Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Colour Me Bad

You can see below my disappointing showing in the Miss Joneses Inter-Generational Extreme Colouring Championship 2008. The winner is the Miss Jones who colours in their side of the page fastest. Felt tips are permitted, as are crayons and pencils. Beyond this? There are no rules. Which is different to the rules being made up as we go along, which is what normally happens when the Young Miss Joneses compete.

In the first-round tie, I drew Young Miss Jones The Younger (5, nearly 6, 'very very good at writing my name joined up'). I took the right-hand side, she the left. As you can see, to employ the lexicon of football commentary, I was caught napping.

I was distracted, I believe, by the similarities between this fictional, two-dimensional house and the real one I lived in when I first moved to London, and became intent on reproducing the colour of the original's door and window frames. Idiot! This is not the mindset of a champion. Needless to say, Young Miss Jones The Younger's focus was absolute, her determination unflinching. 

Miss Jones 0. The Young Miss Joneses 1. 

In a break with convention, the Loser Stayed On, and Young Miss Jones The Older (or is it The Elder? I genuinely don't know. In any case, she's 8, and will demonstrate her ability to do the splits at any occasion) stepped up to choose her weapons. I changed sides and it was On.

It was a much tighter contest, as you can see from YMJTO's frantic scribble towards victory. Despite a solid showing, what you can basically see from my side is how ludicrously therapeutic I find colouring in is, to such a bewitching degree that competition and urgency melt away, like an unwilling cross-country runner finding a shady park or a cool stream on a hot day. Seriously, is it OK to buy yourself a colouring book when you're very nearly 35? 

Anyway, it was a rout, a drubbing, a spanking. And despite their tender years, the Young Miss Joneses were clearly embarrassed by the whitewash and tossed me a consolatory 'Hmm, you've done it very neatly' (which I had. I mean look how lovely my snakes are) but I could hear the knocking hollowness of their words. The under 9s have little truck with the shackles of lines and edges in their pursuit of glory.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

God bless us every one

It is my first December as a blogger, so it would seem appropriate to wish you all a happy, happy Christmas. Or rather, happy holidays, since you never know who's reading and whether Christmas is their thing, worship-wise. It is important not to make judgments, as my upstairs neighbours discovered the first year they moved in. They sent me a very carefully worded non-Christmas card expressing their hopes that I had enjoyed hanukkah.

I have sent them an enthusiastically worded pro-Christmas card every year since then in an attempt to highlight their error of non-judgmental judgment.

The feast of Stephen

This is the parkin I made - pictured as a work-in-progress - a few days ago. As a stiff dough it has excellent potential as a construction cement. Yet it also enters the pantheon of things I really like to eat when they're raw, taking its place beside cake mix and shortbread. Everyone, surely, likes to eat cake mix, but I think I could be on my own with the other things. After 10 years working in women's and teen magazines, perhaps I finally have my first eating disorder.

As a finished article, I have discovered that no matter how late it is, how weary you are, or how quickly you want your parkin to cool so you can put it away, you should always allow it the dignity of cooling in the comfort of its tin. Don't let the chill air give it a rude awakening as you hoist it out by the greaseproof-paper lining and dump it on the cruel surface of your kitchen table. When you return to it five minutes later, you may find, as I did, that you have a large square slab of ginger-scented concrete on your hands, and it is the work of seven strong men on a building site to saw it into portion-sized pieces.

However, I have found that the reassuringly nuclear powers of a household microwave revive it a treat, and restore it to the pleasingly spongey texture of newly-laid turf. Furthermore, I heartily recommend it as an alternative to Christmas pudding or mince pies at your festive table, particularly with a tangerine-sized scoop of vanilla ice cream resting on top. It is no competition for Mrs Jones's Mincemeat Tart but I am only a beginner by comparison.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Take your passion and make it happen

On Saturday night, amid the happy festivities of the Strictly Come Dancing final and a Mexican Christmas dinner, I confessed to some of my oldest friends a secret that had been unsettling me considerably of late.

I felt sure I would find a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear among those who had consoled and cheered me through the best and worst times of my life.

I told them that sometimes, I really like to read the Daily Mail website.

Suffice to say, it was not exactly the warm embace of kindly understanding I was expecting.

Luckily we had the Strictly spectacular to distract us from my intelligentsian faux pas, and we were soon happily united once more in our joint conviction that Tom Chambers deserved to win since he had sheer dancing joy in his heart, and Rachel Stevens did not as she was essentially a dressage pony, picking up complicated steps with docile adroitness, but prone to confusion when the bridle is loosened. This was evident in their showdance, where she expertly allowed Vincent to carry her over his shoulder/around his waist/over his waist/around his shoulder, but when she was required to skip around the floor, inciting the crowd to hear the music, close their eyes, feel the rhythm, she seemed prone to adopt an expression reminiscent of someone watching their pants go round and round at the launderette. For us, it was a wildly underwhelming showdance, in pointed contrast to the 5,000-piece-jigsaw, intricate steps of their Argentine tango. And, moreover, is there any dancing sin more heinous than squandering the Flashdance theme on sub-standard moves? Let there be no debate. There is not.

Tom and Camilla, in contrast, won us over by having Actual Real Fun and also appearing, with some of their goofy clowning, to channel Torvill and Dean's classic Barnum routine. Or was it Mack And Mabel? Basically, I know some really hardcore Torvill and Dean fans.

As for Lisa and Brendan's clumsy youth-club-expressive-dance-display erotica? My eyes, my eyes.

In the days after the final, and despite the disapproval of my comrades, it was to the Daily Mail that I turned to see the fall-out of Tom's victory, and whether this was further indication that the country was on its knees, what with the scandal and outrage of him being in the final in the first place, thanks to Bungling BBC Bosses (TM). In fact, Tom got off pretty lightly, what with him being middle-class, impeccably well-mannered and kind to the sick and elderly. The BBC less so, predictably, with one peer demanding the corporation publicly release the viewers' voting figures. Seriously? What does he think that's going to show? That the BBC had fiddled it? That one suit-and-trainers had said to another, over some Sainsbury's Basics Rich Teas, in a meeting, 'You know what? Let's just rig it. It's not like anyone's keeping much of an eye on the old phone-vote fraud at the moment. I think everyone upstairs will be prepared to risk it.'

Don't retired MPs have better things to do, like saving hospitals and presenting horticultural prizes? OK, I should be fair and clarify that this one was actually trying to suggest that where Strictly Come Dancing voting reforms lead, national political ones may follow, which is a nice idea.

I for one could not say for certain whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron would prove victorious in a dance-off. Dave might ace the ballroom, but the Latin could be anyone's game.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Teach them well and let them lead the way

This week at work I have been sitting near a cell of teenage work experience girls. It is a fascinating, if occasionally alarming, insight into the future of our country.

This afternoon they were discussing the physical transformation of Cheryl Cole, from girl-next-door pretty at her first Popstars audition to lustrously-eyelashed, Disney-heroine pretty on The X Factor. Under particular scrutiny were her teeth. 

'Oh yes,' said one assertively. 'She's had dentures.'

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Time-travelling and twins

I believe in time travel. I did a bit yesterday. Mrs G and I were walking from Oxford Circus to Bond Street at about 6.30, a route which in December becomes a pathway through hades, so we took a diversion to avoid the zombie army of Oxford Street. 

Our shortcut led us through Bhs, which truly is the department store that time forgot. Taste doesn't give it much thought these days either, if the men's gift selection is anything to go buy (this was actually a typo, but I feel it is a serendipitous one).

For sir, may we recommend the animal-print 'Easy Tiger!' brief.

And if sir is feeling more adventurous in the bedroom, perhaps the 'Suspect Package' glow-in-the-dark thong, with handcuffs attached. 

(It is my New Year's resolution to buy a camera that is not broken in a bid to post some pictures that are actually in focus.)

It is no surprise that an awful lot of shoppers seem to have forgotten about Bhs too. The place was as silent as a church. A church selling alarming men's underwear.

Mrs G and I solemnly wondered if Bhs would soon be following Woolworths to the retail graveyard. But wait! What's that coming over the hill? It's the Croydon-born supermodel cavalry. Clearly inspired by Mrs G and myself, trend-maker Kate Moss was also in Bhs on Tuesday evening to do a spot of shopping in the department store coincidentally owned by her close friend Philip Green, still more coincidentally in the presence of a paparazzi photographer. What are the chances?

We could only have missed her by minutes. 

A fact about Kate Moss is that she is exactly the same age as me, to the very day. Should I ever become famous, women's magazines will have a field day with this coincidence, endlessly discussing which of our could-not-be-more-differing lifestyles has resulted in the most True Happiness, as well as the least signs of ageing. I'm pretty confident I've got the second category in the bag, at least.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Puddings that could go either way on paper and turn out to be a triumph

No 1 in an occasional series:

The lemon trifle.

You may think this pudding which I enjoyed at Bistroteque, down a dark alley in east London's fashionable (probably) Bethnal Green, is bathed in candlelight. But no, it is lit by a purely celestial glow. It was a dessert that came to me from heaven.

I wavered over my choice. But I was nobly shepherded towards it by our waiter, who assured me I would not be disappointed, and also revealed that my second choice, the apple crumble, had recently had a topping (by that I mean the stuff on the top, not, like, 'excellent' in Blytonese) makeover from granola-esque to the more conventional powdery crumbs, which in pudding terms, to me, spelt B.L.A.N.D. 

So the trifle and I had our date with destiny. Let me tell you about its glorious strata: 

citrus jelly (this has caused me to question my previously unshakeable and near-religious belief that there is no place for jelly in trifle)
lemony custardness
Chantilly cream
sponge, naturellement
possibly something else I am too dazed to remember
And – this part is the work of a demented genius – lemon granita on the top. 

Lemon! Granita! On a trifle! Somewhere a world made of eggs, cream and sugar is spinning off its axis. 

Saturday, 13 December 2008

I wish I had a river

Joni Mitchell was right: it's coming on Christmas.

I know this not because Joni Mitchell told me, but because someone got on the train yesterday wearing a Santa hat. This is not unusual at this time of year, of course. Apart from this was a commuter train at 9am. It wasn't half past midnight on the last train back to suburbia. He wasn't stumbling around the West End with the lights of Piccadilly Circus reflected in his glassy eyes, about to auto-asphyxiate by treading on the end of the tinsel he'd jauntily draped around his neck. Neither did he step into the carriage with an attention-expectant face that said 'Is this the Christmas Party express because I've got a first-class ticket to Fun Town!'

Instead he teamed his Santa hat with an air of complete nonchalance, sat down quietly with his briefcase and began his private train meditations just like everyone else.

It was a near-sublimal, semi-incidental signal of Christmas which charmed me right through.

And there was more to come.

As I walked from London Bridge to the office, one of the businesses had thoughtfully drifted their confidential shredded waste around the building to look like a winter wonderland. A lame one, obviously. And topically. But still. It worked for me.

Later, another Christmas miracle. I was let out of work at 2.30pm. So I wandered around Borough Market – pretending I was the sort of person who always wanders round Borough Market on a Friday afternoon – and overheard a well-to-do elderly man saying to his friend, 'My granddaughter eats olives like we used to eat sweets.' 

Then I went to a craft/design fair in the Menier Chocolate Factory. I took a shine to a heart-shaped, pearl-buttoned Christmas decoration on a stall run by two redoubtable 70-something ladies who were at pains to point out that all their wares were made from recycled materials. How much is this? I asked them. Oh, you can just have that one, they said. We just want to encourage people to make their own.

This threw me. Episodes of Seinfeld have been written about more trivial exchanges than this. I couldn't just walk away with a free decoration, leaving them with nothing in return – apart from a warm glow of doing good, but who actually believes in that?

Obviously I had to buy something. But everything else they were selling was, at best, odd. At worst – well, let's just say Not For Me. So I had to comb through all their merchandise looking for the cheapest thing I could buy, while trying not to appear as though I was searching for the cheapest thing I could buy, to ease my conscience and reward them in some way other than spiritually.

In the end, I chose a greetings card of medium-size (not the smallest, crucially), paid a paltry £1 for it, and walked away feeling slightly, if not totally, better and wondering which lukewarm acquaintance I could foist the unloved card onto.

If any of you ever receive from me an oddly-coloured birthday card featuring some slightly misshapen screen-printed birds on the front, you may wish to consider what this means for our friendship.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bloggers' fall-back brain-free post no.4098

Using incredibly complicated mathematical formulas, the robotic insects who live in your computer and run the internet can tell you various boggling statistics about the tourists who are visiting your blog.

One of the long, long ribbons of reports these creatures can print out for you, which you must read with a large magnifying glass, reveals the phrases people were googling which led them to stumble across your blog. Here are some from mine:

adrian chiles separates [I'm really hoping that 'separates' is a fashion-related noun in this context]

adult babygros

austin healey hairpiece

austin healey/tom chambers slash [Strictly is a bumper slash fiction compendium just waiting to be written]

bernard cribbins quietly bonkers youtube [Quietly Bonkers is the B-side of Right Said Fred, as any B-Crib fan will tell you]

dictionary frotting

how to make chocolate roulard [step one could be spelling it correctly]

names of girls manitals

status quo three chords [perhaps Francis Rossi has forgotten which three they are]

God bless the internet. Where else would these people turn for support?

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The madness of Miss Jones

One of the difficulties of living on your own is that there is no one around on a regular basis to moderate your oddities.

Patterns of behaviour creep up on you, unmeasured against any kind of co-habiting 'control' specimen, until you believe it's perfectly normal to sing your own made-up words to the Strictly Come Dancing theme music, mentioning each of the celebrity dancers and their professional partners, or to have a little chat with your mugs as you're getting them out of the dishwasher.

I don't do these things OBVIOUSLY, but of course the point I'm making is that even if I did, I probably wouldn't know that I did, much less think it in any way eccentric.

And over the weekend, I found myself wondering the following: if I was starting to lose my mind, at what point – if any – would I realise? 

I ask this because on Sunday I inexplicably lost the following items within the confines of my small flat:

* 2 sausages, which I had carefully removed from the freezer to defrost

* 1 brand-new box of vitamins, critically important at this germ-ingesting time of year

* 2 concert tickets which had only just been delivered through the post

I searched for them with a level of incomprehension I had not felt since I heard that the winner of X Factor would be recording Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

After an anxious hour, however, I had at least located the sausages. I had put them in the kitchen bin. Clearly this had seemed an entirely sensible thing to do at the time. Perhaps it was the squeamish carnivore in me wrestling for control and making a plea for a vegetarian life. 'You know you want to. You always breathe through your mouth when you're in the organic butcher's.' Or perhaps it is a Genuine Cause For Concern.

I'm sure the tickets and the vitamins will soon tumble out of a coat pocket or, in their silent, inanimate way, shout 'Surprise' when I innocently open a drawer in a few weeks' time. But still. What will come next?

I never care to align myself with any kind of Bridget Jones stereotype because she's stupid and annoying. I am, at least, not stupid. I don't consider that alsatians will end up eating me but this is based on the simple principles of probability. You just don't seem to see as many alsatians around any more. Perhaps that's because I live in London, or perhaps it's just that my perspective has shifted. Now, on the rare occasion that I do see an alsatian, I think 'Oh, a dog,' and instantly return to my default internal monologue about what my next meal might be. However, as a very small child, having been traumatically bitten by a tiny toy-sized Yorkshire terrier outside Bottisham post office, I would probably have seen a strapping alsatian and thought, 'An enormous beast as tall as a house! With teeth like sabres that could devour your arm like it was a Flake!' Even the idea of a Flake would not have stopped the beast haunting me day and night.

I am wandering off-topic. Another symptom. I must rest.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Hi, sorry I'm late...

This weekend, in rare moments of repose between the usual December clamour of social engagements, I have been discovering Randy Newman. All I can say is: why did no one tell me before?

Angelina Jolie recently said that it would be nice for her children to watch Mr & Mrs Smith and see their mother and father falling in love. Perhaps in the future my children will access some currently-undreamt-of digital storage device, read this and feel part of the moment that their mother fell in love with Randy Newman. Not that I anticipate marrying Randy Newman, although I understand he is on the market.

Of course I'm coming late to Randy's party. That, however, is showbusiness. It's one of the dispiriting, intimidating but totally thrilling things about popular culture. You think you've not just dipped your toe in the water, but have actually been having a really lovely swim for ages –no armbands, no touching the bottom – until someone points out a better pool that's been there all the time which you had no idea about, even though it was never very far away. This is a metaphor. I can't swim. But what I mean is, you can be going on about how much you love The XYZs, and then someone will say with maddeningly nonchalant authority, 'Oh, The XYZs? Well, then you must love The UVWs. What about that third album? Incredible.' And you have to confess that you've never heard of The UVWs, much less know how album three relates to albums two and one, although you could probably guess it's better than two, not as good as one, as that's the normal pattern. And you walk home studying your shoes wondering how such a band could possibly have passed you by. People often look at me aghast when I confess I have empty chairs in my musical parlour where, say, Led Zeppelin, Sonic Youth, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie should be sitting. I'm starting to know a little of Bob Dylan, and am now embracing the wonder of Neil Young, with the encouragement of my hairdresser.

Still, with music, if you limit yourself to pop, you're only limping along trying to catch up on the last 50 years or so. When it comes to books, of course, you're on to a loser from the start. I'm an English graduate, raised by a good university, yet I have never read a whole book by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Virgina Woolf and hundreds of others.

But back to Randy Newman. Tch, you don't know Randy Newman? God! In seaching for a clip to post, I was bewildered by choice. I have no idea yet if this is the dumbest, most obvious example to present to you, as if I was to one day discover Nirvana and then type here, 'And they've got this song called Smells Like Teen Spirit and it's going to BLOW YOUR MINDS.' But maybe you'll forgive me because in this case – as Amy Gardner once said to Josh Lyman over a matter of balloon animals – I'm a beginner.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

My first ever Christmas cake. Judge me kindly

You will notice I have gone for simplicity in the arena of decoration. This is because:

 a) I am essentially a cack-handed imbecile when it comes to icing. However, I do believe that the deliberately uneven surface does quite vividly conjure up a snow-covered landscape, which is EXACTLY as I intended it.

b) I was in quite the hurry to wash a lot of red food dye off my hands. I looked like I had just killed a man.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The love song of Miss Jones

I have fallen in love with far more inanimate objects than I have human beings. I don't know why this is and I don't care to dwell on it. 

But I can tell you that I do have a 'type'. Clothes.

This week, I cannot stop thinking about the most beautiful black sleeveless cashmere cardigan from Whistles which I tried on at the weekend. It is £95. 

Now we are involved in a romantic, but as yet unconsummated relationship. I realised this as I replayed the widescreen film of us in my head for the 356th time, the one where we're walking together through the park, kicking up piles of autumn leaves with my Gap biker boots (which I thought I loved once, but which meant nothing as soon as I met the cardigan), and then fat drops of rain start to fall, and we run laughing through the shower to take shelter under an enormous tree because the cardigan is dry clean only. 

The fact is, I honestly love it. I mean it this time. I've never felt like this before. It's like I'm a better person when I'm with it. I'm the person I always wanted to be. I smile all the time, and only I know why. 

I'm finding myself defending it to concerned and sceptical friends with loyal, red-faced indignation. Yes, I know it's not much to look at, but you don't know it like I do. You don't know what it can do. I know it's out of my league, but we have so much in common. It would get on so well with all my other clothes. All those Primark cardigans meant nothing to me.

Yet still I am afflicted by a paralysing lack of nerve. With its upmarket price tag, I dare not quite reach out and make the move that would bring us together. So I have resolved to wait, and hope that the seductive excitement of the sale season will see me losing my inhibitions, and then it will tumble into, and then onto, my arms. But what if I do wait, and find it's too late? Someone else may snap it up while I was waiting in the shadows, worrying about trivialities like budget. I'll have lost it forever and will be left to think of what might have been. 

If you'll excuse me, I must go and lie on my bed and stare at a picture of it while listening to some soft-rock ballads.