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.

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.

The Honesty of Hens – Some Girls Have All The Cluck

Lately, I’ve been thinking about keeping hens. There is something very honest about a hen, something comforting like Prozac or warm chicken soup. Dogs and cats, I’ve noticed, all seem to have a side to them, a hidden agenda, a me, me, me mentality masquerading as loyal affection. Buster, the boss-eyed beagle, wants to be played with, praised endlessly for being a good doggy-woggy, taken for long scent-marking walks and fed large expensive meaty bowls of Growler several times a day. Tiddly Winks wants, nay, demands to be worshipped and cuddled for precisely no other reason than that she’s a cat and, therefore, superior to every other living creature. And what return do you get on your investment in these divas of the animal kingdom? A flea in the ear and often everywhere else too!  Henny, on the other hand, plain little Henny Penny, with her beady little inquisitive eyes and ruffled pantaloon feathers is just herself, innately honest. She neither demands attention or affection. She doesn’t slobber, chew or scratch the furniture. She doesn’t hiss or spit. In return for a modest mess of pottage she amply rewards her benefactor with a regular supply of lovely fresh googy eggs. And Henny’s politics are green too – no yolk! (so much for swearing I wouldn’t make any puns in this blog). Note her Dyson-like ability to hoover up those smelly old veg parings that would otherwise fester in the bin, attracting flies and other undesirables like the local tramp. I know, I know, I’m coming over all broody, but I’m seriously beginning to feel like the sky might fall down if I don’t get my very own hen.  Rhode Island Red, Golden Comet, Foghorn Leghorn – I’ve Googled and the choice is endless and confusing. Judicious consideration and weighing in the balance is what is required. So, I’ll think about it over dinner tonight. Nothing like a crisp bottle of Sauvignon and a nice bit of roast chicken to clear the mind.

The Grape Escape

You heard it here first, I am a problem drinker. The problem, though, is not the amount I drink, but what I drink. Wine! You see, I am beginning to suspect, much as I do with modern art and thong lingerie, that someone somewhere is having a laugh at my expense. Explain, if you can, why the Bacchanalian thirst-quencher of the Gods, for which I paid a hefty sum (anything above five quid, I consider hefty) is actually no more than a liquidised fruit salad – “tongue-tingling freshness, with a tantalising kick of vibrant lemon, lime and pink grapefruit”. To use the vernacular of the young – Duh? Like, where are the grapes, dude? I mean, whatever! A quick squint at the rest of my very modest wine collection confirms the emperor’s new clothes trick being perpetrated upon the unsuspecting or downright gullible. In other words, me! The bottle of Riesling earmarked for a nice fish dinner contains not grapes as one might expect, but “delicate floral aromas, combined with a steely character (ooh, missus!), concentrated citrus and peach notes”.  Ditto, my stalwart little Argentinian, who bravely rings the changes with “wild red fruits and ripe plums, a touch of spiciness and a velvety texture”.  Wot? Still no grapes?

As with most things in life, one has to draw the line somewhere. Essence of liquorice, lingering hint of tobacco, vanilla, chocolate and extract of angel’s tears, all encapsulated in a bottle masquerading as Chianti? Chuck me over a lager, dude. I’m done!

The Forsythia Saga

I blame Felicity Kendall – yes, I know the Good Life was a long time ago (I was young, that’s how long ago!), but I still blame her for making the rest of us think dungarees are high fashion. This is a delusion which hits me annually, something to do with the sap rising, spring donning her verdant garlands and going walkabout and all that.  So, dressed like an escapee from Dexys Midnight Runners, I set off for the local garden centre, that Aladdin’s Cave of floral treasures with strange-sounding names, populated by even stranger people, some of whom appeared to have been impaled on sticks and were leaking straw from various orifices. ‘Those,’ my-brother-in-law, informed me loftily, ‘are scarecrows’. I don’t know who asked him – he was only there on Sherpa duty.

Schlepping up and down the serried ranks of green, growing things, I could feel my excitement levels donging like on that old fairground machine-thing people used to hit with a mallet! Here was everything I needed to make my life complete (once I thought it might be a 1960s stereogram, but that’s another blog).  How had I managed to live for the last (cough!) years without benefit of Ceanothus? What a paltry, joyless existence sans Choisya (Mexican Orange Blossom to the uninitiated, which I was until recently)! Forsythia, Californian Lilac, Clematis, Jasmine! Whistling up the Sherpa, I loaded him down with them all and proceeded towards the herbs in a maniacal fashion appropriating plants as I went. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. I can see why Simon & Garfunkel stopped short at that point as, apart from lavender (dilly dilly), it’s difficult to get marjoram, mint and coriander to rhyme nicely.

At the check-out, the bill came as something of a shock, but you get what you pay for and you can’t put a price on the garden of your dreams.  Sadly, the wonderful, romantic, Mediterranean oasis of mine is still in the REM stage as, somehow, I never got round to planting my bounty and now it languishes outside, waving little leafy appendages drowning-man like, and casting looks of deep despair through the window, which is why I insist on keeping the curtains closed.

Felicity Kendall and the Good Life! Dungarees with sex appeal? Come on Eileen, I’m not falling for that one again . . . until next year, perhaps, when the sap starts to rise. With any luck, though, it might run into the falling hormones and stop at my ankles. Anyone for football?

Pregnant Men and Pink Elephants

A friend of mine breezed up to me recently with one of those smug looks that make you want to hit people.  ‘We’re pregnant,’ she announced, looking all expectant but not in an expectant way as she hadn’t begun to ‘show’ yet. ‘Well?’ she tinkled (pregnant women always tinkle, have you noticed that? Later on when their bump gets much bigger and leans on the bladder they tinkle in an altogether different way, non-stop). ‘Aren’t you surprised?’

Yes, I was surprised. Not that she was pregnant, but that he was. You see, being a bit old fashioned and sour, I just can’t get my head round this miraculous event at all. I did biology at school.  I dissected frogs and bits of cows’ eyes, even chased one unfortunate girl round the playground with a bloodied retina (the cow’s, mine came later when Sr. Boniface found out what I’d done) and although I wasn’t an A student (although I did say A quite a lot, as in Eh? Eh?) my lowly ‘D’ in the subject was enough to tell me that men don’t get pregnant. This, you’ll appreciate, is a fact.  It is indisputable. So where did this ‘we’ come from all of a sudden? Has the culture of luvvy-dum gone so far that we now have his and hers pregnancies –  blue bumps and pink bumps – to go with the ‘his’ and ‘hers’ towels and ‘his’ and ‘hers’ bath robes and ‘his’ and ‘hers’  4 wheel drives? Listen,  I like a bit of romance as well as the next woman, but when the mere sight of a loved-up couple arriving (arm-in-arm) on the scene results in other people parting company with their large intestine, the ‘tehgeddeness’ factor has gone too far.  Remember, ladies, there is a time and a placenta for everything.

And, you know, it’s invariably the same kind of woman who says ‘we’re pregnant’, who will also be guilty of being a ‘pink’ fiend and a fully paid up member of the Cath Kidson cutesy school of floraldom?  It’s not enough for her to be female – no, she has to rub our noses in how ‘feminine’  she is, as if the rest of us in our  M&S plain white cotton knickers (off-white in my case as I generally manage to put a black sock  in the white wash) are great galumphing heifers in comparison.  She knows every shade of pink in the spectrum, ice-cream, Fuchsia, hot-pink, rose, vomit, and – drum roll – has the rose-bud wellies to prove it.  Her bedroom is, yep, pink. Pink walls, ceiling, carpet, bed clothes, fairy lights, cuddly pink toys and when you step inside (shoes removed), it is like being swallowed up by a voracious marshmallow.  The pinkness extends into every single area of her I’m-just-a-silly-ickle-bickle-woman world. She’ll have a miniature gardening set – pink gloves, watering can, trowel and spade.  Her car will be pink, often a VW Beetle or Mini Minor, the interior kitted out in pink with a pink fur steering wheel cover, pink fur seat covers and pink things dangling from the rear view mirror. At work, she’ll have pink memo pads, pink sparkly pencils with tassels, pink mouse pads and even a pink mouse.  She’ll drink pink cocktails and champagne because hers is a pink-themed Barbie world.  Honestly, all this pinkness makes me see red.  Pink, pink, makes the boys wink, goes the old saying but, in my experience, it is more likely to make them bilious.  Little girls – the clue is in the adjective – can just about get away with pink everything – they’re ignorant and know no better

My friend with the pregnant husband (ex friend after this article is published) is the original pink fiend.  Her wedding was ‘Flamingo’ and her dress clashed horribly with the broken veins on her mother-in-law’s nose.  The bridesmaids wore ashes of roses (a yucky greyish-pink), the groom’s tie was salmon pink, the cake was coral pink and everybody’s face was pink when the best man was found in flagrante delicto with the bride’s older brother, whose discarded button hole was carnation pink.

As of today, I have adopted a new mantra.  Pink? Just say no! As for pregnant men  – is that a pink elephant I see before me?