Friday, 30 October 2015

A recipe for love.

We're just back from Seasalter near Whitstable in Kent, where we spent two nights in a tiny house by the sea, dwarfed by a huge sky, looking out toward grey-pink strand, which came and went and went and came and probably always will.

Eldest was with us for a few days during his reading week, but now we're home and he's packing for the train back to university, we'll all be together again at Christmas. "I'll make you something to eat," I say, "for the journey," and I peer into the fridge. There's homemade chicken stock in a jar.

At Seasalter we strode out across the beach, Youngest, Eldest, and I, toward the silver sea which ran away from us even as we approached it, and got stuck in clawing mud, holding on to one another, laughing, listening to the wind, and to oystercatchers calling.

I open a cupboard: a packet of couscous. I measure some out, boil the chicken stock. In the salad crisper there's bits of veg and herbs and a packet of kale. I take a handful of kale, chop it, add it to the stock. 

"Listen," said Youngest, as we huddled on the beach, stuck fast in mud, "we can still hear his guitar, all the way from here." It's Middle One, sitting on the bench in front of the little house, playing to an audience of sky.

When we came before, years ago, maybe three or four, perhaps even five, with these three same boys, only younger versions, Eldest brought his ukulele instead of his guitar and played it standing at the open door. I took a photograph: his silhouetted frame against a rippled sky, music floating out across a Magwitch marsh.

I pour the boiled stock with kale over the couscous in a large bowl, cover with a cloth, go to look in the pantry.

We walked to Whitstable again this time, just as we did before, along the same stretch of beach, distant town clinging to the edge of bay, calling us, appearing closer than it is. We ate in the same restaurant as before: fish and samphire, local beer, but this time we investigated the shops after. The boys buy 'vinyl' in a record store, which they didn't last time, and pear drops from the jar in an old-fashioned sweet shop, which they did the time before. Then we return, three pairs of precious hands clutching sweet-filled paper bags.

In the pantry I find two tins: mixed beans, and salmon. Once drained in they both go with the stock-infused couscous, plus chopped veg, herbs, peppers, celery, cucumber, spring onion, fresh chilli, coriander, mint, parsley.

We walked back, sun dropping fast behind beach, a wide sand of pinks and blues, shot through with metallic threads, topped off with eerie calm, three boys running before, wellies scuffing, pools splashing, loping and laughing: the boys they once were, the boys they still-almost are.

A squeeze of lime over couscous, added chilli flakes, glugs of oil, a salt and pepper stir, calculating the nutrition: fish and carbohydrate, pulses, veg, brassica, stock, herbs, oil, seasoning… no nuts or seeds. Adding a handful of pine nuts. Is that all? What else? Stir again. Feeling the need to add more. Finding tupperware. Spooning the mixture. Rooting about for a plastic fork. Sellotaping it to the lid. 

"Here you go," I say, "something to eat on the train." 

"Thanks," he says. "What is it?"

"Some couscous," I say, "with stuff."

Love E x


P.S. What I don't tell him is, it's chock-full of love. 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Cotton Wool.

"I think he might have broken his collar bone again," says the text from Husband. It's not the best message to read on your iPhone when you've just got in from a boozy night out. And I was only plugging it in to charge in the kitchen before going to bed.

Have you ever wanted to turn the clock back? Make something that just happened, unhappen? That's what I want right then. I want to erase the message, go out of the front door, come back in again to a different reality, like Sliding Doors, or an episode of Mr Benn, to a house in which Youngest had not just broken his collar bone. It's what I still want to be honest, all these days later, because the repercussions go on, and on. It's made me realise how everything can change in a heartbeat, the blink of an eye, and not always for the better. 

I go upstairs. Youngest is in bed, his father in attendance. He's been holding it together but now he sees me, he cries (Youngest, not Husband). He knows it's broken because he's broken his collar bone before, twice, both sides, now a repeat, (obviously, no one has three collar bones). He slipped on the stairs coming down from his room to the middle landing. He felt it go. Heard the snap. Yuk.

I can tell by the way he's holding his arm that something is broken. It's his fourth break, he also broke his arm once, falling off his bike. I've questioned this since: is there something the matter? Are his bones particularly fragile? The other two boys haven't broken a thing. In A&E early next morning (we decide painkillers and sleep are more beneficial than a long wait in a busy London hospital at night), I'm told, no, it's within the normal range in childhood; it's plain bad luck. 

Just so you know, in case it ever happens to one of yours, there are tell-tale signs with breaks: the victim is generally still, quiet, pale, hardly moving the limb in question, holding it protectively. It's not all screaming and wailing, as you you might expect.

"What about Iceland?" he sobs. There's a residential school trip to Iceland in a week. He hasn't been on a residential school trip with his secondary school before. He desperately wants to go. What can I say? What would you say? 

"Let's not think about that now."

"Just concentrate on getting some sleep, letting your body heal."

"Maybe it's not broken anyway."

"Even if it is broken, you might still be able to go."

"Don't worry, we love you."

These are some of things I say, as I stroke his brow, sitting on the floor next to his bed, not in it, for fear of knocking him. It's a mother's role: to be soothing, loving, calm, then to go downstairs, eventually, when the child is finally settled and asleep, to the bedroom where the husband has taken himself off to bed already (to be fair he had all the drama earlier) and say: "Oh my fucking God I can't believe it! What the hell happened?" 

We can't wrap our kids in cotton wool, much as we might like to. We can't stop bad things happening to them. I'm blaming Husband, when really I blame myself for having been out enjoying myself with a friend. I know this. 

"What happened? When?" I want to know, as if it will make any difference.

"I was calling him down from his room. He needed to do his Biology homework."

"What time?"

"About 8.45. He came out the door, slipped on the carpet, in socks, put his arm out to stop himself..."

8.45! 8.45 is way too late to start on his homework. If I'd been at home it wouldn't have been 8.45, it would have been earlier, so it wouldn't have happened. I think all this, and then I say it all too. Cruelly. Unfairly.

"No, it might not have happened if you had been home," says Husband, "it might have been worse, he might have fallen and fractured his skull."

True. There's no logic to what I am saying. I'm cross with the world. He obviously can't go on the school trip, it's just not going to work. Later we're told we probably won't get the money back either (£800). It's not the school's fault. It's not the boy's fault. It's not Husband's fault. It's not my fault. It's life.  

I happen to catch some of those Stand Up To Cancer films on the television a few days later: a little boy who couldn't play football anymore because he had a rare form of cancer, who then died; the happily married couple who've done everything together their whole lives, and then she died, leaving him alone. I think: Youngest has only broken a bone, it's not life-threatening, we're lucky. Yes, everything can change in a heartbeat, but it could have been so much worse. It really could.

Love E x


To donate to Stand Up To Cancer you can cut and paste this link -


I'm telling Middle One a funny story, concerning the book Cider With Rosie... 

"So I say to my friend, 'Oh yes, and I met him once, you know, the author, Laurie Lee, in the Chelsea Arts Club, I was with the poet Adrian Henri'. And my friend says, 'He was at the University of York as well,' and I say, 'No, he really wasn't, I think you're confusing him with Laurie Taylor', and she says, 'Who's Laurie Taylor?' And I say, 'You know, off Radio 4'. And she says, 'And Michael Caine was in the film of it,' and I say, 'No, he really wasn't, he's a Cockney, and she says, 'He can act, you know Elizabeth!' And when I get home I google it, and Michael Caine was in The Cider House Rules!
And I laugh, because I think this is totally hilarious, and Middle One says, "That might be the most middle class anecdote I've ever heard in my life."

Friday, 9 October 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?

I'm nosy. I think you are too. You're reading this, aren't you? I think it's because I'm nosy that I like Who Do You Think You Are? It might be my favourite television programme. Did you see it last week? It was about Anita Rani and it had everything: an exotic location, a charismatic, attractive presenter (she's stunning), a family mystery that took place during one of the most tragic of historical circumstances - Partition. It was harrowing, moving, interesting and entertaining. What more could you want? 

People are endlessly fascinating. It's why I love reading columns in newspapers in which journalists write about themselves and their families, why I love reading biographies and autobiographies, why I love fly-on-the-wall TV, why I love stories and plays and drama of all types. I think most of us do because most of us are nosy. We'd all like a sneaky peak into the lives of others, a look behind that closed front door, a glimpse beyond those net curtains, a view over our garden fence...

I'm not good at remembering numbers or dates or facts, but tell me something interesting about you or your family and I'll likely remember it forever. Sometimes I regurgitate stuff back, and watch the look of surprise on someone's face, which always surprises me. "How do you know that?" they ask. 

"Because you told me," I say. "Remember? Your sister's new husband? He's that guy who gave her that amazing orgasm in the tent and that was when she realised she loved him." (Mind you I challenge anyone to forget that story.) 

"Your mum? She taught at your school. You used to give her a lift in your mini when you were in the 6th form." 

"Your dad? He still has the suit he was married in, and he still wears it." 

I store stuff away, useless information that I find intriguing. And of course I give a lot of my own stuff away too, here, and when chatting to friends, who pretty much know every solitary thing about me, whether they want to or not. I tend not to get on with secretive people. What makes them think they're so special? I don't understand them.

Families particularly interest me, how they work, what makes them tick, what's their dynamic, their habits? Who shops? Who cooks? Do they all sit round the table to eat meals together? Do they have TV suppers? What time do they go to bed? What programmes do they watch? What do they read, believe, think? What do they argue about? (I'm very suspicious of people who say they don't argue.) We all gather this information about one another by osmosis, often not realising we're doing it, and then we band together with families like our own.

When mothers make new friends at the school gate, which they invariably do, they're subconsciously looking for common ground. I remember being delighted to find a friend who cooked one meal for her family in the evening so they all sat down together to eat, as we did (do). This was unusual at the time in a world of children's tea, followed by adult supper, and it turned out we were both following the pattern set by our own families, and we were able to do this because we were at home full-time.

So here are a few more of our/my habits, which you may or may not find fascinating. Feel free to tell me some of your own, just don't expect me to ever forget them.

Morning - I hate getting out of bed. I'm not a lark. I would say I'm an owl but I'm not that either because I love getting in it.

Tea - We listen to Radio 4 first thing. Husband brings me a cup of tea in bed. I only drink Earl Grey. 

Breakfast - The family has it together on school days. The boys have homemade pancakes. Husband and I have porridge. I always read the TV review while eating.

Post - I'm allergic to it. I hate opening it. I can't defend or rationalise this position, except to say that there might be nasty things lurking inside it. It stacks up on the kitchen island unopened for days.

Voice mail - ditto with voice mail. I don't play it back. I have no idea why. If you want me, try again, or text. I love a text.

Filing - I don't do it. I have a lot of guilt attached to this. In fact I have a lot of guilt per se. I should have been Catholic.

Religion - I come from a long line of atheists, I see it as my duty to pass this on.

Clean washing - I rarely put it away, what's the point? People just get it out and wear it again. 

Newspapers - we get two every day. They are delivered. It's my guilty pleasure (more guilt). I read them both cover to cover at lunchtime when I'm in.

Politics - I'm not as left wing as I used to be. My grandfather told me this would happen. I've always said I'd never sleep with a Tory though, and I still hold to that. Since Husband started reading The Telegraph online every morning I've worried that I might have to become celibate. He says he only reads it for the hilarious comments at the bottom. But then he would, wouldn't he.

Telly - I love it, I watch as much as possible.

Alcohol - we try not to drink in the week. Usually we fail in this endeavour. (You guessed it, guilt again.)

Supper - we eat at seven pm most days. I cook from scratch. My favourite thing is to look in the fridge and see what we have and then throw something together. It's on the table when Husband comes in from work. I am both proud and ashamed of this.

The dishwasher - Husband's domain, he drives everyone mad re-stacking whatever we stuff in it, so now we just leave it to him. If he goes away or is out for the evening I delight in throwing things in willy-nilly… and then I feel guilty.

Wet towels - no one picks them up but me. I've given up nagging. I go upstairs and pick them all up and hang the them on the towel rails every day.

Tidy - despite the filing and the post and the washing thing, I keep a tidy house. I go round clearing up all the time. Over the years I've discovered that the best way to tidy up is to throw stuff away, especially if you don't know what it is. Sometimes this gets me in trouble.

Gardening - I do it all.

Money - no one manages this, it's total chaos.

Holidays - I book them, and the weight of this responsibility sits heavy on my shoulders. I'm always terrified it might be a crap holiday and it will be my fault. The others would never leave the house if it wasn't for me.

Food shopping - I do it, but Husband goes to the local farmers market on his bike on Saturday mornings to supplement.

Exercise - We do quite a lot but not the same thing. Husband cycles and runs. I row and swim and walk and do pilates. The kids do fencing and tennis.

Clearing up - We try to get the boys to help clear up, at the very least they have to put their own things in the dishwasher, but often after this they scarper back upstairs when we're not looking and we can't be bothered to drag them back down.

Going out - if I'm going out I leave a meal for the family first, only occasionally it's pizza out of a box because pizza out of a box is not a proper meal. Husband said this to me once and I went ballistic, we had a huge row about it, but secretly I agree. 

Music - We tend not to like the same. I miss Eldest because he used to play things I like: Simon and Garfunkel, Police, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bowie, The Kinks, Stones, ELO, to name a few. 

Bed - we go to bed as early as possible because we're always knackered. I sleep on the left. That's as much as I'm saying.

Love E x


P.S. I'm in A & E at the moment, at St George's Hospital. Youngest broke his collar bone. Again. So that's next week's blog sorted.

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Groucho Club.

"Shall we have a mojito first?" says my friend. 

Oh gosh, I think, a mojito? On a Wednesday lunchtime? Best not. 

"Okay then."

We're having lunch at The Groucho Club. I mention this as if it's totally normal. It's not. It used to be, a long time ago, but now it's very much not. My friend is still a member though and it's his treat.

Actually I got a bit over-excited and spent ages obsessing over what to wear (you never know who you might bump into in The Groucho Club), eventually settling on a green Cath Kidston dress, covered in a clock design, a bit vintage. Or perhaps that should be timeless? 

I'm wearing it with beige heels and bare legs, because it said in the fashion section of the paper recently that it's fine to have bare legs up until October, if you can bear it, as it were. But it feels wrong. And cold.

You know that thing when you go out in the wrong outfit and then you feel wrong all day? Yeah, that. Actually the dress feels tighter than it used to, and perhaps I shouldn't have worn the push-up bra?

I'm trying to focus on what my friend is saying as he sits opposite at the cosy lunch table, but it feels a bit weird, like a date, only in the wrong clothes, with the wrong person. It's not a date, it's a business lunch with an old friend/colleague. Lunch with a man who is not your husband always feels a bit odd. But maybe that's just me. 

He's telling me about his new diet, although for some reason he's not looking at me. Perhaps he thinks it feels it's a bit like a date as well? He's been inspired by Jamie's Super Foods, on Channel 4, so he's cut out red meat, sugar and fat. Now he eats lots of kale and nuts. This makes me want to order a large steak and a sticky toffee pudding. Not to eat at the same time, just the one after the other. In front of him. He says this new diet is not a chore, he loves it. I note that he's skinny as a whippet. 

I, on the other hand, am not skinny as a whippet. Not since the summer's excesses, with its lashings of wine and ice cream and lack of my usual exercise. I need to take things in hand, go swimming twice a week instead of once, up the rowing regime (we have an old rowing machine in the cellar), cut back on things like pudding and wine, eat more fish.

"I'll have the haddock too, then," I find myself saying to the waiter, because my friend just ordered it. I didn't realise I was so suggestible, so that's good. Maybe I should hang out with him more?

The chat turns to work. We make films together, educational/information/marketing ones. We go way back, to when I bossed him around and he pointed a camera. Mostly it's the other way around now because he runs a production company. Except he bosses me around and I don't know how to point a camera. We're here to catch up and talk 'strategy'. I'm not quite sure what this means but it's a great excuse to have lunch.

I notice the dining room is full of men. In fact it's entirely men and they are all very friendly, and smiley. Which is nice. I wonder what they're talking about. I imagine Tarquin is offering work to Quentin and that they all go back to when they were at Oxford together, getting drunk and fooling around with dead animals. Like with politics, the media is a closed shop, and I don't know where the entrance is anymore. I think someone hid the entrance around the time I had three babies. I've been circling the building looking for it ever since. With a pram.

Now we're on to the wine and I'm struggling to focus on what my friend is telling me, again. It's something about using contacts, not cold-calling or emailing because this never works, and about a Canadian director he works with sometimes who is brilliant at getting commissions via his golf club. I'm wondering whether to mention that I don't play golf, or even leave the house very much, when I have a horrible moment of paranoia: I'm convinced everyone in the room is looking at me except for my friend, who is resolutely looking away. 

Is this because I am not Canadian, or male, or called Tarquin, or adept at making contacts while playing golf? Is it because I lost the way into this world some time back and they all know it? I am an interloper, an impostor, a fraud. I shouldn't be in The Groucho Club. I'm not a member. I should be shown the door immediately (a-ha!). 

Or is it because I am clearly drunk after two glasses of wine and a mojito on a Wednesday lunchtime? Also, I'm a bit worried about how I'm going to get Youngest to tennis and then go on to a charity party tonight somewhere in deepest Wandsworth, now that I'm drunk.

I go to the loo, and as I walk past the mirror I notice that the buttons on the front of my dress are undone all the way to the waist. "For God's sake!" I say to my friend when I get back, tucking myself between table and chair and finding I need more space than I thought, "why didn't you say anything about my dress being open?" 

"Was it?" he says, not looking at me, again. "I didn't notice. Fancy pudding?"

"Yes," I say, "I'll have the apple pie and custard. And more wine. 

Love E x


P.S. If you'd like a educational/informative/marketing film directed by me and not a Canadian do please get in touch.

And just in case you're not media enough, darling, The Groucho Club is a private members club in Soho, its members mostly drawn from publishing, media, entertainment and arts industries (it says here on Wikipedia).