Thursday, 24 February 2011

Table for two?

During those down times on public transport when I'm not thinking self-indulgent thoughts of despair and loneliness, I am trying to imagine ways to earn the vast amounts of money that would enable me to stop taking public transport at all.

On this occasion, I had an if-I-do-say-so-myself-which-I-do brilliant idea for a short-term money-making venture, only I was not on a bus or a train. I was at my desk at work, exchanging emails with friends about where we should have dinner together. Would we patronise the Strada cucina, where we would play fast and loose with its rustic Italian menu thanks to our exclusive* 2-for-1 on main courses voucher? Or Heston's new place? Le Gavroche? The Ivy? At this point, imagine, if you will, a light bulb turning on above my head.

One of my dining companions has a daughter. She is called Ivy. She is five. Possibly. I'm never very good with the ages of friends' children. There are too many of them now. The numbers tend to fall away in favour of broader categories such as 'Will they repeat after me when I inadvertently swear in front of them?', 'Can they take themselves to the toilet?' and 'Are they now too embarrassed to kiss or hug me?'

My idea is this: we set up a pop-up restaurant called not 'The Ivy', but just 'Ivy' – at Ivy and her family's house. It will be some kind of brilliant satire on its well-established namesake and related culinary hotspots. The master stroke is that the executive chef will be none other than Ivy herself. Each meal will be a daring and unchartered voyage on the high seas of 'cooking'. With geographical serendipity, Ivy and her family live in Hackney – the perfect place for a deconstructed, anti-establishment, east London version of The Actual Ivy.

Scenario one is that people, tourists probably, would turn up mistaking our place for the real deal.

Scenario two, we fool people into thinking this is the hottest booking in town for destination dining.

Scenario three, we don't fool people, but they still want a part of our cutting-edge play on destination dining.

It's a win-win-win situation.

We, the grown-ups – relatively speaking – will stand beside the oven nominally supervising as Ivy serves up raw chipolatas dipped in jam to her surprised/delighted/alarmed customers. Main courses, which include her signature houmous-dipped whole banana and trio of felt-tip-glazed rice cakes, are £32.50. For an extra £5, Ivy will wash her hands before she prepares them. Premium customers, who want the ultimate Ivy experience, can pay £85 for a seat at the Chef's Table, where Ivy will wheel her plastic Bluebird A La Carte kitchen alongside your seat and demonstrate her innovative skills in front of your very eyes. She is enjoying a period of experimentation with Lego at the moment, and may choose to serve you her Lego brick tartare, garnished with Lego spaceman (helmet missing, presumed eaten by the cat). Unfortunately, it's not possible to source the ingredients for this unique dining adventure locally, but we will rely on excellent Danish artisan suppliers.

Those less au fait with fine dining may feel intimidated – how to go about eating such a confection, which cutlery to use – but one should simply approach it as one would any other food prepared by a small child: pick it up between your fingers, move it expansively through the air towards your mouth, and secrete it in your fist, while making gulping, chewing, then swallowing motions, and rolling your eyes in rapture, saying, 'Mmmm, this is DELICIOUS!'

Ivy would be particularly excited by a visit from the noted restaurant critic Michael Winner, although she may not be able to turn her thoughts to the kitchen until she has made him crawl around on all fours while she climbs on his back and pretends he is a pony. She may not be the first.

We would be sitting on a GOLDMINE.

*exclusive to anyone who uses the internet

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Such Great Heights

This is the view from my working window on the 7th floor. (Please note the office strip lights reflected as UFOs into the sky.)

In the last week, we have moved from a different office space within the building, and let me tell you, this vista is a big improvement on the previous one, which looked directly into the windows of the highly corporate office block next door, where lots of men in pale blue shirts stared at computer screens. When it started raining REALLY hard a few weeks ago, both sets of employees – us and them – raced to the windows of our opposing buildings to look at the spectacle of a lot of rain falling on to the ground, but then we caught sight of each other and a frenzied episode of waving began and it was AMAZING. Be free to wave at your neighbours, drones! Yes, Blue-Shirted Finance-Industry Romeos! Reach out to your Peg-Trouser-Wearing Women's-Mag-Working Juliets next door! Dare to dream! Or maybe just go back to your desks as soon as the rain starts to ease off and never glance up in their direction again. Whatever.

Anyway. The new view. Perhaps you can imagine how excited I was at the sight of this crane outside the window. Or perhaps you can't. To clear things up: I was very excited.

If you have a crane outside your window, it seems compulsory to gaze at it for lengthy periods, pondering how tiny is your place within the universe. And sometimes you get to say to your colleagues, 'Look, it's actually moving. That is SO COOL.' And if you can also see the building site it is serving, it is the march of time that you are contemplating as you stand against the glass, looking up at the soaring new storeys. You remembering the days before the construction workers moved in, and what have you done with your life since then? NOTHING. NOTHING AT ALL. And they have built a WHOLE BUILDING. And you think how that new building will live on, long after you are gone. Then someone offers to make tea and you forget all about it till next time.

This crane excitement was particularly potent since, from my desk on the seventh floor – and it's not clear from this photo – I can actually see the man inside the little white crane cabin. I can see he is human, not a remotely operated machine. I can see him moving his arms. I can see his legs dangling from his chair. I can see his trainers, crossed at the ankle. Obviously you know there are people who do this job, just like any other job – wondering how soon it is until home time and what they might have for tea – but how often do you actually think about them? I think about them quite a lot, but even more so now. They wield such power. What could you do with that giant hook if you were in charge of it, and had a bird's eye view? Could you lift up some smuggo's sports car or 4x4 and 'park' it somewhere completely new? If you saw someone dropping litter from a hundred feet up, how satisfying to be able to swoop down and lift up the offender by the back of the coat and deposit him in a skip somewhere half a mile from where he started, while you shout 'THAT'S how you dispose of rubbish' in words that are carried away on the wind before they reach their target. In reality, of course, these machines don't seem to operate too swiftly, so your pray would be able to out-manoeuvre you quite easily while you bashed into buildings and trees as you crunched the levers frantically.

For some periods this week, there were two men in the crane cabin, or on the platform just outside it. I was intrigued. You would not visit that crane cabin unless it was entirely necessary – through my surveillance, I discovered the way to get up there is not to glide serenely upwards in some cherry-picker of a chariot, but by climbing up a LOT of tiny steps (I say tiny, admittedly perspective was involved). The fact is, though, that it is a brilliantly private meeting place. The isolated workers may have been plotting a construction-firm mutiny, but I prefer to think there was some kind of Brokeback Builders scenario going on, two men in fluorescent workwear living out a love affair hundreds of feet above the city, forgetting that through one-way glass, hundreds of office workers have discovered their secret. Naturally, any elaborate date arrangements are somewhat precarious, since if you forget something crucial, it's a long wait for your beloved while you 'pop down and get it'.

'What's all this?'

'Oh, I just thought I'd make us a picnic. Oysters, strawberries… And these are some handmade chocolates I tempered myself…'

'Wow! That's amazing. I can't believe you've done all this. And what a view! I'll open the wine, shall I? Where's the corkscrew?'


Sunday, 13 February 2011

These Moments Shape Your Life, Is What I'm Saying

I'd like to address this post to the primary school teacher I saw at London Bridge station at about 9.45am a couple of days ago, who was attempting to wrangle her class into an orderly crocodile of prearranged pairs.

Hello, 'Miss'. Congratulations on your 'teacher' voice. Wow. Piercing is just one of the words I could use to describe it. This is just a personal opinion of course, but I don't think you should shout at your group of pupils, loud enough so that the whole platform can hear, if not the majority of south-east London: 'OH YES, REBECCA IS THE

I just feel like you could mess someone up that way.

(To Rebecca: you won't always have to be partners with Miss Wheatley. Although, realistically, it is a possibility. I wouldn't want to lead you on in that respect.)

Saturday, 12 February 2011

If This Is God, I Might Just Have A Bit… or So This Is How It Starts

I was on a bus recently, at the tail end of the morning rush hour, when an older woman – smart, 60-odd – moved towards the doors to get off.

As she did so, she said in a quiet and casual manner – almost as if she was checking whether this was the right stop for Sainsbury's – 'Jesus loves you all. Whatever you're going through, He loves you and will take your burden off you.' Then she got off, and the doors closed behind her, and the bus moved on.

Nothing new there. Declarations of love on public transport? Many of us have been there. Particularly, I would venture, the females – although it's true to say that these affirmations are less often the honeyed murmurings of a beloved, and more the highly flammable exhalations of a florid-cheeked, dribbled-chinned madman who has chosen you – lucky, lucky you – as his bus date for the duration of your shared journey. Or, not necessarily worse, some dead-eyed, slack-trousered murderer in waiting.

Similarly, many of us have experienced unbidden invitations from strangers to welcome the Lord into our hearts. I, let me tell you, no longer answer my doorbell. Partly because I don't live on the ground floor and I'm quite lazy. But principally because the number of times the caller turns out to be two well-meaning ladies with religious leaflets and a comfy shoe swiftly lodged between door and frame, as opposed to a postmen handing me a parcel I have ordered, is a ratio in which the Lord very much has the upper hand.

But there was something about this particular cocktail of god and good wishes that I found oddly warming. A spiritual mulled wine, if you are a mixologist who also enjoys a laborious analogy/metaphor/whatever.

I think it might have been because the woman on the bus was playing it kind of cool. I liked her 'oh and by the way' approach to spreading the Word. It's no big deal or anything, but I'm just letting you know. Ooh, before I go, I should probably should mention... She was nonchalance carrying a shopping bag. At no point did she thrust a pamphlet against the panes of my glasses or pin me to my seat with the hot, pungent breath of zealotry. She just slipped out of the double doors without a backwards glance, leaving me strangely disarmed.

If you have faith – and I'm not sure if I do – you expect it to find you, to come for you, in your times of high crisis. Those are the occasions when you wait for that thing you believe in to assume the kind of three-dimensional identity that would allow it to push a giant lever in the direction of 'Things are going to be OK'. Some arms, I guess, would be useful in that three-dimensional identity, whatever it is. Or really strong, supple legs.

But in those times of terrible, fathomless darkness, your friends also come for you, and your family. Chances are they're not quite up to performing miracles (and honestly, who is? bad things happen all the time and no one stops them). Still, there they are with their tea and their company and their desperately wanting to make you feel better. But understandably, they don't always come for you on the 185 bus on a Tuesday morning, somewhere around the Denmark Hill area. They're busy people. We all are.

On the bus is where I do some of my best thinking. But it's also where I do some of my worst. Glum, unflinchingly pessimistic state-of-the-Jones-nation thoughts. The rhythmic roll and stop of a journey through the traffic lights of the city often lulls me into exactly this kind of meditation. There is comfort in routine, of course – in bus rides and supermarket shops and the like – but there is also drudgery and relentlessness and you, on your own, trying to get on with things.

And then Ms Public Transport Preacher came along with her guerilla goodwill and made me feel ever so slightly better.

I didn't really think this was the start of Something between me and the Lord. Some salesmanship from a stranger and my pre-existing obsession with Christmas carols does not constitute a conversion. I wasn't seriously expecting Him to relieve me of my burdens. Realistically, He was unlikely to step in and cease the escalating hostilities that were erupting between me and the Penge branch of Homebase at that time, or tell me how to fix the broken lock on my gas meter cupboard which I had learnt was my own responsibility and not that of British Gas, even if you offer to pay them to fix it and ask really nicely.

But like I said, she – and by extension He – made me feel ever so slightly better. And feeling ever so slightly better is no small deal.