23 January 2015

taking heart


There are times when the twenty first century gets the better of me: when I can't remember the password for this or that; when the internet connection fails repeatedly and the helpline suggests it's time to get a screwdriver out (what?!?); when the fridge you want from the dispiriting electrical store is on dispay but no longer stocked; when the kettle has given up the ghost and the the main oven has also slipped into a half life and a second mortgage. It's at this point that the shoulders slump invountarily, a vice grips the neck and a massive sigh rises from the depths of the soul. And shortly afterwards you come across an odd juxtaposition in the local yarn shop which just might be sending a message to take heart and count your blessings.

With many thanks for your generous and hearty suggestions for spicing up in general and best wishes for a warm and woolly weekend.

07 January 2015

in my spice box



My dentist and I are on quite friendly terms after all these years and this morning we were talking about cooking - probably not an ideal topic of conversation when your mouth is about to be assaulted, but there you are. She told me that her mother, who had given up her career when she had children, was a brilliant cook but had never passed on her knowledge so she wanted to make sure that her own children were confident in the kitchen rather than having to learn from books as she had. Her husband, she said, was also a great cook - Punjabi dishes, lots of meat whereas her own mother had cooked mostly vegetarian dishes. "Our spice boxes are very different", she said, "though I am very fond of his dal".

Such a lovely thought - each partner bringing different spice boxes and fragrances to a a family. As a child the most exotic thing we had in our home was white pepper, even though the bricks and mortar of Wapping were heavy with the scent of spices. In our own home we have only one spice box - mine - newly refreshed in winter for the pudding-fest but not exotic by any means. I think of it as a very "British" spice box - nutmeg cloves, cardamom the box, ground ginger, cinnamon, cumin, allspice. Nothing very adventurous and easily and cheaply replenished at any of the local grocers. I think it's time for me to try a little harder, be a little more adventurous, more confident. I've always avoided Indian cookery because I don't care for food that burns my mouth, but it's about much more than that and I want to be more adventurous.

My dentist is going to think about what books might help, and suggested that in the meantime I should get myself down to Forest Gate to eat. By the next time we meet I hope to have cleared out my store to make room for some fresh flavours and a new book or two.

What should I make room for do you think? What's in your spice box? What would you recommend?


06 January 2015

before I forget



In our house, the festive season doesn't end until twelfth night. The cake's gone, the last of the cream has been put in the morning porridge, and there will be soup today to use up any solitary parsnips, carrots and scraps of cheese. I've closed the shutters on the driftwood tree and today we'll take down the greenery and settle down by the fire with a drink and possibly a spicy ginger star biscuit. Next year I won't make so many. I've already reset the alarm clock for dark and cold instead of light and cold. And then the job of shimmying into a shiny new year will be well under way. Before I do though, and at the risk of making you yawn, here are some of the things I want to remember...

Birdsong and the incredible number of robins this year round here. Taking walks at dusk to  hear them. John's delight at seeing a nightjar and mine at coming across that woodcock round the corner.

Taking the bus and sitting on the top deck. The pleasure of doing circular journeys; tube, walk, overground, bus. It's not called the freedom oyster for nothing.


The pleasure of reading again and no qualms about disposing of some books onto the "life's too short" pile. On the other hand, Beryl Bainbridge, Penelope Fitzgerald and Tove Jansson would come with me to my desert island.

Going to the cinema, best of all on wintry afternoons, on my own.

Sewing. I made lots of dresses, seven in total I think. Some were more successful than others, and some were inspired by those trips to the cinema. I learnt a lot.

The seaside. Obviously. The day we spent there to celebrate a significant birthday. A lovely funeral in a windswept corner of Norfolk. It was midsummer and we stayed in a coastguard's cottage overlooking the sea, close to where our friend lived. It was all so right.


Glastonbury with my boy. Warm, generous, uplifting, clever, funny friends and family.  Loads of new babies and new mothers. The women I worked with this year. I don't think they realise how much they've taught me. Nigel Farage can go hang.

Scania - or should that be Wallander Country?
I wasn't brilliant at lightening the load last year- thank you Oliver Burkeman for cutting some slack. At a push this year I might manage to rise and shine.

Wishing you all a shiny time too.