Thursday, January 31, 2008

The End Of The Beginning Or Assessing January

Today it's the last day of January and I feel like it has come and gone swooshing by like cars do when you wait for the bus. It seems only yesterday that I was toasting to the new year after a fabulous concert at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and tomorrow it will be February and a whole set of expectations will be up on the walls of my mind. This month I straightened a few things that had been at the top of my list for a while. I blitzed the cupboards in the kitchen for example, and made some clarity of a situation that was otherwise as clear as a tin of black treacle. Now I can open the doors without bits and pieces falling into my face or onto freshly iced cupcakes, as was the case only a few weeks back. I went to have my hair trimmed and now it looks totally perfect, even though I have to wash it and style it with the GHD every single morning. But at least it suits me and everyone thinks my hair is just naturally like that. Tsk, as if! Work at the office proceeded nicely enough until I had to leave for Chicago, where I had a great time, saw some great sights and, of course, took some fabulous pictures. Upon my return, I was struck down with an acute phase of back pain, something that had not happened in a while. I suppose that the many hours of work at a desk and the long flight back, even though on a flat bed, did take their toll quite quickly. I have been off work all week, and I am currently taking seven tabs a day in order to get the pain under control. I hope this will be the case very soon, because it seems a great shame to be missing England when the high winds scatter the clouds far away and the sun is shining high late in the afternoon. Also, I haven't seen Merv for one month exactly and I am definitely suffering from horsey withdrawal symptoms. Ok, I cannot ride him right now, but visiting him in the fields is always uplifting, no matter the plans. Spending the whole week in bed (because I couldn't even make it to the bathroom unaided!) meant that my Inception to Knitting has taken place. I have knitted and purled all week, I have increased and decreased my stitches, I have cast on and off at will and I think I am now ready to start on a pattern. I think I will pick one of the dogs' coats featured in the new book I bought in Chicago. I absolutely have to get better soon because the arts and craft fair will take place in central Manchester this weekend and I absolutely must attend. I have yarn and needles to purchase and I would not disdain a walk around it anyway, even if I didn't have a shopping list (extremely unlikely, of course). I need to get back on track for my book proposal too; I would like to send it out by the end of February and with two weeks in NYC in the middle... I really do not have that much time left! Good-bye to January, quite possibly the most hated month in the whole calendar year. Not by me though... there is nothing I cherish more than a cup of cocoa with ice-cream when it is cold and dark outside at 4 pm. And January is just perfect for that.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Pic Is Worth A Thousand Bytes

I always found the whole ‘food styling’ thing a touch too fanciful for my liking. Despite all attempts to look spontaneous and natural, it always conjured up images of deception, much as a spread on Elle Decoration always made me feel slightly undermined, but in a play-pretend kind of way. This was until a couple of years ago, when a friend visited from Australia in his first trip ever out of the country. At first I was mildly baffled and chose to ignore the camera whipped out whenever there was food around. At some point I even thought that perhaps burgers did not exist in Australia and that the combination of burger and tomato sauce was the most exotic food Grant had ever encountered. One morning, as we were having cake and tea at my local John Lewis, I finally asked him what was so interesting about the food he was about to eat that was prompting him to take actual mementos of it. He replied that the pictures he took were the perfect antidote against memory loss and that only a picture would be able to remind him of a particular taste many months down the line. I considered this point for a while. Did I personally need a picture to know what pizza tastes like? But I was superficially misjudging the point he had made, for Grant did not mean that we identify flavours via images alone but that an image was the perfect way to juggle a taste memory. And so I started to take pics of my foods and found out, just like he said, that a picture can better remind me of what I ate. I am now looking back at images of cakes I baked many months ago and only the picture reminds me of a recipe which I would have otherwise completely forgotten. As I look at them, I remember smells and textures and everything that was going on around me, in my mind and on my taste buds. Indeed a picture is worth a thousand bytes, especially online (if you get my drift...).

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Like many women, I first came across the notion of nesting when talking pregnancy. I found out that, when approaching the giving birth stage, many women feel the urge to clean, tidy up, even completely re-organise their living spaces. I heard of women who conveinced themselves that their unborn baby would need a toaster or a new hairdrier, while another friend of mine was not satisfied with her pad in central London and embarked on a traumatic house-buying mission only three months before she was due. She spent her last week before heading for the delivery room giving directions to slacking builders and decorators who had camped up in the new townhouse she remarkly managed to buy at such short notice. The other night as I finally curled up in my extra comfy bed upon return from Chicago, I was leafing through the beautiful Birds and Nests stickers from Cavallini & Co. and was particularly taken by this one:

It occurred to me that avid birdwatches can tell what type of bird inhabits any given nest by looking at its own abandoned shell. I, on the other hand, currently pass the naked bushes while on horseback and notice these knots of minute branches, dead leaves, cotton and string, as if they have been placed by humans prior to a nature photo-shoot. In reality,they have been constructed by birds some of which are smaller than my own thumb. I started looking around my house and realised that I lack both the patience and the inclination to nest properly. As I live in a perpetual state of controlled chaos, with books and papers usually causing the greatest, and equal, amounts of grief and pleasure, my nest is no way near the solid and reassuring hub of the chaffinch, nor is it the New Age basket that houses the Savi’s Warbler and its little ones. When high winds afflcited the area in January last year, a piece of roofing fell out and needed to be re-cemented in. Yesterday, I was observing the small cracks on the outside walls, a sure indication that almost six years after moving in, this summer may be the Summer Of Rendering after all. With all its faults, I have missed my nest. I have missed the familiar smells and the familiar sounds, I have missed the familiar chaos and the familiar views, even if I am not 120 floors above the ground. But still, when my bedroom opens onto a green oasis, why would I need the Sears Tower in the middle of it?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Un-stuck from the rut

I miss home. And I don't mean that I just miss my fabulous tea from Laduree and Mariage Freres, nor that I miss the guys; I miss the good things associated with my routine, the routine that I so often resent and which so often leaves me bickering to myself and at myself, for tasks as mundane as washing up or ironing two hankies. I miss my great hot chocolate with spirit/ice cream/whipped cream/delete as appropriate in the evenings, and I miss watching the Spider-man DVDs (why did I not slip one into the drive of the laptop?), and I miss my rye slices covered in Philly extra light and Marmite. More worryingly, I miss my own china, my fridge and my baking. My room here smells of nothing. When I open the door at home in the evening, I always get a whiff of baking, even if I haven't baked a thing for three days, mixed with some Dyptique candle. And I don't know why I am doing this but I have been reading recipes and a new book called Doggy Knits which I bought at Borders ton the Mag Mile, even though I cannot do anything with it right now. I suppose the so-called rut has its advantages; no matter the bickering, the parts that I love supersede in every way the ones that I hate. And I just cannot wait to return to my old-fashioned, if only questionably kitsch, kitchen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Toddlin' Town

I don't know why but on Friday I packed my camera in the hold, ended up with only the mobile in my bag and, of course, I could not turn this on as the plane glided towards Lake Michigan and the city rose in the distance. I am disappointed because I would have taken fantastic shots of the gently corrugated silvery blue water underneath me and of the vast spread that is both downtown and the great many suburbs which patchwork the land until one can see no farther.

I have seen good weather in many places, but the light and the sky one gets in Chicago when it's sub-zero are something else. I know that some will argue that 'the light at the poles' or that 'the light at the equator' or that 'the light in my back garden', but all of this and more cannot take away the most fantastic cobalt blue sky set off by reflective buildings that make a child's scrapbook look gloomy and sad by comparison. The blue haze embraces everything and everyone, reflecting itself tirelessly from every surface and exploding up and across and against everything, sky, lake, buildings, in a city so deeply bound to air and water. Grand and powerful, spreading out and up like a gigantic, 3-D stamp, and equally swaggering and swaying in the wind, with transparent buildings and flapping flags at every street corner, I harbour stronger, uncharted feelings for Chicago than I ever cared to give it credit for.

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I think I have found the lake I wish I could skid away on.

Friday, January 18, 2008

On Air

I think there is only one way that ensures one escapes the not-always-welcome demands of the domestic: travelling solo. I feel the need to specify that travelling should be undertaken on one’s own in order to be set free from the thankless rut that is getting up, tidying up, cleaning up, washing up and lots of other up-tasks which, in reality, have little to do with feeling on the up because travelling with the family is just another way of taking the rut elsewhere. There is nothing like a sinkful of dishes at the end of the day to kill my passion for anything other than hitting the sack. But once one is off on one’s own, the demands of the domestic vanish. I am currently sitting on a plane bound for Chicago and I have spent a good deal of time day-dreaming about my daily grind escaping the plane, trying to hang onto me, as I smirk and delight in the knowledge that all that awaits me for a good week is a hot tub at The Drake Hotel and a spin up and down the Mag Mile. Now that is domestic bliss.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Au Revoir Mes Amis

I always feel a pang of sadness when I have to take the Christmas decorations down. As I wrap the glass ones in copious amounts of tissue paper, I wonder how I’d like it, to be a Christmas decoration that gets just four weeks a year of fresh air and ends up spending the rest of it sweating out in the attic in the warmer months and shivering in the colder ones. I presume January must be the most difficult time for the Christmas decorations, knowing that after gorging the spotlight for the whole of December, they are off on a detox diet of silence and coldness. At night, when I hear small hushed noises from the attic, I always think it’s them, jumping out of their boxes and living it high in a Toy Story meets Beauty and The Beast manner. Then I get up the following morning, and pass by the lounge and wish they were all down here singing and dancing, lightening up the mood of the home when all I can do is wait for Valentine’s Day to approach.

This year it took me a good three days to pack and store everything away, not simply because I couldn’t dedicate a good 8-hour stretch to the job but, if greater truth should be told, because I really have a lot of Christmas stuff. There are the trees (four, even though usually it’s only two that see the light of the season for I decidedly lack the space for more), the stockings, the cards, and then the wreaths, the garlands, the lights, the nativity set and numerous ornaments that end up infesting every corner of the house, from study to kitchen via bathroom and porch. Of course I do not resent putting them up when the time is right, but I do dislike the packing up process. It takes less time, but the emptiness it leaves in the house is not conductive to appreciating the task in any way whatsoever. And so this year I have left a number of fairy lights around, and I can tell you that the plain ones, even when set within clear bubles are decidedly un-Christmassy when on their own and so will provide me with comfort and joy all year round.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The End

I hereby begin chronicling the beginning of the end of my domestic stresses. And what better way to destress than by having a little something?
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