Tuesday, November 20, 2007


An occasional strike inspired series.

As soon as the strike started, as if on cue those icy cold mornings where your ears sting and you can see your breath started. Last week the mornings were beautiful, all pinks and pastel blues reflecting off the golden dome of Invalides and the point of the obelisk at Concorde.

For me winter is the season of hibernation, hot soups and crusty bread rolls. Each year I discover a soup and then I cook it to death. Pumpkin soup has been my soup of choice of late. I like to add roasted chestnuts and a big dollop of cream. The only problem is that if I buy a chunk of pumpkin it makes loads of soup and as much as I like it after three days I’m a little tired of it.

On Sunday, it was absolutely freezing when I went grocery shopping with soup on the brain. Somehow I came home with enough winter veggies to feed a small army. Still soup is easy enough to make isn’t it?

Butter, you have to start with a wad of it that much or that much, hey whack some more in, it will only make it better. Then onion, I’m pretty sure a good soup must always have onion in it. While the butter and onion are getting acquainted and melting into one choose two veggies. I think two are enough. Do the words sound good together? Leek and Potato? Sweet Potato and Carrot? Parsnip and Carrot. Parsnip and mushroom? Oh no. Beetroot and ... I think that is actually called Borscht, but I’m really not sure about the colour. Once you’ve decided on that you need to introduce your veggies to the butter onion. Once again they all need to get acquainted and mingle in that pot.

Next add the stock – not too much, or you’ll be eating watery soup all week. Add some herbs or spices depending on your mood: mild and mellow or hot and spicy? Bring it all to the boil and then lower it all and let it simmer.

At this time you can let your imagination wander and decide how your main character really wants to introduce himself to the reader. Who is he? What’s been his experience up until the point I choose to put him on the page? How can I let you get to know him and draw you in?

Finally blend it all up and add a dollop of cream to leave you licking your fingers and wanting more.

It seems the mulching, simmering, whatever is over. The first draft of my YA novel has been pulled out from under the autumn leaves and I’m trying to find those two perfect ingredients and herbs and spices. Of course I will add a bit of cream at the end.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I like to think of myself as someone who shuns routine. I don’t like timetables, my leisure time is fairly casually organised, I go with the flow. So that turns out to be a load of codswallop because turn my ‘routine’ on its head and I find myself complaining to fellow bloggers that I feel like I’m living through a war.

1. I tend to go to bed between eleven and midnight.

Due to recent ill health and more importantly the war between Sarkozy and a couple of Unions (one of which is apparently fighting amongst themselves and ignoring all the advice of their union leader) I have had to get up ten minutes earlier and walk fifteen minutes to get a bus everyday because there is a transport strike. Getting to work is fine, but getting home takes me about two hours. It’s only been three days so far and it set to be x days, but it’s blooming tiring and I seem to snuggling in under the covers around 9 (with laptop of course) and ‘lights off’ follows fairly soon after!

2. Saturday afternoon gym sessions.

Really I’m not going because I have done this ‘thing’ to my knee, but even if I did want to go I have my travel time down to a T. I leave the house at 12.43; it takes me 2/3 minutes to walk to the metro station, which means I arrive comfortably to get the metro at 12.47. Obviously there is no 12.47 train today and I am contenting myself with the fact that I am walking everywhere and haven’t given up the sticky buns yet.

3. I tend to blog on Saturday mornings and Mondays.

Go on check.

4. I cook on Sunday.

I get up I wander around the local shops looking at their produce and wonder what I would like to eat. I wonder home with (during this season) pumpkin, leeks, or winter vegetables and make a roast or soup.

5. I like to get an Indian on Friday.

This is part of my cultural DNA. Sometimes the feeling is stronger than me and I have to pick up that phone and order a biriyani (if it’s going to be a big writing weekend) or Samousas and Bhajis.

6. I feed the cat at 7 am and 8 pm.

I suppose I should interrupt proceedings here to say that Vanilla has tagged me with a meme to get me back into my ‘Blogging routine’. Obviously this triggered the whole ‘routine’ train of thought. How many routines are built into our lives that we just never ever think about? I’m guessing I could go to 7 but the meme is actually meant to be 7 random facts about me, so I’ve saved the best till last. There are rules and what not to this and I am supposed to pick 7 people to do this afterwards. I have to admit that I am so out of the loop at the moment that while I appear to be unbelievably anal, I am going to break the rules quite happily and not post the rules or pass this meme on. However, Vanilla, I will try and get back into my blogging routine.

7. I have a phobia about buttons.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Brain drugs?

I’ve been ill. Well, strictly speaking my left tonsil is still pretty unpresentable. There are good points and bad points to illness. I don’t suppose I need to go into the bad points; you’ve all been there. The good points are Radio 4 all day long and choosing bits of today’s paper that I want to read and curling up around my cat and sleeping (although that one is in a grey area as he wanted the lion’s share of the bed!)

There was one article I read with interest. It seems that perfectly healthy students are taking drugs for ADHD sufferers and narcoleptics because they are enable them to stay up longer and learn more. The bonus of drugs like Ritalin and Modafinil is that as of yet, no harmful side-effects have been discovered. So there is this perfectly harmless drug (supposedly) that enables you to think better, is non addictive and you can buy it over the internet for as little as £3 a dose. So would you take it?

As a student I did, come exam time, regularly dose myself up with ProPlus. Side effects of ProPlus were harder on whoever was sitting behind me in the exam as I started to act as if I was ADHD. I couldn’t sit still on the stuff, but I did stay awake; for days on end. Was it cheating? Or was it just one of those rites of passage that you go through as a student. Ritalin and Modafinil on the other hand have been proven to enhance the ability to learn. Trevor Robbins, professor of neuroscience at Cambridge University says that taking the drug during exam situations is:

“...analogous with doping in competitive sport. But what can you do? Even if you do drug tests in the exam hall, people might have used modafinil to improve their learning on a course in November, for instance, then taken the exam in July. How are you going to test it by then?”

But there is something that’s niggling at me and it’s not the ethical question of whether it’s cheating or not. It’s the question of time. When did we get so busy that the hours in the day are not enough? Even I’ve been feeling it this year. I can’t find time to make an appointment with a physiotherapist; I have to choose whether to do this or that. And if I had a wee relapse this week it’s because I didn’t give myself time to get better the first time round. And this is me who on the whole is pretty good about clawing back some of those minutes for me time. The head cannot create if it is not given empty space.

So what about today’s kids? Earlier this week as a bunch of us reminisced about how we would go out in the morning and come back in the evening. I also blew my colleagues theory out the window that is was city living that engendered this over protective upbringing as I grew up in city. So what’s changed? Apparently according to the article parents are pressurising their doctors to prescribe Ritalin and modafinil to their healthy kids. These kids are ferried around from ballet class to music class and extra this and extra that. When I was a kid I did Country Dancing and then just played and stuff. I don’t think I turned out too stupid either. It seems to me that the side effect of this drug is the death of the creative soul. We’re so busy filling these poor little people’s heads with facts that we are turning them into robots who can’t actually think. And maybe I’m burying my head in the sand and ignoring the world outside, but sometimes it’s good to just listen to the radio or read the paper.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gunpowder, Treason and Cultural Identity

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

As festivals go this one has got to be my favourite and the one I miss the most. To me it was the marker that the days were becoming colder and darker. I loved being all bundled up in my scarf and duffle coat and standing before that immense roaring orange monster, whose flames reached high into the sky, crackling and lunging upward. I loved the sparklers (although if truth be told, they scared me a little), and most of all I loved the fireworks. The whees and whizzes followed by a dandelion puff of colour that meandered back to the ground losing its shine. Even today I still love anything that involves fireworks, but it’s still not as special as Guy Fawkes Night.

The build up to Guy Fawkes was special too. Groups of shaven headed boys patrolling around town demanding: ‘Penny for the Guy’. And it always seemed to me, those who shouted loudest were the ones with the most poorly put together Guy. What the effigy lacked in stuffing was made up for in volume.

And then Guy Fawkes Night is one of the few things that is celebrated over the year that is curiously British. Maybe it’s my rebellious nature that loves the thought of something that is based in conspiracy and a fight for religious freedom. Maybe it’s the bonfire and fireworks. Maybe it’s jacket potatoes. Whatever it is Guido and the motley crew he worked for made an impression on me that has stuck. It has become part of my personal cultural identity.

Until I left England I never really thought of myself in terms of nationality, but since leaving I’ve realised that it is actually a large part of who I am. In general I don’t miss England, but on the occasions when I did, I missed being able to communicate easily. Sometimes I miss the sense of humour and feel frustrated when what I have said is misinterpreted, but I know that an English person would understand me. I miss the strong culture of music. I miss a good curry on a Friday night. I miss the quirky TV dramas that explored all kinds of themes and hate the Hugh Grant/Mr Bean factory of comedy that is exported.

I sometimes get frustrated when people ask me what nationality I am and then ask me where I was born. Sometimes it’s just great to open my mouth and for someone to say: Oh you’re a Londoner and straight away there is a shared understanding.

It’s challenging and exciting to live outside my culture and in some ways I feel I understand it more now that I am outside of it. I am more able to criticise and be open-minded, to take the aspects I value and leave those I do not. I suppose I wouldn’t change anything; although it would be nice for my face to be licked by the heat of a bonfire tonight and for me to stare up open-mouthed at the fireworks.


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