Monday, January 15, 2007


I've not been feeling the blogging recently, and I'm off on holiday for a month, so consider this blog in a state of suspended animation.

It'll probably still be updated more regularly than Decline And Fall, though.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Girl With A One-Track Mind

Yes, yes, I'm a bad and lazy blogger, but I'm breaking my silence to draw your attention to this. It's a post by Abby Lee, aka Girl With A One Track Mind, about her 'outing' as a sex blogger.

The blogosphere (shame on me for using the word) has certainly got its knickers in a twist over this, as Abby's reprinted the email she got from Sunday Times Deputy News Editor Nick Hellen informing her that her identity was going to be revealed in the paper (after they'd bought up her book, no less) and suggesting that she come in for a photograph because the pap pic they had of her was 'unflattering'.

Frankly, even Hellen himself should recognise that this is a fair cop - why is he more entitled to privacy than she is?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lonely this Christmas

This will be my first Christmas in London (well, someone has to bagpipe FACT into NEWS, don't they?) and it's pretty eerie so far.

At the risk of sounding like a right old Scrooge, I dislike Christmas, for the same reason that I dislike Bank Holidays and Saturdays. It gets in the way. And although the British have many admirable qualities, being good at holidays is not one of them. We lapse into endless hand-wringing over the weather and the traffic and the fact there's nothing left in the supermarket. The French, by contrast, just agree that half the country will take July off, and the other half will wait until August.

Anyway, if I have to work this Christmas, I take exception to the fact that everything else stops.

Still, the fact that everyone else has gone home gives me the chance to watch hour upon hour of American drama... and start reading my early Christmas present, the Heston Blumenthal book.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sleepless in SE16.

"Talking in bed ought to be easiest," wrote Philip Larkin. "Yet more and more time passes silently..."

Well, I know something else that's supposed to be easiest in bed: sleeping. (Stop sniggering at the back.) But if you don't get home from work until after well after midnight (sometimes 4am) and your bedfellow starts the day at seven in the morning, you've got problems.

As previously discussed, my dear boyfriend moved into a new flat which only an estate agent would describe as having two double bedrooms. In fact it has one, and a cell. Also, since his housemate, The Gripper, bought two kittens it also smells quite strongly of wee and there is quite a high chance of being gored by a Bengal if you move your toe too quickly. To cap it all, his computer's power supply has burned (possibly after coming into contact with cat wee) so he's pretty much moved into my bedroom.

This has its advantages, of course: shoulder massages on tap and regular deposits of Green & Black's chocolate on the bedside table. But the downside is that I now have a bedtime. And so I lie awake at night listening to his gentle snores, and then hours later he inevitably wakes me up getting ready to work and I'm incredibly mean to him because I'm nasty when I'm semi-conscious.

It seems like such a trivial subject, but I think sleep is the natural function that's most been disturbed by modern life. We spend the day dosing ourselves with caffeine, before crawling into bed for six or so hours of interrupted, restless slumber. Then trying to catch up with missed sleep whenever we get a chance and waking up groggy, knowing we've gone too far.

And living in London just makes things worse: my bedroom actually shakes a little when buses go over the speed bumps outside, and it's never fully dark. I'm sure I read somewhere that sleeping with the light on gives you breast cancer.

So, I've become convinced that none of this can be good for me - but what can I do? Give up a job I love so I can sleep at the same time as everyone else? No. Insist on separate bedrooms? No. Start drinking heavily in the evenings? Er, maybe.

All I want is a good night's sleep. It ought to be easy.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Your sausages are so beautiful I want to cry.

After a couple of false starts, I finally got round to watching Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection on BBC2 the other night. I chanced upon last week's edition, focusing on pizza, on my saved programmes - and then managed to find out how Heston cooks his Sunday roast this week (clue: it doesn't involve a microwave, or Tesco Finest pre-prepared veg).

It's incredibly easy to scoff at Hesty B, especially in this series where he seems intent on taking straightforward dishes and rendering them impossible to cook outside a physics lab or in less than a week.

If I've not bored you before with my perfect recipe for bangers and mash (pork and apple sausages; mashed potatoes made with creme fraiche and Cracker Barrel cheddar in a ricer, NOT a sieve; Oxo 'special gravy' with winter berry and shallots at 67p a throw), then you've been very lucky. But if I had ever, ever thought I was fussy, then I must take it back. Because Heston's sausages need back fat smoked on a barbecue, not to mention my favourite ingredient - toast-flavoured water. First, catch your toast. Then let it soak in water for, I don't know, a few days. Simply strain, et voila - eau de toast. Oh, and he likes the sensation of unmelted butter on top of the sausages, so goes into his laboratory to create heat-resistant gelled butter. (Did you read that carefully? The man has a laboratory. It's covered in gleaming stainless steel and instruments of unfathomable purpose, and looks generally what people in 1950 thought the future would be like.)

In the second programme I watched, he opines that putting a chicken in the oven at 180 degrees will hopelessly overcook it and instead favours roasting at 50 degrees for several hours. But there's one problem - no crispy skin. So we watch Heston attempt to deep fry his bird, causing a respectably sized fire in the process. He eventually settles on frying it lightly in a pan.

I think it was the deep fryer that converted me, actually. I suddenly realised I wouldn't have been surprised to see him pop up in Lausanne and announce: "To create the perfect crispy skin, I'm going to use this particle accelerator to make this chicken collide with another chicken, thus creating dark chicken." As he inspected his hopelessly cremated poultry with a rueful acceptance, I thought: this man's a maniac. Awesome.

I stopped carping about the total insanity of his methods and the chances of anyone ever recreating them at home, and began to enjoy the programme for what it was: a window on to one man's obsession. Looked at that way, it's all rather fun. What's wrong with the pursuit of perfection, even if most us will happily settle for just above mediocre? I know I'll never wear a couture dress, or own a Magritte, or drive a Bugatti Veyron, but I'm glad they exist, somewhere, out there.

Anyway, I think Heston should be given enough money by the State to spend the rest of his life pottering round his laboratory, trying to create the purest essence of chicken to spray over his Sunday roast. Because he's an artist, and art isn't reasonable or practical, it just is.

(If you aren't reviling me as a total pseud or muttering seditiously about starving indegenous peoples and vowing never to read this blog again, then do check out the BBC website to see the man in action.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The breezeblock of disappointment shatters the window of contentment.

I have returned from the mini-break intact and without having a major argument. (Or even a minor one, actually, apart from the strop I threw on realising Boyfriend had not thought to pack smart clothes). We stayed at a small hotel in the Cotswolds, where in return for wallet-weepingly high prices we were pampered to within an inch of our lives.

We had champagne ready in the room when we arrived, which we drank in the jacuzzi (tacky? yes. awesome? YES!) and a four-posted bed hand-carved by some horny-handed artisan in 1657. It was so high off the ground that you had to use a stool to climb into it, which I think is possibly the best thing ever.

The only slight disappointment was our dinner at Cotswold House. The dining room looks beautiful, but (and sorry to come over all Michael Winner) the maitre d' sat us at a table right in the entrance, and next to the waiter's station. It was also clearly a table for four rather than two, so we had to shout at each other across a foot and a half divide, while waiters and people on their way to the loo bodged us. (It's the table at the front of the picture here.) So, feeling like a bit of diva, I asked to move to the corner.

We had some gorgeous starters (scallops for him, ham hock and foie gras terrine for me), mine served with a brioche that looked uncannily like a loofah. You'll be pleased to know there was no guinea fowl to provoke an argument, so he had beef.... which admittedly was what I wanted, but no matter. I had some venison with endives and... well... this aerated grey foamy squidgy thing that looked like a breeze block and tasted a bit like black truffle. It bemused me. I couldn't remember it being on the list of accompaniments, and it looked positively unearthly. When the waiter arrived back, I made (for me) the courageous move of asking him what it was.

"It's a shittake foam," he said. I must have looked nonplussed, because he continued. "Did you like it? A lot of people say they don't." Well, that knocked me back. I bit back the response, "so why is it on the menu, then?" and made a mental note to be more wary of foam-reliant restaurants in future. You can tell how dispirited I was by the mushroom breezeblock if I tell you we didn't have pudding - or even a cheese course.

Oh dear, look at that. I start off talking about my lovely weekend break and end up waffling on about cheese. Still, you didn't want to hear about the boring romantic stuff, did you?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Don't go mini-breaking my heart....

Tomorrow, Boyfriend and I are going on a mini-break, a word which gives Leon no end of amusement, but strikes fear into my heart. I'm just certain that Boyfriend and I are going to have a massive row provoked by something absurdly small, like towel usage or who gets to order the guinea fowl if we both want it.

I can't help thinking that doing any self-consciously romantic activity is likely to lead to the opposite of romance - like those party organiser who tries too hard to jolly everyone along, not realising that regimentation is the enemy of fun.

Talking of romance, Boyfriend bought me the complete box set of Sex and The City (the gift that says - you're a drippy hormone-addled girl, but I love you) which I have been tearing through at a rate of knots. I've heard lots of criticism of it recently - Indy sex columnist Catherine Townsend got really shirty on Screen Burn about the fact they keep their bras on in bed, then Lucy Mangan in The Guardian opined that the girls were rubbish role models, based on the scene where Carrie is more upset about her Manolos being stolen than her wallet.

Well, yah boo sucks to them. Before Sex and The City, the idea of a female-led comedy or drama was, er, laughable. There was Cybill, but that was extremely ropey in places, and there was.... see, I'm already thinking about Babes In The Wood. And that's a bad place to be.

Besides, I've being trying to understand the following question for ages; maybe you can help me. What is intrinsically more shallow about appreciating, studying and collecting shoes than, say, modern art? It sounds horrifically pseud-y to put it that way, but really - why is fashion less interesting or worthwhile than theatre?

Maybe that argument could be the one we have on the mini-break.