the-week ritual for my select band of merry men as 2007 rolled along. We go to the Boojon Tandoori, a contemporary Indian diner (ie, no flock) on the edge of the city centre, because we always enjoy a big family welcome from the lovely folk who do all the hard work for us, and the soundtrack – sort of, Erasure goes to Bollywood – is as lively as the flavours, if not our post-weekend demeanour.

Our order always goes something like this: a pile of papadoms followed by a main course selection with an emphasis on prawns, a supersized tarka dall, something meaty for me fella (forgivable, seeing as he often joins us after a five-a-side footie session in some local mud pit) and the usual bandwagon jumping groupies: pilau rice, nan bread and sag/chana sides. We’ve been known to veer off the established course - one evening, for example, we all had ‘proper’ starters; another time, my dad ordered (and swooned over) tandoori lamb chops (standard ‘medad’ food with an old Raj twist). But generally, we stick with what we know because it’s so darn good.

For a start, the papadoms are properly fresh, crispy pickle shovels, tasting only of themselves and their exotic accompaniments, not the familiar rancid tang of recycled oil. These blameless paps pretty much set a precedent for what’s to follow - the Boojon just doesn’t do excessive sat fat. From our saucy prawn selections over the months, the sweet and sour pathia and the nicely sharp achari have proved themselves to be worthy hardy perennials from a greatest hits list that includes a sublime dansak, a creamy paneer and a positively racy jalfrezi, and never once have we had to navigate a course through a tidal wave of oil. Meanwhile, I have it on excellent authority – from Bath’s own version of David Beckham, no less - that the lamb tikka rezala is “hot and fresh and tingly and tangly” (he means it’s, like, really good?), and we go for the tarka dall to share because it tastes like one imagines velvet would taste if it were infused in a bath of warm garlic (which might not look that good on paper, but is actually supersexy IRL). Even the chicken biryani – which I ordered once against a backdrop of sneers and accusations of ‘being common’ from, laughably, Bath’s own version of Hyacinth Bucket - is world’s apart from the dry, brittle bullets of yesterday’s reheated rice that we Brits have come to know and endure.

But does our little corner of curry house heaven cost us the earth? Hardly. We usually fork out around a tenner per head for our feast, the no-corkage BYO policy (I recommend begging the dregs from one of the posh bars around the corner) adding to the traditional January wallet-starvation relief.

If January Mondays can be this good, who knows what the year ahead might hold?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spa-ing with Fay

Something tells me I'm not going to be getting a birthday card from Fay Weldon this year ...


The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375): a collection of 100 allegorical novellas based around the theme of love in all its many guises, from the erotic to the tragic.

The Spa Decameron by Fay Weldon (1931- ): the potted histories of ten women spending the week between Christmas and the New Year at a superficially luxurious spa retreat.

Oooh, right - I see what she’s done; taken Boccaccio’s blueprint and given it a contemporary makeover! How clever. Or ... how bloody boorish. On the one hand, Weldon’s latest offering could be taken as blue stocking chick lit (“She’s referencing a medieval author but replacing Giovanni’s serfs with modern women who find themselves trapped in oppressive situations caused by the patriarchal structure of Western society - oh, the highbrow irony of it all!”). But beyond the knee-jerk jibber-jabber spouted by the chattering classes, there’s nothing quite so interesting going in within the pages of the book itself.

Okay, it’s a good set-up: ten initially disparate characters in search of an author descend on Castle Spa, an expensive pampering hotspot deep in the British countryside. Narrator Phoebe Fox - a novelist already in a state of high anxiety about her marriage and the recent murder of some friends - lets us know, in the opening pages, that she has the ability to “hear other people’s thoughts”; cue a roll call of stereotypical ‘career women’ (the trophy wife, the Hollywood screenwriter, the war correspondent, the judge, etc) all ready to blurt their tales of woe as the services offered by the spa itself grind to a halt. But despite teasers of raunchy promise, the resulting yarns are either bland, trite or just plain dull, while Phoebe’s commentary veers between leaden, pompous and cringingly clichéd as the tales drag on.

Weldon’s heavy-handed attempts to be ‘daring’ (weaving incest, abortion, murder, psychotic disorders, lesbian dilly-dallying, gender realignment, child abuse and rough sex into the stories at every opportunity) does little more than turn the whole situation into a game of emotional charades with a pantomime dame as team leader, while a collection of extremely dull, attention seeking poor little rich girls eat caviar and agree that yes indeed, all men are bastards.

So, our bitter band of harpies may be denied their pampering treats, but those expecting to wallow in Weldon’s literary jacuzzi aren’t offered much refreshment either. Giovanni must be turning in his grave.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Springing through the Drear

There's footie on the TV, the remains of a Thai curry in a pot on the stove and the rain has finally stopped (for now, at least). I've been reading Nigel Slater's 'Kitchen Diaries', and his ramblings about a salad of Cantaloupe melon, buffalo mozzarella and Parma ham (not to mention his 'Delightful Trifle') have reminded me that summer will one day return to wipe out the drear that seems to have dominated proceedings since January 1st.

Last night, we ate spectacular food at The Olive Tree (I'll post the review here as soon as it's been published in Folio/Venue), and today I underwent the first haircut'n'colour of 2008, to much personal acclaim: my hair is, right now, all fat and bouncy, with those frightful greys obliterated by shades of saffron and plum and aubergine (blimey, even my colourist's skills turn into a food review in the making).

The weekend came and went, suffused with bonhomie; the kitchen table hosted an 8-hour shift on Saturday evening, as none of us moved except to go to the loo or bring more food over to the table. At midnight, the YouTube party began; by 4am, Ross finally had his favourite pick of clips from West Side Story all to himself. We all went and ate a huge Sunday roast at GP the following day, followed by tea and cakes at the little French cafe in town - the one with the cobblestoned courtyard. In the evening, after our guests had left, I reviewed an excellent funny man called Paul Sinha at The Comedy Club in town (I keep trying to link you up to his website but there's a gremlin playing tricks on me, so just google him - he's fun. And anyway, that review, too, will appear here soon). Don't take this as in indication (or lack thereof) of quality, but I have to admit to indulging in a 10-minute nap halfway through the second half of the show - the weekend had, I guess, tired me out. I guess I'm just not as young as my hair colour would have you believe ...

That V-Day 'Love Songs' list again

Morning all! Okay, we're going to flit back to that List of Greatest Ever Love Songs for a moment, while I'm still wrestling (or perhaps, toying with?) deadlines.

The text that follows this video is a bit of a cheat, seeing as I originally posted it back in August. But not all of you are archive-surfers, and anyway, if my little tribute to David Bowie's 'Young Americans' album was good enough for God himself (which apparently it was - insert long, convoluted tale about how I stalked his press officer for feedback here), it's good enough for us. As for this video: the fact that Dave the Rave is gettin' down with Cher is the ultimate bonus. But seriously, folks: isn't this song just amazing?

Young Americans: A Tribute (pretentious - moi?)

As David Bowie traversed the deep valley between the vast, self-made mountains of glam-rock apocalyptica (‘Diamond Dogs’) and the ominous Euro-alienation that beckoned (‘Station to Station’), he made his best album of all: ‘Young Americans’ – the sound of a legend passing time.

Bowie appears on the cover looking cool, calm and collected, slick and delicious, yet pensively baleful – he was at his most beautiful, and he knew how to use it. Heavily influenced by the gleaming, commercial sound of Philadelphia soul but with a deferential, elegant curtsey to Lord Lennon (‘Across the Universe’) thrown in to keep his roots intact, the blatantly mercantile ‘Young Americans’ gave Bowie his first US number one hit (the clunky, hollow ‘Fame’), yet it continues to be the album that divides his longstanding fans. But who can listen to the achingly bittersweet ‘Can You Hear Me’, the empty desperation of ‘Win’ or the soft, melodic funk of ‘Right’ and not be completely seduced by the showbiz whore who falteringly led a whole generation through their turbulent adolescence and beyond?

If I had to choose one album to define the soundtrack of my life, ‘Young Americans’ would be it: heartache, devastation, beauty, cynicism and drama contained in just eight songs; life’s rich tapestry in all its vacillating, disingenuous glory.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Prime Cuts

The following are all genuine quotes, earwigged (and duly noted) when out and about in various Bath’s eateries:

Gorgeous looking, very stylish young couple in chic French bistro (aperitifs, three course dinner, excellent wine, brandy): “It’s a nice place, isn’t it?” (her). “Yes” (him). 50 minutes later: “How’s yours?” (him). “Lovely, thanks” (her).

Irate, ‘Desperate Housewife’ mum to careworn, exhausted daughter (barely-touched supper): “How dare you say I’m not good at relationships with men? I’m on to my fourth marriage – I doubt that you’ll never even make your second!”.

Early 40-ish woman with father, both a bit drunk (Italian bistro): “Did you like that, dad?” (as plate is taken away, completely empty). “D’you know, I can’t remember what I had!”.

Two 30-something women (bar, 10.44pm): “Honestly! A wooden spoon! And now, when I want to get in a horny mood …”. “Hang on, though – was he the same fella who had the thing about butter?”. “It wasn’t even butter, it was Flora margarine! But no, it wasn’t him – it was the one with the key ring fetish …”.

Nice old lady to nice old lady (tea and pasties): “… but when I looked into her shopping basket, there was a packet of contraceptives in there! I thought to myself, just goes to show – people are never as nice as they like you to think they are”.

Really vile, port-soaked old duffer (dining room of v. posh country house hotel): “Jesus Christ, doesn’t anybody speak English these days? I said, girl, bring me my cheese! Bloody barbarian …”.

Pretty, 20-something girl to similarly styled boy (untouched pizza on busy terrace of trendy bar, 6.30pm): “I wish you were somebody else, then we’d be fine”.

Eating out: it’s not just about the food.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Well, I have much to update you on. However, Monday morning deadlines wait for no man (or disco bunny, as the case may be) and I'm really not supposed to be lurking in here. So, while I go and rattle the keyboard in the name of forthcoming invoices, I urge you to go and visit another blog: Kirkbygirl. Trust me, it's fab (and so is the Kirkby Girl responsible for it). Have fun, come back soon and have a very Happy Monday! xxx

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Weekend's Menu

It's raining heavily - in fact, it hasn't really managed to get light yet today, at all - but in my little kitchen-corner of the globe, it's very cheery indeed. It's warm, it's messy, the phone never stops and songs from The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions (feat. Seu George) are floating through the CD speakers, a soundtrack which really can only mean one thing: there's an almighty cook-off underway.

There's a huuuuge homemade vegetarian moussaka in the fridge; all it needs now is a 40-minute blast in the oven, and it's ready to go. On the stove, a chorizo and cannelini bean casserole is simmering and reducing; hopefully, this means that the various depth-charge flavours within the red wine, fresh vine tomato and smoked Spanish paprika sauce that binds it all together will be developing nicely. A glut of courgettes from the Farmer's Market have been roasted with rosemary; all they'll need is quick shuffle with some chunks of feta, a sprinkle of pinenuts and ten minutes on the top shelf of the oven while the moussaka is finishing off, and they'll be sublime. Last but not least (it was the first dish to be prepared, in fact) there's a lemon cheesecake ice cream in the freezer - a recipe I adapted from Nigel Slater's 'Kitchen Diaries', and one which I'm now proud to call my own. Oh yes, it's been a busy morning, but in the loveliest of ways. What better pastime can there possibly be (apart from, if you're like me, writing) than cooking? Especially when you're really looking forward to sharing the results of your labour with good friends.

Tomorrow night, I'm hosting a supper in honour of two excellent friends of mine from Liverpool - a long-term couple who went through the mill and back (emotionally and physically) in 2007, and are now looking forward to much brighter days. Fortunately, they're basking in a much-needed blast of sunshine now, regardless of what's tippling from the sky. So they're coming here for a grown-up sleepover, and I think one of the GP boys might be joining us (I hope so - I love mixing good friends with good friends). Daphne'll be here too, fresh from a week in Madeira with his beloved. Add Mike (and his cocktails) to the mix, and that'll be eight, in all, for supper - hence the huge amounts of food, with sturdy veggie options seeing as one quarter of our party are face-shirkers. So why not do all the prep this evening? Because there's a leaving do going on at the Theatre Royal, and I want to go and sob buckets as my boss (in that job, anyway) signs off in favour of pastures new.

And that, my dearest Disco Bunnies, is how my weekend is panning out so far - and I've yet to even mention the comedian I'm reviewing on Sunday night at Bath's Comedy Cavern. Is it too much of a pun to say that the weekend is going splashingly well already? Hope yours is equally good fun.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Perfect Porky

It was a bright but freezing cold January day; the leaves on the trees wore frosty white negligées and the sky was positively Scandinavian. After a morning spent restocking the larder after the Christmas blitz, I wound up at the glorious Cooked Meat Shop in Bath’s Guildhall Market, where the olives, fresh anchovies, homemade fruit cakes and Wiltshire ham are second to none. And there, I fell in lunchtime love. It could’ve been a simple filled baguette that grabbed me. It could’ve been an exotic Jamaican pattie, or a swarthy spinach and feta pie. But no - something else entirely caught my eye, and my heart went pitter-patter.

Ten minutes later, and I’d found myself a bench overlooking the weir, a takeaway coffee beside me, an open jar of piccalilli (also from CMS, for this very purpose) wedged between my knees, and the real object of my affection on my lap, where it belonged.

If anyone can suggest a more satisfactory impromptu midwinter lunch than a traditional, hand-raised pork pie (solid, peppery pork buffered by a richly gelatinous jelly, encased in the shortest hot water crust you can imagine), broken by hand and dunked into chunky, mustard-infused piccalilli while enjoying one of the most beautiful views in the West Country (and hey, no tourists to ruin it!), then please, tell me about it. If it cost you less than £2.50, I’ll take you on my next restaurant review.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Walk in the Park, Bath style

I love the Royal Crescent Hotel. I see it every day from my kitchen window - way, way across the little valley that is Bath, separated from my flat by cityscape and circumstance ... so near, and yet so far.

Sometimes, I walk along the Royal Crescent itself - a walk in the park without actually visiting the park - just because I can: it's there, it's beautiful, it's the stuff of tourist dreams and Jane Austen novels and film sets ... but for me, it's just a lovely local walk. The hotel is snuggled right in the middle of the crescent itself - a big town house just like all the others in the row, except this one has a uniformed doorman there to doff his top hat at all who pass and help guests in and out with their Louis Vuitton luggage. There's no sign outside, as such, but a massive green creeper-type thing crawls up over the lower windows - rumour has it that this lush piece of verdant shrubbery is there for the sole purpose of making life miserable for the paparazzi when there's a 'sleb in residence; how funny.

I last visited the hotel last summer; a good friend took me there for posh cocktails (actually, I had a vodka and slimline tonic) on a balmy summer night. We sat in the perfumed garden and gossiped about all kinds of things, and felt very much at home. I once took a special friend to see it; a visitor from Canada. He liked it too - but then, who wouldn't? It's glamorous, but in a British, understated way; snooty, but only to those who crave snoot. I found out today that there might be a review dinner at the hotel's Dower House restaurant on the cards; once again, my job makes my dreams come true. I'd better start slimming into that LBD as fast as I can ...

... but not before I've tucked into tonight's Slater-style supper: oven baked salmon, served with pesto-drizzled smoked salmon and dill ravioli and spinach with toasted pine nuts. Sounds posh, but it isn't. Just like me. And the Royal Crescent Hotel.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

In the run-up to Valentine's Day, I'm going to start posting recommendations for Greatest Ever Love Songs here (please feel free to join in).

To start the list off in style, here's a little something that not only fulfills the Top Slush criteria, but picks up a couple of Animal Disco bonus points along the way: as well as being one of the campest videos ever made, surely Telly's fag breaks all known world records for clinging on to its ash build-up for as long as it does.

This video (and, of course, the song itself) is today's Random Act of Kindness. I love it - I hope you do, too.

Little Extra
Sorry, there isn't an actual video to go with this one (or if there is, I couldn't find it). So, press play, close your eyes and wallow in the Love Song equivalent of a cup of hot chocolate on a freezing cold day. The divas are coming ...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

I'd better start working on my karma ...

A glossy food magazine recently asked me to nominate my top three foodie experiences from 2007. Ooh, there were tough choices to be made. I could have mentioned Kentucky Fried Chicken (yes, honestly!) eaten on the forecourt of a service station somewhere between Birmingham and Bristol on a freezing cold night last January. Or, the kebab grabbed in a late night caff (in full-on party regalia, natch) on the way to a tres hip Liverpool film premiere in March. But eventually, goulash soup and Glühwein from a stall in Bernkastel Christmas market in December, takeaway baguettes eaten with my mum and my sister on a bench overlooking the weir in May and a shared bag of churros scoffed by my dad and I as we made our way from the Marais back to our rented apartment in Bastille, Paris, in early October topped the charts.

I gave reasons for my choices, describing how the atmosphere, the company and the taste of the food in my mouth combined to create memories that would be forever lodged in my senses. I wrote about how, for me, taste is so closely linked to emotions that often, even my diaries read like recipe books. I explained how eating out in restaurants (and writing about the experience afterwards) has taught me more about socio-cultural ritual - and my own abilities - than a Masters in Psychology ever could; suffice to say, I waxed lyrical about the great love of my life.

Clickety click, ping ping, nominations duly submitted. An hour later, another email from the magazine arrived in my inbox. “Dear Melissa”, it read; ‘We’re terribly sorry to have bothered you with our request. We mistook you for a food journalist. Thank you anyway for taking the time to reply”.

Happy Yesterday

Despite the bleeurghiness that hit the day before, I ended up really enjoying yesterday - a day of major lethargy, high drama and total slobbery combined.

I woke up to a rainy sky and the mild threat of a hangover (got scuzzy with the GP boys on Friday night - yay!), but still, the day held much promise ... if, that is, you find the prospect of lounging around on the sofa with the weekend papers with the Coronation Street omnibus on TV in the background promising. Such an idea certainly floated my merry boat so, having first seen Mike off to work (poor he - the office on a Saturday) and ventured out to the local shops for supplies, I holed up.

The day's menu was set to be a synch. I'd made a huuuuge pot of Nigel Slater's 'Herb and Barley Broth to Bring You Back to Health' (leeks, spuds, carrots, celery, onions, rosemary, sage and thyme); all it needed was a bit of quality protein - mmm, an organic, free range, corn fed chicken from the lovely butcher up the road - to go with it, and we were all set. So, I grabbed said bird for roasting while I was up at the shops, along with a brace of Gloucester Old Spot pork sausages to sling in the oven at the same time, either for a lazy breakfast later on this morning or to be put with the remains of the Nigel Broth later on today.

Just as I'd got all settled under the purple blanket, a good friend ('Matt', for the purposes of this blog) called for some Mariella-style advice regarding a long ago ex-boyfriend who still seemed to be obsessed with Matt's every move. Apparently, the ex subscribes to the newsletter from Matt's place of work, regularly holidays in a guest house in Matt's road and spends a lot of time trying to track Matt's every move on the internet (we know this because Matt is a bit of geek with some very sharp software of his own). After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we settled on a bottom line - of sorts: is the ex actually interfering with Matt's day-to-day life? No. Is he physically threatening? No. Is Matt, somewhere way down deep inside, actually a bit flattered by all this attention, finding it glamorous and romantic? Definitely not. So, my advice came out something like this:

Let the poor guy (the ex, that is) get on with it. His behaviour is annoying to the max in one way, but really, it's not going to turn Matt into a Britney Spears-style stretcher case (no matter how much Matt loves Britney, he can't claim breakdown-and-psychosis-at-the-hands-of-an-ex status). Yes, stalkers are very scary, and shouldn't be taken lightly (Animal Disco fans already know my take on this, from a long-ago rant - you'll find it in the archives somewhere, if you're interested). But we also discussed that Mariella page that I posted here more recently which, although not directly related to Matt's situation, does paint a pretty good (or bad) picture of many men's desire to subsume even a partner's past before they knew each other; given that sorry state of affairs, why would we expect the 'afterwards' to take a different course? Matt's ex was always a bit obsessive, even when they were happily shacked up together (he once berated Matt for knowing how condoms work; surely, in this day and age, such a 'skill' should be a given? And hang on - do we deduce from this particular tantrum that the ex had no clue about how to, erm, use one himself? Blimey - where, exactly, had he been before Matt came along?). Anyhoo: a leopard can't change his spots - and an ex-lover can't suddenly ditch the traits you once found 'cute' or 'loving' or even 'annoying-yet-forgiveable-'cos-I-lurve-him-and-he-loves-me' overnight - or even, it seems, four years after curtain down.

So - feeling all wise and philosophical about life - Matt and I said goodbye to each other, bathing in the rosy glow of "we've set the world to rights". But ten minutes later, my phone rang again. It was the manic ex himself. "Would you mind very much keeping your pointed little nose out of my affairs, please?" - slam. Eek! Matt had no idea how the ex knew we'd been talking about him, or how he got my phone number. It seems the ex's software, at least, is very well wired. My fresh advice to Matt? Call the police and start logging Mr Crazy's actions right now ... before we have very good reason to start calling 'Matt' Britney.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Is Bleeurgh a real word?

When I looked out of my kitchen window this morning, the rooftops were covered in a shimmering frost that made everything look as though it had been kissed by a passing fairy - or the spirit of Marc Bolan, after a particularly sweaty gig. Gorgeous! The sky is now white with the promise of snow (although it never really, properly snows in Bath), and work is slow; there's much to do, but nothing I feel quite up to getting my teeth into yet. Ah, well; at least I gave my teeth (and my big gob) some exercise last night.

Stephen, Geraldine, Mike and I went for supper in the country at the lovely King's Arms in Monkton Farleigh, a chunky, heartwarming pub/restaurant in picture postcard surroundings. It was, I guess, our New Year treat, seeing as I wasn't up to anything more than feeling sorry for myself on NYE itself, and S&G are off globetrotting tomorrow. So, we swapped city life (hah!) for pastoral perfection, and indulged in a little bit of eating, drinking and being merry. And very nice it was too! Really, fish and chips don't get much better than this (except, perhaps, if they're eaten out of a damp bag on an empty, wintery beach somewhere up north), and according to Mike, the sticky toffee pudding is the Ultimate Best Ever in the History of the World (note to self: start perfecting own recipe right now; I refuse to give that man excuse to stray!). Suffice to say, it was a very jolly evening indeed.

But today, I'm sort of ... aimless (appropriate really, given that that's an anagram of my name). I want to be as sparkly as the frost! I want Marc Bolan to kiss me after a particularly sweaty gig! I want ... to not have to tidy my bedroom, whinge whinge! But as my grandma used to say, "I Want Never Gets!". So, perhaps I'll concentrate on my Random Acts of Kindness project instead of moping around being a bit bleeurgh. Update on the project so far: Yesterday, when coming out of the Co-op, I cracked open a packet of Rich Tea biscuits and gave one to a little dog that was tied up outside the shop. Does that count as a RAoK? The dog ignored the biscuit, so I'm not sure that it does. I think I'll have to try harder with this one ...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rose-tinted memories

I was giving my filing system a bit of an early spring clean (goodness knows it needs it!), and I came across this little piece, first published in Venue ages ago. Enjoy!

Rose Elliot’s vegetarian cookery book ‘Not Just a Load of Old Lentils’  cost my mum £1.50 in 1972. ‘Fun, practical, easy, delightful!’ reads the strapline on the faded orange cover, the words running around an etched sketch of pulses, cheese, vegetables and wine. There’s a photo of Rose herself on page two; demure, but smiling encouragingly, with a subtle twinkle of fun in her eyes. This is the only photograph in the book - it’s left to the reader/cook to decide how Rose’s recipes should be styled.

‘NJaLoOL’ lived by the cooker in all the kitchens I grew up in, from the semi-commune in Wales to the one where the ceiling almost collapsed just after my family did. But in between the covers of this lovingly battered relic, my family remains totally intact. On page 179, buttery stains from my own childish fingerprints make a flapjack recipe almost indecipherable, while a hundred dinner party preparations have left their mark on the stuffed pancakes recipe on page 94. Potato cakes: served hot, with crumbly Cheshire cheese and a glass of Ribena, they were manna from heaven. Dhal, p108: my goodness, weren’t the Blease family ahead of their time? Perhaps the butterbean curry on the previous page windpowered us along. But why the purple stain on the Spaghetti with Aubergines page? I don’t remember ever eating this dish. Maybe mum tried, but failed - oh Rose, you let her down! Not so me.

Rose nursed me through my very first soufflé. She taught me how to make a croustade, stuff a marrow, handle pastry. This weekend, I’ll be making her vegetarian stroganoff; last week, I made her banana bread. And as I go, I’m adding my own indelible stains to a cookery book that brings back more memories than Proust’s madeleine ever could; 35 years worth so far, and many flapjacks still to go.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

In With The New

Christmas is over, and a brand (and hopefully, grand) New Year is officially upon us. How was it - or perhaps, how is it so far - for you?

Overall, I'm happy to say that we had a lovely time. I'm aware that many of you who are so kind as to visit the Animal Disco regularly come here for the gastro details; if you'd like to skip the waffle and go straight to the menu, I may, in due course, end up sharing details regarding the scoff that hit the dancefloor in another post. But then again, I may not. Either way, stay with me while I rekindle the blogging appetite again; I'll do my best not to put you off your food.

While you've been living it up in your own fine style, here's a brief rundown of where I've been over the holidays:

Christmas Eve: Dad, Mike, Mike's bro and me at Gascoyne Place (supper for four, plus fizz - ace).

Christmas Day: Church, our kitchen, our living room, TV, pressies, our kitchen, TV, the living room, our kitchen (guest list as above, plus Bella the dog).

Boxing Day: Our kitchen, town, Garfunkels, our kitchen, the living room, DVDs, our kitchen (guest list as per Christmas Eve).

27th December (sounds far too bland; I really think this date ought to have it's own official title): Our kitchen - bye bye dad, Mike's bro and Bella. The car. Liverpool: Vicki and Tony's, their kitchen, nieces, mum, pressies, buffet. Ross and Trevor's, their kitchen, one of their spare bedrooms (The Blue Room), pub (Peter Kavanagh's).

28th December: The Blue Room, R&T's kitchen, The Everyman Bistro (mum, Vicki, Georgia, Carlotta DuPrey, Trevor, Angela, Sammy, Mike, me). Lunch, with fizz. R&T's kitchen. The car - to Vicki's, their kitchen, a rather poor Thai chicken curry (my fault entirely), the car, R&T's kitchen, Thomas's new flat (which is actually below Sol's old flat, all done up), back to The Blue Room at around 4am. And then, disaster struck ...

29th December: Is this a hangover I see before me? If so, it's well deserved. But hang on ... temperature, vomit, an inability to do anything other than lie in a heap, sweating. Headache. More vomit. The temperature's rising ... and lo, gastric flu is on the horizon. By 5pm, I just about had the energy to make it to the car. By 9pm, I was back in Bristol, sitting slumped in the corner of the sofa at a friend's house, still looking and feeling disgusting. By midnight, I was contaminating our own bed. And so it went on ...

New Year's Eve: Just about made it to a cottage near Radstock, where friends of ours had holed up for the end of the festive season. I took up sofa-position again, from which point I watched everybody having a party, and imagined my alter-ego joining in. One sip of pink fizz as the witching hour struck, and I was back home for the holidays again, the only highlight being the two horses I met on the way to the car - charming and beautiful though they were, I couldn't risk more than a quick stroke for fear of passing the lurgy on to them as well. Blimey. Talk about starting the New Year on a low! Ah well. Things can only get better ...

Perhaps it's a little too early in the year to predict exactly how 2008 will shape up; suffice to say, I wish everybody a really good one, full of everything they wish themselves. Actually, that's an appropriate blessing, given one of the overriding themes that seemed to dominate the festive period down the disco. Now I'm pretty confident that what I'm about to say isn't affected by any kind of post-viral slump - I'm feeling loads better today, and anyway, I started wandering off down this particular thought-route way before the plague grabbed hold of me. But honestly, I can't help wondering where genuine goodwill has gone.

In my own little orbit of family and close friends, all was calm, all was bright. But in between the lines ...

Why have some people stopped saying "Thank You" altogether? Heck, when did people stop bothering to even muster up a "Hello" when entering a room? How have we managed to put together a society where manners, grace, elegant behaviour, 'real' conversation or even a hint of awareness of anybody other than our own vain, egotistical selves have all become apparently worthless? Why do even adults need to be constantly 'entertained' by other (admittedly, far more interesting and entertaining) people on TV? Why do arrogant, racist thugs call themselves 'Christians'? Eek, I should stop - I'm beginning to depress even myself, let alone my dear readers. But perhaps, against the backdrop of angels, fairy lights and jolly reindeers that has dominated the scene for the past six weeks, the frailties, hypocrisy and sickeningly selfish behaviour in all of us is brought into sharper focus more than at any other time of the year. But rather than just giving up and giving in, I have - perhaps for the first time in my life - made some New Year's resolutions that might actually be worthwhile.

1. Random Acts of Kindness
I intend to do at least one on every single day of 2008. Yay!

2. Tolerance
I'm going to practice it, big time. BUT ... I'm going to demand the same in return from those who don't seem to know the meaning of the word, both on my behalf and on behalf of others. But I'm NOT going to tolerate rudeness, in any form. So there.

3. Appropriate Apology
I'm going to quit saying sorry when I haven't done anything wrong ("I'm sorry for being ill", "I'm sorry you can't accept my point of view", "I'm sorry the house is a bit of a mess", "I'm sorry I'm working today", etc) and start saying sorry only when I've done something wrong (hurt somebody, for example, or come out with some really stupid, angry statement when drunk).

4. Appreciation
I'm going to count my blessings all the time, because I don't think I do this anywhere near as often as I should (and I'm very lucky person, on many, many counts).

5. A Dog
Someway, somehow, I'm going to get one of my own - this year. Talking of which ...

... I've barked on for far too long! Get back to your first day in the office (a-ha, I know what you get up to at your desk) and above all, have fun. And hey, spread the lurve, okay?

Happy New Year!