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.)