Saturday, November 29, 2008

Also in yesterday's Grauniad...

Yesterday Part 2:


21 May-20 Jun

'Keep calm and carry on' - the government's advice to the citizenry during the war - makes a good fit for a 'scope in which warrior Mars is keen to pick a scrap. Before you respond, make sure you're not outgunned. Practical affairs offer more promise, especially since, against all odds, your missing bingo number looks set to get called.

Missing bingo number? I reckon it's still hidden in the rubble...

I wasn't going to mention what happened today here until the emotional dust has settled.  But as this blog has already attracted scores of new visitors on the strength of it (I guess all they had to do was google my name), I feel I owe everybody some sort of explanation. But having spent a great deal of today not only talking about 'it' to my family but constantly dealing with ongoing, draining, fluctuating thought-attacks inside my own head, I'm uncharacteristically stuck for words. 

If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm not going to provide a link - not because I'm ashamed of what I've done (although in a way I am, but I'll explain why at another time), but because I feel that 'it' doesn't represent the 'me' I am today, OR the wonderful relationship I have with my family. And is all this my own fault? Not entirely. I can't say any more about certain 'practical' issues that have to be dealt with on Monday, but what I can say is that the feelings of those closest to me have been hurt - and it honestly isn't all my fault. 

Right now, one part of me is burning up with a horrible kind of flaming anger. Another - perhaps bigger - part of me wants to wrap my family up in cotton wool and tell them that I'm sorry, sorry, sorry. But mostly, all I'm experiencing now is an over-riding urge to sleep. It'll be easier in the morning? You have no idea how much I hope this is the case.

I'm sorry if none of this is making any sense to you (although it might, to my new readers). The thing is, none of today is making any sense at all to me, either. The only person things do seem to be making sense to is my mum - My Mother The Hero, actually. I can't tell her how much I love her (well I can, and I do, but I feel as though I can't say it enough). 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And to think...Christmas is just around the corner!

What have you been up to? I hear you ask. Actually, I don’t hear any such thing, but seeing as you’ve dropped by today, I guess you’re wondering. If I’m right, wonder no more:

I’ve been working, but in the happiest, most eclectic of ways: updating Bath’s newest food guide, writing about Bath’s newest entertainment venue, eating at one of Bath’s newest restaurants. The shock of the new? Not really; just dear old lovely Bath, made even dearer and lovelier by these recent arrivals. I’ve been stressing over writing a very personal piece that’ll be appearing in a major British broadsheet next weekend, and now I wish I’d never written it at all, but it’s too late to pull out now. I’ve been teaching teenagers to write (ha! A triple-whammy of contradictions linger behind that last sentence), and I’ve had an enormous amount of trouble squeezing a payment cheque out of a brand new publication I was commissioned to write a couple of pieces for, but that’s all sorted now, so there’s no point in naming and shaming (and anyway, the editor’s a good egg, but in that Ralph Gorse/Bounder, Terry in Minder way – you wouldn’t want to mess with him, even in the blogosphere). Oh, and I’ve just scribbled two mouthy opinion pieces, one on those who join Britain’s Armed Forces, another on why I want to be a man in drag. Patience, please! You should know by now that I have to wait until after Venue magazine has published them before I share them here…

I’ve been out quite a bit, too: watching Roddy Frame on the opening night of the aforementioned Komedia, and attending The Great Australian Drag Show the following evening (I’m sure you can guess which event I had the most fun at). I’ve been to half a cheese tasting evening at GP, and a posh lunch at the new branch of Harvey Nichols in Bristol’s Cabot Circus with the same crew. There have been several curry house sessions, a rather decent French-themed evening with MeDad and a very pleasant supper at a friend’s house in the nearby countryside, after which we all went to the local pub quiz and roundly trounced the regulars by winning by a country mile. As a result, my waistband is sending my jeans serious distress signals, so now I’m on a serious diet (which doesn’t, I’m happy to say, preclude me from comparing and contrasting the merits and delights of the Traditional Sunday Roast Dinner versus the one-pot, slow-cooked casserole three nights a week, at home).

I have been mostly reading or rereading anything by Jonathan Coe (I interviewed him recently and decided that he’s Where It’s At in terms of contemporary novelists) and back copies of weekend newspaper supplements that I never seem to be able to catch up with. I’ve also been listening – a lot! – to Tony Christie’s new album, ‘Made in Sheffield’; as soon as his version of the Human League hit ‘Hello Louise’ is available on YouTube, I’ll be sharing it with you here. Meanwhile, if you can get your hands on the album, do so; it’s properly emotionally dramatic, and glamorous in that wonderfully understated Roy Orbison/Johnny Cash/Gene Pitney way…which of course took me all the way back to Marc Almond, which then led on to Shirley Bassey – doesn’t everything, always? Later on today, I’m sure to be mostly listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits…

And while all this has been going on, I’ve been missing regular updates from fellow bloggers KirkbyGirl and H Factor (where have you gone, girls?), but have really enjoyed frolicking with Marmite Lover, who gets ever more fascinating post by post. I’ve sorely missed spending quality time with Molly Mud, who I haven’t seen properly since we got shamefacedly legless after the Bath Film Festival opening night party, aaages ago – a situation which is sure to be rectified by the time my next post comes around, because I’m gonna make darn sure it does. And I haven’t heard whimper nor whisper from Joe, the man who is supposed to be making my doggie dreams come true this Christmas – ditto the declaration just made about darn sure-ing.

But enough about me. What have you been up to? Please let me know…I’ve missed you!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thinking about food (as usual...)

Cooking is easy. There’s no great skill involved in reading a recipe, buying the ingredients and following the dot-to-dot instructions that have been laid out for you by someone who’s done it a thousand times already - as long as you choose Delia Smith over Heston Blumenthal, anybody can be a Jamie Oliver. What’s not easy, though, is owning up to the real reason behind such an activity. I believe that there’s more psychology going on in the kitchen then there is in any other room in the house; the bedroom may be a minefield of Freud-related anecdotal evidence, but when it comes to what we voluntarily offer to put in other people’s mouths at the dining room table, a sausage is no longer just a sausage.

Cooking for six people, in your own home, involves a lot of work. But I’m not ashamed to admit that, for me, it’s one heck of a power trip - a reliable way of ‘buying’ trust, limelight, gratitude and even a kind of love. For some, having a stovetop full of pots to fuss over is a way of overcoming shyness; for others, the dinner party is a chance to show off how much they can afford to spend. But there’s really no shame in admitting any of this. Rather than swim against the invisible tides that carry us back to the kitchen, identifying your personal reasons for throwing yourself headlong into the world of food (and millions of us do it, whether via magazines, books and TV shows, or by regularly cooking up a storm at home) can ultimately only make you an even better foodie; after all, all the best chefs are slightly psychotic.

But while most men are happy to scoff whatever is put in front of them, many women go through a whole gamut of emotions, considerations and judgment calls before they raise fork to mouth. Take ‘first date food’: pasta, for example, is a no-no-no – there’s no room for instant bloat in a size 10 LBD, slippery strands of spaghetti play havoc with lipgloss and the, erm, ‘wind’ potential is way too risky to gamble with. Meanwhile, seafood is too salacious, Tex-Mex is common and curry is downright blokeish. Anything French, though, makes us look sophisticated, and salad is a safe all-rounder; we’ll go home starving, but at least we’ll have looked all delicate and pretty while gazing into your eyes. But what do we go home to? Chocolate - which fluctuates between being a girl’s best friend or a potential WMD. Advertisers are well aware of this: consider the bar of Galaxy stashed in an underwear drawer, the woman who has to flash her underwear to co-workers because the calorie count in a bag of Maltesers ‘isn’t naughty enough’ or the iconographic, phallic imagery that promotes a Cadbury’s Flake and tell me that women and chocolate have a healthy relationship?

Such complicated psychology gets even trickier when it comes to shopping. I know women who carry pristine Waitrose carrier bags folded up in their handbags when heading off to shop at Lidl, burn ready meal packets rather than put them out in the Green Box for all the road to see and decant Nescafe into an ancient FairTrade-labelled jar before their friends drop in for coffee. In Girl World, it seems, You Are What You’re Seen To Eat. In my world, beef masala ravioli with a side of chicken wings and a hot chocolate sauce maketh the woman.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

And another thing...

As a result of extreme exploitation, many words and phrases in the gastronomic lexicon have turned into little more than tired, hackneyed clich├ęs, to be used by PR officers only. Take gastropub, comfort food and even poor old delicious; so distorted is their meaning today that to include them on a menu or even in a restaurant review is lazy (and usually insincere). But to see a phrase that at one time was laden with such noble intention turned into nothing more than off-pat blurb is truly depressing.

Until fairly recently, a statement promising locally sourced, largely organic food was a reliable indicator that you were about to feast on a plate laden with good taste. But increasingly, noble intentions seem to have been lost in translation. Last week, I was served ‘spring lamb’ garnished with ‘local’ asparagus, followed by a ‘seasonal’ fruit salad that contained pineapples, papaya and pomegranate seeds at a ‘gastropub’ (see what I mean?) that claims extremely saintly credentials. Elsewhere on the menu, I couldn’t help drawing attention to mahi mahi that ain’t never gonna be found swimming around the Cornish coast, no matter how dire Al Gore’s predictions. Indeed, the inconvenient truth on Planet Food is that some restaurateurs are casting a very wide net when it comes to local and/or sustainable sourcing, while others are striving harder than ever support local producers. While not everybody who eats out wants a side-order of ethics served up with every morsel on the plate, the vast majority of people don’t want to be lied to, either.

When it comes to the reputation of any eatery, one rotten apple has the potential to ruin the whole barrel. If you’re served slices mango in your ‘seasonal’ crumble this autumn, do the honourable thing and quietly remind the chef where we live.