Thursday, 30 April 2009

It lives!

Shove over, Frankenstein. Today I have been doing some crazy chemistry of my own. I have fused the Victoria sponge with Black Forest Gateau, or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, as Dr Frankenstein would doubtless have preferred it (I imagine he also enjoyed a Victor-ia sponge. My God, I am HILARIOUS). It is made of chocolate sponge, black cherry jam, vanilla buttercream, glacé cherries and grated chocolate (I didn't have any chocolate vermicelli so I improvised with a grater and a miniature bar of dark Green & Blacks I got free with Marie Claire. I am nothing if not resourceful. It is a mystery how I did not earn more badges at Brownies).

Next, I will attempt to create the Flappenberg, a daring hybrid of flapjack and Battenberg.

Yes, he really can. Because you're worth it.

When I was on the bus tonight on my way home, I overheard a woman telling her friend about the magazine she'd just bought, an American title called Essence. 'It's got an article in it about Michelle Obama and her mum,' she told her. 'It looked lovely.'

Then, more wistfully, she said, 'I need to spend some time in America. America does wonders for your hair and face.' 

If this is a new development, I hope the reckoners are taking this into account in their 100 Days Reckoning. That means you, Marbers.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Soldier in a silver blanket

It is a source of shame to me that I have lived in London for 13 years and never in person watched any part of the London Marathon – even though I cry at the highlights programme every year without fail (the limping heroes! the ludicrously rousing music!). This year I managed to be in the middle of town on the day, which represents real progress, and even caught a fleeting glimpse of a straggler in the wheelchair race on the Embankment as I crossed Waterloo Bridge above him on the 176 bus. However, my business in town was to see Tony Beak and Erin Boag in Cheek To Cheek at the Coliseum, a birthday present from Lady C (so maybe it's OK if your birthday cards are still up three months on, as long as you are still harvesting your presents), rather than to weep at athletes.

Running a marathon is pretty much an everyday miracle but still, a miracle is a miracle. Right, Jesus? Because of this, I can never quite believe my eyes when I see the marathon runners suffering the trials of public transport on their way home. I don't know what I'm expecting. I'm sure there's little enough in the hospitality budget for the elite athletes. There's no way it can run to a chauffeur-driven car for each plucky club runner or foolhardy fundraiser.

Still I always feel it's fundamentally unfair when, as this afternoon, I see someone in a batman costume waiting for the bus in the resolutely inglorious environs of the Elephant & Castle, or watch a woman dissuade the bus driver from whipping the doors shut for minute on agonising minute on Denmark Hill while her race-weary companion winces his way down from the top deck, as though there were upturned razor blades on every step.

If you have a medal around your neck, even if it is materially worthless, forged from melted down fragments of an unloved Esso Coin Collection, surely you should not have to dirty your hands with Oyster cards, or your aching legs on a matted tube seat studded with chewing gum and fried chicken bones. It somehow shatters the illusion of heroism. It's like going to visit the Wizard of Oz and discovering the little old man behind the curtain, or seeing the rods furiously working the limbs of the Muppets. And I don't want to witness Clark Kent going about his everyday business, even though I usually fancy him far more than I do Superman. 

I don't understand it. But from being in town this afternoon, I understand this most clearly. If my husband or partner had just run 26 miles, probably painfully and for charity, I wouldn't then make him follow me around the Charing Cross branch of Jigsaw, sitting red-faced and weary outside the changing rooms while I tried a load of new clothes on. Even if there is a sale on.

Presents and cards

I am back from a week in Florence and Assisi. So many very special, sacred souvenirs to choose from, but I finally decided to get you one of these:

You're welcome.

One of the first things that occurred to me when I got back to my home, apart from 'Is this what my flat smells like to other people?', was 'Is three and a half months too long to leave your birthday cards up for?'

I decided no. They may as well stay up for at least the next eight and a half months, just in case I don't have any at all next year.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Search, copy, paper jam, destroy

When I turned on the photocopier today, at the glossy women's magazine where I was employed, this was the display that greeted me:

What it appears to show to me, a techno-network novice, is the way in which various photocopiers in the building are talking to each other in a manner that ordinary men and women cannot fathom, in order to strengthen their allegiance, to the detriment of the human race. I think we can reasonably infer this.

They are basically daleks. 

A women's magazine is the ideal location for some kind of big screen/small screen/any screen techno-peril epic, if only for:

a) the appropriately inept way most of the staff would run away from their digi-bot attackers, tripping and stumbling and whimpering in on-trend grey patent platform heels.

b) the volume of squealing that can be effortlessly provoked. I've heard this reach eardrum-maiming levels of hysteria at the arrival in the office of a free easter egg. Confronted by a phalanx of marauding photocopying machines with lids flapping open and shut like merciless jaws, and copying lights blinding their victims as they try to escape… Dolby surround sound has never heard the like.

We will speak again in one week's time.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Careless whisker

Part of getting older is realising you are unable to marshall your corporeal flesh and fibres as authoritatively as you used to. Tissue and hair can no longer be relied upon to keep their old stations, but instead are seizing areas where they previously had no business being.

Yesterday I found a rogue hair – one could panic and call it a whisker, but I'm trying to give up being the panicking kind – on what I can only describe as my cheek. Somewhere beneath my skin, a maverick follicle had decided to break cover and start its very own sideburn several centimetres from its former comrades – or as I like to call them, my actual hair. 

I don't spend a lot of time looking at my own face. There's some room for improvement and I have neither the time or the money to put the work in. However I look at it often enough to attain the conventional hygiene standards necessary to hold down regular work, and a little more often besides. But I did not see this one coming. It perhaps crept up on me during a swift and deadly night-time ageing exercise. Certainly, stealth was employed. 

I am channelling the spirit of the Blitz though. Things could be worse. I could have found it on the end of my chin, or protruding from my nose, or nestling in what I optimistically call my cleavage. And I will fight. I may have given up on being ID'd in shops and bars, but I am not yet ready to be a hairy-faced child-scarer. 

I will vanquish it with my weapon of choice, a steel rapier. Which is to say tweezers. Several other hairs may come to avenge it, but I will be ready for them. I've got my pride, after all. It's right here where I… oh.

Monday, 13 April 2009

'Far from the frenzy of the frantic world above...'

Most of the Disney films of the 70s remind me of going to the ABC Cinema in Cambridge in the school holidays – of arriving to see a queue unravelling around the block and around the next corner, and hoping as passionately as you can when you're 5 that we would be safe when the cinema manager brought his arm down through the line of people, like a guillotine, dividing us into those who would get in and those who wouldn't; of my mum's 'cinema' glasses which she never wore at any other time.

Approximately 30 years on, I can remember the pattern on the skirt Mrs Jones was wearing when we went to see Bambi as I spent so long with my face buried in it, sobbing hysterically.

Anyway, today on the telly: Bedknobs & Broomsticks. Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Cockernee children, innocuous 1940s swearing ('You've won the ruddy cup!'), talking fish in evening dress, and this… 

Friday, 10 April 2009

P is for puzzle and also for pitch

My name is Miss Jones, and I am a freak.

My friend and former flatmate, Ms H, likes to say there is an episode of Seinfeld for all of life's eventualities. I think that's what she says. Some people, and they are mostly idiots, and in all likelihood idiots I have worked with, think there is an episode of Sex & The City for every facet of the female 30-something experience. I don't agree, although when I came in the other night, there was one on where Miranda was mistaken for a lesbian, and it did strike something of a chord. 

Anyway, one episode that I do respond to essentially preaches that we are all freaks at some level. I am no exception. And one strange little victory that brings unbridled joy to my deformed, freaky soul is finding an abandoned copy of G2 on the train with none of the puzzles on the back filled in. Or the Times 2. I also like the Times 2. Of course, I could just buy my own copy, but that is not at all the point. It's just a freaky thing that brings me pleasure because I am a freak.

The other day, on the way home, I found both. 

I know! I couldn't believe it either. It was the Holy Grail. I did the double. The G2 cup and the T2 premiership. I don't know what I'm saying now. But basically, it was amazing.

Well, almost. Like a thirsty man roaming the desert, I saw only what I wanted to see. On closer inspection, someone had had a bit of a go at the G2 crossword. 

Before tossing it aside, like an abandoned newspaper on a train, he had filled in the answers 'Abbey Road', 'Observatory', 'Bob',  'Voodoo', 'Olympus', 'Teddy' and 'Rice paper'. In very light writing, he'd also tentatively added 'Garish', 'Rematch' and 'Hoe'. 

So what can we tell about the mind of the person who got this far and threw it away? 

First, the negatives. They appear ill-travelled. They struggled with 'Map-making (11)', although they knew it ended in '-graphy'. They couldn't attempt so much as a syllable of 'Rice wine used in Japanese cookery (5)'  or a clue to which the answer was Champs Elysées.

However, looking at the positives, and applying actual scientific psychology, they would seem to like macaroons, astronomy and The Beatles. On paper – literally! on paper! on a newspaper! – we would get on fabulously. Perhaps there is a romantic comedy in this. Male lead half completes the crossword every day on the train. Always sits in the same seat. He gets off. She gets on. She being female lead. Always sits in the same seat. His seat. Completes the rest of the crossword. Completes him, etc. Will they ever meet? One morning she resolves to get a look at him, so has a breakneck dash to an earlier station down the line to get on the train before he gets off. Her car takes ages to start. Her car is a make that kooky women in romantic comedies drive. It is almost certainly raining. A crocodile of adorable but s-l-o-w-walking Montessori children dawdle along a zebra crossing in front of her car while important minutes seep away. She dashes on to the train as the doors are closing, leaving a shoe on the platform. Heads for their seat. But someone else got there before him that morning, some grim-faced old walrus. Surely that is not the man whose newspaper she shares, whose biro imprint she loves? Is it? But the real co-crossworder was also late to the same station, missing the train but finding her shoe on the platform. This may represent a confusion of source material. But anyway, what I'm saying is, crosswords are the new sex. Kakuro is the new foreplay. Although I always like to do the Kakuro last.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Mallow doubt

In preparation for making these…

… which represent another page in my portfolio of baking that tastes nice but looks like it was made by an enthusiastic class of primary school children, I was shopping for marshmallows. And in the aisle of sweets, I found these.

They are 'no added sugar' marshmallows. This was a revelation. I had been of the opinion that marshmallows are essentially only sugar. So no added sugar would just mean no bigger than normal. Yes? No. Incorrect. There are also all kinds of ingredients of dark magic which are involved in the creative process, principally to give a marshmallow its faintly sinister texture. With that in mind, whether this extra sugar that has not been added means more than usual, or just some, I don't know but it seems to signify the difference between 'mallows' and 'marshmallows'. In this context, of course, 'marsh' is derived from the Old English word 'myrrshe' which means having some flavour, or being vaguely acceptable to the palate.

The fact is, when I've made a decision to eat a marshmallow, I've surrendered myself totally to sugar and all its thrillingly squalid charm. In those moments, I don't want saving. If you fancy a marshmallow stripped of its flavour-giving component, you could perhaps go and chew on some of those foam ear plugs you get in an in-flight goody bag (which is also what these 'mallows' look like on the front of the bag). Before you've used them for their intended purpose, obviously. Because as any four-year-old will tell you, ear wax tastes disgusting.

However, and anyway, as if appearing in some sort of nightmarish cautionary tale for children, warning against the consumption of too many sweets containing pork gelatine, my hand here looks very much as though it is growing into a pig's trotter.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

What I ate on my weekend. And also on Monday

Saturday Dimly lit dessert of the week: lime pannacotta, crumbly shortbread like planes of heaven, sandwiched together with lemon curd. Comprehensively non-disappointing. Furthermore, expectation-surpassing.

Sunday: This tiger cake, made by my friend, Mrs G, for her daughter's 3rd birthday party. After last year's effort, I am now forced to pay serious attention to the creeping suspicion that instead of being my occasionally chaotic, frequently late, resolutely human friend and kindred spirit, she is actually some kind of domestic-goddess automaton.  

Monday: The Tate Modern cafe are celebrating spring with an inappropriately autumnal-looking rainbow of dips. Unfortunately, one of these is beetroot. For me, there is no vegetable more overrated. If I wanted to eat something that tasted exactly like soil, I'd... well, I would never want to do that, quite obviously. Full marks, [insert preferred school of evolutionary thought], I am frequently seduced into retrying it by its exciting colour scheme. There's still hundreds of years' work to be done on the flavour though.