Thursday, April 30, 2009


Goodness me, it's evident that I am on a downer but why is it that negativity always attracts more of the same? As I am gathering thoughts in preparation for my next bout of writing now that I am back to normal (sort of, not that I know what normal is, but under the circumstances I would say that no court = normal), I received a link to one of the truest, and most depressing, videos I've ever seen. Maybe it is depressing because it is true?


This juror nightmare is over. I am too drained to even be happy about it as it has been mentally challenging in a completely new and alien way for me and many of the others I spoke to during these two weeks. It was not just the continuous, onerous, draining sitting around and waiting, wondering when, or indeed if, one's presence was required in court, but the thick air of the court itself, where crimes are not any longer hyper-realities far removed from one's own life, specks of over-exciting interest in Hollywood movies that drag, or 'things' that happen on BBC News Online.

Law and order are not romanticised to the point of fake in a real court, there is no feisty young barrister that spits: 'COLONEL JESSEP, DID YOU ORDER THE CODE RED?!', no defendant whose countenance cuts the air with a mix of quiet dignity and proud assurance, no electrifying moment of truth when the glass ceiling shatters and relief descends upon all as if Heaven-sent, no Denzel Washington sitting in a corner with a string of medals on his lapel. No, there is none of that.

There is a mother that recognises the signs of high cocaine intoxication because 'that's life, that's the way it is', a son whose drink-and-drug problems have been known since the age of eleven and plentiful low-lives that lie under oath. I don't know about you but, as worldly as I like to think myself, I couldn't tell whether one has snorted cocaine or Tabasco or lavender talcum powder; my life experience does not encompass 'the way it is' to that extent. I don't even know what that means.

I do know, however, that the glamourised drinking ads show a reality that does not exist. There are no impossibly beautiful, thin, charming, well-groomed, sparkly people who can down ten bottle of spirits a day and glide through life like witty dragonflies. There is none of that in a real court. There is just empty lunacy and the ghost of a squandered childhood that never was.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spaghetti Al Ragù

I am a veg and, apart from not eating any animal (and yes, fish too are animals, salmons don’t sprout in fields), I am not keen on cooking any animal, mostly because I hate the smell of cooking meat and fish. Today though I pegged my nose and made a very successful ragù, the classic sauce which is known as bolognese (and this, my friends, is the right spelling).

I am sick to death of all talks of frugality, especially when they come from people that needn’t be frugal, and I scoff at suggestions that certain foods are wildly more expensive than others. Yes, sure, if you chomp on Beluga daily and wash it down with a bottle of Bolli per session you may be over-spending and under-eating, but anything other than this is neither expensive nor intellectually taxing to prepare. Don’t be scared by the (supposed) high cost of the beef, this feeds four people and can be frozen too! Ideally, ragù goes on tagliatelle, but I haven’t got the machine (nor the space) to make those and so it was spaghetti for Rick instead.

500g minced Aberdeen Angus beef
one small stick of celery
one small piece of carrot
one small onion
sea salt
olive oil
500ml passata
200ml hot water

Splash some olive oil in a deep casserole-type pan and warm on high. Peel the onion, cut in small pieces and do the same with the carrot. Also cut the celery and now grab a mezzaluna and work these vegetables until they are reduced to a mushy mess, the same that you would use as a risotto base.

Drop this into the pan with the oil (and watch it, it will fry and it’s hot...), stir well with a wooden spoon and fry until the onion has only just started to brown. Now add the minced beef (break it down with the wooden spoon), stir well, add the passata and the hot water. Add a small fist of sea salt, stir well and leave on high heat for approximately five or so minutes, until it’s all cooking fast and furious.

Lower the heat to medium high and leave to cook, covered, for approximately twenty minutes. Serve this on spaghetti al dente and don’t be stingy with the Parmesan. Abundance is key.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Losing It

When I was a child, and up until my early teens, my imagination was a vibrant companion, much better than any of the friends whom I used to share my days with at the time. I was a prolific story-teller, always doodling, sketching, scribbling, writing. During class I used to sketch, at break I used to play cards with my girlfriends and at home I would continue the writing that had been initiated by the drawing.

In fact, when I was at primary, I was known as Sketch; I think I was sort of self-named as when anyone would ask me what I was doing, the reply would almost invariably be ‘sketching’. So I became Sketch, taking drawing commissions from my friends and delivering copious doodles in pencil at every break-time. It seems evident to me now that I was somewhat destined for a career at Marvel. If only I had known about them...

Later, sketching became a way to imagine stories before I would write them. With adult hindsight I can see now that all I was doing was story-boarding to the most minute detail. It didn’t apply just to writing; I couldn’t possibly play with my Barbies unless I had actually story-boarded the whole story I would have them act out. My parents used to buy me Barbie magazine and I think that seeing picture stories beautifully shot and arranged as if the dolls were real people made a very powerful impression on my imagination. I couldn’t take pics of my Barbies, but I could draw them down and see my stories on paper before I had to rehearse them in real life (or as real as dolls can be, if you know what I am saying).

Eventually all of this drawing and doodling, which used to annoy many of the other children I knew, the sort of children whose drawn pigs, dogs and horses all looked the same, stick figures that would not have been out of place in a Palaeolithic cave, died out, replaced almost completely by words.

Words, words, words everywhere, in diaries and journals, in letters, postcards, scraps of papers and notebooks. By the time I turned fourteen, I had already written two full novels and I am pleased to say (no, not pleased, smug) that I had somewhat figured out that they were not the next Anna Karenina or the next Dracula and so used to refer to them as ‘short novels for the younger audience’.

Pages and pages of neat longhand in thick blue fountain-pen ink. I re-read one of them not long ago and I am wondering how the fuck I could possibly not have known the difference between a subjunctive and a conditional. I was fourteen for God’s sake! If I had a daughter I would drill those differences into her skull before she can take an unaccompanied wee! So yes, my first efforts are embarrassing, as I think all first efforts are (bar Mozart’s of course), but they are living testament to an incredibly fervid imagination, something that, I fear, I have lost.

For the past fifteen years I have written almost exclusively non fiction. I started with essays which swelled from a few hundred words (at college) to a couple of thousands (at university). My short book is over 20,000 words, which is nearly good enough for an MA degree, while what I keep referring as the ‘small little leg left’ of my PhD research is, in fact, many more thousands of words, even though the quantity is not half as intimidating as it used to be at the beginning of the project, when I only had a vague inkling of where I wanted to be but no idea whatsoever of how to get there.

All of this non fiction, the one I write and the one I read, seems to have turned me into an analytical researcher incapable to think of something new. It’s like all of the ideas I had as a child, all of the possibilities that the characters in my head could play out, are now reduced only to the possibilities that I know of, not to the ones that I dream.

For the last couple of years, a couple of storylines have hummed to themselves at the back of my head, their simmering at once loud and then ebbing, coming and going, moving closer and further away with the flow of life. One of these two ideas is not even a new idea; it is in fact something I’ve been mulling over since I was twelve.

It came as a surprise this morning to wake up to the harsh reality of my bedroom after I dreamt of writing a whodunit. In my dream I saw characters, motives, location, season; I even saw myself doing research in the specific places that would play background to my story, a voice telling me the closing line to the novel which pays homage to my own fixation for judging a book at buying time by the last few lines, not the opening ones. Maybe this has happened as a blend of dream and reality; only a few days back I was reading about Shelley and how the vision of Frankenstein’s monster came to her as she was trying to sleep, part-nightmare, part-subconscious creature. There’s no monster in my whodunit; I am just grateful my imagination hasn’t really died. And I suppose now I should get out one of the notebooks and should get down to some sketching.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Going, Going, Gone!

We had a slightly colder winter than normal and now spring is far drier than I’ve ever witnessed it, with almost two full weeks without so much as a sprinkle of rain. It did rain on my parade today though, when I hopped and skipped to court from the carpark, without a care in the world, taking in the beautiful Victorian buildings of Manchester city centre and the pastel blue sky.

I cannot even say how, when or why it happened; whatever it was, I found myself sitting on the tarmac, crashed down onto my bottom as if my legs had been taken out by a fishing line. Good job I’ve got a sense of humour... I envisaged the scene from the outside, this tall, large woman in a red coat striding along with confidence one second and the same tall, large woman a heap on the ground, as graceful as a jute sack of potatoes all scattered across the road. I had to fight the laughter as I did not want to appear mentally unstable, as well as physically so.

I should just be grateful I didn’t break anything. I limped all the way with a bleeding knee and it was only after much pleading that I was given a plaster, just in case ‘you’re allergic to latex and then sue us’. I repeat, good job I’ve got a sense of humour.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

If Only!

I am three days into my jury duty and all is well. All is well because I have mainly sat around reading and writing (and who would have thought I would have ended up writing so much about Frankenstein?) and because I have been on a case and there may be more to come tomorrow.

I am not too shocked by the daily get up-get ready-and-go routine, as I have realised that, after all, that’s what I normally do, even if just to get myself out of the house and to Starbucks to work. Yet, I know that deep inside I already cannot wait for it to be over. I want to catch up with Louise and Merv and with Britt and baby and with Dee and Mac and being unable to glance at the clock wondering whether Marks may still have some of the baguettes that Rick likes and no big deal if they don’t, I’ll go tomorrow, isn’t that great.

I knew that I would have craved unconditional freedom five minutes after it was taken from me which is really making me think about the whole job situation. As I won’t be able not to work for ever (sob), I hope that my eventual university job will be as exciting as the PhD has been because, right now, I’d be quite happy to play Socrates forever, sitting under a fig tree, reading books and philosophising about life and death. But then, who wouldn’t like that?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


They say that, once you’ve successfully made bread, you feel like you can tackle absolutely anything, as you’ve shattered the glass ceiling of inaptness and have been launched into self-sufficiency. I have to agree, even though making a pizza (a pizza base I mean, not scattering sauce and cheese on top of a wrap) made me feel slightly more accomplished than a simple loaf ever did. Must have something to do with those guys that throw them in the air and catch them again. Not that I did that, but it is evident that, by the point I made my first base, I was flying high on the wings of imagination (or self-delusion, depending on how you feel about my skills as pizzaiola).

And now I’ve found something else. Sewing. I don’t mean sewing by hand (still impossible as far as I can see), but sewing with a machine, the same machine that stood quietly in a corner of my bedroom for over two years, silently reproaching me and my ineptitude, my lack of eye-hand prowess and mental stamina. Still, as I occasionally wrestled with it, sure that it was gonna go on eBay eventually (and it did at one point, but, luckily, it did not sell), I did so with the flame of hope burning inside, the same flame that illuminated countless fantasy silk jersey wrap dresses, laundry bags, lavender sachets, pillowcases, tea towels and aprons.

I’ve jumped the hurdle... the prototypes are coming thick and fast, I’ve even given one away to a squeaky response of approval and I am on a roll down and up, sideways, back and forth. I can now go forth and prosper!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Laughing

I do not often re-read books. I almost never do so. There are so many books I haven’t read that employing any time in re-reading those I already know seem criminal, especially when my knowledge still lacks some of the building blocks of literature (War and Peace for one, but also In Cold Blood). In those occurrences when new books are practically coming out of my ears, as is the case this week, with six all jostling for space on my bedside table and time in my schedule, I go back to a few of pages that make laugh. And the more pressed I am, the more I want to laugh. Last year I typed up an extract from A Cat Called Birmingham. Last night I picked it up again to re-read what is probably the most hilarious passage I have ever read. This is from the chapter very aptly titled ‘Incompetence’, where the author compares his friend Andy to his clumsy cat Brum. Best enjoyed read out loud. Try it.

If there could ever be a parallel of Brum in the human world, it is quite definitely you, Andrew Bond.
We’d all gone down to the coast to watch the early afternoon England opener against Tunisia in a huge football orientated pub. There were flags and large screens everywhere, and incredibly tight security. We’d all been damn near strip-searched on the way in and warned in no uncertain terms, by the huge and unsmiling doorman, of the consequences of swearing, aggressive behaviour, breathing and most especially narcotic abuse. He seemed pretty angry even when mentioning the word ‘narcotic’, as if he’s had enough problems with that issue already and he would take not one more bit of it.

I don’t know what the matter with Andy was that day, but he was slurring after one drink. As the queues at the bar were massive, it suddenly occurred to Andy that the big four-pint jugs that sports bar often do (so you can get a whole game’s worth in at once) would be a better idea than keep struggling to the bar. Leaning over a low balcony beside out seats, he attracted the door-monster’s attention by tapping him on the top of his shaven head.

The monster jumped, slightly startled, and did not look at all amused. I thought he was going to clump Andy one there and then, but instead he stared morosely and waited to hear what he had to say.
Andy, very pleasantly, asked him if they did jugs in the pub. Only he didn’t say that at all. We all heard his slurry voice mispronounce the crucial word. Consequently he asked the already rattled bouncer, ‘Do you do drugs in this pub mate?’

The monster blinked, unsure he could have heard correctly. So did we. Unaware of a problem, Andy continued, ‘Only what with the queues, I thought it would be easier if I got some drugs... It’d save keep going to the bar.’

I’d never seen anybody lifted by the throat and dragged over a balcony before. The monster took quite a bit of calming down, but eventually he put Andy down and we watched the game.
Unbelievably, a few minutes before half time, Andy, who was now barely coherent and with a pint sloshing in his hand, lent over and tapped the doorman on the head again, wanting to know where the gents were.

As the doorman looked up, he was greeted by a face full of lager from somebody appearing to call him a ‘toilet’. Protests of innocence no longer withstanding, we very quickly found ourselves outside on the pavement and looking for another pub. By the time we found one that wasn’t heaving full, England had won 2-0 and another game had started, Colombia vs. Romania. Both teams normally play in yellow, so Romania were in a second kit. The following exchange of words is worth noting simply to demonstrate exactly how drunk Andy was by this time:

Andy: Wash game ish thish?
Barman: Romania and Colombia.
Andy: Ish thish?
Barman: Yeah, still 0-0 at the moment.
Andy: (squinting at the the TV screen) I had no idea thersh wash so many black people in Romania.
Barman: er... no, no mate. That’s Colombia in the yellow.
Andy: Oh, sorry yesh. When are the Romanians playing then?

And so on. He wisely stopped drinking at this point, but the rot had set in, and the sequence of events as we left the pub ensured that the story of his day would be told whenever his friends gathered, from that day forward and forever.

A huge group of girls in England warpaint and shirts was on the opposite side of the read as we exited the pub door. Andy, still half drunk and beer-bold, shouted some inane greeting to them and was cheered for his efforts. Raising a hand in the air and heading towards them, he failed to appreciated that he was at the top of a flight of concrete steps.
He stepped into thin air and tumbled rapidly downwards, stylishly completing a double somersault before landing heavily on his back on the pavement.

His new friends howled with laughter as he clambered back to his feet, making light of it all, laughing and joking, somehow believing that he was still in with a chance. He staggered across the pavement towards the road, limping and clearly in great discomfort.
Stepping off the high curb, he promptly yelled in pain as his ankle buckled beneath him and he fell into the gutter. The girls opposite were helpless with laughter. A small crowd has now gathered to see what all the fuss was about.

Now deeply embarrassed, Andy was still trying to make a joke of it all as he staggered up and walked straight in front of a taxi in the middle of the road. The taxi mercifully dealt him a heavy blow, and we desperately hoped that this would deter him from pressing further forward but, spinning on his feet, he amazingly still attempted to make it to the opposite side of the road.

It was like an heroic charge in a war movie, a fatally wounded Steve McQueen stumbling on towards the enemy bunker, bullet after bullet finding its mark but failing to stop him. I’m quite sure a few bullets wouldn’t have stopped Andy either. He’d have sunk to his knees in a pool of blood in front of the first girl he reached, and with his dying breath asked her if she came to this stretch of pavement often and fancied showing him the local nightlife or something.
But it wasn’t to be. Andy’s charge, as it has come to be known, was humiliatingly halted by an enraged taxi driver screaming abuse at him and many people rushing up to see if he needed an ambulance. With all this going on over his shoulder, he still attempted to chat to the now rapidly retreating girls.

I have often read that doomed charges like those of the Light Brigade and by the Confederate Army at Gettysburg are amongst the most tragically moving and stunningly beautiful sights that it is possible to see.
I now know that to be true.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Somewhat New Tidings

Soon I will be busy with jury duty. I have thought about this for a while, not because it makes me feel excited or self-important, but because I will need to be in a work-like environment at a set time for a set number of days. No big deal in the real world but in my world office work does not exist any longer. In fact, it has not existed since June last year and for one that was full-on employed since the very early post-uni day, you will agree that it was a bit of a sudden shift of perspective.

That's it, perspective; that's exactly what I gained in the past year or so, regardless of the economic constraints that this change of career (underway, I hope) have meant, a welcomed perspective that has morphed me from corporate number to free agent. I was discussing this with a friend of mine yesterday and we brought up 'certain people' who state to be craving 'somewhere to go' in the morning. I have put the two objects there between inverted commas as if these 'certain people' were dirty people in some ways, but that is precisely the way my friend and I see it. We have both embraced our own home-bound freelancing with such élan and gusto, that whoever cannot see the advantages of this lifestyle is, oh my, practically an idiot in our eyes.

Deep down, I do not really feel that judgmental. If you like to get in the car in the morning to get someplace where you can be bossed around by someone (or where you can boss around someone), and enjoy it, good for you, it doesn't affect me. But having spent such a long time in the company of over-tired, over-narky colleagues, I suspect that at least some of those 'certain people' proclaim to be craving a routine out of a built-in social gene that displays a propensity for apparent over-working. I remember seeing lots and lots of people wasting time on Facebook and Instant Messenger all day long only to get their asses into gear at 4 pm, ending up staying until way past my bedtime. That's masochistic if you ask me. I like to leave the office when I can still manage a little more than just a face-down collapse into bed still wearing my coat and shoes.

At some point I did not even want to concede that there are people out there whose only interest is their work. I am not against this in principle but when faced with that stone-cold hard reality, I felt a little stung, as if my faith in the creative capability of the human brain were somehow compromised. Take my ex colleague Claudia, about my age, working at all hours, early morning (and I mean 4 am, not 8 am), late evenings (and I mean 11 pm, not 7 pm), weekends and holidays. One day she came up to my desk asking for advice regarding 'a nice place where to take my parents for lunch on Sunday and somewhere with something to do'. I reeled out a few suggestions, country pubs, little restaurants, small cafés, you know the drill. Satisfied with a few names, she pressed on regarding the 'something to do' part.

I didn't know Claudia very well, although I had been to her house and was more than a little flabbergasted by the lack of décor. Not that I expected a World of Interiors spread from entrance hall onwards, but the scarcity of decorative items of any sort and the distinctive lack of books gave me reasons to pause and silently wonder whether, deep down, she really was an illiterate man wearing a skirt. So I faltered and eventually suggested that Tatton Park would perhaps make a nice Sunday excursion. With a mansion, large tended gardens, many acres where to go walking, animals of all sorts to admire, a couple of shops, a place where to have a cuppa and even an antiques fair coming up on that very weekend, it seemed to me like she would have been able to find some activity of interest within the beautiful grounds. As she left my desk, faint bells were ringing at the back of my mind; I should have really figured out that someone who had lived in the area for years and had never bothered going to Tatton Park may not be a Tatton Park Person after all. Or an Any Park Person really.

We caught up at Starbucks on Monday morning and even before I could ask her a thing, she told me how boring her weekend was and how crap, yes crap I am telling you, the whole Tatton Park thing was. You see Claudia is one of those people who crave to be in an office every day and who need to have someplace to go after 8 am. Her interests outside work amounted to pretty much nothing; she was not interested in gardens or walking, not interested in animals or children, in cooking, reading, writing, painting, drawing, plumbing, cars, postage stamps, art galleries or museums. Once she asked me what on earth I was going to do in New York for a full two weeks. With hindsight, I would say it made sense her spending every God-given hour under the sun and the moon at the office, for she did not exist outside of it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bite Me Then Try To Leave Me Potatoes

These are not for anyone watching calories and so I made them but didn’t eat them. Rick, on the other hand, is always on the pin side of thin and often does indulge in creamy and fatty foods. Gah, I wish I were like him. One small word of warning: this is not a cheap gratin to make as it requires a reasonably large slab of Parmesan and we all know that Parmesan doesn’t come cheap. However, it does make all the difference. If you want to use cheddar on this one, you may as well start eating macaroni cheese out of a tin. Harsh, but true. It’s the Parmesan that makes this dish.

You’ll need:

4 very large yellow potatoes (I used Mozart potatoes, red skin, big, fat potatoes)
150ml double cream
150ml skimmed milk
300g of Parmesan in a block

One non-stick baking tray (this needs to be slightly small as you want the potato slices to overlap, not travel from end to end as they cook).

You’ll do it like so:

Warm the oven to 200C. Peel, wash and dry the potatoes. Now cut them in large, slanted slices. No dinky little pieces for this dish; you need a potato with bite, even after it has cooked.

Cut the Parmesan in slanted slices too. Arrange the potatoes and the Parmesan in alternating slices in your baking tray. Mix the cream with the milk, add a pinch of salt and pour over the potatoes. If you have any Parmesan left, crumble on top, crack on some pepper and stick in the oven for an hour.

You do not need to check these at all. They will crackle away for a good hour and will be ready to take out once the cheese on top has browned and blistered.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Going Places

Fab weather and runs through Tatton Park with the family.

Opening Up

This morning I run up to my windowsill as I’ve been doing for a number of weeks and, hurrah, the amaryllis has opened. Admittedly, we are only talking two, out of the eight available flowers, but that’s good enough for me, as I have been willing this to open for the past week. I have been standing in front of it and thinking hard oooooooooop-eeeennn, ooooooooop-eeeennnn in yoga-like concentration and it has worked! This is probably the only household in England that has got a velvety-red amaryllis for Easter instead of Christmas but, hey, I am just glad it worked as it is practically the first bulb I ever planted (if you discount the daffs and anemones randomly thrown at the soil outside, hopelessly out of season).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Slobbing It

I find it peculiar that the Weekend Call rings nearly as loud for those who are at home all the time as it does for those who scuttle off to little offices every weekday at 8 am. I have been looking forward to this weekend stretched over four days. When I used to jet-set, the excitement we all felt in the air come the Thursday prior was crackling. And yet, we were only talking two extra days here, not two extra months off. I think that if people liked what they did for a living a little bit more, they wouldn’t feel so incredibly elated to take refuge in four miserable days off.

This time around I was happy it was coming up because I would get to spend more time with Rick, but I didn’t feel quite as relieved as I used to, which can only mean I enjoy the research process even when it doesn’t go that well. The weather was very miserable and we spent the day playing video-games. As it should be.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Creative Stock

It’s been a prolific week, at least idea-wise, and I suppose it is true that sometimes, one should try to do things differently, especially insofar as creativity is concerned. While some argue that creating a habit is good for productivity (you enter The Zone and BANG you’re writing/ painting/ composing/ drawing/ and so on straight away) others say that creativity cannot be forced into habitual actions and that forcing it yields results that invariably become written off the portfolio.

I don’t quite know where I sit on this one; part of me believes that the more you create and the easier it gets to do so, even if, or indeed when, you feel like nothing at all is coming. Equally, I also believe that you cannot expect to be able to pick up where you left off every single time and that there are days, and sometimes even weeks, when my efforts are puny and embarrassing and when the results are more irritating than uplifting.

I think that creative types often suffer from a malaise associated with forcing themselves to do something, it doesn’t matter what, in order to get the creative gears into motion. I am all for making the effort, but I have been playing the game long enough to recognise the times that are a write off from the moment I roll off the bed. I believe it is extremely important to give ourselves the space and time to be a write off, to be unhappy, to be worried, to be unable to work. It is vital to let go of the creative endeavour when absolutely necessary, for the intellectual bounce back will be infinitely more rapid and efficient than it would be if we were to force ourselves through navigating the suddenly alien daily grind.

This week I oscillated between two opposite states and eventually felt relieved I didn’t have to rant about them in my diary. Now I haven’t kept a written record, it’s like they never even happened and today already feels like Friday. I escaped to two books, Snoop and The Pleasures And Sorrows Of Work (how appropriate in so many ways), but I’ll tell you about these another time.

Dal Doing Yoga

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tea Time

Monday, April 6, 2009


Sunday, April 5, 2009


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Prototype Two

Friday, April 3, 2009

Coming Up

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Prototype One

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...