Friday, 28 September 2012

more freaking green tomatoes aka heartburn

Oh I do like a man in a cowboy hat, even if it's pink.  

Last night was Madge's dinner for lovely Tweedy who recently left us at Pedantic to pursue a new life in the Art World - with capitals.  I miss him.  Not just because he might read this, but because I do really miss him.  His desk has already been pillaged.  Someone took his monitor, another person grabbed his keyboard.  Richard had his Well Man pills and Brett (pictured) took his extra-strong peppermints and his hairspray - not that he needs it.  Now the desk sits there, empty and forlorn.

I remember the first day he came to Pedantic.  I was not predisposed to like him.  Posh Boy with a posh boy's name, and a posh address, recommended to us in copperplate, by a hand-delivered letter from an equally posh agent.  He survived the rigors of Mr T's interview process - the equivalent of being pinned against a wall while being savaged by a faux-friendly terrier - and arrived to sit at the desk of hell in reception, the prey of every motor-cycle courier, tattooed delivery man from Eastern Europe and Souf' Londoner called Shane.  After a week of listening to the phone ring I gently prompted him that he might need, eventually, to answer it.  'I feel nervous picking it up.' He replied, sheepishly. Oh god, I sympathised.  On my first day here, in an open office, surrounded by twenty people equally indisposed to like me, I had to apply my broad Scottish accent to 'erm, Pedantic Press, can I help you?' and then flail around pressing buttons ineptly, cutting them off, announcing them to others, more highly regarded than I who didn't deign to answer their own phones but had me, the minion, to do it for them.  I had expected Tweedy to be over-confident and over-entitled, and there he was, cowering - a founder member of the Slight Social Anxiety Club, of which I was the president.  

And now he's packed up his wingtips and Zegna suit and gone off to do something posh with pictures.
The place won't be the same without him and Madge has gathered some of us to say goodbye.  I have house envy.  She comes to mine and says it's bigger than hers - it isn't.  However, her house sooo white.  Pristine.  So finished.  Not for Madge the scruffy Ikea laminate flooring with more chips than a Happy Meal, or the acne-scarred walls painted in hysterical colours.  Her walls are as smooth as Anton du Beke.  She has high ceilings with mouldings, and pictures everywhere.  Her husband, she tells us, was up a ladder painting a ceiling last night.  Sigh.  And he barbecued the lamb.  And the cowboy hat is actually his.  I really, really want a man who paints ceilings and understands the value of a cowboy hat, even if his is more suited for one of the Village People.  He's from New Zealand, of course, where men are men, and don't say much.  The hat, therefore, is something of a surprise.  But he says he also has a buckle.  And he's tall.  Oh my.

I fell of the Dukan wagon with a thump and am now being dragged through the gravel, my arms flailing, screaming, with a hangover the size of Kent, and the calorie intake to match.  Prosecco, wine, fig tart, rice, breadsticks, crisps, more crisps, red-velvet layer cake, rocky road squares, cocktail sausages and baguette.  

Even the cat is disgusted with me.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

On the plane my ears cupped in squabbling French with Julie Delpy being Marion for two days in New York.  It’s not a great film but I watched three on the way out, and I’ve seen all the others I might want to in the cinema, so it’s this or Superheroes. 

My eyes keep flickering away from the screen to the couple in the seat in front of me – she, a tired blonde of uncertain age and many sparkling diamonds on her fingers but no wedding ring – he a sweet-faced Sikh wearing a black turban and a fur rug of facial hair that begins under the arch of his bushy eyebrows and disappears into the blue of his polo shirt leaving only the clear mask of his eyes, and wearing a broad band of gold on his wedding finger.  The two have been holding hands in a desperate way since the plane took off – not a particularly easy feat since we’re each in our own cradles, separated from our neighbour by a high wall, like Israel from the West Bank.  And yet, they managed, the plough of her two rings glinting in the cabin, the single solitaire shining like the north star. 

Now he is perched on her footstool, she on the chair, their arms and fingers entwined, staring into each other's eyes, smiling, occasionally kissing, as if bedazzled, as if hypnotised, as if – frankly - mad.  I get it.  I mean, I’ve done this.  I’ve sat in a restaurant and heard the couple at the next table remark that we were ‘so in love’ but we’ve been up in the air now for three hours and they are still entranced.  I want to throw a bucket of water over them.  Don’t they need a rest?  Like half-time or something.

And obviously, whomsoever he’s married to, it isn’t her.  His dark gold band and the numerous coloured threads tied around his hirsute wrist tie him devoutly to another Sikh wife somewhere, waiting for him at home with possibly a few Sikh babies, and not to the dirty blonde who left her prettiness in the nineties and retained only the exhausted shadow of it in her tanned face.  I’m not sure whether both her diamond rings are from the same relationship, or perhaps remnants of two different relationships, but neither are from him.  And yet, now they’re in love, newly so.

Well it happens.  That happened to me once too.

Maybe I’m envious.  Well, no maybe about it.  I am envious, until about half way through the film, and then I just get irritated by their googly-eyed fascination with each other, and fluttery-eyed kisses that I can’t help watching, though it’s the last thing I want to do.  Marion who claims to be fat like me (but isn’t), on screen, just isn’t cutting it.

Unlike Julie-Delpy Marion, I had three days in New York not two.  Three days of bright blue skies and shimmering sky-scrapers; of serious jewellery, some of it seriously dubious, and even more serious parties.  From Sikh Love and public display of affection to a private display of wealth in one weekend.  Give me the wealth any day.

Friday found me leaving my friend's beautiful townhouse, striding down Fifth Avenue on my way to meet Jamie at Ca Va on W43rd Street.  I wore my little black, day to evening dress, pumps as the American’s call flats, and which  in Scotland would mean farts, a clunking new necklace by an architectural artist in steel and brass that was given to me as an early birthday/Christmas present, lipstick, dark glasses, and a distinct sway to my hips.  Crossing the street at 61st a short squat guy in chinos, white shirt and cream jacket told me I looked good, as he passed in the opposite direction, and waiting for the walk sign on 54th, a man in a white van called out ‘wow, sister.’  He was Hispanic.  Thank god for the Latinos…  They do that here in a way they never do in Britain.  It’s not the building site wolf whistle, but more a mark of affirmation. Or this is how I receive it.  Not that I just look ‘obvious’.

I suppose one is not supposed to be flattered by positive objectification from members of the opposite sex, but I don’t care.  It made me feel good as I visited my own particular stations of the cross – Sur La Table, Anthropology, Urban Outfitters, Williams Sonoma, then Crate and Barrel, Moma gift store, Anne Taylor, and eventually arriving at the hotel early.

Unfortunately I’d got the day wrong and was a whole three days early.  I had arranged this date for Monday – today – when I was always going to be on a plane.  Jamie hurried along anyway from her nearby office in her unstructured expensive, not so easy peasy Japaneasy clothes, and we had a thirty minute catch up – not much after three years but better than nothing.

And then I went to the Century Club to meet Beth Gutcheon, one of our authors.  The Century Club is like a grown up Arts Club – bigger, grander, finer, less eccentric, much more sober, but with lots of art which, later, I was told contained some fine examples of the Hudson Valley School.  I did not know this.  I think if pressed I would have thought the Hudson Valley School was a series of novels about a Junior High in California...

There was a hushed, reverent atmosphere which beat to the imagined ticking of an old clock of the sort that has to be ceremonially wound every day with an ornate key and which probably chimes the hour a decade or two later than in it should.  There was a quaint menu from which the choice had to be written on a chitty by the member, and carried off by the server to be fulfilled – in our case by Abdul (a name that would have made my husband screech with outrage since it’s a bit like shortening McGilvary to Mc or O’Donnel to O – Abd al, the son of what, who?  Though presumably the server himself applied the abbreviation for ease of use).

We had an equally quaint lunch – Coronation Chicken by another name, with the addition of cranberries, served in a hollowed out pineapple, very 1970, followed by tiny macaroons, similarly of the old school – no cream filling here or fancy flavours, but just simple, delicious chewy macaroons of the sort my mother used to make, somewhat less expertly.  I had two.  Beth one.  We both sipped diet coke.  It was very genteel and I was very nervous all the way through it, as though there by false pretences – imposter syndrome hobbling me, reality washing over me in waves as I was reminded of my own nonentity.  This was underlined when Beth asked me what I did at Atlantic Books and seemed, perhaps only to me, to be imperceptibly disappointed when she realised I was just the office drudge, and not a glamorous editor (of which there are none anyway) or an important commissioning chieftain (whom, she had in any case, already met the previous week) or well connected to anything except perhaps the chair on which my overly-large for New York bottom was bolted.  She hid it well but I’m sure she would have preferred me to be the niece of someone or the wife of someone or better still the author of something. Me too – especially the last.

Beth was slim, beautiful, frail, incredibly poised, very gracious, like one of the characters from her book, and looked a little like the old lady in the Babar books, though not old - ageless – maybe it was just the patrician, straightness of her back, the regal nod of her head, the impeccable manners, the careful speech.  She was like royalty - before being royal meant exposing your breasts in the tabloids.  I felt like Shrek.

I was sure she hated every minute of it, regretting the impulse to invite me, but nevertheless she committed to the part and saw me out in the heels I’d slipped into on the way here, in order not to arrive in the equivalent of house slippers.  I liked her and felt there was real frankness behind her grace, but I was in a club to which I’d never belong, in more ways than one, and I perhaps wasn’t going to pass the initiation test of cautious conversation.

I said goodbye and did the New York stride to the Public Library which is step step lunge stop (to remove heel from crevace in pavement or sidewalk as they say here, step step, lunge, stop, step, forward jolt followed by shuddering halt – when you didn’t feel the drag of the crack quick enough and have too much momentum to stop.  It was a relief to see Alex sitting on the steps – our traditional meeting place after all these years.  I sat.  I swapped shoes.  He told me I looked fantastic.  I believed him.

(Shmoogling couple who until now were seated, he between her legs, she with hers wrapped round his waist) have been separated by the seat belt sign OH JOY but continue to clasp hands like they’re recently shipwrecked from the Titanic.  Damn – lights off again, and now she’s in his chair, positions reversed but with a duvet over their knees.  Doesn’t bear thinking about, and yet, one does. 

Everyone is eating around me now.  I’m having chicken with ‘truffled’ potatoes – ie one potato and no visible or discernible truffle.  A glass of red wine sits on my right hand but I’m not sure I’m drinking it yet.  Is the holiday over, officially, or not?

People are in their little pods, pillows behind them, all covered in white duvets like grubs, reclining Roman style with the tray too far away from them, so that the food has to take flight from plate to mouth.  Screen on the left, earphones feeding them sound.  The ultimate slobby tv dinner.

I drank the wine.  Peppery rioja)

So Alex.  My once upon a time love, who is happily married and living the sort of Woody Allen life to which I aspire to in my dreams.  He and his wife live in alge (almost gentrified) Harlem, commute to Haverford three nights a week with their two cats in carrying cases, and eat out all the time in restaurants they’ve seen reviewed in the New York Times.  They meet friends, (imagine, having friends), ‘catch’ movies in ‘theatres’ and don’t drink, don’t eat fat, or carbs, and exercise religiously.  Well, okay – I don’t envy the exercise – but how did it happen that the man I chose instead of Alex, went off with another New Yorker leaving me to suburban penury, and Alex – who was destined for fusty Greek academia, Euro crisis and pension loss, ended up with my life?  I feel so envious.  Though, we’d never have lasted this long.  His wife and I are as different as it’s possible to be – skim milk to chilli chocolate cake – me being the cake served up to an aesthete on a diet.  He'd have killed me by the second year.

(The waiter just told me that for dessert he had cheesecake or something that to him ‘looks like spotted dick’ which made me giggle like I’m in a Carry On film…  He said it straight, but he’s as camp as a Boy Scout Toggle.

I declined.  In favour of cheese and more wine.  Yes reader I drank.)

Alex and I walked back up to E78th, passing by Kusme Tea shop where I marvelled over the three hundred different flavours, ignored Bloomingdales, dallied again in Crate and Barrel (I love that store even though the only thing I bought were jumbo ice cube trays), then we drank fizzy water in a pavement café before parting.  Every time I touched his arm he sprang away from me like I was radioactive, but he told me I looked fantastic.  It’s not that we are in the habit of canoodling like unseparated Siamese twins, but this meeting was legal – the wife having approved it as opposed to previous years, when she has called every five minutes until he returned dutifully home.  I think because I’m a fat underachiever she no longer feels threatened, though she looks like a Lesbian, but not one of the lipstick sort that you might secretly fantasise about being seduced by, more the sort who doesn’t shave, has grown sideburns and disapproves of your lack of political rigour and fondness for frills.

We parted at five and I readied myself for the next part of the evening.  A private view of jewels that had been made out of Kalashnikovs, melted down and studded with diamonds, shown in the hollowed out building site of a store on 5th Avenue, in which one walked as though it had been laid with land mines because the floor was uneven, filled with potholes and badly lit – exactly like the sidewalk but with fairy lights.

I confess I came over unusually puritanical.  I mean, really, why?  You get the Kalashnikovs, melt them down to base metal – steel, I think which probably isn’t base, but the provenance is since I was told they are real guns from real wars that have actually killed people, and you ‘regenerate them’ by setting them with ‘freedom’ stones and selling them to the fabulously wealthy as decoration?  Nobody I know (all two people) who are that wealthy would be seen dead wearing things which had made other people dead, diamonds or no diamonds – even if the diamonds had been washed up on the shore of a magic beach and harvested by unicorns. Maybe they should be bought by arms dealers, the very people who profited by them in the first place.  I hasten to add, my friends, are not such people.

But we admired and sipped champagne, and someone, erroneously as it turned out, congratulated me on my newly gifted necklace saying they ‘loved’ the designer who wasn’t the one who actually designed the necklace.  And then we felt our way out tapping with our shoes, blinked in the streetlights of 5th Avenue and went home to dinner and bed.  Oh lordy.  I love being an economic tourist.  It’s all so dazzlingly fun and different.

Next day was THE BIG DAY.  I wandered back downtown to gape at the fools in Eataly who cluster round counters to eat plates of antipasto STANDING UP.  Why?  Again, double why?  Isn’t the whole notion of Italian food the ceremony, the presentation, the drawn out pleasure of sitting DOWN to a lovely meal and taking your time over the tit-bits of salami and cheese, with perhaps an aperativo?  I know cab drivers and gondoliers dash up to the bar in a café and have an espresso, or a swift grappa, and maybe even eat something as they chat to the waiter, but to pack yourself into the crowded, noisy, clamouring warehouse that is Eataly and jam yourself up against a railway counter and eat hugely expensive food for FUN?  What's that about?  Posing?  You can sit down too, but the atmosphere is sort of Italian Hell before the apocalypse removes you of the ability to eat, and so you’re stuffing yourself fast, and talking, talking, loudly and importantly.  I HATED it.  Give me the the little one in the basement of I think COIN in Trieste (or no – maybe it was Milan) any day…I shall not return.

Then I went down to Fish’s Eddy for quirky dishes - couldn't find the famous Figures from the Torah mugs, sigh, and into ABC where I sighed again and shied from the prices.  I always feel like I’m starring in my very own movie when I’m in New York, but it’s obviously a movie I can’t really afford to see.  Who pays $60 for a ceramic hand of Fatima that’s three inches long?  Not, I.

I had to be home by four to get my hair and make-up done.  Poor little not rich girl, freeloading off her fabulous friends.  In the chair having the make-up artist – and he’d have to be an artist to do anything with me – qlueing false eyelashes on to my stubbies, and brushing my eyebrows for longer than most people do their teeth in order to get them even. Oh the peasant me with my open pores and unplucked brows.  The shame of it.

Then Luiz, the most beautiful man in the world, inside and out, did my hair.  He put it up and when I looked at myself in the mirror, gasp – there was a moment when I thought – shoot – who am I and what have you done with my ugly sister.  It was really a Cinderella story – though still wearing rags (the ‘vintage’ dress) but with this new gorgeous me, all even skin tones, fluttery dark eyes and an elegant platinum chignon. 


I don’t think I have ever felt that I looked nicer, even on my wedding day when I was a skinny 25 year old redhead.

If I could have frozen time then, I would have.  Albeit that none of my nearest and dearest were there to admire me.  Let’s face it.  That’s a small club anyway.  I’m not even sure it exists.

I swung into the party in my purple opera coat, also ‘vintage’ the entire outfit costing less than $100 fancying I looked a million of them.  ‘You look ravishing,’ said Jerry.  And Socrates.  And Greg.  And Luis.  And Bruce.  And Tim, with an added darling.  All these men who attested to my ravishability and yet they’re all gay and wouldn’t ravish me if there was a frost and all the cocks in Manhattan froze and fell off.  But nevertheless I felt lovely, even though with every step I took and swing of the magnificent plus sized hips I heard a drum and cymbal crash like I was Gypsy Rose Lee about to look over her shoulder with a saucy wink, and peel a glove off – boom, chic a boom, chic a boom, chic a boom. 

Until I walked out of the terrace and saw The Jeweller and the Jeweller’s Wife arrive, and a man acing the Cary Grant/Don Draper look in his white dinner jacket (but isn’t it after labour day?  Should you still wear white?) turned to Jeweller’s wife and said something out of the corner of his mouth. 

‘Was that about me?’  I asked, as he excused himself hurriedly and went of in search of his wife who had been tanned and feathered in champagne ostrich plumes for the evening.  Jeweller’s wife said that it was just that she had been worried about being under-dressed.  The woman is so beautiful she could wear a sack and smile and there wouldn’t be a man in the place who wouldn’t think she was the dictionary definition of elegance, but for the rest of the evening I kept wondering – what did he say?  If someone is looking for reassurance that they aren’t under-dressed and a can-can dancer in black Crimplene, Mae Wests across the floor towards you, what do you say that you don’t want to repeat?  I mean, it can’t be good.  Can it?  Is that a gun in your pocket and have you shot yourself in the foot with it?

The bubbles went flat in my pink champagne.  It was like the magic spell wore off, and instead of feeling fabulous I was just fat and faintly ridiculous, not up to scratch amongst the glitteringly wealthy and their even more glittering wives.

This was only underlined when, after dinner had passed and I was dancing with my host, following his lead with the concentration of a rock-climber just one crampon away from falling into a crevasse, I twirled off the floor and sat down next to the Style Queen who told me I was unzipped.  What?  Unzipped, how?  Because the zip on the back of my dress had unpeeled like a banana to reveal my nude strapless bra, tights that came up to my armpits, and the fat-girls underwear – rib high Spanx that were the hidden architecture supporting my facade, supposedly smoothing out all my fat into streamlined latex curves.  Behind the seams.  Oh, holy fuck.  Drizella bursting out of her budget frock.  Kill.  Me.  Now.

He zipped me up, tutting that someone ‘had replaced the metal zip with a plastic one’ – had they?  Or was the vintage dress, not really a vintage dress and just an old, cheap dress with a cheap plastic zip in it whose teeth, unlike mine, refused to properly grit?  By the time I walked across the floor to the bar it had burst again, this time in the middle, gaping like a gurning clown mouth.  I rushed for my Uncle Fester opera coat, and just as the fourth band of the evening struck up a bit of Motown, ran down the steps of the Museum of the City of New York, my legs peeping out of their slashed to the knee black dress, like Morticia-rella rushing to her carriage, or in this case the waiting limo, to be whisked home before she turned back into a pumpkin.  Alas too late – a pumpkin, a big fat beige one, I had well and truly shown myself to be – to one hundred members of New York society.  And not a handsome ruddy prince amongst them.

At home, I wrestled rather drunkenly with a can of Pellegrino for five minutes before realising there was a foil cover on top, then stood in front of the mirror and picked the pins out of my hair, one by one, wiped the make up away, peeled the false eyelashes off, and prized myself out of the Spanx that are a lot less fun than they sound.

Much like parties, my dears, much like parties...

Friday, 21 September 2012

while I'm away...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

...anyway the ex-husband came round to see the kids.

And there were no kids - just me.  For five hours.  Five long hours during which I realise that I have nothing much to say to him after we've listed what we've been doing like the social diary of divorce...  How did I ever chatter to him so easily and how did I ever think he 'got' me, when actually all he did was nod in the right places, my words skimming off him like Teflon?

Doesn't matter.  What's done is done.  He brought me a nice present from Lebanon, and I cooked him dinner.  Home made pesto but with the weird addition of chick peas instead of nuts as I had anticipated cooking for the whole family and one of them is allergic to nuts.  That one was off listening to Che Guevara's daughter speak at the House of Commons.  The younger was off breaking up with her boyfriend for the second time.  The boy, like all men I think, likes to do the death-by-a-thousand-cuts break up, in as much as 'we're just on a break' 'it's not forever' 'don't wait for me but...'  and so now they're not together but 'friends'.  Yeah.  Friends.  I'd like to slap his damn 'friends' face till his head spins for causing even as much as a frown to pass over my little girl's brow.

So instead of the big family dinner - two kids, cousin, father, me, cat - it was just the ex.  Even the cat disobliged by preferring to torment a small mouse in the garden which ran over my foot when I tried to separate the two.  In the dark, it was not pleasant.

I served him with a lovely bright green bowl of pesto - worthy of Da Maria in Genoa, and a salad of pea-shoots, the one yellow sunburst tomato that ripened on the vine, beetroot, softened goats cheese and warmed honey drizzled over some 60p a pop from Mecanico, figs.  It looked like a work of art.  I even gave him the duck breasts I hadn't cooked and the goats cheese to take home.  I hope they choke his girlfriend.

I mean, we too are 'friends' but I'm not a fricking saint.

I tried not to think of the first time we had pesto - in Alassio on our honeymoon.

I'm sure he didn't.

If there was a prize for competitive under-eating, I'd win it.  Honestly, in my long life as a woman with appetite, I don't think I've gone for so long, eating so little.  I could do a Bridget Jones food diary and it would read for yesterday:
half a tub of no-fat cottage cheese
five wafer thin slices of parma ham
two cups of coffee
one cup of tea
one cup of skimmed milk cocoa with candarel
four pickled beetroot
several tastes of home made pesto for a meal I cooked for someone else

I mean - how can you eat any less than this?
Am I not doing the 500 calorie starvation diet?
And so why are the scales to fricking unresponsive?

It's torture.  I watch them inch down in quarter of a pound increments, slower than continents, so that in a week of these semi hunger strike rations, I have lost maybe a pound and a half.  And the 'ho dress still make me looks like Mae West in a frontier saloon.  And since I had an argument with a bottle of bleach, and lost, the hair isn't helping.  I don't know how I'm supposed to turn myself into a New York slim society matron in two days.  Corsetry will only take me so far.

It's depressing.  What happened to slim(mer) me?  Where did all the extra pounds -  all 11 and a quarter of them - come from?  I mean, I know where they've gone - I'm sitting on them.  I made the mistake of going to Marks & Spencer yesterday to buy tights and while there caught sight of myself in a full length mirror - short little dumpy woman with a round stomach, an arse you could put a vase on, and bottle blonde hair.  This is not going to translate well to the Upper East Side in time for the party of the year on Saturday night at the Museum of the City of New York.  I suppose I can comfort myself with the knowledge that my host and her family will both be wearing couture and even if I turned into Sarah Jessica Parker overnight (god, I hope not - she looks rough.  Thin, but rough)  nobody is going to notice me.  There will be a momentary head-to-toe from the gay style consultant who will say something like 'working it darling' with an arch twitch of his eyebrow, but then, probably, behind my back say 'Jeez, has she looked in the mirror?  She looks like a drag queen...'  And he'd be right.

I'm fat.

And worse, fat and not resigned to it.

The other gay uncles, though, will say I look 'wonderful' darling, and the older one, who used to be straight, will mean it because - bless him  - he's old school and still thinks glamour comes from 1950.  That's why I love him.

So I shouldn't stress about the vintage Biba dress being stretchy man-made fibre and there being so much elastine going on underneath the dress that I'm hot - literally - with static electricity and might start a fire if someone happens to have a can of petrol on them.  And I shouldn't stress that Luiz, also gay and one of New York's top stylists, as well as being the most beautiful man I've ever seen in my life, will think my hair colour trashy, because he'll smile, and dance with me when the band strikes up.  And I'll just be that 'British' woman - the odd one who looks a bit like a 'ho.

Put it on my gravestone.

Except I'm not exactly wasting away.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Green Tomato Saga continues and concludes.  This Sunday I cleaned my room which means I looked through my jewellery and thought - ‘surely I used to have more earrings than this?’ or ‘what happened to that ring from [insert rather posh gallery here – back in the days when I could afford such things]?’  and then when youngest was out on a fag break, having a quick squizz at possible places where, had she taken them, I might find them – you know, rolled under the bed, chucked in a bowl with three clips and a used cotton bud, at the bottom of a pencil jar.  I didn’t find anything, and so did the only thing I could.  Mentally kissed them goodbye, shrugged, and thought – ah well, who cares?  I assembled what I could find, cleaned my silver bangles, realised I have more dark glasses than any woman reasonably should, vacuumed the carpet, carried all my clothes into the little boxroom I use as a wardrobe, dropped them in a pile the size of the Matterhorn for a later sift and sort, and changed the sheets.  Bedroom -  cleaned.  Box room – not so much.

I then turned my attention to the garden.  The apple tree had yielded its crop, much of it to the ground, where the ants, mice and squirrels were enjoying the harvest.  The rest was sitting on the kitchen table like it had been styled for Country Living – the orchards edition, awaiting the pot.  In it went in two huge batches – one for pie filling and ice cream making, and the other for membrillo.  This year I decided to make basil apple membrillo but after the pot had spat at me for an hour and the damn stuff still wasn’t jelling – it takes two or three - I gave up.  I’ll freeze it for now and perhaps resume it later, with the clothes sifting...  Next, with the last of the green tomatoes and the fountains of basil, I made green tomato pasta sauce and – I have to say myself since nobody else tasted it – it is delicious, frozen into its neat little boxes:  Green Tomato Sauce, Apple Pie Filling, Apple and Mint Syrup, Apple and Grenadine Granita and Apple Ginger and Basil ice cream - I now survey the freezer with the satisfaction of a pioneer woman looking at her root cellar.  I couldn’t have been happier if I’d bought that orange Prada bag at last week’s antique textile fair.  I mean, I don’t need another handbag that one of my kids will purloin.  There’s just something so emotionally pleasing about cooking something you’ve grown yourself and putting it ‘up’ to enjoy later.  Well, there is as long as it’s a now and again hobby and not a chore you have to do in order not to starve.

The next task is to pick all the herbs and dry them with massive amounts of Basil puree.  But first it’s New York, and the ‘Brazilian Carnival’ birthday party for which I bought an amazing Morticia Adams vintage dress which, when I modeled it for the youngest, drew the comment:  ‘ohmygod, you look like a ho’.  I couldn’t get it off fast enough and am now looking for an alternative.  ‘But I meant it in a good way,’ she said when she realised I wasn’t going to wear it.

Is there a good way to look like a whore, I wonder?

After the party, I'll report back.  Leaving as a virgin, upper class (certainly not a whore when I fly, darling) on Thursday...

In the meantime, the v. last picture of tomatoes.  Thank god I don't have to get through a harsh winter on the Prairie on this meagre crop...  Though it was a v. large basket

Friday, 14 September 2012

Photographs from a Failed Gardener

the one single Yellow Brandywine
Tomato that ripened

One of only three Green Zebras

But the Blue Spice Basil flourished

and yet, I still don't know how
you can grow ruddy olives in a
North Kensington Garden
and fail to get ripe tomatoes?

Cupboard Love
nothing to do with anything but it's cute

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

So let’s talk tomatoes

Six different ruddy varieties:  green zebra, green finger, pink lady, black pineapple, yellow brandywine, and bog-standard plum – all coaxed from seed to sprouting plant – except for the plum which were given to me by my some time to be father-in-law.  I’ve been tending them like babies all summer, trussing them in the greenhouse (especially bought for the purpose of tomato propagation) and placing others in choice spots around the garden where the sun can bathe them (when it deigns to shine), and the rain can feed them, when it bursts – as it has had a tendency to do – from the heavens.  
And this is what they look like:

I can’t tell one from the other, except for the stunted green fingers which I didn’t like the sound of from the beginning.  No chance of them ripening now this late in the season.  I feel chutney coming on.

Life is full of disappointments, but the fact that the only ones that ripened are the plum tomatoes, and that they taste like economy Tesco's - ie 95 percent water, is one of them.
I promised myself I would never post photographs of my cat.
I lied.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Every time I see France in my stats I wonder - is it you?
September 11th.  Someone mentioned it today in the office and until then I hadn't actually noticed the day, or remembered the significance.  Eleven years ago.  It's our 'Kennedy' moment, though I am old enough - vaguely - to remember Kennedy's assassination.  More ingrained in my memory is my 'Churchill' moment since it was the one time I remember my father slapping me after I complained about not being able to do something which had been cancelled because of his funeral.  Nobody slapped me in 1963.

Eleven years ago everything was different.  My children were all still in school, the youngest 9, my eldest 17, head girl at her poncy private school and about to enter her final year there. I was a restaurant critic for the Financial Times.

One thing, however, was the same.  I was fat.  I'd just come back from Weight Watchers.

I was fretting about an email I'd seen on my husband's computer in which he had arranged to have 'a drink' with a 'friend' in a London hotel.  The etiquette of snooping.  How do you confront someone about something you are not supposed to have seen?  You don't.  You just seethe quietly, and worry, and fight alternating panic and sorrow like you're standing in a tennis court having balls shot at you by one of those automatic machines, swatting one emotion out of the way in time to deter the next.

The scales were not kind to me when I weighed in, but they were harder even on my friend Maria and we came back clutching our little ration books ready to embrace the rosary of calorie counting.  I dropped her off and walked into the house.  It was a beautiful day.  Sun was streaming through our rarely washed sitting room windows, which gave the room a wonderful golden glow of diffused light.  My husband met me at the door.

Did you hear?  He asked.

Hear what?  I wondered, my first thought turning guiltily - me the guilty one - to his forthcoming assignation that evening at 5pm.

The World Trade Centre.  Someone has flown a plane into it.

The TV was his witness and tuned to the footage of, what we did not then know was only the first, plane going in to the tower, over and over again.

Oh my God, was it us?  Please say it wasn't us!  I'll never forgive you if it was us?  I gasped, rushing to the sofa where I crumpled like one of the imminently collapsing towers.

Al-Qaeda, he said instantly.  The Palestinians couldn't manage anything as carefully planned as this.  It has to be Bin Laden.

There was an instant wash of relief that the kids wouldn't be vilified, the phone wouldn't be tapped, the shame wouldn't taint us, followed by horror as the second plane hit.

Everything after that is a communal experience.  I think most of us watched the towers fall, over and over and over and over and over again as if, by chance, just once they might wobble and remain erect.  And we all waited like the empty hospitals for the survivors who didn't come.  And some of the shame settled on our shoulders anyway since we had Arab surnames.  Palestinian or Saudi was a nuance lost in the Spot a Man of Middle Eastern Appearance witch-hunt that only subsided somewhat after Asians blew up the trains a year later, and turned attention back to a minority many had long been waiting for a reason to target.

Funny that the first thing I remember though is the house.  The sunlight.  The welcome of walking into a warm, bright, home - and my husband meeting me at the door as he had done a hundred, a thousand, times.  The nostalgia for that moment, when everything was still intact and I was still the mother of four kids who would come home in the evening with muddy football kid, and overflowing schoolbags, and lunch boxes; who would change into their pyjamas and sit with us on the sofa and eat cereal at the wrong time.  It's like a huge tsunami of pleasure.

It was only when I probed further that I remembered the woman at the hotel bar that my husband was going to meet and buy, with his customary generosity, several expensive cocktails, and - well who knows what else.  I'll never know.  The one good thing about the twin towers coming down is that he didn't go.  He cancelled.  I presume.

But not before I needled him in the car later that day and he smacked me in the face.  It was the one and only time - and provoked as it was by my unspoken knowledge and his unspoken guilt, it stung all the harder.

I think I preferred the Kennedy assassination, all things considered.

Friday, 7 September 2012

This time last week I was zooming up the M3, my car loaded with festival must-haves and picnic must-haves and beach must-haves, as well as weekend-in-cosy-hotel must haves, but - damn it, also realised must-have-forgot my phone.  Suddenly, I felt naked.  No link with the ever-chattering, ever-clamouring, eaver-eager not to get in touch with me, outside world.  Just me, ten-thousand or so strangers in funny headgear and not enough clothes, Bf and an empty space in the palm of my hand.  No buttons to press, to tweets to tweet, no pictures to post on facebook of me wearing my son's kaffiyah, my Christmas 'festival' socks, my daughter's wellies from when she was 11, and my other son's boy shorts from when he was 13.  Some would say this was a blessing.  But I was like a junkie without my fix, a smoker missing that ever present packet of fags cupped in the hand, an alcoholic without the drink.  Though I did manage a few of those.  Drinks, I mean.  Deffo no fags.

So we stood in mud  - Wellies  √
We stood in rain - Waterproof Coat √
We sat on mud - Waterproof Blanket √
We sat on chairs in mud - Folding Chairs √
We stood in the beating sun - Hats and Sunglasses and Sunscreen √
We read (okay some of us read and other stood inside tents that smelled of death and cattle) - Books √
We availed ourselves of the 'facilities' - Wetwipes, Antiseptic handwash √
We walked - Stout trainers √
We swam - Bikini √
We picnic-ed - Picnic rucksack complete with chopping board and salt shaker √
We huddled in car from cold - Large faux fur rug √

We also listened to some great music, a list of bands that went into double figures, many of whom we'd already seen in London on many and diverse occasions all gathered together in tents like a big Festival mixed tape of all your favourites.  We listened to Patti Smith.  We ate a great deal of healthy flatulent vegetarian food.  We subsequently did a lot of walking.  Apart.

We stayed in a chocolate box pub, in a chocolate box village, and took a chocolate box stroll across Constable fields with clumps of dear White Galloway calves that I know, due to their lack of udders, have only one fate and it isn't a life of a stud, poor things, and watched the swallows swoop and dive with a sunset backdrop that makes you stop and stare and gasp upwards at the pink and violet strata.  Then we returned to our soft, downy duvet where after a steamy shower and drank big glasses of red wine in bed, careful not to spill any on the sheets, and slept the sleep of the just-back from the festival mud.

I don't really understand, though, why it is that sleeping in a tent for a few days (the strange lives of others) and listening to music, standing up, with a beer in your hand from 11am onwards necessitates a special wardrobe of tutus, and voile head-dresses trimmed with fake flowers, and teeny short- shorts or large 50s style frocks of the sort that obese women wear on sea-side posters - and those are just the men.  We were very staid.  Bf bought a new hat.  I held my breath when he stuck a big, tatty stetson on his head.  OMG, I sighed, when I could eventually get enough air in to expel the words.  If only you had a tartan shirt.  And a BIG belt.  With a buckle.

I'd look like a cowboy, he said.

Oh, but I do like a cowboy, I replied woosily.

So do I, piped up a guy, wearing a tutu, holding a pint of beer in his hand, with a flat cap sprouting Indian feathers.

Damn him, that was the end of the hat and all my cowboy fantasies - corralled..

He bought a little Castro cap instead.  Quite fetching.  I'm getting him the matching khaki fatigues this weekend.