Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Wish You Were Here.

I'm away in Cornwall this week so I haven't written a blog, but here are some pics and top tips for nice places to eat and drink in and around Falmouth.  

And here's one from the archives below about another seaside break to Seasalter in Kent.

See you soon.

A Recipe For Love - 30.10.2015

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 a 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 for university. We'll all be together again at Christmas. "I'll make you something to eat," I say, "for the journey." 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 that ran away from us even as we approached, becoming 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 are 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 together, stuck fast in mud, "we can 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, his music floating out across a Magwitch marsh.

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

We walked to Whitstable again this time along that same stretch of beach, the distant town clinging to that edge of bay, appearing closer than it is. We ate in the same restaurant too: fish and samphire with local beer, but this time we investigate the shops after. The boys buy 'vinyl' in a record store, which they didn't the 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 the beach, a wide sand of pinks and blues, shot through with metallic threads, topped off with an 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, seasoning, oil… 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 around 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?"

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

Love E x


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

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Labour of love.

Having babies is the best, and every time one of my children has a birthday I'm reminded of this. Two of them have a birthday soon, and on their birthday I like telling them all the gory details about their birth day. Not that there are gory details to tell because for me having babies was a bit of a breeze. My mum likes to tell me about mine, too. Each birthday she rings me up, and says, "this was the time they told your father to go home from the nursing home and said you weren't going to be born for ages, but they were wrong." Or, "this was the time when they gave me the pethidine." Or, "this was the time when I was high on the pethidine and singing Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini just as you were being born." I always wonder what effect that had on me.

Don't ask me why, but my labours were straightforward affairs. I like to think it's because I approached each one like I was about to run a marathon, or swim the channel (the midwife who delivered my first baby told me swimming helps develop muscles that aid labour) but it's probably because I'm a peasant, one of those wenches who in the olden days would have crouched in a field and had the baby and then carried on threshing. Like something out of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, except without the rape and the lost letter, and the interminable misery.

Whatever the reason, I immersed myself in pregnancy, revelled in it, read up on it, took classes in it. All of them. At one point I attended six hours of classes a week, if you include active birth yoga, which I think you should. Basically I did an MA in having a baby because I was delighted by it. Pregnancy made me feel joyous, ripe, fecund, and quite frankly just a little bit clever because I got pregnant the moment I tried, although I do realise there's no cleverness involved and any old sixteen-year-old can manage it up against the bike sheds. So here below is the tale of my first labour, which has its 21st anniversary coming up.

When my waters broke in the middle of the night and contractions began immediately lasting for a minute, and at five minute intervals, I ran a bath and rang my mum. For years after she kept the tape of that conversation because it was accidentally recorded on her answer-machine. I don't know if she still has it, but I remember that in it she tells me I must get out of the bath and into the hospital, and I tell her I mustn't because our NCT teacher told us first babies take ages and I will probably just get sent home again. Eventually she gets me to hand the phone to Husband and she persuades him that I should get out of the bath and into the hospital, but first he has to be persuaded to stop trying to get ice cubes into a flask. This is because it was one of the things on my birth plan. I'll come back to my birth plan later but I can tell you now you do not need ice cubes to suck during labour, as our NCT teacher had told us, and making your husband put ice cubes into a flask so you can do this in hospital, when he should be by your side having his hand squeezed off as you writhe in agony in a bath, is stupid. Also, you do not need a birth plan.

Husband did eventually help me to get out of the bath, and dressed, and into the car, where I found it impossible to sit in the usual forward-facing position (because it turned out I was in the fairly advanced stages of labour) and he drove us to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital INCREDIBLY SLOWLY as I suggested he should go a bit faster and not stop at the sodding traffic lights when the roads were clearly deserted, and definitely not take that stupid sodding left turn after Battersea Bridge because that is completely THE WRONG WAY.

At the hospital I also managed to persuade him not to take the car straight up to the door at A&E, as he was about to, but instead abandon it outside main reception for the few minutes it would take to deposit me there, because was I was HAVING A BABY.

In the delivery suite there was an Australian midwife called Jane, and no one else. Jane was lovely but she hassled me with irrelevancies. Like, did I want to put a gown on? Or to have gas and air? I was unable to reply to this, or anything, as I had retreated, animal-like, into a dusty atavistic corner of my mind. Instead of answering, I stripped off, climbed on the bed, and would not lie back. I did not want to be mithered, as they say in Yorkshire. Instinct kicked in. I just hoped Husband was handing her my birth plan, which said, among other things, that I wanted a water birth. 

Jane must have managed to examine me at some point, though, because I do remember her saying, "you're in the final stages of labour, Elizabeth. You're going to have this baby within the hour," which helped a lot, because there was pain. Of course there was pain. Lots of pain. Pain beyond pain. But knowing it wouldn't last, that if I could just breath and count, as I had been taught, and ride each wave of excruciating contraction, there would be an end to it, soon, helped immensely. I think that's what got me through without gas and air, or anything. 

So that's what I did, I took the pain. You might say I welcomed the pain because I figured the more it hurt, the closer I was to having that baby, and I was right. The baby was born in little more than three hours from the moment my waters broke and I had that first contraction.

During that labour all those years ago, on that summer morning, crouched on that hospital bed about to give birth to my first child, I had the most powerful experience of my life, almost, you might say, transcendental. Watching dawn break over rooftops between contractions, as night gave way to sunny skies, I knew I was about to bring a person into the world all by myself without drugs or medical intervention, just with two kind people close by who were there to support me, and there really aren't words to describe how that felt. Only these come close, and they are life-affirming and euphoric.

Love E x


P.S. "That would have been a beautiful water birth," Jane said, after the baby was born and I told her about my birth plan. And I laughed, because by then I was so elated, I couldn't have cared less.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Secrets and Lies.

Blue and Red.

It's a weekday afternoon and my friend and I are standing shoulder to shoulder in front of a David Hockney painting at The Tate Britain. She's brought me along because she has a member's card and I really want to see the exhibition. There's a silence. She puts her head to one side. We look at each other, then back at the painting...

"Is he gay?" she asks.

"Just a bit," I say. "All the young men in his swimming pools are a clue. Plus, there's his beloved mum over there on the wall in that photo, in her anorak."

"They're going to have very clean teeth," she says, still looking at the painting.

"It brings a whole new meaning to 'A Colgate Smile'" I say.

"Actually it reminds me of the baby monster in Alien," says my friend, "the one that bursts from his stomach."

A woman with a baby nearby, whom we hadn't noticed before, gives us a furtive glance and lifts her wailing infant from his pushchair.

"I did that," whispers my friend, looking sympathetically at the woman. "Once."

"Yeah," I whisper back, "taking your baby into an art gallery, it's the ultimate triumph of hope over experience. And did you see the photo of the woman who brought her paint swatches in here?"

"Maybe she was looking for the right baby blue?" says my friend, smiling at the mother and baby.

"Very good," I say.

The exhibition is billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a retrospective spanning almost 60 years of Hockney's work, and it doesn't disappoint. His paintings plainly lie, and I love him for it. He sells us muddy fields that glow pink in a winter landscape in Yorkshire, when you can take it from me that never happens. He turns tree trunks lime green in an English copse, when no tree trunk in the UK ever grew in that hue. He serves up red hot Californian stone in a desert, and paints it as a sumptuous layer cake. His swimming pools remind me of Fox's Glacier Mints, with his lovers embedded inside them, and these are just the paintings.

There's also a whole room of feathery charcoal sketches, celebrating both the arrival of spring, and Hockney's first love of drawing. He finishes with an immersive four seasons kaleidoscopic feast of moving woodland, in a room full of television screens, which makes a French woman behind me gasp out the word "genié!" I've seen a lot of it before, because I'm a huge Hockney fan, what with him coming from Yorkshire and me also loving Matisse, whose paintings Hockney gives more than a cursory nod to, but I hadn't previously seen the Polaroid collages that include the witty little detail of the tips of the artist's shoes creeping in at the bottom, just so we know that he's there.

Afraid of the wolf.

All I can remember about Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf - the movie - which I saw once as a teenager, is an all too realistic performance of a marriage made in hell, by two actors who were trapped in a real life on/off marriage made in Hollywood, although I do also remember that I loved it. I also love the current production at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London, staring Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill (who sounds like a place in Yorkshire that Hockney might paint) which I get to see on Wednesday because another friend has comp tickets.

Imelda Staunton's performance in particular is a tour de force that leaves me feeling knackered on her behalf. How do actors do that? And then pull it out of their bag of tricks again and again? The stamina involved is breathtaking. I have nothing else particular to report from that evening. I hadn't bought boots that day, or been to the hairdresser. No one sat in front of me and obscured my view. The barman happily agreed to let my friend and I have half measures of gin in our G&T. The queue for the ladies in the interval was long, but cleared in time for us to be back in our seats for the second half. The play was as I remember it from the movie, except I didn't recall the bit about the secret son. Why invent a son? Perhaps because lying to themselves and each other was their only way to get by. Then in the end George kills him off, which meant I left the theatre fearing for their future, which I guess was the point. And then I remembered: they're fictional.


A third friend invites me down the pub on Friday evening and then really pushes me out of my comfort zone. She strikes up a conversation with two men at the bar, who it turns out are cousins, and insists we accept their offer of drinks and sit and talk to them. I'm not happy about this at first, but it turns into an interesting evening (and gives me something to blog about) when the guy sitting next to me suddenly unburdens himself. He tells me he's heartbroken because his fiancée has left him. She doesn't like where he lives, and wants to live in Shoreditch, so she's moved out, to Shoreditch. Should he sell his flat in Wandsworth, which he loves, and buy one in Shoreditch in the hope that she'll move back in with him? (I love it when people ask my advice.)

I hesitate for a moment before answering, usually I'd lie through my back teeth in this sort of situation, for the sake of his feelings, but seeing as I only just met him I reckon I can tell him the truth, it's not like there's years of friendship there to spoil. "Listen," I say, "if you love someone you don't care where they live, you just want to be with them. It's not about Shoreditch, she doesn't love you."

Love E x


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Hideaway.

Hidden away in an unlikely spot at the back of a row of shops on Streatham High Road, is a jazz club called The Hideaway. It's not Ronnie Scott's, but it's not bad. I went to a party there once and I know people who go there for Sunday lunch and jazz. So when a friend suggests we go to the Wall to Wall Prince night at The Hideaway I think it might be fun, even though I don't actually like Prince all that much. Sure, he was the pretty boy of the party scene back in the day, with pretty pop songs too, but I like clever lyrics and "Even doves have pride," and "I only wanted to see you bathing in the purple rain" is nothing to write home about in my view, although there is that nice one he penned for Sinead O'Connor, which she went on to make a bit of a meal of.

So, Thursday night we're at the Hideaway for a bit of a meal and a spot of Prince and our friend Tom is sitting across the table, and he says he came to the Bowie night here and it was great. Turns out it's the same guy doing Prince. "He's good," whispers Tom, as the lights dim and faux Prince opens his mouth to sing, "but he does do a lot of inane chatter between songs, which gets a bit..."

"I never meant to cause you any sorrow,
I never meant to cause you any pain,

I only wanted one time to see you laughing," sings faux Prince.

"What?" I whisper back.

"I only wanted to see you
Laughing in the purple rain," sings faux Prince.

"Irritating," says Tom.

He is good, this Prince pretender, there's even a moment when I think the punters might jump up from their seats and boogie on down with the band at the front and then I'll be able to boogie on down with them, but sadly the moment passes and this doesn't happen. It's a sign of the times, I think, or maybe it's because it's a Thursday night, in Streatham, or maybe it's because everyone in the audience is over fifty and urgently needs to see an osteopath.

In between sets there's some inane chatter, between Tom and me, mostly about that time he was Johnny Cash for the primary school Star's in Their Eyes evening and sang I Walk the Line, brilliantly, and then, just as the lights dim for the second half, Tom adds, "I take your point about the lyrics. I'm not sure Prince was all that bright, to be honest, but then it's hard to think of a pop star who is."

"Dig if you will the picture
Of you and I engaged in a kiss," sings faux Prince.

"Bob Dylan," I whisper.

"The sweat of your body covers me
Can you my darling, 
Can you picture this?" sings faux Prince.

"Have you heard Bob Dylan interviewed?" Tom whispers. "I heard him on the radio the other day and the man's an idiot."

"Dream if you can a courtyard
An ocean of violets in bloom, 
Animals strike curious poses," sings faux Prince.

"David Bowie," I whisper.

"They feel the heat
The heat between me and you," sings faux Prince.

"Ahead of his time, innovative, creative genius, great outfits," whispers Tom. "Really clever? Not so sure."

"How can you leave me standing?
Alone in a world that's so cold? (So cold)," sings faux Prince.

"The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Beach Boys," I whisper.

"Maybe I'm just too demanding
Maybe I'm just like my father, too bold," sings faux Prince.

"Bright, I'll grant you," Tom whispers. "Grammar school boys most of them, but I wouldn't call any of them really clever."

"SHHH!" hiss all the old people sitting around us, so Tom and I have to shut up and I spend the rest of the second set thinking about what he said about pop stars not being really clever.

Bryan Ferry? (Okay, so I take Tom's point there.) 

Blonde? (Yeah, well).

Sting? (Again, point taken.)

Bruce Springsteen? (Mmm.)

"Are you including jazz?" I whisper, and Tom raises his eyebrows. "What about Abba?"

"You've got the butterflies all tied up, Don't make me chase you, Even doves have pride," sings faux Prince.

"Ha ha ha ha." Laughs Tom. "Yeah, right."

In the taxi on the way home, I tell my friend Jack what my friend Tom said. "Turns out all pop stars are thick," I tell Jack. "Name me a clever pop star."

"Brian Cox was in D:Ream," he says, "and he's an astrophysicist."

"Good point," I say, but apart from Brian Cox." 

"Chris Martin has a first-class honours degree in something or other."

"Yeah," I say, "but he married Gwyneth Paltrow and named his baby after a fruit, so apart from Brian Cox." Jack can't think of anyone, apart from Brian Cox.

Next day, I'm driving with Middle One next to me and I tell him about the conversation I had with Tom, and Jack.

"Brian May," he says, straight off the bat. 

"Yeah, okay," I say. "I'll give you Brian May, and there's Brian Cox, but apart from them."

"David Bowie was a bright guy," he says. "He founded an internet service provider in the 90's. Mick Jagger is clever, he went to the LSE, and..."

"Yeah, yeah," I butt in, "whatevs, but apart from Brian Cox (and Chris Martin) and Brian May and David Bowie and Mick Jagger, all pop stars are thick, right."

Love E x


P.S. "Why do we 
scream at each other,
This is what it sounds like