Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fashion sucks.

Having realised that my jaunty collection of frou-frou skirts is not going to see me through the cold winter, I've been doing lots of clothes shopping, or rather browsing, which always puts me in a bad mood. What is wrong with clothes designers? Everything on sale in the selection of reasonably-priced High Street stores I visited was awful, whether it be afflicted with freakishly over-sized buttons (just why?), cut to resemble Count Duckula's cape, or - worst of all - made of gold. Gold! Who wears gold? That dreadful one from Birds of A Feather, and her latter-day emissary Lily Allen, that's who. And don't even get me started on houndstooth...

Then when I did buy two pairs of trousers, I discovered that one pair were pornographically tight across the bottom, and the others were six inches too long. How both of these problems escaped me in the Zara changing rooms is anyone's guess. I think my licence to shop is going to be revoked - I nearly bought another pair of ballet pumps today, despite not having worn in the three previous pairs (lacy, starry and with ankle ribbons respectively) I bought in similar high spirits.

Bah. I have decided the only thing I am going to buy this month is a tartan mini-skirt. And anyone who tells me I look like I'm wearing a school uniform will get a slap - don't you realise it's ever so Anglomania, darling?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

While Tony Blair suns himself in Barbados, I'm a victim of crime...

Yeah, Tony, where were you when I became part of Britain's growing crime epidemic? I demand your return from holiday forthwith. What, you're back? Well, don't just stand there... do something!

Ahem.

Here's what happened: I finished work late on Tuesday, and faced a crucial decision - to pub or not to pub? Sadly, I chose the latter, and installed myself in one of Kensington's cheapest hostelries. I bought some drinks, sat down, made merry. When I looked down again five minutes later, my bag wasn't there anymore. "My... my... bag isn't here anymore," I remarked somewhat redundantly.

Cue running round, checking other bags, the bar, the street, etc. But discovered bag came there none. I found my favourite Uniball pen lying forlornly under the chair at the table behind us, and one of my companions belatedly remembered seeing a shifty-looking man sitting there.

So began the long pain in the arse that is cancelling one's life - bank card, Oyster card, phone. A colleague gave me some money. A cab was called. I snuffled a bit when I realised I was never going to see my pearl necklace again (yes, laugh at the innuendo all you want, you unfeeling bastard). But mostly I was really, really, angry - mostly at the fact that what the thief had come away with was of so little to value to him/her... I had no cash on me, and everything else of value was immediately cancel-able. I knew if I ever met Mr Thief, I would have no compunction in kicking him in the balls, really quite hard. And me a Liberal Democrat!

The next morning, another emotion hit: unholy glee. I remembered that the side zip pocket of the bag was home to my 'unscheduled overnight stay' pants, which had in fact been utilised at just such an overnight stay quite recently. I smiled grimly to myself at the image of the unfortunate thief unzipping the pocket, hopeful it would contain a roll of cash or the lost treasure of the Sierra Madre, only to withdraw his hand and discover he was holding a pair of worn pants. I chuckled, evilly.

Then my sister-in-law rang to say the bag had been found by a 'nice man' who worked nearby, and who had found her number in my diary. I called him, and he delivered the joyous news that my bag - complete with purse - had been lying on the pavement in an alley. We were chatting away, and just as I was envisaging doing a feature on "We met in terrible circumstances - now we're getting married!" I remembered the pants. Surely this man had also seen my pants? Horror.

Anyway, I picked up the bag from the Nice Man - no sign of the 'nice man' - and noted with chagrin the thief's priorities. No interest in my Young Person's railcard, house keys or bank card, I noted, yet he/she had taken all my tampons.

And the pants? No, no, they were gone. They're probably on eBay as I write this, ratcheting up ridiculous bids like all weird items allegedly do.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

One well-fed urchin

Last week, I went to my first Michelin-endorsed restaurant, two-starred Le Gavroche. Darling, it was heavenly. Of course, as I am an impoverished young hack, I didn't pay - my very generous (and very rich) colleague picked up the tab. Just as well, because they gave me a 'woman's menu' - without prices. I didn't think this happened in this day and age, and I would have complained in the strongest terms... were it not for the fact that they were quite right, I wasn't paying, and it was probably just as well I didn't know the cost of all that truffle and foie gras.

So what did I have? Well, some very racy amuse bouches - lobster in mayonnaise on a pastry basket, and something topped with black truffle - followed by yet more truffle in the shape of Artichoke 'Coeur Lucullus'. I never found out who this Lucullus chap was, but I can say he knew what to do with an artichoke, which I had previously regarded as a rather over-hyped vegetable. The heart was filled with foie gras, and the outside was studded with black truffles. God, it was good. I had a bit of Rich Colleague's cheese-laden Souffle Suisesse, and can report that was equally good, in an oh-god-I-used-to-have-arteries-now-I-just-have-arteriosclerosis way.

Mains were lamb for him, and sweetbreads of veal for me (yes, it's the choice of meats known on this blog as the "No Ethics Special"). Words cannot express how much I love sweetbreads, with all their nutty, squishy wonder. They are definitely my favourite gland. Yep, hands down. My pudding was billed as 'praline and bitter chocolate indulgence' and it wasn't kidding. It came on a huuuuge glass plate, accompanied by a sort of miniature glass canoe of extras, such as lychees and mini meringues.

I dread to think what the bill was - I had planned to be 'restrained' and have the £50-a-head set lunch, but that went out of the window. I know we had a £60 bottle of wine because I was craning my head to look at the wine list. Still, I can definitely say we got our money's worth in terms of service - there were positively hordes, phalanxes even, of waiters. They even managed to do that thing of removing the silver warming domes simultaenously, with a flourish - which you hardly see outside Tom & Jerry cartoons. The maitre d' circles the room like an immaculately-suited bird of prey, occasionally deigning to ask you how your meal is going. You simply make squealing noises of appreciation.

There is only one drawback - the restaurant's trademark "Gavroche", or ragamuffin, looks uncannily like Sharon Osbourne. And she's on all the plates. I don't know about you, but I find having a picture which reminds me of someone who's had a stomach stapling on a plate covered in chocolate/foie gras/cheese distinctly off-putting.

The trouble is, it was so good I now have The Hunger, specifically the hunger for more incredibly expensive French food. I am trying to justify it to myself with the thought that I didn't eat another meal for 24 hours.... Cue usual justification for over-spending: But it was an investment...

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In the style of the Guardian's Comment is Free, some other things I did whilst failing to blog last week: watched half of Superman Returns, before realising that I had absolutely no interest in what happened and that Brendan Routh has the charisma of a glove puppet (also, the local paper had 'Meteor and Rock Exhibition Opens' as a page lead - like, yeah, right); thought up a series of increasingly nauseating pet names for my boyfriend to embarrass him in front of his housemates (here's a tip - take a horrible twee word like 'Snuggle', 'Poopie' or 'Whiffle', then add any of the following suffixes: -wump, -buggle, -arama, -licious, -hugger, -dibble, -baby); started reading a biography of Lord Rochester but was forced to give up because it had too many typos and if they couldn't be bothered to run it through a spellchecker, what else had they not bothered to do?

Monday, August 21, 2006

I've been a bad and lazy blogger...

... but then, I have been working on other things.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Boom bang a bang

I haven't had this much fun since the heady days I discovered Yahoo Groups, and later YouTube. Lulu is the 'self-publishing' website, allowing every punter who reckons they're Will Self or Zadie Smith to upload a PDF of their masterwork and have it printed on demand.

This got my very excited - it's so cheap, about a fiver including postage costs and there's no minimum order value. I'm going to start printing political tracts, ooh, ooh, and woodcuts - lots of woodcuts.

But first I wanted to check out the opposition. After reading just a few of the blurbs, I became convinced that I might as well not bother - these people's book ideas are ace.

Take stirring memoir Eight into One by Joe David. Here's the blurb: "In my lifetime, amongst other things, I have been: a gunsmith; a soldier; a Yeoman Warder; a Special Constable; Bodyguard extraordinary to the monarch; a Town Crier; a Toastmaster; a lecturer; and last but by no means least, an after-dinner speaker." How can I trump that? I don't even know what a 'Yeoman Warder' is, dammit!

Or Dreams Do Come True, by Juliet Roberts: "The true life story of the nightmares and dreams of realising that one is different, and not knowing why until late in life. The struggles of growing up in a brutal family life to the struggles of coping with relationships later in life. The final decision to become the person I really was."

I love that "final decision to become the person I really was" as opposed, presumably, to becoming Ronald Reagan or Keith Chegwin or an eighteenth century highwayman and huckster. Well done Juliet!

Making slightly less grandiose claims was "One Life" Among Many by Nick Stott, summarised with Beckettian brutal minimalism thus: "The life story of my father who lives in Scotland but travelled the world."

But Tony Harris is more confident in claiming you will like the immediacy of his epic detective story (now with added Knights Templar), Knight Without Armour: "Topics mentioned are right up to date, including an authoritative discussion on climate change, and the possible consequences of the fast moving events on the international stage. For the reader, another bonus. If you also like travel or sailing, or both, you will find much of interest."

Ooh, ooh! But I like travel and sailing! Will I be able to handle the excitement?

Brenda Courtie is also pretty confident, describing her book as her "first autobiography" in Wayne Rooney-esque fashion, although I can't help feeling she has probably overestimated people's interest in her (apparently shockingly mundane) life story. Maybe that's the point - after reading, say, Bravo Two Zero or the Alan Clark diaries, Courtie's insights into her washing up dilemmas are the literary equivalent of a cup of tea and a sit down.

I also liked the overweening grandiosity of It's My Life by Brenda Guy ("My Autobiography that only points the main life changing events that have occured in my life over the years") so much that I recommend you look at the cover here perhaps before casting your eye over the Arabic translation. You might also like Doing Something Different ("Stories of a woman who decided to literally do something different" - thanks for clearing up the ambiguity in the title there, Brenda) by the same author.

However, there could only ever be one winner, and I'm actually sorely tempted to buy Boyd Braxton Boggess, Gentleman Painter by David Johnson. Apart from the genius naming skills of Boggess Sr, listen to this for a blurb: " A brief history and the collected works of Boyd Braxton Boggess, an artist who didn't begin to paint until he retired from the Goodyear Rubber Company where he had worked for forty years." Oh yes.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When I die, I want to go to the Amazon warehouse...

Ah, memes, the last refuge of the blogger who's too lazy to tell you about her travails at the pub quiz last night. Reading back over this, I realise I have bent the rules by refusing to stick to one book in every category. Still, who you gonna call? The meme police?

From Candy Minx:

1) One book that changed your life.

Hmm, there have been a few. Top of the list would probably be Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth, which I read when I was young and angry and feminist. At times, it froths at the mouth a little, but a lot of what it had to say made sense to me - particularly the section devoted to sado-masochistic imagery in advertising. It's not as funny as The Female Eunuch, though. (Runner-up prize goes to Richard Dawkin's A Devil's Chaplain, the book which cemented my atheism.)

2)One book you have read more than once.

In terms of books that I have read the greatest number of times, I reckon it's a tie between Iain Banks' The Crow Road and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every aspect of Pride and Prejudice has been exhaustively debated in the last year or two, and it is obligatory to start articles on the subject with some turgid reworking of the novel's first line. As I've done the second, I'll spare you the first.

Talking of first lines, the Crow Road, as I will tell you at length should you ever get trapped in a pub with me, has the best opening of any book I have ever read. "It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach."

What I love most about Iain Banks are his ideas and his versatility - in this book the narrator Prentice's father is a children's story writer, and his brother Lewis is a stand-up comedian. Other writers would just tell you this, for fear of cocking up trying to bring these two difficult disclipines to life. Not Banks - he shows you the world Prentice's father creates for them as children, and in doing so reminds you of when you were young, and the boundaries between reality and fiction were thrillingly blurred.

It's also an amazingly funny book - quite a feat when it's about death ("away the crow road" is Prentice's grandmother's expression for dying). I try to read it at least once a year.

3)One book you would want on a desert island.

This. I'm sorry, I can't help being flippant. This question is impossible - I would go mad with boredom if I could only read one book ever again.

4)One book that made you laugh.

I'm so sorry, but the one that springs to mind is The World According to Clarkson. I know, and I'm sorry... Maybe I should put it on my shelf next to the Naomi Wolf - it would be like matter and anti-matter colliding; the subsequent explosion could destroy the universe.

5)One book that made you cry.

I might as well continue to plumb the depths of embarrassment by admitting that the last book that made me cry was Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife. It was when Lee Scoresby, the aeronaut, dies trying to save Will's father from the Church's forces, helped by his daemon (somewhere in cyberspace, paul is screaming silently), a hare called Hester. It was just so... so... beautiful. I'd trade you a dozen Christmas Carols for it.

6)One book you wish had been written.

The rest of See The Old Lady Decently, by B.S. Johnson. BSJ committed suicide after writing the first part of the trilogy; the second and third parts would have been called Buried, Although and Amongst Those Left Are You. Johnson is one of the few modernist authors I'll allow in the house, because he's just such a great writer - he's one of those authors you can really tell has sweated over his writing to get it just so. You have to appreciate that.

7)One book you wish hadn't been written.

Children of The New Forest, by whatever git wrote it - Captain Marryat? It was our class book in Junior 4 (now rebranded as "Year 5") and I hated it. It just dragged on forever, while all the kids were wonderful and blameless and always obeyed their elders. Priggish little shits.

8)One book you are currently reading.

A Short History of Islam, by Karen Armstrong. Really interesting, nicely written, and scares the shit out of people on aeroplanes.

9)One book you have been meaning to read.

Damn, this is just the list of self-flagellation, isn't it? For someone with an English degree, I feel there are a lot of holes in my 'book-learning'. I have never finished anything by James Joyce, for example. I would dearly love to read any Beckett or Proust novel to the end as well, but I sense that also is never going to happen. I'd also like to read: War and Peace, Diary of A Madman by Gogol, Things Fall Apart by Achebe and Morvern Callar by Alan Warner.

The books I have queued up to read at home next are: Wyndham Lewis's Tarr, Joyce's Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man and Hardy's Jude The Obscure. I will not let them defeat me, dammit!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Throwing stones

A busy week, writing an author profile for Pen Pusher and an article for Joeblade which involves actually research and interviewing people, shockingly. Anyway, I thought I'd pacify you with a restaurant review from when Leon and I went to Glas, just around the corner from London Bridge. (For his sake, I should point out that I have taken liberties with his dialogue. His puns are usually of a much higher standard than mine.)

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As I walked into Glas, a Swedish restaurant in London Bridge, I was already flexing my punning muscles. Swede smell of success, I thought, and chuckled inwardly.

Well, as it turns out, everyone has got there before me. Glas grew out of a chef Anna Mosesson's Swedish food stall in Borough Market, which was called Scandelicious (tenuous, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt). Then my dreams of coming up with a truly awful Nordic pun were scuppered by a visit to the loos, where I found several reviews pinned up on the walls, one entitled: Hard of Herring. Crap, I thought, I'll never beat that. I'll just have to talk about the food.

Luckily, that's pretty easy, because Swedish food is both distinctive and unusual. Glas aims to help you sample some of Sweden's best hot and cold dishes by recommending each diner orders two and three small dishes. At between £4.45 and £7.75 a plate, we were happy to oblige.

We dived straight in with the herring three ways (with vodka and lime; with sherry and tomato; and spiced, with sour cream and chives). I wasn't mad on the tomato or sour cream versions, where the extreme fishiness of the herring was only too evident, but I was pleasantly surprised by the vodka and lime iteration. The two cool, tangy flavours took the edge off the piscine pungency, leaving you to enjoy the surprising meatiness of the fish.

I suspect the steak tartare is less authentically Nordic, but the meat was beautifully cured and the extras - apple, tomato, horseradish, and the obligatory egg yolk - were perfectly chosen.

After our herring odyssey, the hot dishes arrived. I found the Venison cabbage parcels with cassis coulis disappointing, like the bastard offspring of a loveless marriage between a spring roll and, well, a cabbage. 'Aren't you eating that?" said my companion, whisking the parcel away. "These are delicious!" So I suppose I should put that down as "received a mixed reaction".

We were, however, unanimous in our praise for the Cobblers box, despite its snigger-inducing name. It was outstanding - a beautifully tender piece of steak topped with deliciously fatty bacon on indulgent mash... topped with the nicest gravy I have ever tasted.

We'd washed all this down with a good Austrian white wine - the wine list, like the menu, is small but perfectly formed - and threw caution to the winds to try a 'Swedish liqueur' with our puddings (yummy apple cake for him, refreshing and quirky lime and basil sorbet for me). It was... er... OK, it was vile. It reminded me of the unpleasant oily stuff in my parents' archetypal 80s drinks cabinet.

Dodgy liqueurs aside, I was impressed. But one question niggled. What is Glas for? With its bright lighting and minimalist furniture, It's too bright and un-cosy for a date, too fiddly and formal for a canteen-style bite to eat, too uncomfortable for a boozy lunch with friends, and hardly in the best location for attracting business crowd. And yet it was full - authentically Swedish people were being turned away by the time we finished, as the kitchen shuts at half nine.

"You'd think they would have looked that up before they came," I remarked to my companion.
"Well," he replied, "I suppose there's one Bjorn every minute."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It's as if they don't care about the words



Zoo "magazine" has perpetrated the worst subbing error I have EVER SEEN on its front cover this week. Under the heading, "GIRLS GETTING WET" it proudly declares, "Zoo flaunts the hosepipe ban!"

Well, as any fule kno, the word they are looking for is "flout", meaning "defy". The only way one could flaunt a hosepipe ban would be, say, to write "There's a hosepipe ban" across some girl's tits and get her to wiggle them in people's faces.

Actually, maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt, as that sounds like something they would do.

P.S. If you look at their website, you'll notice they at least have someone there who can spell.




Update: Unable to let the matter rest, I emailed Zoo in the strongest possible terms:

Dear Zoo,

I realise the majority of Zoo's readers do not buy the magazine for its devotion to the English language, but are you aware what a prize bunch of prats you look for putting "flaunt" instead of "flout" on the front page this week? I suggest you stop thinking up ever more ridiculous synonyms for the word "breasts" for five minutes and go buy a dictionary.

I'll let you know if they reply.

Sexual Harassment... Panda

I have had obscene remarks whispered at me twice on the Tube this week. I can't say why this is - perhaps I am looking particulary receptive to the sexual advances of madmen at the moment, or perhaps London's perverts are just feeling especially ebullient.

Yesterday, the man standing behind me on the escalator at Westminster felt compelled to tell me I had a "nice ass" and started breathing heavily. And on Monday I was walking out onto the Victoria line platform at King's Cross, when a small crumpled-looking man urgently mumbled something that included the word "pussy". When I realised what he'd said, I wrinkled my nose in distaste. That's rubbish sexual harassment, I thought: Speak up, man! I looked back. He looked at me. He was so small I probably could have had him a fight, so I was really tempted to shout back, "I'm sorry... what? WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT MY PUSSY?"

Instead, because I'm a coward, I just went home and thought about that awesome episode of Sex and The City where Miranda marches up to the builder who's been wolf-whistling at her as she returns her videos. "Come on, big boy, take me now! I want to get laid!" she shouts in his face. "Hey lady," he replies, painfully embarrassed. "Easy, I'm married."

God, I'd love to do that, it would be so satisfying. When I'm found stabbed on the underground, you'll know that I have.