Monday, 31 May 2010

Sweetness follows

I like cooking puddings. I like making cakes.

They follow rules. They celebrate structure. They are science in action. Science that smells nice. Science you can eat afterwards. Just observe this soothing set of instructions and everything will be OK. You will not be expected to make any decisions or express any kind of preference.

I do not like cooking main courses or starters or anything you might call 'proper food'. The stuff you have to eat in order to actually stay alive. I do not enjoy cooking my dinner every evening when I get home from work. I don't find it therapeutic; it does not help me unwind.

This kind of savoury endeavour requires you to exercise an exhausting degree of judgement, with its endless requests for seasoning to taste and vague terms like a 'small bunch' of herbs. Small in comparison to what? A pea? Or Luxembourg? A recipe often calls for a 'handful' of something. I have petite hands for my height. Where does that leave me? Apart from with a lot of gloves that are too big for me, and a sense of precariousness when holding a pint glass in one hand.

Some individuals revel in this more freewheeling side of food preparation. With their flair and their instincts, they love being a utensil-wielding maverick, seizing any soupçon of recipe initiative and smugging: 'You know what this needs?' [Swoops effortlessly into fridge/spice rack/walk-in larder.] 'This!'

I fear and resent these people.

I cooked lunch today for the two Ms Rs. The occasion was orchestrated for two reasons. Firstly, so we could wile away as much time as we liked chatting over two courses without being harassed by well-meaning waiting staff. And also lie down on the carpet and stroke our stomachs between courses, which I understand is frowned upon in some of the more upmarket restaurants.

But secondly, and more importantly, so I could have an excuse to make crème brûlée…

…which came out pretty OK, especially considering I forgot it was in the oven and went and spent half an hour in the bathroom cleaning the mould off my shower curtain. (Yes, that is the kind of thrill ride you can expect chez Jones on a Bank Holiday weekend.) Which meant the créme brûlée was pretty freaking brûlée, even before I had officially brûléed it.

Mostly, on the odd occasions I cook dinner for people, I can summon up the nervous energy to slog away at some savoury offering, for convention's sake. I do understand it's not acceptable to serve three courses when those three courses are a sweet biscuit starter, main course of cake and pudding of pudding.

Yet, should I have a family, I am genuinely concerned about providing nutritious food for a group larger than one on a continued daily basis.

"Mummy, what's for tea?"

"Mummy, why can't we have cereal for breakfast like everyone else?"
"Because Mummy likes to use her kitchen blowtorch in the mornings."

"Mummy, these sausages taste funny."
"That's because they are made of marzipan."

Of course, most children would be excited by the idea of eating sweet things at every meal. Until, that is, they developed anaemia, rickets, and no longer had the strength to pull themselves up the climbing frame at school.

Who will feed my children? Feed them proper food, I mean.

It is another fear for the files.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

'Just remember what your old pal said...'

This week the Why Miss Jones Legends Tour rolled into the Southbank. Into the Southbank? Onto the Southbank? Whatever. Legends are beyond the laws of prepositions.

Out of all the hundreds of people hanging out in the many capillaries of the Festival Hall on a Wednesday night in May – the laptop lizards, heads down, engaged in Very Important Projects; groups of girls meeting up for after-work drinks who don't want to go to a bar because one of them is pregnant and they'd like to maintain the facade that their friendship is about so much more than alcohol; stylish yet vulnerable female bloggers in their mid-30s waiting to see Randy Newman with their mum – it's funny that the person who smells really very strongly of that damp smell when your washing doesn't dry properly, which is also a little bit like wee, that person who is sitting at the adjacent sofa to you in the bar, should then be sitting right in front of you during the concert. Lean forward a bit can't you, DampWhiff? I've got a cold and everything, but it's not that bad.

Randy Newman, if you're asking, was brilliant. I'm a compulsive clock-watcher at events like this. Not as much as at the theatre, where, over the years, I've missed some truly life-affirming dramatic moments because I've been craning to make out the hands of my watch in the dim lights of a nearby exit sign. Even if I'm having a Perfectly Nice Time, I'm still wondering how soon I can get outside and feel slightly less like I'm about to have a claustrophobic episode. Not with Randy. Were it not for the fact that I get really hungry about every two hours, I could have sat and listened to him all night. The last time I felt like that was with Lee Hazlewood a few years ago at the same venue, and he's dead now, so hang in there, Randy, won't you?

*Crunching change of subject alert*

One of my very best friends is 40 today. It seems ludicrous that I now have close friends who are 40. I realise this is galling to anyone over that age, just as I want to punish hard anyone who says, 'Oh my god! I'm 25! That's, like, SO OLD!' Still, the fact remains that most of the time, I can't believe anyone in my peer group is old enough to buy a malibu and Coke in a pub without a push-up bra and lipstick on. So here's Randy, without the satire and without the shadows – unless I'm blanking some very deep subtext – just for her.

I love the way that the best singers aren't always the best singers.

I'm sure the birthday girl couldn't care less about Randy Newman, by the way. I just couldn't find a good clip of Olivia Newton-John doing Xanadu.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Great expectations

A couple of weeks ago, WhyMissJones went on a field trip, all the way to south-central London, which is farther from south-east London than you might think. All the way to the offices of Random House publishers, to eat snacks and meet some other lady bloggers and be excited and slightly starstruck in the presence of the main attraction, Lisa Jewell, and her new book After The Party. ATP is a sequel to the much loved Ralph's Party, which has been lauded on these screens more than once, and which came ten years before. It reveals the lengthy emotional hangover suffered by the main characters after we left them giddy and ecstatic and loved-up and what-could-possibly-go-wrong? at the end of the first book. Over the evening, we sat around like grown-ups and talked about, well, being grown-ups, and how the last ten years have changed us, as well as why we blog, and what about, and all that jazz.

No one actually mentioned jazz, I don't think.

From my perspective, little has changed around my own personal circumstances during the last 10 years. I live in the same flat, I remain unmarried and childless, and don't earn a vast amount more. On paper, I'm pretty much as I was at 26. Yet these days, I am less apologetic for my own personal strains of weirdness, and more willing to concede that generally, not all the time, not as much as I'd like, but quite a lot, I am An OK Person.

New people that I meet have occasionally, and over-politely, guessed my age at 27, which is almost a titano-smug, 10-year time-freeze. And any time some Heavy Stuff leans into my consciousness, I still feel that age – and that I'm not quite old enough to be dealing with any of it.

Yet it's true that most of my more trivial concerns echo someone 35 years my senior, enthusing about cardigans and hot beverages and shrinking away from confident youths on buses.

Still, the Big Stuff I'm sweating, is totally Mid-3os Single Female (Classic Version).

I should have been writing about the evening I shared with all those lovely women two weeks ago, and my lame excuses entirely demonstrate the strange state I'm caught in, somewhere between a) immaturity and b) the ageing process.

a) I have had the WORST SORE THROAT EVER. OMG! It was, like, so bad.

b) The time just slipped away. Where does it go? It moves so fast these days, etc. [Commences melancholy discourse on the desparate race against time elapsing, suggesting awareness of own mortality and inescapable process of human decay.]

With reference to b), it's true to say that 'Getting round to stuff' has not found its way into my skill set over the last ten years.

But it hasn't all been illness and sloth. I have also been away for a few days on a south-coast seaside jaunt with Miss R, including a stay in Broadstairs, which features in one of Lisa Jewell's previous books, The Truth About Melody Browne. A lonely little girl who lives in the town is taken to Morelli's, an untouched-by-time ice cream parlour right on the seafront, for a sundae by just about her only friend in the world.

I fell in love with Morelli's when I read that. I'm always passionate about a small occasion. Big ones, not so much. But making a celebration out of an over-elaborate ice cream? Yes. Absolutely, yes. I would have been beside myself with anticipation about this at 6, at 16, at 26. If I ever get too old to be excited by things like this, then in truth I will probably be too dull to realise. But I'm reserving a little bit of self-loathing, just in case.

So we arrived in Broadstairs with ice-cream signs in our eyes. The sun was bright, the beach that Morelli's looks out on was golden and deserted. It seemed that all the elements involved had read the manual on just how this part of the day should go.

Except, oh... not Morelli's.

The landlady of our brilliant B&B had urged us to hurry down there, since they were still operating winter opening hours, and were closing at 5pm. We arrived, anxious, at 4.45pm. Do we have time for a sundae, we asked.

'You've got five minutes,' said a face that last cracked a smile in the 1950s when she first saw the current decor.

'Five minutes to order,' I said, 'or five minutes to eat it?'



We looked around.

Given the large collection of elderly people sitting around nursing cups of tea, with numerous layers of outer clothing to put on, and a trip to the toilet to factor in before exiting, I felt quite strongly that Morelli's would not be closing in five minutes. But since they had already put away all but a paltry couple of flavours, they were clearly not in the market for a persuasion offensive. Or to earn a little more money.

Instead, we went down to the beach and had a Mr Whippy.

But I'm a strong believer in the Church Of Second Chances, so the next morning we returned. I was queasy with cooked breakfast, and a rococo ice-cream experience would be beyond me, but I wanted to look at the pictures and ponder the toppings and sit among the formica – all with a sea view. Then I hit upon the perfect solution. A milkshake. Less flamboyant, no Flake – but still, a fancy glass.

'Excuse me,' I said. 'What flavour milkshakes do you do?'

'None at the moment. The machine's being cleaned.'


We left – with no sundae, no sorries, no customer service to speak of. We went round the corner to a newer ice cream parlour, where they were glad to see us and I had the best banana milkshake.

With the bloggers' evening still fresh in my mind, this felt like a tiny testament to something else that happens as your 20s tip into your 30s. The understanding that your ideals won't always form part of the action. That small series of adjustments and accommodations, all the time.

You can still have your sea view. It just might not be the one you imagined.

[Thanks very much to Random House, Lisa Jewell, everyone involved in organising the event, and all the funny, inspiring, talented women I met that evening.]

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Port Salut(e)

Found in a Hastings junk shop: my new favourite book title.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

'I have confidence that spring will come again...'

This weekend I embarked on the Miss Jones Legends Tour Summer 10. Stay your eager credit cards, though. This does not involve me renting the London Palladium and performing the highlights from my 36-year career of singing along to the stereo equipment of the time. [Set list: The Kids From Fame songbook, pre-1983 Disney favourites, Abba's The Name Of The Game, encoring with I've Never Been To Me; merchandise: tapestry kit where you can sew my face in wool, bracelet featuring the legend WWMJD? (What Would Miss Jones Do? Answer: nothing for as long as possible, then something will probably happen anyway to bring about a resolution.)]

No, I am in the audience, saluting various of my heroes, clapping vehemently, wiping away mascara-streaked tears of music-prompted emotion and thinking uncharitable thoughts about whoever is sitting next me when that person is not a close friend/family member.

So, Saturday:

Julie Andrews.

More specifically:

An Evening With Julie Andrews.

As you may know if you have read any papers over the last couple of days, this differentiation is kind of a big deal to some people.

My concert companion Ms H and I are big fans of L'Andrews. We have done the Sound Of Music tour in Salzburg. You haven't truly breached the barriers of global understanding until you have spent two hours singing along to The Lonely Goatherd with a multi-national group of strangers in a minibus. Look, here is Ms H recreating the classic Doh-Re-Mi sequence on the ACTUAL REAL STEPS. (You may, at this point, notice that I have learned some Photoshop skills other than 'Crop' and 'Save As'.)

So we were sufficiently au fait with the Julie Andrews back story to know that she would not be swooping up and down the octaves like a swallow with the head of Mariah Carey. Or the head of Julie Andrews in 1965. Also, Dame Julie is 74. Her voice was broken some time ago and, as a result of this, reportedly, so was her heart. Just as well she would be performing this rare UK concert in an intimate, atmospheric place, with the support of a small and friendly crowd:

Oh shit.

You would think that if you cared enough about Julie Andrews to stump up the ludicrous ticket price, you would know that a three-hour feat of vocal endurance and regular towelling-downs was not on the cards. And even given that, it seems that some people find it hard to be as tirelessly compassionate as me and Ms H. The likes of Angelina Jolie and Eddie Izzard are often bothering us with phone calls and emails asking how it is we can give, give and then give a little bit more. Emotionally, of course. Not financially. We've spent all our money on Julie Andrews tickets.

So we were full of love and care for the Julie Andrews Experience (they totally should have called it that), however compromised. I'm a sap at the best of times, which is why I spent two hours on Sunday afternoon watching A Cinderella Story starring Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray.

It was a strange evening, obviously. Unlikely song choices, bizarre vanity-project-meets-school-assembly storytelling. But also JA sitting on a stool, in shadow, listening to other people on her stage, singing her songs, because she can't, breaking your heart so it almost matched hers. And occasionally venturing a whole song for herself, slaying you with her sincerity and soul on My Funny Valentine.

So why did Dame Julie rent the O2 arena and make an attempt at late-onset career suicide? I don't know. I don't know everything, although this news may rock some of you to your very foundations. If you believe some of the FURIOUS and DISAPPOINTED and ROBBED concert-goers, it was to rake in great big treasure chests of lovely golden cash for her retirement fund. If you believe me (let's remember: a sap), she's trying to grab a little bit back of what was taken away from her, in the only way she can. That way is a little eccentric, yes, but most 74-year-olds are a little eccentric, and spending an evening with many of them would probably entail listening to them read out sections of The Daily Mail. Of course, some of the FURIOUS and DISAPPOINTED and ROBBED concert-goers would probably think that was kind of a good time.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Apply within

And hurry up about it, can't you? They could really use a level head in there.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

In which I wonder if I should just loosen the f**k up

As I was leaving work one day last week, I stopped off at the ladies'. There, in front of the communal mirror, a woman in a sleeveless dress was shaving her armpits with a Bic razor.

And what's wrong with that?

That's not a rhetorical question.

I do feel there's something wrong with that but a) I'm not sure what and b) does anyone else?

And what about this: In the crazy-hot summer of 2006 (as the digital memory-stick versions of ourselves will refer to it in the millennia to come), I similarly stopped off at the ladies' at the end of the day, and when I came out of the cubicle I was confronted by a woman stripped down to her bra (fully clothed from the waist down, I should stress) having a very thorough top-half wash over the basin.

(Perhaps the bottom half followed – I didn't linger to see).

She was a slightly older lady. You are right, this is of no relevance whatsoever, except there was a certain mighty, matronly bulk to her bra, and the considerable load it was bearing, that made me scared to reach across her towards the soap for fear of an accidental harassment charge.

When I saw her there, I emitted an inadvertent and high-pitched 'Oop!', my generic call of surprise/clumsiness/exertion (it is somewhere between 'Ooh!' and 'Oops!' and helpfully serves as either) at the unexpected MIDDLE-AGED BOSOM SEMI-REVEAL! that confronted me.

She, meanwhile, was entirely at ease. In fact, I would say she was revelling in the situation, positively daring me to blanche at her lack of inhibition.

'Don't mind me!' she beamed.

I did a bit.

If you want the truth, I'm always slightly intimidated by a very public groomer, a mirror moth – even if it's not depilation or partial nudity, but just a fairly normal amount of make-up. While it's likely that the opposite is true, I always divine a terrifying confidence about them. And – as in this case – they seem to feed off my timidity and slightly apologetic lack of grooming in order to become bolder and prouder.

I am 36, and I think I am so independent, so on top of it, with my work-life balance and my mortgage for one. But still. Seeing another woman in the throes of an elaborate make-up routine still makes me feel about seven.

It is an everyday anxiety that I will go the toilet at the end of the working day (I am a creature of habit, this much is clear) and there will be a group of advertising types in full preen, colonising the basin area like cockatoos spread out along a branch. You can usually sense this before you walk in, from the exotic scents that have seeped out under the door and into the corridor. For at least one reason, I take a deep breath before I go in.

Then I'll push open the door, and dive into a cubicle and, when I emerge, I have to insinuate myself – with my bare face and scuffed-up student-wardrobe jeans – among them, to perform something as mundane and totally square as washing my hands. 'Sorry... can I just... oop!... get some soap... thanks... sorry....' They will grudgingly slouch to one side slightly, to permit my path to dull old hygiene. There will most likely be some high-budget handbag cast down on the flat space between the sinks, its open mouth leering at me, showing off a threatening set of hair straighteners, cans and compacts inside. This means I have to rinse in the smallest, carefulest way possible, for fear of shaking water onto the uber-bag and provoking some screech of 'WATCH IT, SPLASHY! THIS IS MIU MIU!'

It's worse if I am forced to carry out some token making up myself. While in all likelihood they couldn't care less and are consumed thoroughly by the serious business of bronzer, I am crippled by performance anxiety as I put in my contact lenses, and feel scrutinised as I attempt to fake some colour in my cheeks. I blush (that, right there, is an inadvertent pun) to phantom sneers of: 'Oh! You're using that? On there? And you think that looks OK, do you?'

If there was hair to be removed, I would be undertaking that task in the murky depths of a closed-door cubicle, risking bloodshed and a crick in the neck, rather than publicly hoisting my armpit heavenwards for anyone to interject with 'You've missed a bit... there... down your arm.'

I'm not sure what the corresponding situation would be, were I a man. Perhaps a highly ostentatious changing-room towelling-down, post-shower. More likely, an elaborate hair-product ritual. I'm not sure a straight-forward Remington in front of the mirror of the gents' is the same. Although, if I were a bloke, doubtless I would still find a way to be intimidated by that, projecting a monologue out of the suave mouth of Mr Shaving that was principally: 'Can you guys believe I am having to do this AGAIN? God, it is a nightmare being so hirsute and so fecund and so incredibly made of undiluted MALENESS.'

What is the message here? I don't know. And that's a problem, because I'd quite like to go to bed. But let me refer you to the title of this post.

Loosen up, Jones, won't you?