Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Weekend: what's all that about, then?

For freelancers, 'The Weekend' is an odd concept. Unless one rigidly adheres to the 'traditional' structure of the working week (you know: M-F, 8.30am-5pm), the whole TGI Friday thing means little at all - and Sunday evenings are rarely spent simmering under a cloud of almost-back-to-work despondency.

I can easily recall a time, back when I had a full time, office based 'big career' job (yikes, was that really me?) and weekends were pretty much the only thing that got me through the week - two whole, glorious days free of packed commuter buses, surreally stressful staff meetings and pernicious office politics. The trouble was, while five days seemed to pass insufferably slowly, the hallowed Sat/Sun passed in a blur of household chores, food shopping, desperate attempts to spend 'quality time' with friends - and crap weather. These days, I can spread all those things and more over a week without formal punctuation, and still fit in a full day's work whenever I have the inspiration/am three days behind a deadline. The funny thing is, though, the weekend still brings with it some weird sense of obligation to do 'weekendy' things, like picnics and dinner parties and looking for 'storage solutions' in Homebase. Or do what I've been doing today, which is flop on the sofa since 11am (before which I happened to finish off two major features, natch) and be told what to think by newspaper columnists (who currently seem obsessed with Obama, purple lace frocks and belly fat).

Last night I went to see Alan Bennett's 1980s drama 'Enjoy' at the Theatre Royal - rather predictably, I enjoyed it immensely. During the day, I had a long lunch with the editor of The Pig (not that I'm involved with that particular project in any way, of course) at Wagamama. The evening before, I had rather too much to drink with a very good friend of mine who travelled all the way over to Bath from Bristol only to be shat on by seagulls on the DK terrace before being chatted up by a really weird weirdo. He was saved from having us tell him to eff off in Dutch (we weren't being random - I think he was actually Dutch) by a hero from the local Petanque League; as my friend said, Only In Bath (or only, perhaps, when you're out with the Animal Disco...?)

Still working backwards, Wednesday was quiet - but then, it had to be; I'd spent the evening before on the DK terrace again, this time with Molly Mudd and too much wine again, lamenting the emotional tangles presented by our prospective (but much loved) families while the boys played the aforementioned Petanque on Queens Square. And the evening before that, it was curry club - I really don't need to tell you how that went, do I?

So that's what I've been up to - what about you? I do wish you'd all get a little more mouthy in the comments box. Or do what several dancers have started doing, and email me ( instead. Don't be shy - just let me know you're out there! Perhaps that's what weekends are for ...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

... on a little dishie!

I first reviewed Onefishtwofish in autumn 2005. “Stone floors, barrel vaulted ceilings and rough-hewn white brick walls make it easy to forget that we’re merely Bath weirside, not right on some Mediterranean dock,” I crooned about this lovely little then-newbie. “Charming, friendly and darn good value for money”, I purred, before declaring it to be Venue’s Bath Restaurant of the Year award and vowing to return on a very regular basis – a promise which I honestly, genuinely did not intend to mean almost three years later. Three years! But you see, apart from the stress on the waistline, eating out at least once a week in order to pay the rent (now there’s a credit crunch contradiction) offers one major disadvantage: when I discover somewhere delightful, I fully intend to make it a regular pitstop. But the following week brings another review and, like a flighty moth to a fickle flame, I’m lured off the road of good intentions by capricious novelty. During my latest 1000 day bout of novelty-bingeing, Bath has fallen foul to the virulent contemporary lurgy that is regeneration fever. Several stalwarts of the restaurant scene have closed their doors for good, leaving empty nests open for invasion by big chain franchise operations or city slick entrepreneurs. Meanwhile – calmly, quietly, stylishly - the gorgeous little fish bistro that, so many moons ago, I waxed so lyrical about has continued to set the kind of standards that those who seek to inveigle themselves with the city’s foodie cognoscenti would be wise to take notice of.

Onefishtwofish is neither flash nor fusty. The bright but intimate ambience appeals to both traditionalists and the younger, modish set (in Bath, we still use words like modish) alike, while menus – though thoroughly modern in terms of sourcing and sustainability (paramount in a fish-based venture) – offer instantly recognisable classics amongst the sort of flourishes that keep fashionista attention levels up. Mefella and I perch on the rickety shelf between the two social bookends, and our menu choices reflect our wobbly status. For starters, he chose Indian spiced crabmeat cocktail while I went for mussels that, further bolstering my ‘classic’ sensibilities, I chose to have in a mariniere sauce rather than Thai red curry or even tomato and basil. So, while I salaciously slurped big, fat, sexy morsels from a seductive bath of wine and garlic infused cream (from an organically-reared Jersey herd whose produce is such a hit in Onefishtwofish that the farmer is getting a whole new cow just to keep the restaurant’s supplies up), he delicately toyed with a neat pile of mildly curried crabmeat dressed with an artful combination of lime, coriander, yoghurt, mint and cucumber. Admirably defending his status, Mefella then opted for a Jamaican jerk-spiced swordwish main: a truly luscious loin rubbed with a dynamic, smoky blend of allspice, peppers and exotic aromatics accompanied by roast sweet potatoes further enlivened by a coriander and coconut sauce. And for me, a grown up version of that classic comforter haddock mornay, here presented as a huge haddock fillet glazed with tangy local cheddar cheese and topped with queen scallops. My choice was fresh from the specials board; it’s my guess that it’ll earn a place on the permanent menu very soon. Despite both our dishes arriving with their own, appropriate vegetable sidecars (I opted for chips to dip into my cheese lake), a generous bowlful of new potatoes and seasonal veggies arrived unbidden, and I forgot to mention that warm, fresh bread arrived with our starters; at Onefishtwofish, no crumb is left unturned when it comes to ensuring satiation. Having said that, we still found room for a thoroughly refreshing gin and tonic jelly (jelly! Alcohol! Not many calories! What’s not to like?) and a passion fruit pannacotta (between us, we must have drained the restaurant’s cream supplies for the night) to finish, putting a full stop to a meal that had me making an oath to return to Onefishtwofish as soon as possible. And I’ll do it, too; I swear I will. No, really I will. Soon ...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without ... a pineapple!

A pineapple is being threatened with being sent back to Thailand after the British foodie police refused to allow it entry into Britain. The thick skinned, sickly coloured old fruit – originally destined for the exotic fruit section of a supermarket near you and renowned for its captivating power over children – is currently languishing in the no man’s land that bridges the vast gulf between ethical, environmentally friendly produce and the “I Want That And I Want It Now” movement, formed around three decades ago.

The pineapple has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until its first manager – the legendary ‘Man from Del Monte’ – said “yes!” in the late 1980s that the appeal of fruit as a party act spread worldwide. Early chart topping successes include ‘Put me on a Pizza and call me Hawaiian’, ‘I’m Really Posh when I’m on a stick with Some Cheese’ and ‘Drowning in your Tacky Cocktail’, but this ancient but glamorous fruit’s popularity began to wane drastically around three years ago when restaurants started issuing diners with complicated ‘mission statements’ regarding ‘sourcing’, designed to relieve the guilt of Guardian readers who found it hard to justify spending the same amount a south American farmer makes in one year on a simple supper for two.

Today, the pineapple – along with the much-maligned Kenyan green bean, Peruvian avocado and Madagascan lychee – is at the centre of a controversial whirlwind of debate. Those in support of the import ask what difference letting one more case of ornate, complicated, bitter fruit into the country will make to a climate that’s already destined for hell in a handcart. Many consumers, however, would rather watch the strange fruit with very bad taste rot in an airport than allow it near our children.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I heart Tracey!

My friend Dave – a San Francisco-based writer/artist/polymathic renaissance man – is worried about his teenage niece. Having recently expressed an interest in taking a women’s studies module at college next term, she asked her (male) political science tutor for a preparatory reading list. “Christina Hoff-Sommers. Mary Grabar. Dr Helen Smith!”, wailed Dave, aghast. As Dave isn’t normally given to wailing, I did a bit of research; after five minutes of Googling, I was wailing myself.

In a nutshell, these three women are flying the flag for multitudes of Americans who – judging from the thousands of supportive comments out there in the blogosphere – want women out of academia, politics, the creative industries and commerce and back in the kitchen, where they belong. So, in an effort to counteract the insidious rhetoric to which his niece had been exposed, we gave her ...Tracey Emin.

Though her work sells faster than wheatgrass infusions on America’s east and west coasts, Emin has largely avoided the criticism, disparagement and condemnation to hell that Hoff-Sommers, Grabar, Smith and their followers heap upon women who fail to live up to the subjugated Barbie image so beloved by the kind of men who call women sluts. Not that Emin is exactly adored – or even respected – on our supposedly more liberal shores. “Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness,” said bitter old fogey – sorry, esteemed art critic – Brian Sewell recently, referring to the woman he cites as “his nemesis.” But whether you love it, hate it or merely don’t get it, is it really Emin’s art that strikes such fear and loathing into the heart of the misogynistic menaces?

On one hand, Emin is the pin up girl (pinned to the dartboard, that is) for ‘the Western world has gone to hell in a handcart’ brigade. On the other, she’s the epitome of ‘Thatcher’s children’ success stories. The half-Turkish Cypriot daughter of a woman who had children with Emin’s father while he was still married to someone else, Emin dropped out of school at 13 and went on the pill the following year. She underwent two abortions in her early twenties. She binged on every conscious-altering substance she could get her hands on. She contracted gonorrhoea and suffers from recurrent herpes. She gave up drinking, smoking and everything else, and now swims ‘obsessively’. She’s a Royal Academician with three honorary PhDs. She campaigns for more cycling routes and better schools and is annoyed that, despite all the taxes she pays, the quality of life in Britain is so bad. She’s donated millions of pounds to national and international charities. She never married. Oh, and she’s a multi-millionaire.

The more harrowing details of Emin’s personal life weren’t foraged for by sleazy journalists looking for some scandal to put her ‘in her place’ - they’re the experiences that form the bedrock of a prolific inspiration. By making art about those experiences, Emin isn’t endorsing them – she’s asking us to consider alternatives. While we aim to teach young people that abortion, STDs and alcoholism are best avoided at all costs, it’s inevitable that most will find themselves involved, to varying degrees, in issues relating to all three topics at some point in their lives. To attempt to hide this reality beneath the covers of a (literally) man made ‘respectability’, blame those with ‘immoral liberal values’ (Mary Grabar’s description of most contemporary women artists) for being partially responsible for ‘the confusion rife in American males today’ (yup, Mary again), and discourage rather than persuade women from all backgrounds to consider further education is to deny access to the kind of frank, honest, creative, resourceful, educated mentors who, without any sinister, brittle, quasi-moralistic sermonising, are those most perfectly equipped to elevate the consciousness of responsible citizens in the making.

So what did Dave’s niece make of Tracey Emin? “She thinks she could use a little Botox,” he sighed.

God bless America.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

You know magic really does happen when ...

Someone you haven't seen for around 26 years travels from Ibiza to Bath (via Dublin and Liverpool) for one night only and, when you're finally reunited, you feel as though you've never been apart. He's beautiful, funny and elegant; he brings you a David Bowie DVD, an original artwork in a gilt frame and a hand-painted silk scarf ... and everybody he meets falls just a teensy-tinsy bit in love with him.

Two other friends arrive in their camper van (camp van?) for an overnight stay, and their visit clashes with a cocktail party to celebrate Lady Mudd turning 30. Everybody gets on like a house on fire; you drink blue concoctions until 8.30pm and then go for a cut-price kebab, which tastes like manna from heaven.

You go to the shops to get milk one damp summer morning and you find the tiniest new baby snail you've ever seen in your life crossing your path. When you pick it up to rescue it from being crushed underfoot by the person behind you, its shell is the same size as the fingernail on your little finger; wafer-thin and almost translucent.

Your boyfriend goes to your hairdresser to get his hair done, and comes back not only looking major league cute and saying what a fantastic person your hairdresser is (he is, too), but carrying an enormous bunch of orange roses which he presents to you with a flourish 'just because'.

Joe, Ross, Trevor, Lady Mudd, tiny snails, blue cocktails, cheap kebabs, roses, Christian ('The Best Kept Secret in Bath'), my boyfriend, the Angel of Weston Super Mare and somebody else who knows full well who he is but will never admit it: I'm dedicating this one to you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sssh! I really should be working ...

We have the lovely H to thank for inspiration for the following post. As you’ll see when you go to check her responses to the questions below, she gave me full permission to copycat the idea. Once you’ve had a read, feel free to pick up the baton yourself (yes, even you who reads but never comments).  Go on - it’s fun.

1. My uncle once: married a showgirl. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a prince, and neither was he ‘the marrying kind’, so it didn’t last

2. Never in my life: have I got around to learning to swim

3. When I was five: I used to talk to animals, eat only honey sandwiches and write in a weird script that could only just be deciphered by holding the page up to the mirror

4. High school was: a non-event. I hated it, and left when I was 14

5. I will never forget: the details, the feelings, the tastes, the smells, the faces (I’m not being flippant or facetious - I really do have a weird memory) (but I’m rubbish when it comes to names).

6. Once I met: a woman who claimed to have had sex with all of the JoBoxers at the same time

7. There’s this girl I know: who heard that last anecdote and is actually envious!

8. Once, at a bar: I almost bought a round

9. By noon, I’m usually: talking to Medad while making a fried egg sandwich, having worked since around 6.30am

10. Last night: I ate vast amounts of curry and drank copious amounts of red wine

11. If only I had: enough money to take really good care of everybody I know and love

12. Next time I go to church: I’ll be most disgruntled if God is away from his desk

13. What worries me most: is running out of time ...

14. When I turn my head left I see:  a 1970s, wall mounted cupboard unit (doors closed)

15. When I turn my head right I see: an Ikea standard lamp, a wire of defunct plastic daisies that used to light up and a tangled clump of fairy lights that still do

16. You know I’m lying when: I tell lies. It’s always, always really obvious

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: pretty much everything

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: Adriana in The Comedy of Errors

19. By this time next year: I’ll be 45, eek! But at least I’ll have finally had my first novel published ...

20. A better name for me would be: Pollyanna. Or Freddie Mercury

21. I have a hard time understanding: how anybody can be bothered taking competitive sports seriously

22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: be absolutely bloody amazed at myself!

23. You know I like you if: I have more than one conversation with you; I rarely, if ever, bother making any sort of connection with people I don’t like

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: myself

25. Take my advice, never: get involved with a jealous man

26. My ideal breakfast is: a bacon and egg buttie, made with fresh granary bread (untoasted)

27. A song I love but do not have is: ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ by Jennifer Holliday

28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: look me up

29. Why won’t people: realise that good manners really do maketh the man?

30. If you spend a night at my house: be prepared to endure a YouTube party until 4am

31. I’d stop my wedding for: a quick fag break

32. The world could do without: violent men, in all their various incarnations

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: snog Snoop Doggy Dogg

34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: not naturally blonde. and not necessarily having more fun

35. Paper clips are more useful than: iPods. They do the job they're meant to do.

36. If I do anything well it’s: have an enormous amount of fun

37. I usually cry: when pre-menstrual and nature forces me to let my guard down

38. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: do as I say, not as I do

39. And by the way: I can't for the life of me work out how come H had 40 questions and I only have 39. And I really appreciate the fact that you’ve read this far ...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Good Golly Miss Molly/Mamma Mia!

The time is long overdue, methinks, for a little catch up. I have to admit that my last few posts have been previously published in Venue; I don't really like using this blog as a recycling facility, but needs must when the devil drives (the devil in this instance being the usual deadlines). But today is Friday; the deadlines are still nipping at my heels, but far less voraciously than in recent days. So here I am, all mellowed out by going to see the movie version of 'Mamma Mia'' last night and not much on the near horizon until 2pm, when I'm meeting Medad in town and going off on a real ale tasting session and a tour of the Bath Ales brewery. I have coffee at my side and slightly fuzzy hangover tickling my forehead under my hair; really, where better a place to hangout than right here?

Before I go on (and lord knows, I do go on ...), I'd like to extend a very warm welcome - to both this little corner of the internet and, actually, the World Wide Web as a whole - to my lovely friend Molly Mudd. Lady Mudd is one of the most gorgeous, unique individuals I've ever met. I can't tell you where or how I met her because I know she's a bit worried about what happens to information thrown out into the electronic ether, but what I can say is this: I love you, Moll! You're funny, fascinating and fabulous - so there.

And hello too to another newbie on the scene (well, the blogging scene, anyway - the writer in question here is an old carthorse who's been promoting himself to a worldwide audience since time immemorial) (or at least, since we were 12 years old). Chill out with The Iceman himself at his new blog; if you like what you read, encourage him to keep on scribbling. Talking of bloggers, what, I wonder, has happened to KirkbyGirl? She must be so enamoured with the vision of herself in her new bikini that she can't drag herself away from the mirror ...

Anyway, enough of that. Next up, I urge you to completely ignore what the dour faced, sour puss film critics tell you: 'Mamma Mia!' is fabulous. It's camp (VERY camp), sexy (if you like young, lithe boys), funny, silly and gorgeous to look at. Medad took me to see it, and even he came out (almost) dancing (I, for some reason, spent every single second of the whole shebang in tears! Talk about over-emotional ...). "I never understood what people meant when they call a film 'feelgood'", he said later, despite the fact that my mascara was streaming in rivulets down my cheeks. "But I do now - I feel good. If that was a girly film, I want to be a girl". If 'MM!' can do that much Medad, it can certainly do it for you. Afterwards, we went for an over-expensive Chinese meal that was way below even so-so had it been half the price, and then we went and sat on the pavement outside the Garrick's Head, where I flirted outrageously with Nigel 'The Bounder' Havers until Mike came and joined us, then he and Medad got gently wasted on Guinness with a Port lid. Some longs hours later, I went to sleep wishing life could be like 'Mamma Mia!' all the time.

There! Does all that qualify as a catch up? I believe it does. Have a wonderful weekend, y'all! Before you go, leave me a little comment so I know you've been here? I always love hearing from you. Off I go now to placate the deadline-drivers ...

Monday, August 4, 2008

We Are How We Eat?

In her elegantly-written tome ‘The Sex Life of Food: When Body and Soul Meet to Eat’, Bunny Crumpacker (I kid you not) examines the close association between two enduringly fascinating, everyday (or every year, depending on your circumstances) activities: food and sex. It’s a cracking bedtime read for gastroporn junkies – until, that is, a supersized portion of reality sets in somewhere around chapter three. For it’s at this point that Bunny urges us to sneak a peek at fellow diners next time we eat out to witness her theories – unconscious foreplay, subtle references to sexual persuasion, etc - in action. So I did. And this is what I saw:

A pot-bellied, 40-something buffoon wearing massive shorts and a t-shirt bearing the legend ‘I’m With Stupid’ (well, you’d have to be) loudly boasting that he once ate a triple cheeseburger in one bite. A tiny, uptight, pallid woman wearing what appeared to be a nylon overall having a very lengthy argument on her mobile phone while the woman sitting opposite her reapplied her lipstick after every forkful of salad. A stylish, attractive young couple who exchanged not one single word between them throughout the entire duration of the meal. A smartly dressed older man boorishly lecturing a woman I assumed to be his daughter on why “being faithful” (his quotation marks) is “a ridiculous concept” (ditto). And in the middle of it all, me – a loudmouthed Harpie so preoccupied with writing about food that when bedtime comes, I’m often too exhausted to do anything other than dream about my next meal.

Crikey! What, I wonder, would Ms Crumpacker make of all that? “We are all at our most beautiful, sensual best when well fed,” she says, at the book’s finish. It’s a tasty theory, but I beg to differ.