It transpires that after my day trip to France last week, I am no longer in possession of my passport.  My friend’s text revealing that she has it sent me into an unexpected panic (she lives in London, it’s not exactly a huge issue!) coupled with a feeling of losing a freedom.  This is highly irrational but it is a feeling I get whenever I am parted from my passport (renewal, visas and incidents).

I suppose your passport is like a key, without which you are barred entry from places you want to be.  It doesn’t matter that I have no foreign travel plans, the point is that if I did, I couldn’t go.  I can see I’m being a bit melodramatic but I suspect I’m not the only one with no-passport-fear.

Whenever I see statistics about the amount of people without a passport, I am shocked, particularly people from wealthier countries.  I feel there should be a Christopher Columbus in all of us, a desire and interest to discover new things.

There have been two occasions in my life when my passport has been taken away from me and I have been “checked out”.  The first time was 13 years ago when I returned to Japan after my dad died.  As I’d left the country unexpectedly and in a hurry,  I hadn’t been able to get a re-entry visa to keep my work visa valid.  I had lots of documentation in support of my reasons for not having the re-entry visa, but still I was stopped at immigration.  All proceedings were conducted in Japanese, which to me at that time, more so than at any other time, was just incomprehensible noise.  In other words, I had no idea what was going on.  My passport was taken from me and in what I recall being angry tones, I was (it felt like) frog marched into a small white room with no windows.  I mean everything was white:  floor, ceiling, walls, furniture.  And I was left shut in there.  For hours.  No passport and no idea what was going on or what would happen.  Obviously in a situation like that you think of lots of things that could happen.  One recurring thought I remember well was that I was worried about my suitcase going round the carousel unclaimed and that they would probably open it and confiscate my massive block of cheddar cheese I had snuck in!  After I think four hours, futile questioning in Japanese, quite a few annoyed men in uniform coming in and out and speaking to me in Japanese, my passport was finally handed back, I was reunited with my suitcase … and my cheddar cheese!

The other event occurred at Denver Airport last November.  There was a long queue at immigration, though only from my UK flight.  Everyone was spending a long time at the immigration booths.  A young, pleasant-looking man was at the booth in front of me.  He had a rucksack with him and looked like a travelling student.  He was being asked a lot of questions, though I couldn’t hear what.  After over five minutes, he went on his way and I got called forward.  By this time I felt strangely nervous.  While I would never condone lying to immigration staff, I would suggest that being economical with the truth if your reasons for being in the country are unusual will save you a lot of hassle.  I was going to Colorado to meet a friend who is American who lives in San Diego because Denver is sort of between San Diego and Chicago, where I was going afterwards, though, yes, a few days in both cities might seem odd, but I was going to Chicago to collect a steno machine because they don’t make them in the UK but, yes, you can have them shipped, but I wanted to visit my friend but San Diego was too far but I know my friend from Japan but she is not Japanese and has an American passport, though she is actually from the Philippines … seriously, we went through all this in huge detail.  I was getting quite uncomfortable and he was an officious knob.  He then stamped my passport (almost in!), had it in his hand to pass back, then said, “have you ever lived in the States”, to which I said no.  Then I remembered that I had so changed to, “yes”.  His face changed, he retracted my passport, questions were asked and I was escorted, in no uncertain terms, to a waiting room where my passport was handed over to officials (such an appropriate word).  Some people in this room, which had an official name, like Immigration Holding Zone or similar, looked like they might be unwelcome in the US, shall I say.  Others looked as bewildered, tired and worried as me, and some had clearly been detained for quite some time.  Again, with time to wait and wonder, I was convinced that the time I was very drunk on a dry university campus in Mississippi at the age of 20 and had a brief encounter with the police, that that had been recorded and I would be sent to prison or deported, never to return to the US.  I was asked a lot more questions about my time studying in the US and why I was visiting, etc, and they had clearly done a check on me, but again I was reunited with my passport.  It really soured things though and I was quite surprised by how upsetting I found the whole experience.

I’ve gone off on one today!  I shall soon be reunited with my passport and I shall love and appreciate it forever and ever.


                While there have been days I’ve enjoyed the whole blog writing process, I have really struggled with this and sometime in early February I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to keep it up.  Somehow I have.  I had thought I would finish with a fantastic piece of well-written, properly edited and thoroughly entertaining post.  Instead, I thought I would look back on the many things I said I was going to do and, ahem, probably haven’t.  I really thought this day would never come!

                My diet:  between 30th December and today, I have lost a bit, gained a bit, leveled out, lost a bit and I believe I am now maybe a pound more than I was six months ago.  Dreadful.

Kayaking: I went every week for maybe five or six weeks but haven’t been since, though in my defence I have only not gone because I’ve had things on, not because I haven’t felt I wanted to go.  I have largely enjoyed it but I realise I have no desire to kayak in challenging waters.  I just want to paddle on still waters and look at the scenery, ideally on a fjord in northern Europe or on the Caribbean.

Enid Blyton books:  I was enthusiastic for a while and read one with fascination.  I am over them now.

Cuticle picking: I would say, on the whole, my gnawing and picking has increased and my cuticles look maimed.

Summer holiday: I am not going on a cargo ship from France to the French West Indies in August.  I found out that seasickness is really bad and you get floaters (spots across your eyes not poo) and, the final straw: it’s hurricane season.  I definitely want to do a cargo ship voyage though, just that August is not the time to go (it was also very expensive to get to the port in France, Montoir, especially as you’d need a flexible return, or two singles.  In August.  During the poxy Olympics.  Destination still undecided, though it’s going to take a lot to convince me the Madagascar isn’t the way forward!

Clearing out my childhood stuff from my mum’s house:  after my two-day burst of sorting, it has petered out.  But I am feeling confident there will be future bursts of enthusiasm to deal with the attic!

Curry night:  There have been no more takeaway curry nights spent shouting at reality TV.  There must be such a night coming up!

Film cameras: I took 36 photos on my latest (novelty) film camera.  They were fantastic, mostly taken running and jumping on the beach at Le Touquet.  I failed to wind the film back correctly.  No photos.  If the next film doesn’t work out, I may have to revert to digital!

The tale of local harassment: Very annoying this one.  After advice from the police and following up on that, Z is no longer harassing X.  But Z is on the charm offensive and has been going round to everyone from the church and charming them.  I am now even more angry about it all as now I know how and why he hasn’t been de-frocked long ago.

Eating food on trains:  I ate my burger and chips (posh ones, mind you) on the train the other night.  I was suffering without food and had had a challenging work day.  I felt guilty, but fortunately I was so hungry that I ate them really quickly, plus it was a quiet train.

Sandwich fillings:  I was reminded how much I love the egg, cheese and tomato sandwich mixture and hadn’t had it for ages.  I made it the other day and it even exceeded expectations!

Boot fairs:  I still haven’t been.  I desperately need to sell/get rid of a lot of stuff!

Running for trains and planes:  I continue to do this on a distressingly regular basis.

Yoga:  I have retired, though I may revise this situation as the pension plan isn’t great!  I was enjoying it though and expect I probably will start again.

Buying a new car:  I definitely did the right thing not buying a new or newer car.  I still have my old car, which I still like, complete with its distinctive bullet mark in the windscreen.

Winning the lottery:  I haven’t won it yet so I haven’t had to deal with the issues I have about winning.

Supermarkets:  I still shop largely in supermarkets, though I have been frequenting fish mongers and a butcher a little more often of late.

Picnics:  I have had a few, including two sitting in a car in the rain in a carpark facing Dungeness beach and a few more beach BBQs.  I have not yet had an opportunity to use my orange and white flight-food style picnic box.

How grubby am I:  I wash my sheets pretty much fortnightly now.  I also vacuum more often.  Result!

Going to the cinema:  I may say I love it but I don’t think I’ve been since I wrote about going to the pictures in March.  I’ve been wanting to go for ages but for some reason it’s not something I do.

Geography quiz: I have moved my magnetic wall map to my bathroom and can now study it from the toilet.  My Africa geography (eye height) is improving.  I also now know where Martinique and Guadeloupe are and likewise a few other places that I have been contemplating visiting this summer.

Writing letters:  After my write-a-letter-a-day month in February, I have written maybe three letters.  It’s amazing that I have made time to write this and I made time to write letters every day for a month, yet when I don’t “have to”, I don’t make the time.  There’s a moral to that, isn’t there?!

Writing:  I had intended to write this blog as a 500 words a day/90,000 words in six months challenge that would lead straight into my starting writing a novel in the following six months.  As the novel idea, ie the plot and most other aspects of a novel, is still a work in progress, I think I will continue writing this until either I go away somewhere exciting for a holiday (no phones or email, thank you very much!) or I am ready to start the novel.  Corny though it is, I feel a need to say: so watch this space.

{28/06/2012}   Favourite old TV adverts

As a child I loved TV adverts, probably because there were only two channels of them in those days!  Now I hate them and usually turn the sound down when they’re playing.  I saw a few old adverts being played at the British Design exhibition at the V&A recently and since then I intermittently think about old adverts I used to love and which I can actually remember, at least in part.

I’ve mentioned it before but the Levi’s advert, the one with a rather strapping, young Nick Kamen dressing down to his perfectly white boxer shorts while at a launderette under the excited surveillance of women waiting for their washes, to the sounds of “I heard it through the grapevine”.  Eye candy and a great soundtrack.

Was it Carling who did the advert with the squirrel doing the tightrope run?  Of course it was, for the whole advert was this squirrel doing a tightrope sort of obstacle course (again, I recall some good music) and at the end finally comes the brand: I bet he drinks Carling Black Label.  Fantastic squirrel performance.

I remember the Tango adverts too, not that I particularly liked them; I just liked the concept of a big orange person slapping your cheeks and declaring you’ve been tangoed!  Did they slap people’s cheeks?  (Refer to yesterday’s blog on my waning memory!)

The Flake advert with the woman eating a crumbly Flake in the bath was also of interest to me because I was always amazed how her steaming bath wouldn’t have melted the chocolate and, as it is the “crumbliest, flakiest chocolate”, I don’t know how she didn’t make anywhere near as much mess as I always made while eating a Flake!

The Milk Tray man.  My kind of man, prepared to do daredevil stunts, dressed in a tuxedo, all in the name of making sure the lady gets her chocolate fix.  Memorable for manliness display.

Oh, the Nescafe Gold Blend adverts, the ongoing saga of the neighbours who clearly wanted to jump each other.  I liked that the adverts ended with suspense and you wanted the next installment.  Did they ever get together?  I like to think they did.

T-Mobile.  Ok, so not an old advert, but I really, really enjoyed the one that was filmed at Liverpool Street station where all the dancers were mingling amidst the late morning travelers but broke out into choreographed dance when music blared from the speakers.  I think it was a genius idea and it was fun to watch, spotting different people’s reactions.

With the exception of the Levi’s advert and the T-Mobile advert, the rest are all food and drink.  Is that interesting or just coincidence?  Probably coincidence and by virtue of the fact I am interested in food and drink so maybe pay more attention to such adverts!

I have drawn a blank as to other adverts.  I know there are more.  I am picturing snippets from an Old Spice advert: waves crashing and that amazing classical music – I can hum it but no idea for present purposes what it’s called.  I also remember the Hovis advert of the little boy delivering bread up a steep cobbled road.  You shared his excitement as he finished his bread round and cycled joyously back down the road.  Ooo, remember Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the Congo?  I suspect that would come under the guillotine in today’s society, if only because Um Bongo might not have been available for sale in the “Democratic Republic of the Congo”!

Ah, I’ve gone all misty eyed.  I also know that I have missed some absolute corkers.  I might have a YouTube search this evening.

{27/06/2012}   Memory

My memory’s not what it used to be.  Or maybe I’ve forgotten how it used to be?  Or maybe I don’t challenge it.  From birth until you get to the end of your academic life, your memory is probably your biggest asset in terms of your development, most of the rest comes from how you use this incredible resource.

Since leaving university at 22, the only studies I have done are to learn stenography, a year of, essentially, learning a new language.  I know that if I did a further degree now, I would struggle, but I can see this would largely be as a result of being out of the habit of studying.  I would also blame my, as I perceive it, poor memory on probably more than would be justified.

I think the decline of my memory started when I was about 24/25 and teaching English in Japan.  Actually, it wasn’t so much my memory, more my use of “big words”, which was a bit of a slippery slope.  When you live abroad, and particularly when your language skills appropriate to that country are lacking, you learn to *new word alert* thesaurusise your vocabulary to make it both less colloquial and easier to understand.  I then feel I kind of forgot how to use some words correctly and I’m sure my vocabulary has narrowed, though I do have some niche vocabulary as a result of my job!

I very often hear myself saying, “Oh, what’s that word”; is that because because my memory is on the slide or that I’m not challenging my vocabulary on a day to day basis?  Likewise spellings, there are words I can no longer spell.  But it’s ok, I don’t have to use a dictionary, because most writing I do is using a keyboard and all things keyboard have a spell checker!

So is technology to blame?  Mobile phones and computers can do the remembering for you, and we let them.  Technological advances are wonderful but they are, in my mind, taking over jobs our brains used to do, indeed are designed to do.  Phones and computers are one thing but now there are more automatic cars around and more functions in cars, things we used to be able to do ourselves, like engaging in the process of parking rather than having bippers and even video cameras to assist.  Technology is helping us to allow ourselves to become brain and body lazy.

Years ago, I read a story about a teacher in a US school who, on the day, or perhaps day after, JFK was shot asked everyone in his class (all pre-teen) what they were doing when they found out.  The memory was fresh and lengthy descriptions were given.  He asked them to write down their memory, saying he would return their descriptions when they graduated high school.  Everyone was adamant they would remember.  Correct, they did all remember, because the teacher, maybe ten years later, asked them what they were doing when JFK died.  But all of their recollections deviated from what they had written, the smaller details had changed with time.

I worry that a lot of my memories are enhanced, altered perhaps, by photographs.  Sometimes I think I recall an event because I have recently seen a photo and have merely embellished that.  Some of my friends can remember amazing detail of our primary school years.  I think they are probably largely correct.  I struggle to think what my first memory is and I’m pretty sure my first big memories are from my school years between seven and eleven, though I can remember snippets.  For example, I can sort of picture the dining hall of my primary school and the tables and benches.  I also have a feeling of repulsion at having to drink milk.  But I don’t remember if I forced it down or got excused from drinking it.  I can also picture a water fountain and my friend punching me in the stomach and winding me.  I also remember the toilets were portacabins and that the roll towels were dirty and I hated drying my hands.  Ha, funny, I don’t dry my hands after washing them as a general rule!

Perhaps what annoys me most about my “failing” memory is that I can’t remember things I’ve read or seen.  I know if I’ve seen a film or read a book and I can tell you whether I liked it and how it made me feel.  But I can’t tell you what happened.  People can “spoil” a story by telling me the ending, I will then read or see it and won’t know the spoiler until I see if for myself.  What’s that about?  Maybe that’s a lack of concentration when it comes to reading or watching things.  I can watch, say, the news and be staring at the TV and hearing what’s going on, then someone watching with me can comment on it and I won’t know that they’re talking about something I’ve just heard.  I think my problem with reading or watching a film/TV is that I am usually thinking about other things I should be doing or that are on my mind.  All the above, infuriatingly, also applies to things people tell me.  I’m great at keeping secrets, because I don’t chuffing remember them, other than bits.

I find the brain and its memory function absolutely incredible and utterly fascinating.  Maybe writing and thinking about this will set me on a path to learning in an attempt to re-engage my memory.  It would be wonderful to remember the interesting things people tell me!

{26/06/2012}   Suits

I dislike wearing suits for all reasons other than that a well-tailored suit can make you look very stylish.  I have never had a well-tailored suit but look on those who do with a degree of awe.  I am also somewhat slovenly when it comes to taking things to be dry cleaned.  I think a suit is like a uniform in that it associates you with a particular profession or work environment.  “A suit” is, I think, a label for an IT person, a numbers person; someone who isn’t perceived to be creative in their workplace perhaps?

A few weeks ago, I passed a friend in the street, both of us court reporters/stenographers working, that day, in the same court.  She looked very smart in a well-fitted suit, I felt incredibly scruffy in my relatively smart trousers and untucked shirt.  This got me thinking about suits.  I appreciate that women can get away with more casual attire than men in suity environments.  I’m sure that must be annoying, particularly in what for men would be a tie situation.  In court today, uncharacteristically wearing a shirt tucked into my semi smart black trousers, but with no jacket in sight, I looked around.  The barristers, solicitors, witness and claimants were all men who wore suits.  Only the Deputy Master, a female, and one trainee solicitor, female, were a little less formal; they looked a lot more comfortable, and certainly still smart.  For me to wear a suit, I would feel restricted and far too hot.  The other day, the Master asked, sweat pouring down most people’s faces due to an air conditioning failure and no windows, if anyone would like to remove their jackets.  Both counsel looked at each other surreptitiously and announced that, no, they were fine.  So no one took off their jackets.

Some people seem to exude authority when they are wearing a suit.  But in their casual clothes, they look “normal”, usually completely different!  That’s why I think a suit is like a uniform, only worse because the quality of your threads and the extent to which the suit looks bespoke seem to put you in your rightful place up the rungs of authority and power.  People go for job interviews wearing a suit, it’s to create an impression of confidence, authority, scrubbing up well; but it’s probably the worst representation of who you are.  But maybe proof is needed that you can look smart, competent and authoritative, and as suits are de rigeur for a lot of interviews, it’s a way to match yourself, at least on appearance levels, to what you imagine every other candidate will probably wear.

I think it’s verging on cruel to expect people who sit at a desk all day to wear a suit.  It’s stuffy, not that comfortable and doesn’t allow for much freedom of expression or creativity, though I guess the latter can be displayed through, for example, ties and cufflinks.  Plus, there are a few people I know who manage to make suits look funky, largely with the use of a waistcoat or less starched shirts.  And some of those people wear and look amazing in suits outside of work, though much more trendy.

Again I am skirting around points without making any major ones.  My thoughts yesterday came from seeing a court largely full of men in suits.  If I studied their suits more closely, I expect it would have been apparent that some were of a superior quality, but to see them all, a sea (well, a puddle; it’s not a well-populated court) of dark coloured suits, made them all seem kind of equal, drones, pawns; on first sight devoid of personality.  I know that sounds excessive but those were my thoughts.  But there is something appropriate about suits in court, especially for witnesses, in this case businessmen, for they are trying to persuade the judge of their professionalism.  Maybe it’s all “just” about portraying what you perceive to be the right impression.

Last night, I made moules frites using mussels I had bought the day before in France.  Every time I go to France I at least think about eating moules frites.  It’s a great, simple dish that doesn’t take long to prepare or cook.  But it turns out that most mussels from UK waters are exported, indeed I’ve only ever bought a bag of live mussels from our own shores maybe three times.  I am convinced this is as a result of bad PR that the UK isn’t associated with “mussels chips”.  After all, we’re known for fish and chips, though which in most cases are unforgivably dreadful.

In the UK, we have some fantastic produce, from fish and shellfish to meat and certain vegetables.  But what gets my proverbial goat is that we don’t seem to appreciate our natural resources.  Why, for example, do we sometimes go out of our way for New Zealand mussels?  Just because they’re bigger and have prettier coloured shells certainly does not mean they will taste better than those we could feasibly eat a day after being harvested, in fact even the same day.  But no, we’ve been brain washed into thinking that sometimes only New Zealand green lipped mussels will do.  What middle class fools we can be.

There are also a lot of food stereotypes, for example that toffs go shopping in Waitrose, Selfridges, Borough Market etc, and so can expect and afford better quality food, which mere Lidl shoppers can’t hope for (wrong!).  However, traditional Italian food has the right idea: a few fresh, seasonal ingredients can taste amazing.  A few evenings ago, with little in the house to make a meal, I made a pasta dish from three ingredients – tagliatelli (the only dried pasta in the cupboard), crème fraiche and good quality chorizo sausages .  I wasn’t particularly optimistic it would taste that great, after all how could three ingredients be enough.  But I was wrong.  I wouldn’t buy the three ingredients to specifically make it again, but it tasted really good.

I have recently discovered Lidl.  They do a Black Forest ham (maybe six slices) at, as I recall, £1.99, that for a treat I would happily pay about £6 for in Borough Market.  Likewise, they do a goat’s cheese roll that I would be prepared to pay about three times as much for as a treat.  But actually I don’t need to.  We’re all just a bit food snotty and often don’t appreciate that quality does not have to come at a price.  I have bought three bunches of spinach from Peckham’s various veg shops for £1.  You have to wash it and trim the stalks but the leaves are thicker, darker green and more full of flavour than most of the leaves you get in a supermarket for twice the price and maybe half the weight.  We – and by “we” I am probably referring to a label I detest, but our middle class, of which I resent being (probably) a “member” of – are brain washed into thinking quality does not come from street markets but from farmers’ markets and high end supermarkets.  But in the case of Peckham, no self-respecting West African is going to sell or buy puny, limp, baby leaf spinach.  Why?  Well why would you, it’s a fast growing variety grown for quick results; if you want a spinach dish to taste of spinach, buy proper spinach with a distinctive flavour, packed with iron, not a bag of “oo, it’s baby spinach which costs more, it must be the best”.

We do seem to have descended into a culture of the-more-you-pay-the-better-it-must-be.  Rubbish.  Yes, a budget pack of supermarket cheap meat can be chewy and tasteless  so you might think you’d be better off buying more expensive, say, steak.  You’re probably right.  But if you’re lucky enough to live in London or somewhere with a particular ethnic population, there’s a chance you’ll find cheaper steak from a local butcher than, say, Tesco Value.  I get annoyed that we as a whole seem to allow ourselves to be controlled by, largely, the supermarkets and food snob chefs.  We should trust our instincts more and/or pay more attention to simple, seasonal, local food.  We have long stopped being a nation of foragers, vegetable growers, etc.  What a shame – and I am guilty of thinking “more expensive = better” at times – so many of us have convinced ourselves that we can’t possibly have a good quality, delicious meal if we haven’t gone to Waitrose or bought Sainsbury’s Finest.  Every now and then for a special occasion, buy a punnet of Finest strawberries, then go and pick your own and taste the difference (note the absence of capital letters for Taste the Difference!).  One option will be cheaper and taste far superior, it will just take up potentially a lot more time, but it will be an adventure and a morning or afternoon activity – and think of the freebie potential!  I’m not saying we all have time for going to great lengths to source good quality food, I’m just pointing out that there are cheaper options for sourcing food that can be cheaper, we’re just becoming increasingly snobby, I think, about where our food comes from and how much it costs.  I think.

                I love so many things about French food and it seems that there’s a shop for most of my favourite foods, all of which I made purchases from/ate from yesterday in Le Touquet and Coquelles: creperie, fromagerie, patisserie, boulangerie, poissonerie, charcuterie, macaroonerie, chocolaterie; music to me ears, calories to my body, weight off my wallet and all round joy.

                Thanks to the creperie, I downed a crepe suzette with uncharacteristic lack of dribbling.  Emma, however, demonstrated an absence of French style by not only dribbling melted chocolate down her hand, in rivulets, and around her face, she also stumbled off the pavement – not faltering in her pursuit of remedying the very messy and public crepe consumption!  I was in the unusual position of being quietly smug, on hand with cleaning gel!

Patisserie:  having checked out a few, all with variations on similar subjects – strawberries, lemon, rhubarb, chocolate (oh, it’s almost too much to write about without having samples to hand!)- I settled for a cherry, creamy, marzipan coated vision of pink perfection (sorry, no photo, it’s been devoured – very rich!) and (to be shared with Chris who was at home to sample our purchases) a very dark, melty, rich chocolate vision of loveliness filled with more chocolate and meringue (extremely rich chocolate countered by meringue, part hard and part gooey, a vision of dark brown and white loveliness inside).  Emma quietly but contentedly made quick work of consuming a classic, if somewhat shaken in transit, strawberry tart.

Boulangerie: there is a bakery in Le Touquet where you can see the baguette making machinery; long floury troughs where the baguettes are shaped.   From there, I bought the prerequisite baguette.  Unusually, I managed not to nibble one end before the inevitable cheese, meat, bread and salad fest earmarked for the evening (we got far too carried away with the beach and food to even think about the dinner out we’d anticipated before heading under the sea to get home – such a novelty, especially now I realise I can leave Calais at 8.50pm and be home before 8.50pm thanks to the time difference and living in Folkestone!).

I suspect the macaroon shop wasn’t called a macaroonerie but as all things delicious are sold in –eries, it would be wrong for the macaroonerie not to be mentioned!  Possibly one of the most beautiful shops in the world is the macaroonerie in Le Touquet.  I was going to buy six, then eight, then, well, the photo reveals the ten I ended up with.  As I recall: pineapple, poppy flower and seed, champagne, pear, blackcurrant, rhubarb, apricot, coconut, salt caramel (oh my) and pistachio.  It may have been remiss of me not to have got the cinnamon and sanguine orange.  Or the rose.  It seemed cruel to not just have one of each.  They are beautiful.  Almost – almost – too beautiful to eat.  That shop also sold eclairs (I didn’t dare give more than a look of admiration and awe, otherwise I would also have had a box set of them): toblerone éclair, salt caramel éclair (oh my), pistachio éclair; the toppings were shiny, the eclairs were displayed like the works of art they were.  Indeed, everything was made at the back of the shop.  Oh, and they sold marshmallow things and pates (dips, they were posh dips – salt caramel for example (oh my)!

I wasn’t feeling the chocolate love yesterday, so, apart from the chocolate cake, I didn’t buy any chocolate.  But I did look in the window.  Chocolateries always make me think of the book and film of Joanne Harris’ “Chocolat”; I am left wondering how much I could eat if I were left in the shop overnight.  I actually thought that more in the macaroonerie though!

I was clearly feeling the sweet love yesterday so I will merely summarise the savouries by outlining dinner, as per the picture: cheese, meat, bread, fish and salady things.  End of.  Absolutely formidable!  I love cheese too much to detail in a few sentences.  And all things charcuterie (we had smoked duck, peppery salami, delicate ham, farmhouse pate).  And brown shrimps … yikes, I’m now re-feeling the savoury love.  Sod that, I’ve just remembered, I bought croissants and pain au chocolate from the boulangerie for breakfast.  I’m off to the kitchen.

I suppose I should at least make an effort to conclude: the French do –eries that match my favourite things and food shopping in France is a joy.  Plus I never even mentioned we had a fab day, time running about on the beach, a great lunch out, lots of food shop visits (including to buy another bag from the most beautiful tinned fish shop imaginable – I have no interest in tinned fish, despite their beautiful packaging, so I have taken to buying their lovely brightly coloured fish bag every time I go there!) and a mammoth supermarket shop, consisting largely of, ahem, wine!

               We all talk about the weather in the UK.  I would say we complain about it more than we revel in it.  It’s easy conversation if you’re trying to fill a potentially uncomfortable silence, it’s an ice breaker and, most importantly I imagine, it’s something we can all have an opinion on and that we’ve experienced.

                To my horror, in court the other day one side’s counsel, complaining about the conduct of the other side’s witness, announced that the witness had also been “speaking to the transcribers”, which he deemed to be inappropriate.  I felt myself redden and squirm.  Fortunately the judge said she saw nothing wrong with that.  However, wary that any conversations we’d had with the witness would have been recorded, I rapidly thought about what we’d discussed: spellings and, you’ve guessed it, the weather and how hot it was in the court room (despite the frosty atmosphere between the two sides!).  The weather is, or should be, an inoffensive, uncontroversial thing to talk about and in that scenario it saved us sitting in the non-sitting court room in complete uncomfortable silence.

However, of late I feel that the weather has been over-used as a topic of conversation.  It’s been so bad and changeable over the past few months that I have even been in regular, lengthy conversations about it, even down to recalling things like, “Ooo, I remember this time two years ago smearing myself with yogurt, I got that sunburnt”.  While it is good to have a bit of a rant, discussing the weather in such detail will do nothing about it other than make you feel ever more sorry for yourself.

One of the good things about having all this wind, rain, chilliness, etc, is that on the few days it’s been sunny of late, there has been a veritable spring in everyone’s step and lots of cheery Facebook statuses along the lines of, “Wow, I’d forgotten how lovely the sun feels”.  The novelty of sunshine.  In summer.

When someone gets back from holiday, what are the questions you’re most likely to ask?  I reckon the weather is definitely in the top three.  Why on earth are we so utterly obsessed with it, other than as a conversation starter or ice breaker?  I do find it kind of interesting.  It being changeable is a feature of the UK.  On the few occasions it happens that you walk between rain and no rain, I find that amazing.  Or that there will be a thunder storm where I am but hot sun where the person I’m on the phone to is sitting.  It’s uncontrollable, unpredictable and of consideration to what we wear every day.

I moved to Japan in late winter.  Everyone there warned me that one day – I reiterate “one day” – it would become summer.  From that day until the day you left your house when it became winter, it would be hot, day and night.  There would be rain.  But it would be hot.  One day, I remember opening the door of our flat and being hit by a wall of heat.  And there it was, summer had begun.  It was horrible, a big sweaty horribleness to me, but at least you knew where you were:  cool clothing, ideally that would cope with the sweat, for outdoors and wintery cardigans for indoors because of the icy air conditioning being pumped out of every possible indoor space, public transport to shops.  But little variety in conversation, “Blimey, isn’t it hot”, or “Wow, we really needed that rain, didn’t we?”

Maybe, in fact probably, the weather really is part of the culture and character of our island nation and our cultural identity.  It’s going to be unpredictable because we are an island, in fact quite a few islands, and maybe having a common interest amidst such a diverse population is something to be celebrated.  After all, when there are floods and other dramatic and devastating weather activities, people always seem to be united, with stories of rescues and people pulling together.

                There are a lot of things I associate with being middle-aged (precise age range unknown, maybe 40s as that is mid way to 80-98- but in my 40s it will be 50s!).  At 37 I feel I am in the transitory age between being “young” and “middle-aged”.  I don’t think it’s too bad a place to be as I feel I can get away with both.  But while I snigger at a friend “doing something middle-aged”, in reality the odds are it’s something I too do or quietly aspire to!

                Recently, a lot of friends have moved out of London, me included.  Ignoring marriage and children, there seem to be a lot of “middle-aged” things that go with leaving London, for example.  For the past few years, I have collected elderflowers and made cordial and/or alcoholic lemonade.  This is not something my much younger self would have considered acceptable.  But boo hoo to my younger self, you were missing out!

Along with baking, cooking and foraging (sloes, elderflowers, blackberries … actually I think that’s as far reaching as my foraging has gone), I have also discovered gardening.  This to me, showing my age here, was all a bit Percy Thrower, something parents and “oldies” did.  But now, not that I have a garden (though I have had a terrace with lots of pots and an allotment), I really enjoy gardening, particularly vegetables and herbs.  It is enormously satisfying to go from seed to plant to plate.

I now also have a pet, a cat called Izzy.  It took me years to decide to get a cat.  I’d really wanted a cat for years but the thought of not being able to go away for impromptu weekends, etc, and the general responsibility were huge issues.  I got her about four years ago, can’t imagine not having her, but do feel a tie.  But the reality is that I am more responsible and I enjoy being at home more than I ever used to.  But maybe the latter is also because I’m more settled than I ever used to be and I have furniture and other proper grown up stuff.  I even have a car, though for some reason I still think of that as being a luxury, something I’m far too young to have.  I don’t know where that thought came from because, on and off, I’ve had a car since I was 17, I just feel incredibly grown up to have a car, especially now I have a vaguely sporty BMW!

I earn more, eat out more, have more clothes, shoes, bags, accessories – materialistic, I know – but I also have more friends, more importantly more good, long-term friends, and my social life is much more about spending time with them than in pursuit of meeting new people.  For quite some years I felt boring for not really wanting to go out to clubs or even clubby pubs.  Now I feel happy about preferring a quieter pub or going to friends’ houses or a nice restaurant.

I have also joined the National Trust and, a few years back, English Heritage.  And, do you know what, I’ve had some really cool days out as a result!  I definitely day trip and picnic a lot more, and those are things I would no longer turn my nose up at.  I am much more open to suggestions and willing to do new things now.  Well, not in the more reckless, carefree sense but in a more open minded and less obviously mind broadening way, ie traveling and living abroad without much planning, packing or sorting out defined my younger interpretation of broadening the mind!

The biggest downside other than the steady decline in my memory and physique (but that’s a whole different issue, worthy of its own misery post!), in some respects, is that I am a lot less tolerant of other people and poor service.  Maybe this is a good thing but I do rant and moan about such things with a little more enthusiasm and repetition than is perhaps necessary.  I put that down to being more confident about my sense of self, more appreciative of money, ie that I worked for every penny of the money I spend, and to having had time, years of adulthood now, to gain experience.

So in conclusion, my “youth” was fun and experimental but my years of being between young and middle-aged are all about getting to know myself and abandoning hang ups about what I should and shouldn’t do, enjoy and behave like.  It is also about accepting that in your 20s, for example, you knew sweet F A about pretty much everything, but probably had a great time not caring about that!

{21/06/2012}   Pictures on walls

I have a wall of pictures (not all mine).  Looking at them while thinking what to write today, I am contemplating what pictures we put up on our walls, if indeed any.  The random wall has 12 pictures, all skewiff, and all very different.  I think they reflect my personality (and Chris’s, whose idea it was and whose pictures are also adorning the wall) in that they are random but all have a story.

Maybe not my favourite picture but I have an artists’ proof by Graham Clarke, an artist I have met a few times.  I won an art competition he ran when I was young, colouring in an outline of a cat.  The picture I won, entitled “Woof”, depicting a kind of Gulliver’s Travels scene, is dedicated to me on the back.  I am not known for my painting skills so it is with particular pride and surprise that I proudly display that picture.  Another is of a favourite place in Folkestone, bought long before I ever contemplated living there.  I have a photo of a similar part of the harbour, one of the last places I ever went to with both parents, taken shortly before my dad died.  Others match my interest in colour, more places, the odd one I just saw somewhere, liked and bought, and one I got in a “miscellaneous” box from an auction buy, which I’m convinced is worth a small fortune.  I’m hoping it’ll be my Only Fools and Horses grand finale!

I have a lot of photos on my walls too, clipped together to form a kind of curtain of photos.  I am well aware that having lots of photos of yourself on the wall is a bit vein, but there are quite a lot of me up there, though almost all of them are with friends.  They too are somewhat messy and random.  I am fairly optimistic I have a photo of all my friends on there, though there are a few people who are good at avoiding cameras … but there are ways!

I like books and pictures in people’s houses, they do say a lot about the person whose house you’re in.  I really like it when people come out with an unexpected or unusual story behind a picture.  Does everyone have pictures on walls, or at least propped up in some way?  Whenever I move house, pictures are pretty much the final thing I sort; once they’re up, your work is done and your new place is officially your home.  I’m also not destined to be a minimalist and having blank walls would be altogether too much for my “stuff” self to cope with!

I have recently got a fair few pictures framed, though realised why I probably hadn’t got them done before, it’s expensive, usually costing more for bespoke frames than the actual picture itself.  But now I guess I am revealing a little more about my interests and personality by displaying more on my walls as I slowly get more pictures framed and displayed.

et cetera