The Non-Domestic Goddess – If I knew you were coming, I’d have bought a cake!

 

Despite well-documented evidence to the contrary, I occasionally have delusions of domestic competency. This is when I picture myself in perfect housewife 1950s mode, gingham apron’d, flushed of cheek, a blob of flour on the end of my adorable retrousee nose, whisking up all sorts of culinary delights in my shiny, chromey kitchen. In her basket, in a corner of the kitchen, the cat purrs contentedly. On the wall, the clock ticks a mellifluous countdown till my husband arrives ‘hi-honey-I’m-home’ from a hard day at the office.  I greet him, smiley, adoringly, a perfectly cooked apple-pie with a pastry-leafed motif, cradled my hands. His name is Darren. (Look, this is my 1950s fantasy – all the men are called Darren! Some even wear a pilot’s uniform.)

‘Hi durlin,’ he says. (They all say ‘durlin’ too!) ‘Mm, that sure looks good.’ He kisses the smudge of flour from my nose.

‘Shucks, honey-bun.’ I say with a nonchalant shrug. ‘That ain’t nuthin. Just wait till you see the meatloaf yer little ol’ wifey threw together earlier. Six kinds of sausage meat, I do declare,  a large pinch of fydelity and a whole fistful of lovin.’

Meantime, back in the real world, my kitchen has taken on that Ground Zero look that was so fashionable back in King Tut’s time.  The surfaces lie hidden beneath so much dust I am expecting Tony Robinson and the mob from Time Team to arrive, spades in hand, any minute.  Should they happen to stumble (stumble being the operative word) upon my saucepan cupboard, they may well discover an artefact or two amongst the proto-type juicers, mincers and sprockety gadgets acquired in other delusional moments for their ‘handiness’.

The cat, far from purring contentedly in the corner, has just hawked up a gigantic fur ball.  I am afraid to look too closely in case it has legs and a head too. The fur ball, I mean.

The clock, bought on Ebay, is not ticking. The clock has not ticked since 19-hundred-and-frozen-to-death, when the ship it once adorned was enticed onto some rather unwelcoming rocks. Ebay has mugged me before. (A certain miniature barrel also comes to mind, reputed to have been carved by Nelson, himself. Turns out it was carved by a crim in the prison workshop. Nielsen, I think he was called.)

Moving swiftly on. I do have a husband, but he is called David. He is not the type to kiss flour from anyone’s nose, neither does he wax lyrical over apple pies and meatloaf, except when the latter is big and hairy and belts out ‘I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t Do That’.

Regardless, this morning my 1950s delusion was in full swing. Faced with a mountain of runner beans, I decided to search the internet for inspirational recipes for what is, in effect, a fairly uninspiring vegetable.  In fact, I have a theory as to why they are called runner beans – when faced with them, turn and leg it away, as fast as you can. Unfortunately, like my 22 inch waist and crush on David Cassidy, my days of running are but a distant memory.  So there I stood, beans before me, mouse in hand, (not the one the cat hawked up) and Googled till I hit chutney. Runner bean chutney. Okay, so it’s not exactly up there with Nigella’s finger-sucking, hair-flicking, hourglass-shaped, Haricot en Vin D’Extraordinarily Expensive, but it’s a way of getting rid of the rotten little blighters.

And lo it came to pass that I embarked upon my first foray into the secretive world of runner bean chutney. I de-stringed, and chopped, and boiled and minced. I chucked in onions and vat-loads of vinegar, sugar, mustard, turmeric  and cornflower. I stirred and coaxed and crooned words of encouragement a la three witches in Macbeth.  Double. Double. Toil and Trouble. And, verily, it all began to look quite encouraging and chutney-like, if a rather bilious and unappetising shade of green.  Then, the phone rang and, by the pricking of my thumbs, whilst I was busy discussing my friend, Jenny’s umbilical hernia and the state of the NHS, some vandal snuck in and replaced my lovely chutney with a load of sticky, foul smelling tar.

Alas, it’s true what they say, fantasies are best kept as fantasy, even 1950s housewifey ones. I rub a porthole in my dusty mirror, look deep into my own eyes and realise that, just as at the age of 37 I never drove through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair, neither will I ever be a domestic goddess.

Ah well, I guess, I’ll just have to content myself with being a Non-domestic  goddess instead! Still, I might just hold on to the Darren fantasy, all the same.  Oh, Darren . . . cooee, Darren . . . don’t forget your uniform . . .

PS. If anyone would like the recipe for Runner Bean Encroute de Tarmacadam, please report immediately to your nearest psychiatric unit.

St Laurence Churchyard – A Great Place to Visit – Make no Bones About It!

Ten o’clock on Saturday morning found me in the churchyard of St Laurence in Ramsgate, about to embark upon the guided tour I have somehow managed to miss on several previous occasions. Unintentionally miss, let me add hastily but, this time, I made it. And very glad I am that I did. The sun was shining, the birds practising their scales in the trees and though St Laurence is situated on a somewhat busy intersection, the noise of the traffic scarcely registered, especially as one ventured further into the tranquil hush of the churchyard.  Barbara, our guide, a lady who exuded both bonhomie and efficiency, duly gathered her small, surprisingly age-diverse flock, and shepherded us off on what turned out to be a most interesting tour of the past.

Obedient as school kids, we crocodiled down pathways bordered by topsy-turvy ivy and lichen covered headstones, traipsed across over-grown graves, carefully avoiding the stinging nettles lurking with intent, and ducked beneath bowers of holly, bejewelled with the reddest of berries. Every so often we stopped to allow Barbara to introduce us to the incumbent of a particular grave, along with a potted account of their lives.

And there, in the heart of this relatively unremarked churchyard, we found ourselves in the presence of luminaries such as the eminent lawyer, barrister and politician, William Garrow, recently the subject of a TV series, Garrow’s Law, and the gentleman responsible for that cornerstone of British law, ‘innocent until proven guilty’. In his will, I have since learned, he requested that he be buried in his birthplace, Hadley, alongside his uncle, a request which was for reasons unknown not granted.

In a shady nook, overhung by arthritically-twisted branches, stands a cross marking the final resting place of John Collis Brown, the doctor who invented chlorodyne, originally a treatment for cholera. Although savvy in medical matters, he was no Sir Alan and failed to patent his prescription leaving him to miss out on the profits of what became a ‘miracle’ cure for everything, from colds and diarrhoea to whooping cough, neuralgia and rheumatism. Amongst its principal ingredients were laudanum, tincture of cannabis and chloroform, meaning, as Barbara wryly pointed out, that even if it didn’t cure you, at least you died happy!

The jewel, or perhaps what ought to be the jewel in the crown of St Laurence were it not in so parlous a state with broken ducal coronets and smashed angel heads, is the D’Este mausoleum, in which lie the remains of two of the grandchildren of King George III. Lady Augusta Murray of Dunmore , their mother, who married Prince Augustus Frederick in 1793, shares the same resting place. Unfortunately, under the Royal Marriage Act of 1772, the marriage was ruled invalid and the couple parted in 1801. She was given (or perhaps paid off with) the title, D’Ameland in 1806, and given a Crown allowance to keep her and her children in a certain style.

Leaving Lady Augusta and her offspring in the guardianship of the four-trees standing sentry, one at each corner of the once-grand mausoleum, we pressed onward to where John Woolward, an admiral who served under Nelson, came to anchor for the final time. In 1798 he fought in the Battle of the Nile at Aboukir Bay, helping Nelson to scatter the French fleet and put them to rout. John later became the harbourmaster at Ramsgate, a position he maintained for twenty-six years.

But it wasn’t just the dignitaries I found interesting – I was particularly taken with the grave of a young lady who ‘as she was walking upon the cliff on October 1801, unfortunately she fell over and was killed upon the spot’.  There is no name upon the gravestone, but she was later identified as Louisa Grevis. Who said exercise is good for you!

Although many of the stones carry, in keeping with the Victorians, rather grim reminders of the fleetingness of life and a basic caution to refrain from smugness because we’re all on the same bus, just on different time tables, St Laurence churchyard really is something of a haven.  One section of the grounds has been left to revert to nature and nature has not been backward at coming forward. Lothario Bees flirted shamelessly with the wild flowers, visiting first one, then another, while Ladybirds lolled about on long sunny stems and leaves, totally unconcerned that their house might be on fire and their children alone. The birds, as I mentioned earlier, were tuning up en mass for the feathered version of The Proms and, I understand,  that burning bright in the churchyard of the night is, no, not a tiger, but a fox, waiting, perhaps, for an exhausted songster to fall off its perch.

I could go on. I could tell you how privileged I felt following in the footsteps of William IV, Queen Victoria, even William Pitt, all who have trod the leafy pathways of St Laurence at one point or another, but I won’t. Instead, I suggest you come on one of the tours yourself, which are held regularly and which are free – though it goes without saying that a donation towards the upkeep is always acceptable.

And, I could go on about the church itself, which dates from 1062 – yep, before the Norman conquest, but I also suggest you come along and see its many architectural and historic gems at first hand.

On which note, I will leave the last word to one of our Victorian forebears, whose stone is inscribed with a verbal two fingers up!

‘Farewell vain world, I‘ve known enough of thee

And now care not what thou sayest of me’.

Further information can be found on: http://www.whatsoninkentlocal.com/all/details/21135/

Depression – don’t make me laugh!

 

A beautiful still night a few months ago, picture-perfect, with an almost full-moon wreathed round in a tracery of white cloud. On the balmy air, the scent of night-scented stocks. In the distance the seductive lapping of sea kissing beach. And did I stop to admire the sky, inhale the scents, dream to the rhythm of the waves? Like hell I did. My prevailing thought at the time, the one that finally brought me to the realisation that something was wrong – not just wrong, but really wrong – was ‘I wonder what it would be like simply to walk into the sea, to just keep on walking, to feel the waves closing over my head and then . . . the blessed relief of nothing’. That’s what I longed for. Nothingness. Not to feel. Not to exist. Erasure, from everything and everyone. Oh yes, I was more than prepared to thrust off the mortal coil, and not just go gentle into the good night but to go galloping head first. Depression! The realisation hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t just a bit down, out of sorts, having a bad day or the hundred and one  other trivial things I had tried to persuade myself I was suffering from, to one degree or another. I was depressed. Dangerously so.  Enough to seriously consider ending it all.  The black canine had me by the throat and he wasn’t letting go.

Looking back, it’s easy to see the signs but, as they say, when you’re in the moment, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. Besides, I was too damn tired. Lethargy was my constant companion. With a publishing deadline looming, this is not a companion you would actively seek out and many and oft were the days I found myself sitting in front of a blank computer screen willing the bloody book to complete itself.

And crying. Boy, did I cry a river. A veritable cauldron of emotion, I went to pieces over anything and everything, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I once found myself welling up over a schmaltzy advert for baby something or other, the kind of contrived tripe I would normally roll my eyes over whilst sticking two fingers down my neck.

Wine! Wine, Lethargy and me spent several cosy evenings together. Me, the girl a boyfriend happily once described as a very cheap date, owing to my abstemious penchant for soda water and lime. Did I become an alcoholic – no, but I can see how it can happen, the insidious way one glass can lead to two and from thence to a whole bottle.

Yet, on the outside, I was switched to automatic and managed to keep up a good pretence at normality. Nobody knew, nobody suspected that I was wearing a shell, a walking, talking occasionally even joking shell. Inside, out of sight, I was all shrivelled up, hopeless, guilty, joyless – a complete mess.

With the wonderful hindsight that is of 20/20 vision, I can pretty much identify the main triggers for my depression and despair – the death of my mother in January, an altercation with a family member that shook me to my core, ongoing problems with an adult son, who is more child than adult.

Oddly enough, almost as soon as I acknowledged/realised the extent of my depression, it began to lift. Words flowed onto the screen once more and I completed my book (Blue-Eyed Girl, for your information). Energy flooded back. I sought out friends again and socialised. I actually answered the telephone with enthusiasm. One day, I found myself singing, as I washed the dishes, a sound no one had heard for many months and, I confess, no one had missed.

Now, why the depression should so miraculously have lifted I have no idea. But, this I will say, hand-on-heart, had it carried on, I would have had no compunction about seeking medical help.

Today, I feel good again. The sun is zipping round the sky in his golden chariot. The sea is moving back and forth, which is what seas are paid to do. This time, though, I’m happy to stand on the beach and admire it curling and unfurling from a distance.

But wait! Is that a black dog I see before me? Yes, but this one is chasing a ball. Run, Spot. Run!

Football Sur L-Herbe

 

When they were young, my sons, in common with many other little boys, enjoyed nothing better than a kick about in the back garden. Actually, that’s not strictly true, because they were also into Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Zippy from Rainbow (though they would deny the last on the point of a sword!  As for George, the gender confused pink hippo –  nuff said!) Anyway, for the purposes of this blog, let’s just stick with the footie. Now, Old Jack (people often qualified this by adding ‘boots’ on the end) really put the cur in curmudgeon. His DNA was a mixture of Alf Garnett, Victor Meldrew and Attila the Hun – and that was with calm weather and a fair day.  Still, the little bit of good that is in everyone, manifested itself in Jack’s green fingers, and the very fine garden that came about as a result of his working them to the bone.

Unfortunately for Jack, my kids’ football often manifested in his garden too, generally right in the middle of his prized begonias – which is when Jack would go into complete meltdown. Presaged by a roar that caused the dead to wonder if the Day of Judgment was already to hand, Jack would appear, nose over the garden fence, carving knife in one hand, football in the other, demanding answers – always to the same question. ‘How do you want it back, you little b*##!!!s sliced or diced?’

Time has rolled by and Jack has long since gone to fertilise another plot, still putting his body, if not his soul into it. My sons have grown up, grown out of football and grown into girls – though not literally.  I have grown too, things horticultural, herbs, vegetables, flowers. More than that, my sympathy has grown – for Jack – may the angels help him prune his heavenly garden and sharpen his carving knife! More than that, I am proud to pick up his Alf/Victor/Attila mantle and wear it with pride. Why? Because, right next door, two ‘orrible little b*##!!!s are forever kicking their football into the middle of my prized herb garden and flattening the oregano and Greek basil (I got the last heavily discounted, much like their national debt!).

To date, I have been patient, smiled my understanding I-know-what-it’s-like-to-be-the-mother-of –ruffians smile at their apologetic, (but not apologetic enough),mother. My patience has worn thin to the point of emaciation. My carving knife is as honed as Mark Cavendish’s thighs on the final lap of the Tour de France. But, I won’t be grabbing the football. I’ll be grabbing the brats and demanding answers from their mother.  ‘How do you want your little b*##!!!s back, sliced or diced?’

Footnote:  Outside, there is the steady thwack thwack of a football against my garden fence. One of the timbers has already come loose and is swinging forlornly like an arm that has been wrenched out of its socket.  ‘Boot it harder, you wuss,’ comes the piped instruction, from an owner whose testicles still have a long way to descend. The fear from the herb bed is palpable.  On the kitchen counter the carving knife gleams dully . . .

FACE, by Madam Tussaud. Botox – why it needles me!

 

Idly flicking through a magazine this morning, I was once more confronted by a beauteous image of perfection sporting the ‘au-naturel’ look.  Of course, far from looking ‘naturel’, the poor girl looked completely ‘unnaturel’.  Not one line, laughter or otherwise, marred her airbrushed and Botox’d creamy complexion. Not a mole, not a freckle, not an acne scar, not an expression of any sort, just the blankness of a death mask. Now, I don’t care what anyone says, that’s just plain spooky. As human beings, we are designed to communicate with so much more than mere words and gestures. Our faces and ability to contort them is all essential to conveying our emotions. Here are some I prepared earlier.

1.            A massive scowl when the alarm clock went off two hours earlier than intended because I still can’t get to grips with its convoluted buttony things. After two years!

2.            A hefty eye-roll, combined with a repeat of massive scowl, when husband had the cheek to complain about No. 1.

3.            A ‘blaagh’ overall contorting of the face when confronted with my morning bowl of prunes.  The ‘blaagh’ is regular too.

4.            A trembling bottom lip over a sad story about a dead dog in the newspaper.

5.            A series of nose wrinkling manoeuvres prior to hay-fever induced series of ground shaking sneezes.

The above list forms but a small part of the rigorous facial workout already indulged in this morning and, believe me, no witness would have been left in any doubt as to what message each frown, scowl, contortion, curled lip conveyed.  And that’s the way I like it, because then everyone is clear on what needs to be done to make me a happy, smiley, shiny person.

Quid pro quo, I too like to be able to decipher the facial expressions of those around me  and not just immediate friends and families, but people in general, and especially those invited into my living room via the wonderful medium of television to entertain me. Repeat, entertain me!  And not through my puzzling over how many cosmetic procedures they’ve had and awarding myself ten points for every box checked. Botox? Tick. Fillers? Tick. Collagen? Tick. Etc. Etc. Tick.

When an actor stands over the body they’ve just murdered, I want to see what they’re feeling, whether that be triumph, horror, malice, glee or whatever.  These days the only emotion conveyed seems to be one of permanent frozen shock.

Imagine a Romeo and Juliette where the principal actors have succumbed to the lure of the needle.

A.            Romeo: (sans Botox or fillers).  What light through yonder window breaks?

Here, Romeo is romantic, yearning, poetic. His face moves, whether in mysterious or non-mysterious ways is unimportant. The key thing here is that his face actually moves.  We totally get him and, more importantly, so does Juliette.

B.            Romeo: ( Botox’d to the hilt). What light through yonder window breaks?

Here,  Romeo is shocked rigid. This light through yonder window – what could it be? A bolt of lightning? A terrorist attack?  Wisely, Juliette has left the balcony.

Here’s another.

Marlon Brando (sans Botox) – I coudda beena contenda.

Imagine the phrase spoken through a faceful of frozen stuff. The stuff of Movie Lore? Not a chance.

One last, because I can’t resist.

Rhett Butler (sans Botox) – Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Said forcefully with passion and lashings of throw-me-over-the-shoulder testosterone.

Now, try the new unimproved death-masked version.  See? It just doesn’t work. Scarlett would have punched his lights out and run up them up as curtains.

(Tip:  Why not pick out your own favourite movie lines and try it for yourself.  Hours of cheap and innocent fun for all the family!)

Anyway, to wrap it up, if you’ve managed to read this far and are still unclear as to what my take on this whole cosmetic procedures (for vanity) lark is, it may be because the Botox has now reached your brain. You might like to think about your epitaph.

If you are eye-rolling and screwing up your face, in agreement or otherwise, congratulations, I salute your freedom of expression.

That’s it; I’m off to try out some more movie lines.

Clint (sans Botox) – You feelin lucky punk?

Clint (Botx’d) – You feelin lucky punk?

Oops,  no change there.

ALL PAIN, NO GAIN. LET THE BUYER BE UNAWARE!

Today, the sun has climbed aboard his golden chariot, the sky is the celestial blue of a Renaissance painting, birds are flibberty-gibbeting in trees so lush they deserve a more original adjective. A day, one might think, to be happy and carefree, to dispense with the woes of whatever there is to be woeful about. A day to rejoice that one’s heart still beats, pulse still pulses and blood still Grand Prix’s it through ones veins. Unless you happen to be Son No. 2, whose face is currently so long, he bears more than a passing resemblance to Desert Orchid. Pour quois? Simples! He didn’t listen to his Mum, didn’t heed the warning that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In this case, we are referring to an X-Box bought on Amazon, an amazing ‘knock-down’ bargain. What the vendor failed to specify is that the knock-down referred not to the price, but to the recipient, when they found no leads, battery pack or any of the associated paraphernalia one might expect to make it work was actually included. A salutary lesson learned the hard way. But, Son No. 2 is not the only one to have woken up and smelled the con-artist. I’ve learned a lesson too and that is not to bother dispensing any more pearls of wisdom. The fact is the only voice most people listen to is the voice of bitter experience. Their own experience! As a parent, of course, I felt it my bounden duty to try and instil the wisdom of Caveat Emptor in the fruit of my womb, if only to spare him the disappointment of X-Boxes sans accoutrements. But like said X-Box, it didn’t work. However, he will not make that mistake again. But, looking at the balance sheet, I suppose he’s gained more than he’s lost; in the debit column, £70.00  and scales lost from his eyes and, in the credit column, invaluable experience.

The Importance of Naming Ernest!

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME COULD BE A CROWN OF THORNS!

 

After several rounds of intrusive fertility treatment, a friend was recently rewarded by the birth of a beautiful baby girl, Fendi Millen, named after two of her favourite shopping brands. It could have been worse, of course, the poor kid might have ended up as Burberry Choo or Louboutin Rubenstein, or even IKEA Waitrose. But, it’s bad enough and poor Fendi M may be forever scarred by the fact that her mother put choosing the name of her long-awaited precious bundle on a par with designer goods.

Listen up, parents, whilst it might seem cute to land your sprogeny with a ‘designer name’, the reality can be misery for that child and deep psychological scarring. It can, and often does, colour their perception of themselves and of those around them.  I know this, because in a past life I used to draw up Change of Name Deeds, which was interesting work because I never knew who was going to walk in the door, much less who was going to walk back out. And some were amusing, if not downright funny.  One of my all time favourites was a flamboyant Italian, Annunziata, who turned up bemoaning her ‘bad luck’ caused, according to a fortune teller, by the fact that she was named after her dead grandmother. The advice was to change her name to something ‘straaang and victoohrious’. Thus, in the stroke of a few paragraphs, Annunziata became Victoria. She left, clutching her Change of Name Deed in a manner most regal, and with a lot less waving of her hands.

Enter Clive Mine. Exit Gold Mine – I kid you not. Since he could barely find the money to pay for his Change of Name Deed, I suspect his mine was probably of the disused variety. He did have a gold tooth, though, and a very nice smile.

Amusing as these examples are –  the people above were adults and in a position to choose for themselves. Babies rely on their parents to make smart decisions on their behalf, and if they fall down on that responsibility the results can have long-term disturbing consequences. Several of my former clients spent years being bullied and taunted, the direct result (they believed) of having a ‘stupid’ or ‘ridiculous’ name that singled them out from their peers and made them the target of other people’s cruelty. And the new names they chose? Regular, everyday names; John. Emily. James. Elizabeth. Not one Orlando. Not one Honey-Blossom-Hawthorn-Clematis. And never, ever, a Fendi Millen!

Apart from being saddled with a stupid moniker, what all of these people had in common was a strongly held belief that their name was more than just a convenient means of identification. It held real power over them, a whole set of preconceived characteristics that put them at a disadvantage and prevented them from becoming the people they felt they were meant to be.

Think that’s rubbish? Well, try this little exercise. Think of a girl named Harriet. Think of a girl named Chantelle. Think of a boy named James. Think of a boy named Wayne. What image does each name conjure up? Are there any particular characteristics you associate with each name? A particular socio-economic group? Educational abilities?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet tell us, ‘nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’. Logically, therefore, no name is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Logical or not, as a society we are predisposed to pigeon-hole people, often solely on the strength of their name. I wonder if Tracey re-branded herself as Harriet, would she see herself differently. Would we see her differently?

Having witnessed the damage wrought, I believe parents should give far more consideration to naming their children. Think twice before labelling them in a whimsical fashion or aping some half-wit ‘celeb’.  Rosebud Dipsy Doo doo might be cute at two. At twenty-two, it’s downright cruel! Agt forty, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Remember Zowie Bowie? He changed his name, firstly, to Joe and then to Duncan. Point made.