Ingratitude! thou marble-hearted fiend...

“Ingratitude is treason to mankind.” James Thomson

Wednesday 24 March 2010

I am entertaining.

Blogging is such a solipsistic pastime. Or maybe it's just narcissistic. Tomayto, tomahto - it's all about me.

I'm going to go out on a limb here to illustrate my limitless ingratitude to say that I sometimes complain about having a cleaner. Pre-cohabitation, I would have had one on my life wishlist. Now, and pay attention because this part is important, now that I have one, I don't like it as much as I thought I would. Yes, it is great to have a clean house and not have to clean it myself, but I am such a curmudgeon about having people in my home or having to leave when I would rather stay in, it's all laden with resentment. No, I don't expect anyone to feel for me and yes, I am an ingrate, and probably a bit spoiled and lazy too. Enchanté.

For the last four or five weeks, I have gladly accepted cleaning duties. Due to scheduling conflicts, birthdays and illness, there has been no cleaner and I was happy to have those Fridays to myself. In my slovenly terms, maintaining the house week to week in between actual professional cleanings just means changing sheets, sweeping a little and bleaching the toilet. What a joy to not have to pitch about the house tipsy and demented Thursday at midnight, only just having remembered that I need to find clean pillowcases, or hide things I don't want her to find/move/throw away/clean.

Don't worry though, I get my ingratitude comeuppance in this week's episode, in which I reluctantly arrive at the conclusion that I will be cleaning for a series of events involving actual other people who don't live here. There is a big, important and much anticipated dinner party. There are sleepers-over. I haven't heard from the cleaner in a couple of weeks. She was ill one week, then the next week she needed to go back home to Poland for a clinic appointment. Then, nothing. I have tried ringing and texting but I haven't had a reply. I am genuinely worried about her. I am also worried about people coming to my house which hasn't been cleaned properly in weeks.

My mother, in the feminine tradition of mothers everywhere, instilled in me a deep fear of being exposed as an earthly being with feet of horn and chipped varnish clay. Domestic imperfection behind closed doors was shameful enough, but should these conditions ever be revealed to others, well, the embarrassment would be unbearable. Keep a suicide note and cyanide capsule handy in case paramedics or firefighters are ever called to your boudoir and find an unmade bed. Never mind that you are in it! No point in living, traitor to your sex, scarlet 'S' for Slattern, Unclean! etc..

Yesterday I decided to tackle the kitchen floor, which is cleaned regularly yet is always dirty. I actually got on my hands and knees - such a great phrase, with the suggestion of supplication, reverence, unworthiness and martyrdom in equal measures - and scrubbed the floor with a brush. It was great. I felt like Marie Antoinette in a shepherdess costume. Just kidding.

I am actually a fan of extreme cleaning, by which I mean cleaning those things which are rarely cleaned and doing it very thoroughly. You at least have the hope of seeing a difference between the before and after. My cocksucking floors, which never ever  ever  look clean, are now cleaner than they have ever been and will ever be. They don't look very clean. My back? Not so good. She is, how you say? Broken. 

Lucy would have had a plan. She would have hired Ethel, or spent the money Ricky left for the cleaner and done it herself with a disguise and a funny accent and it would all come to a hilarious conclusion. (Was that an actual episode? It sounds plausible.) I could try that, but it's probably not as funny in real life.

Monday 22 March 2010


Facebook is a funny thing, eh? My ex-husband is now emailing me to let me know small, quite sweet details of his day to day life, like the GCSEs he is doing now because he didn't do them the first time around, or the fact that he now has a boat, which we considered when we were together but thought eventually to be too risky and expensive a project. He did his carpentry apprenticeship in a shipyard and would have been handy with it, which I guess now he is. He is also, it seems safe to say, happily remarried and has children and I am happily re-partnered. We don't plan to meet or anything. There was just this initial email and now he gets in touch twice a month or so to let me know about something he did at the weekend or an essay he's catching up with. It's quite unexpected and slightly odd. I never know what to say back. I married this man 20 years ago having known him for all of two years, and we weren't together two years later. He's a nice guy, or I should say he was when I knew him. But he's kind of a benign wellwisher, little more than a stranger, like an old family friend who knew and loved you as a child and now sometimes sends book tokens for your birthday. I don't feel that there is anything untoward occurring. It's just a curious turn of events is all, my past just sort of curling back around from behind like the end of a long scarf.

Friday 19 March 2010

Recipe Wednesdays. On Friday. Still alliteration-free.

Damn, my second Recipe Wednesdays, dashed by my National Gallery induced trauma.

How about this amazing brownie? The directions sound much more involved than they are. In short, make the puree, melt the chocolate and butter, throw it all together. And this is a super-robust item, folks - just keep the correct proportions of wet and dry ingredients. I've already cut the sugar from the original recipe by 50g, but if you wanted to trim a little more (probably no more than 25g though) just sub an equal amount of flour or ground almonds instead. You can use prunes instead of figs, or sub spelt flour for wheat. I actually used leftover homemade cranberry sauce instead of figs after I wildly overestimated our Thanksgiving requirements, and they were very popular indeed.

The original recipe is apparently something to do with Linda McCartney, but what you really should take away from that link is that Green & Black's is indeed the only chocolate to cook with and you should definitely use it to make these brownies if it is humanly possible and also, I've said it before and Linda would agree with me, please use free-range eggs. So thanks Linda, but I found your brownies toe-curlingly sweet, so I've made adjustments. The last time I made these I felt compelled to eat pretty much the whole tray, so I renamed them.

These Brownies Made My Clothes Too Small Brownies

175 g pureed dried figs
125 g butter
300 g good quality chocolate (70%/85%, I always use Green and Black's)
400 g sugar
5 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla essence
200 g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt (optional)
150 g roasted nuts (optional, but I like hazelnuts and almonds)

To make fig puree, cover about 125-150g of dried figs with boiling water (figs+water to equal 175g). Keep warm (you can microwave on low for 5 minutes or so or put in a small pan over low heat). Soak until soft (about 10 minutes) and puree in food processor or with stick blender. The puree should have a texture similar to thick batter or soft butter. If it's too thick, add a little water or if it's too thin, add more softened figs. (If you find you've made a bit more than the 175g you need for the brownies, you can use it to top toast or porridge or substitute for butter in biscuit or flapjack recipes.).

Melt butter and chocolate together in a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water, or put it in the microwave on low for about two minutes (check, stir and repeat until melted).
Beat eggs, sugar and vanilla together until thick and creamy, then add 175g of the fig puree and then the chocolate/butter mixture.
Sift together flour and baking powder (add a pinch of salt if desired) into the bowl and combine.
If adding nuts, roast under grill or in a hot pan, chop and add.
Pour into baking pan or loaf tins. I use silicone, which doesn't need preparation, but a metal tin should be greased and either floured or lined with baking paper.
Bake at 180°C/350 F/gas mark 4 for about 30 minutes or until the brownie begins to crack and does not wobble when shaken. This may take slightly less or slightly more time depending on how hot your oven is and how you like your brownies (ie longer baking time makes a cakier, less fudgy brownie). Cool and cut into squares. Take skin off tongue by eating most of them.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

My whole damn morning.

I have a very close friend who is coming to stay in a couple of weeks over the Easter weekend. Easter doesn't normally disrupt much here in godless London, but as he will only be here for a short time, I thought I'd make sure all the crucial stuff is open at the usual times.

Is the National Gallery open on Good Friday? I google it. Nothing definitive. I check the website.  Nothing. 

I try to book tickets online, which I assume would confirm if they are open. No tickets available, 'click here to try again.' Try a different sort of ticket. There are two kinds of concessions tickets, plus a gift-aid type, a general type, a children's type and then I stopped reading. Each ticket request requires a word verification exercise. This takes a long time.

No tickets available, 'click here to try again.'

Try again. Nope.

Make and eat some breakfast and get a fresh cup of tea. Dogs want feeding.

Okay, old technology to the rescue. Why don't I just ring? Partly because I have succumbed to the trick that they pull on you that makes you feel like you must do everything online, but also because I am avoiding speaking to a human being. Avoiding actual, real-life, real-time communication is my new-technology sickness.

I find the number on their website. I ring them. Get fax machine by mistake. Check number again on website. Ring again. Recording only. Very very long recording with little information but many words. Sounds like recorded voice is reading from printed material on exhibition - not just the leaflet you get for free from the information booth, but the book you buy in the gift shop. Apparently there is no 'press 9 for a real person' option.

Go back to the page where I tried to buy the tickets and note that it links to Ticketmaster. Find evil 0844 prefix Ticketmaster phone number on website. Look up alternative Ticketmaster phone number on Say No to 0870. (Don't get me started on the moneygrubbing phone lines, let's just say they fill me with blackest hatred, but are you beginning to get an idea of where my time goes?)

The heating has gone off and the house is getting chilly. I press the button on the boiler control panel to put the heat on again. (The button is marked "F." According to the manual this means "function," as in, if you are having a special function in your home you might want to heat it at an unconventional time. So easy to remember.)

Ring alternative Ticketmaster landline number somewhere up north. Or maybe Birmingham? Mild curiosity gives me a brief impulse to google dialling code but No! I am trying to get stuff done! Am asked by phone computer voice to state what event I am looking for, what venue and date then press the hash key. Forget name of exhibition, long pause, blurt out what I can remember. Press hash. Get cut off.

Take half an hour a moment to delete two dozen photos from mobile to ease the strain on its tiny electronic brain so it will stop cutting me off when I'm on the phone. The only way I know to delete photos is to scroll down, click on photo, scroll down again, press delete twice and repeat. Briefly consider googling phone manual so I can learn a faster way. No! Getting stuff done, etc..

Postman rings doorbell and dogs go mental. Momentary tension, snapping jaws, boy dog escapes, girl dog is triumphant, etc.. I go to door still in my pajamas and slippers but also with my coat on as immersion-therapy device for separation anxiety, to trick boy dog into thinking I am leaving the house at random times throughout the day, but then I don't leave. Fooled you, fucker! Now will you just calm the fuck down. Coat goes on and off at intervals, but the dog still reacts the same way as he did the first time he ever saw me put my coat on, racing to the door and head-butting it whilst grunting, growling, jumping and barking. There is a convulsion of barking, then dogs are shoved behind separate closed doors, door is answered, hellos exchanged, parcel taken. I daren't look in the mirror as daily past experience suggests I probably look like an interrupted institutional escapee.

Scroll back down phone log to find number. Ring again. Press one to speak to a person. Long recording. At the end of recording my only choices are to listen again or get cut off, no speak-to-person option. My growing desire to speak to a person seems inversely proportional to the probability of it occurring.

Scroll back down phone log to find number.

Ring number. Press button to purchase tickets. Say loudly to computer name of event venue and date, press hash. Am finally transferred to a person.

Tickets available; ergo, National Gallery open. Mission accomplished! In only twice as much time as it would have taken to go to the National Gallery. I could be eating scones in the cafe right now.

Weakened and confused by my ordeal, I hang up the phone without booking tickets. They are available at half-hour intervals and I don't know when my friend is planning to go. Six o'clock? Six thirty? Not feeling capable of making any important decisions, even at this level. Briefly consider that I will now need to repeat much of this process. Feel faint. Make lunch. Change out of pajamas for god's sake, it's two pm.


Thursday 11 March 2010

Hilarity Ensues.

(Apropos to nothing: BBC2? Lambing Live? Lambing. Broadcast live. Quality television paid for by your license fee. Thanks!)

My friend AC is obsessed with my marriage plans. Which, I should point out, as yet only exist in her mind.

How was your weekend away? Did he PROPOSE?
You're going shopping? For a WEDDING DRESS? 
Seriously, when are you getting married?

This seems to pop up more since I moved in with the man I'd like to call my other half (it's cute and old-fashioned and "partner"= yuck, etc) but he doesn't like it so I probably shouldn't call him that here.

AC is single and she is just so eligible - pretty, funny, independent, super-smart. Her spelling and grammar are impeccable. (I can't be the only person who finds that really sexy.) I would love to see her meet a nice guy. Not that she can't handle her batchelorette status, just that it's nice to have someone to be nice to you, you know? (If you think of anyone, email a photo. Of his face. Don't be rude.)

Somehow the phrase the 50-year-old bride has become a thing we say to make each other laugh. I said something like "Every girl dreams of being a 50-year-old bride" as in, don't buy your hat yet, no one is asking me. And also, as in, I think maybe strapless is no longer an option.

Now, no offense to anyone who actually was or will be a 50-year-old bride (it could still be me). Nothing at all wrong with that. At 49, it could be a phrase positively full of gleeful anticipation. I'm 42, so it indicates a theoretical event in eight years' time. And it's mainly funny because of the word bride. Who is a bride anymore who is over the age of 30? It's kind of a creepy word. It makes me think of Frankenstein's monster and nuns and human sacrifice. And it's cheerful and spotless and hysterical and youth-obsessed and it means virgin for god's sake.

I'm not that fussed about getting married. I was married once - as a 23-year-old bride - and didn't like it very much and went on to become a 25-year-old divorcee. Then in my mid to late thirties I began seeing men as potential husbands, but I think what I really wanted was someone to lean on so I didn't have to do every damn thing myself. A boyfriend and a diamond would have been nice, never mind the nuptials. Now I have a boyfriend and I would never turn down a diamond - isn't that a pretty basic rule of thumb? never turn down a diamond? - but I am not in a rush is what I'm saying.

(Fyi, I am learning so much about myself here. I'm sexist and ageist - my favourite combination of offensive qualities. And I have reduced the future of my fabulously happy relationship to "a boyfriend" and a diamond. Hi honey. I love you. x)

So. That was all backstory and fannying around. Cracking on. After the poop incident it became obvious that I have too many clothes (yes, even after the emergency disposal exercise) and I need to do some decluttering, so I texted her to ask if she could help. ("How about you come over at short notice on your day off and help me complete a menial task. Oh, you're working? What I meant is that if you could please do this with me at a time of your choosing I will give you alcohol. And I will rope in someone else as well to take the pressure off.")

Me: Are you at work today?
AC: Sadly, yes. Would much rather be sitting outside Annie's [a local restaurant] with eggs benedict, a glass of champagne and YOU!
Me: Well we'll have to earmark another day for that then. And I need some wardrobe help and was hoping I could entice you and [mutual friend] SG with drink.
AC: Well you know we have expensive tastes in the alcohol dept nowadays. And I don't think SG gets out of bed for anything less than a roast chicken dinner but you could always try. Is it about your wedding dress?
Me: You have a one track mind. Anyway, I already know what I am wearing for the wedding: winceyette and a cardigan. And slippers.
AC: Amazing! That's exactly what I'll be wearing. One of us will have to change.
Me: If I don't wear my specs I won't notice.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Recipe Wednesdays. No, it's not alliterative.

Alliteration is a useful tool I'm sure, but I have bad memories of the time I was stuck in the airport in Corsica and had read all my holiday books by the second day and could not find any reading material in English anywhere. I think I then re-read all my holiday books. By the end of the two weeks I was desperate so I bought a Glamour magazine (one of two English-language publications on sale in the airport and I didn't fancy The Sun) and lost the will to live among the articles on Seventeen Sexy Strappy Summer Sandals and Some Sensational Secret Sexy Sex Secrets for a Spicy Soupy Spatula whatever please make it stop. We are women for fuck's sake. This is not Sesame Street.

Then we boarded the plane - FINALLY - and someone slipped on the stairs and gashed their leg open and the fire brigade had to be called from, oh, only the other side of the runway, fire truck and everything, to patch her up and we had to wait some more on the tarmac in the heat. The best part (I mean, this happened over ten years ago and I remember it word for word) was when this posh family behind me in the queue were tutting and hmphing over the delay (I think it was three hours. For a charter. So isn't that kind of normal?) and one of the little kids said to his dad (imagine squeaky posh English boarding school child voice) "Daddy, I think you should write a jolly angry letter to the holiday company for ruining our whole holiday with this terrible delay." Congratulations sir on your child's extremely advanced grasp of snivelling Tory entitlement!

Anyway, instead of Foodie Fridays or Munchie Mondays or whatever, it is Wednesday and I feel like passing along a recipe. So.

I eat eggs. I love a poached egg for breakfast. But, hey, did you know that the male chicks get thrown alive into a macerator? (Thanks for that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.) Not so delicious. So, though I find it difficult to completely cut eggs out of my diet, I find this distasteful enough to want to minimise my intake. That and the family history of high cholesterol, hypertension, dementia and stroke.

This recipe got me started (thanks rsarahl), but I made adjustments. These quantities will feed two people. I prefer the aluminium-free baking powder because it has a nicer taste and you don't have to be so careful about using tiny amounts when you are using heavy ingredients like bananas and wholemeal flour. I use spelt in this recipe, but you are welcome to knock yourself out in whichever way you choose.

**Special note about this being a vegan recipe: I am aware that this sounds spartan and hairshirt and worthy, but I urge you to try it - even if you quite like the idea of macerated chicks - because it is dead good and I think the finished texture is even better than my usual non-vegan efforts. **

Easy Hypocrite Veganish Banana Pancakes*

1 cup flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 cup soy milk
big pinch salt
1-2 banana(s)
oil for cooking
maple syrup or something sweet (jam or honey or something) for serving

Throw it all together and mash with a fork or potato masher. Heat oil (I use olive oil but whatever you like will do) and add batter. Tilt pan to distribute and flip when you see the bubbles. (I mean turn the pancake. Don't go mental; the bubbles are supposed to happen.)
If you are me, and/or aren't vegan, butter the pancakes, but use the organic kind cos it's nicer to the cows. Then add syrup and eat.

*Just call me an easy hypocrite!


Cute dog? Or harbinger of evil?

Holy Moses but I was hungry on my way home today. I have been fighting a jones for beef which, despite my growing moral ambivalence about eating meat, I feel driven to indulge. It just won't go away. The butcher was closed and, though I find supermarket meat sort of insipid (moral condemnation! and meat snobbery!), I stopped at Tesco. (In my defense, I feel like if I'm going to eat something's flesh it should at least be so delicious it makes your eyes roll back in your head. Yes, I'm quite self-righteous really. And a hypocrite.)

I have this little reverie I find very engrossing and satisfying (don't judge) where I think through - precisely and in entirety - every step of the preparation of a meal on my way home, like "First, I'm going to rinse the x and put them on to boil, then I'll put the y in a pan to brown, not too hot..." but in very great detail, down to the order in which everything will be chopped, rinsed, cooked and the rest. I am particularly keen on the correct order for maximum efficiency. I even think about how large or small the dice should be (eg carrots smaller than potatoes) so that all the vegetables in the dish will be cooked at the same time. Maybe it's a little odd that I get so much pleasure from that but chacun a son gout right? So by the time I got home I was really very much invested in the meal orchestrations.

I was not expecting to find the boy dog (the evil one) trapped in the guest room, where all my clothes and shoes live. On his travels, he often head-butts the door and if it isn't latched he gets in and it closes behind him. He is very anxious and will punish you for leaving him, barking or pissing on stuff if you're not very careful about the details. The myriad of obscure preparations involved in leaving him alone are akin to alignment of the planets. Before I left I took him on an exhausting walk, gave him half a valium, half-zipped him into his little Travel Pod with two filled Kongs, made sure all the correct doors were closed and the others were open, left the radio on, filled the extra water dish (anxiety+panting=thirst), kept my keys from jingling, did a thorough Native American sage-smoke cleanse and the chicken entrails said I was good to go. I didn't double check the guest bed door *bangs head hard on floor over and over again*.

He must have panicked when he couldn't get out and I have reason to believe he then had a really huge runny shit on the rug, just before he ran in circles around the room, lavishly embellishing himself and every surface with poo including, delightfully, whole grains of rice (now poo-covered) which had been mixed into his breakfast.

So. That room needed a little clear-out.

I guess I'll do the beef tomorrow.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Where is this going exactly?

I am totally in love with The New Yorker. It makes me feel like I am still in touch with New York, which I once thought of as My City but now only actually visit once or twice a year. It has reminded me, even during the dark days, that Americans can be perspicacious, edgy, progressive.  

Years ago, I used to buy issues sporadically from the WH Smith in King's Cross station when I visited friends in north London. I didn't know of anywhere else that sold it and I couldn't afford a subscription. I cherished every issue, reading it a little bit at a time, savouring each article.

When I moved in with the wonderful man who unaccountably agrees to share space with me, he surprised me with a subscription. One day, a New Yorker came through the door of our new home, addressed to me, just like that. I was delighted. So now they come regularly. 

And it turns out I'm completely crap at being a normal person reading a magazine. I feel a little oppressed by the relentlessness of their weekly arrival. So they pile up. I don't want to treat them thoughtlessly, thanklessly, so I kind of persist in keeping them for best, for occasion reading. This is crazy poverty-thinking neurosis. Their very abundance and reliability makes me simultaneously anxious that a) there are so many of them and b) that I must treat them like there aren't enough. See how that's crazy right there? 

There are small piles of them in various corners of the house. I kid you not when I say that sometimes I crack a fresh-looking issue at bedtime and get halfway through it when I recognise an item and realise that I have read it before.

So last night, I was reading this article (yes from last September shut up). Do you know about Zappos? If you are American or need to know stuff about management and customer service, you will almost certainly have heard of them. They will send you as many shoes as will fit through your front door with free shipping, free returns, a whole year to decide if you want to return them and customer service that regularly puts them in the lists of top customer-service-oriented retailers. (If they could do this internationally, that would be some customer service right there.)

When I am in the US I like to order stuff from them in various sizes and colours, enjoy the enormous delivery of shoe boxes (oh joy!), try it all on and if nothing is quite right, just send it all back. The cheapest of thrills, that.

So in the middle of reading this article, I had a momentary daydream about working in their huge warehouse, imagining being part of the big team, enjoying the positivity, the can-do-ness, the high-fiving, the bowls of popcorn and nuts, the, er, five hour Samaritan-like phone calls (well, they all seem cheerful enough, but isn't that kind of a questionable expectation to have of someone who works in a call centre? and what if you need to go to the loo?) ... the high-fiving ... the ... uh ... bell-ringing ... the...snacks (do you know what they find in those?)  

God, wouldn't it be awful, I mean really really awful? I think it would just push me off the precipice of selfish and grumpy and a little spoiled and lazy right over the edge into pure essence of evil.

A little history here if you don't mind. About a hundred years ago I worked in a hostel for homeless people and was told off by my boss for sighing too much, and this was in London, where standards for being shitty with each other are at a higher than normal level. And also? It was a homeless hostel. And I was too emo to work there. So I'm guessing that, even all these years later, a super-cheerful work atmosphere maybe wouldn't be the best fit. Oh, and did I mention that I actually did once apply to volunteer for the Samaritans and they turned me down? Even after I got through the assessment sessions and was interviewed, and also taking into consideration that they accept something like 75% of applicants. Yeah, so there's that.

Apparently, Zappos offer new applicants $2000 to quit to...I don't really know, test their mettle? Weed out the unsuitables? 

I could use $2000.