Sunday, 8 December 2013

Pink Pomegranate Plums

A very quick break from Carracci to jot down the recipe du jour:

Boil the kettle and make yourself a cuppa tea. In addition to this, make a cup of fresh jasmine tea, courtesy of your flatmate. Whilst it is brewing, take a punnet of Lidl's finest purple plums, wash, half them and de-stone.

Pop the plums in a small pan with cinnamon stick, star anise, whole cloves, zest and juice of a Satsuma; add a splash (a cup?) of pomegranate juice and the jasmine tea - without the spent leaves, obviously. The liquid should just cover the fruit. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and bubble.

When the plums are soft but not disintegrating, turn of the heat and just allow to infuse. The smell is fab and the colour vibrant red/pink. Add sugar/honey to taste.

Oh don't forget to finish making your own cuppa tea, otherwise it will have stewed.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Venerable Bead...

Last week I had a bit of a disaster. Not the sort that involves environmental catastrophe, television appeals or chuggers accosting you as you walk down Holborn, but the sort of disaster which puts me in a bit of a morning strop.

My favourite earrings broke.

Now you have to understand that these earrings had been given to me by my lovely friend Sarah who lives in darkest Norfolk. They meant a lot. So I was a little upset, especially as there wasn't a television appeal with popstars wringing their hands in anguish.


I decided that I would pick up some new fish-hook earring bases next time I was near John Lewis, fix them whilst we chatted at the next London West End WI craft evening. A simple plan. Whilst I was there though I saw some little packs of mixed purple beads and thought "Ooh, I like purple", not that you'd think that from my purple ink, notebook, cardy and tights from the other week. So, I bought both and then promptly didn't do the earring repairs as, well, we had a committee meeting to so no craft. Mostly because the craft part involved chatting over drinks...

The very next day...

Clare: Don't forget your ticket!
Me: Huh, ticket?... *blank face*
Clare: The choir Christmas concert...
Me: Oh...

I really am hopeless. I'm not sure how I'd not put the entry in my diary. If I'd realised I was going to be going out I probably wouldn't have been nearly all in black with a purple cardy. But that gave me an idea. Over lunch I picked the bag of shiny beads, chose a few suitably purple bits and... Made some earrings. As you do.

And I really liked them.

Actually, what I really liked was the immediacy, I wanted a little something and it had to colour match because otherwise the fashion police (let's call them Clare for the sake of argument) would have me executed if they didn't work.

Harsh but fair.

On Thursday I went a-wandering as I needed to get some fresh air and escape my desk. As I wobbled slightly on Cavendish Square I decided to pop in to John Lewis again as the shiny things would distract me. And I could always have a coffee. Somehow though I ended up in the shiny bits part of the haberdashery and picked up a range of interesting looking mixes. In a flash of inspiration I realised I could just make up something to wear if my earrings didn't match.

Why had I not thought of this before?

Well, to be fair it has been over thirty years since I last made any, if you ignore the day before, so it's hardly surprising. I also knew that it would make a nice distraction and if we're honest I really needed distraction and something to cheer me up...

So later that evening as I sat and chatted with my flatmate I started making up a new set. Of course she couldn't resist. Imagine if you will a kitten and a ball of wool. Yep, that's her with shiny things. And it was a lot of a giggle. In total we made six pairs, though rather inconsiderately she is wearing one of them so they don't appear in this picture. Tssk.

On Friday morning, buoyed by the success I tried some of the earrings with what I was wearing. They just didn't quite work. Which meant it was time to test the theory... And it works. In the time it takes for the
kettle to boil and tea to brew you can make something to match what you are wearing (terms and conditions apply).

Oh this is good...

So I thought, okay, that's all well and good, but what about necklaces? Oh... shiny chain! I couldn't try anything out as I had a) work and b) agreed to go out last night, but this morning I stood in the Contrary Kitchen and as my tea brewed... Well I'm sure you get the idea!

Now it's not just me that's getting all excited about the possibilities, which means we now have yet more interesting bits to make in to interesting shiny adornments. So in a very short period of time our supply of nice bits to make nice things with has grown quite quickly, even more quickly when I realised that there was a specialist bead place in Covent Garden. Oh yes. Actually beadgasm.

So I visited, I wandered, I found some fabulous bits and pieces and then wandered out to head off to the Apple Market in search of a bag. Not that I got there, at least not straight away. I was slightly distracted by my flatmate discussing chip options. And then I looked up and saw the most glorious coat in Base Fashions, yep, clothing for ladies of a larger size, which is me. I had to go and look more closely...

Fortunately I was saved from being utterly extravagant with a dress by a suggestion of chips at the Rock & Sole Plaice on Endell Street. Fortunately, as it turned out, the chips and fishcake are much better than the puns. Though I did get the coat.

It was calling me. Really.

Anyway. Food eaten, gossip exchanged with best friend and flatmate, it was time to head off and pick up a couple of suitable bags before heading home to write and maybe make a few things. I might have got the order wrong...

So now here I am, I've written up the LWEWI minutes, I've written this quick blog post, I haz winez, so now, finally, I can do something with pink and green beads.

To match my scarf.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Homeward bound...

Shorter. And Yellow car...
Final days are always somewhat tricky. Actually, not tricky, just shorter. With a deadline you can't avoid no matter what. At least not without some considerable expense. The good news though was with a 17:20 flight we had until roughly 14:30 before we needed to be on a train and heading back to the airport.

What could possibly go wrong?

Mama mia
So, the plan, vaguely head off to find a few simple gifts for those back in Blighty. The youngest offspring would be easy, the only sensible thing would be a faux roman centurion outfit. He is, after all, five. As we knew there were lots of gift shops, market stalls and street charlatans in the general direction of the Piazza di Trevi we headed there.

By the pretty route.

The Forum
Really pretty. We saw churches and streets, ruins and monuments, interesting windows, government buildings galore and goodness knows what else. To call it a circuitous route would be an understatement. The biggest happening upon was
probably the Forum which we initially found through a gap in a fence before realising there was a fabulous walkway that took is right through the whole area. I'm not sure how long we wandered and explored but, as ever, we were almost devoid of company from hoardes of tour groups so it was beautifully relaxed.

Eventually we headed towards the Piazza di Trevi in almost exactly the
Trevi, one last look
opposite direction to what had been planned before we went wandering. Even that route was somewhat meandering, after all it was warm, sunny and we had plenty of time and we used it finding a hotpotch of different places we'd never heard of but all that encouraged discussion.

The piazza was of course much quieter than the day before so we sat a while relaxing before heading off on the important job of locating something that was suitable. Even this went surprisingly well. Eventually we turned back with a vague idea of finding a spot for an early lunch. This would have been a leafy piazza near the Trevi if it hadn't been that they didn't start lunch outside until 12:30.

We'd decided on an al fresco lunch nothing else would do.

We passed several places, but none had the ambience I sought, until that is a flash of inspiration struck, there were several restaurants in the Piazza della Rotonda by the Pantheon, perfect! And only a few minutes away.

Haz winez...
Even the decision for the restaurant was simple, it looked good, it had customers and it had not too many tables outside. The clear view to the Pantheon and a couple of buskers with cello and viola da gamba was a definite bonus. So we sat, ordered pizza and wine whilst we watched the bustle of the world wander by.

It was idyllic.

Eventually the tick of time reminded me that we needed to head back to our
former hotel to collect bags before scampering to the Termini and our train to the airport. But not before having an ice cream. It was time to make like a cliché.

The upside was we discovered the secret to not being hassled by restaurant touts was to be stuffing your face. Who knew? The walk back was relatively direct with only a little bit of a diversion and even that was to make it easier to pick up the essential faux centurion outfit.

If we'd run we could have actually caught an earlier train, but we had plenty of time so waited patiently for the 14:52 and our ride out of Rome. But not before one final run in with a helpful beggar who felt he had to show me how to validate my ticket.

I managed not to actually growl.

So anyway, the airport is having a bit of remodelling. This means that we had to go to terminal 1 to check in but back to terminal 3 for our gate. It's around about a squillion miles away. But that's okay, we still had bags of time.

And there's the rub, there is no punchline, no "oops" moment, no chaos. We got to our gate, we sat for a while, the loos were clean and we boarded without a single scrap of drama.

Which was quite perfect.

I was a little more miffed getting back. As we left the sky ramp we were "greeted" by two official people that were obviously checking something. So I had my boarding pass and passport in hand to see what they said as we had *no* idea. It wasn't until one of them barked passport that I realised. So this is new. And as I said to the rude idiot, it really would have been helpful if you'd indicated we needed to show our passports there.

Because we still had to do it at border control.

Seriously, WTAF? As the elder offspring pointed out when he flew back to the UK via Manchester a few weeks ago they didn't have the same thing. Is this Her Majesty's finest just making all visitors and returning citizens feel as welcome as possible?

And then I got to border control. So I presented my passport, already irritated at doing it again and...

Official: Looks at passport, looks at me, looks at passport, looks at me...
Official: Are you sure this is you?
Me: Err, yes.
Official: Raised eyebrow
Me: It's ten years old and I've changed a bit...
Official: Mmmmm...

To be fair she was really nice. And it's true I have changed quite a lot as anyone who knows me closely enough to have seen my passport will attest! So we were back in Blighty and all we had to do was get home. Via the Piccadilly line. Joy. And reminders of all that makes this fair country of ours so tedious to live in...

So what of Rome? It's been years since I was last there and I'm glad I went back, more importantly I'm glad I could take me eldest there and imbibe him with the chaotic joy of Contrary Touring. I don't miss the beggars, but I did remember quickly how easy it was to blank them out. But I will miss, until the next time, the unadulterated pleasure of turning every corner and seeing something that simply makes you say...


Monday, 2 December 2013

Twelve Days of Christmas...Moroccan Style

One of the main reasons for going on holiday at this time of year was to avoid the festive scrum and skive the choir rehearsals where I've been doing carols since October. Inevitably, by trying to avoid the musical nonsense, I've ended up thinking about it. And this wintery whimsy popped out.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me; four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup.On the six day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. 

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me; seven fountains plashing, six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me; eight maids a-pressing, seven fountains plashing, six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; nine belly dancers, eight maids a-pressing, seven fountains plashing, six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; ten Taskiouine a-stamping, nine belly dancers, eight maids a-pressing, seven fountains plashing, six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; eleven muezzins minareting, ten Taskiouine a-stamping, nine belly dancers, eight maids a-pressing, seven fountains plashing, six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup. On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me; twelve traders trading, eleven muezzins minareting, ten Taskiouine a-stamping, nine belly dancers, eight maids a-pressing, seven fountains plashing, six snakes a-hissing, five brass lamps!, four chirping sparrows, three boiled eggs, two collared doves and a poached pear in cinnamon syrup.

And there you have it, my perfect Christmas!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Veni, Vedi, ooh...

You may recall that yesterday we were somewhat irritated by ticket touts and their incessant behaviour. That just wasn't going to happen again. The plan was simple, get to the Colosseum early, avoid the queues, ignore the touts.

Especially ignore anyone that says "do you speak English".

Perfect. Now as we intended to be there for 9am when the ticket office opened and it was a 20 minute walk (without distractions) my keen mathematical mind told me we would need to leave at 0840. Stat.

Which was why we left at 9:21... This was down to two things a) the elder offspring being a teenager and hence incapable of waking at stupid o'clock and b) a discussion about whether a coat was a good idea. It was. He went without. The walk though was pleasant and we kept the distractions to a minimum, taking in the sights and talking about what we could see. In Parco del Colle Oppio the elder offspring asked whether a structure we could see was an aquaduct. We couldn't really tell and as it seemed close I checked on Google Maps. Nothing. Except, some distance away, the Colosseum.


It was a bit like that scene in Star Wars where they talk about a ship heading to a small moon before realising it was actually a space station. It's very big. And big enough with little else big to appear to be just beyond some trees when it was really quarter of a mile away.

But first we had to negotiate some iffy looking Roman soldiers that would pose with you for money. It would have looked brilliant if one of them wasn't in wearing a woolen beany with some modern logo or other knitted in instead of a helmet. We declined.

We also ignored every tout as we discussed whether the outside would have originally been clad in marble as the stone and brick work showed signs of of regular patterns. We marched in, we queued for less than a minute, we bought tickets and in we went. As with the Castel Sant'Angelo the elder offspring was free as he's under 18!

It's a pretty impressive place, though the groups on guided tours were less impressive. More like hoardes of stampeding wilderbeests with electronic guides glued to their ears blissful of all that was going on. Which is a shame as they didn't get to linger and ponder the effort needed to build such a place, or even carve a single column. All lost as they moved incessantly to the next spot.

And they paid much more for this.

Still, mustn't grumble. I wonder if anyone gazed in wonder at the ancient graffiti carved in to the marble seating? The only problem was the rain started so I took a parental decision, we either buy a brolly from a brolly tout or back to the hotel for the elder offspring to dry up and get his coat. The hotel won and it wasn't long before we were back as well as laden with goodies from a local supermarket we found. It was picnic o'clock!

Oh, the brolly touts...

They are like rodents, swarming over the dampness of humanity trying to get you to buy their wares. As we walked through the park we saw yet more scurrying desperately towards the Colosseum in the hope of getting a sale. We turned down a lot of brollies.

Snacks eaten we were off again. Next stop the Fontana di Trevi. It was a fabulous walk over, peering down side streets, gaping at unxpected tableau, trying not to be squished by distracted drivers. Any thoughts of being able to dance in the fountain were of course ruined by the two policemen who had the job of stopping people going in. Or climbing on the sides. The area was packed and then. Suddenly. The crowd vanished...

Like some perfect storm it was several guided tours that had arrived at once.

We sat. Chatted. Absorbed the detail of what we could see. And wandered on safe in the knowledge that we were some distance away from the stampede. We had also switched to using GPS to navigate, no, not that one, Gosh Pretty See. This was a technique developed in Contrary Towers to allow you to take apparently random paths to the place you want to go without any hope of retracing the steps later. A bit like our recipes.

This meant we stumbled on a fabulous little piazza, interesting little side allies and even a building that had obviously suffered action during the war. Eventually we wandered in to the Piazza della Rotunda, glanced at the Pantheon (which we had been going to see) and instead stopped to admire the fountain and the surrounding buildings. It was very civilised.

At this point our general plan ran out of destinations so we picked the next stop as being the Isola Tiberina, not so much because we wanted to go there, but because we needed a rough destination.

And what a fabulous wander that was. We passed through the Largo di Torre Argentina and found a fascinating set of ruins set in a hollow. On their own they were interesting. Another English lady passed by and said to her companions "this is like such and such a place, but we have to pay a fiver to see that!". So true. Rome is littered with such sites, never mind the big headline places, look for the gems.

Like this one.

In one spot was the central exedra of Pompey's portico. The place used as senate house. The place where Caesar was assasinated on the 15th of March 44BC. I was a little bit excited. This was where by one act of disloyalty and murder the world changed. It was a pretty big thing. Huge.

I prattled on about this as we wandered on, taking a totally GPS driven route until, by chance, we found a kosher burger place on Via di Santa Maria del Pianto. If you're ever there look for Fonzies and try their chilli burgers, utterly gorgeous.

We realised we were now in the Jewish quarter and kept stopping to look at a myriad of different things. What puzzled us was the police, so many and the numbers increased as we got near the Great Synagogue. I have no idea of what was going on, but goodness there were lots of Police. And TV outside broadcast units.

Whatever, we had an island to invade.

And we did. Isola Tiberina is tiny. I suspect it is inabited because they decided to use it as a stepping stone to span the river, but it's very cute and worth a look. It's a shame we'd eaten as I would have liked to stop in the sole restaurant there!

After a while of chatting about what we could see and the elder offspring seeing how close he could get to the omnipresent Jackdaws, we set off, our destination the Circo Massimo.

Oh dear.

I'm sure it was fabulous in its day but now, well, less so. But that was okay as the adventure was in the journey, this was merely a waypoint. I did suggest to the elder offspring that we have a race. He declined as he obviously realised he would be humiliated by my massive running ability.

Or something like that.

The penultimate waypoint was to be the Colosseum, which was fab as we got to see the outside in a very different light. Though the brolly touts were still busy (no more rain) and had been joined by the trinket touts. We happily ignored them all.

After one final brief pause we headed back over the final mile to our hotel, weary, but I like to think pleased with the day of wandering in a giant circle around Rome. It really is the best way to see any place. Fact.


I give you good price

Marrakesh is playing havoc with my English reserve. We have been enticed into shops by a number of methods;
Come, look at my shop, Madame! Finest épices from Berber lands...I give you good price!
Non merci
My shop is near here, out of the market so I pay no taxes. Much cheaper there! I give you good price!
Non merci (increasing exasperation)
Madame, madame! Welcome, you need the main square? I show you way...
No I prefer to be lost. Merci.
You need argan oil for your skin, good for your body, for massage? I give your boyfriend Moroccan viagra?
No, he's fine, he has no need of that.
Non merci!

Flying carpet, madame?
You get the idea. I have always fought shy of haggling, hassle and harassment from shop people; even doing rapid about turns in independent shops where the assistant looks a bit keen. So the souk are my worst nightmare.

There is something called Ensemble Artisanal which has a selection of all the goods you can find in the souks. However because the government directs the prices, you don't need to haggle but they are obviously set at a premium. The shop assistants in this collection of shops look rather depressed and do not offer interesting information about their goods. I suppose they think this is the least fun way of doing business? Is the haggling part of the entertainment value?

Still, back to the souk and the familiar feeling of exasperation as you want to look in these treasure chests of brightly coloured goodies but dare not show interest as you will be pounced upon.

As it happens, getting into haggling mode is quite easy. So here is my contrary guide to getting good price...

  • Be hormonal
  • Do not look too keen
  • Know exactly what you want and know roughly how much you want to pay
  • Do not let the person you are with interfere - if they show weakness, you are lost and as a woman, utterly stuffed. You will not get the price down if the salesman knows your partner is happy to pay
  • Depends what you are buying...we learned a shed load about herbs, spices, customs and interesting things from Abdel the Berber. Happy to drink his tea, learn stuff and then buy some tagine spices and eucalyptus crystals from him
  • However if the herb prices are non negotiable, make sure you get the quantity you request and if you only want a gram, ensure you only get a gram - not 20!

Of course this is all very well in theory. I've been fleeced a couple of quid for 4 pieces of coconut (sigh), I'm sure what I was shown and what I walked out of the shop with were two different things (bastard lip balm) and if one more person wants paying for getting us lost, they are going to get a thump.

Anyway, I've bought more stuff this holiday than I ever have and for goodness sake, please don't let the Other Contrary one loose here; the brightly painted crockery, the colourful throws, the carved wooden things, the kaftans - I swear we'd need a bigger flat.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The gift shop is at the end...

The plan: visit the Vatican with a view to seeing the Basilica and the Museum. Simple, elegant, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, first off was the "helpful" beggars at Termini, I really don't need help. Or appreciate it being forced upon me. And then having a begging cup thrust in my general direction for a few coins.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

Honestly. So I somehow managed to negotiate the machine and bought two shiny tickets so we could head off to Ottaviano en route to the Vatican. Still going well.

Until we reached the touts. These reminded me very much of the punt touts in Cambridge, or as we called them the punt c*****. Except that this lot made the Cambridge boys and girls look lax on the harassment front.


So cue conversation:

Tout: Are you going to the Basilica?
Me: We are...
Tout: Oh everyone makes that mistake, goes there first and I can see the queue from here, at least three hours. You'd be much better going to the museum first on a tour and get in more quickly...

I should have pointed out that he made a fatal error. I can smell his bullshit.

Me:  Really *arched eybrow*
Tout: Oh it'll be much better...

At which point I cut him off and asked the elder offspring if he wanted to do a tour and then go to the Basilica, it is, after all, his trip. Bless him, he was as irritated as I was so we said no, argued for a bit and then marched off.

And then met another one.

This one went in to more detail. The museum tickets were €20 and he could book them online for us now to save us time. Or better still, have a tour for €35 each! And the guide speaks english as well as him!

Bless him.

We declined. He went on. I simply explained that if we found it all to horrid we'd come and see him.

When pigs fly, obvs.

On we went. It's true there was a huge queue but as it turned out we were happy just to see the outside, observe the queue and then do a little independant exploring.

Which was how we ended up taking a pleasant walk down to the Castel Sant'Angelo. Which was fabulous. And as the elder is under 18 and an EU citizen we only had to pay for me. Well worth €7 I thought. Really, we were there for hours, saw amazing views, enjoyed a drink on the terrace and avoided big crowds. This was more like it.

Eventually we wandered back to the museum, via a cafe, and found...

It was €16 and...
There were no queues.

The only issue was the tour groups marching and blocking the way. I felt sorry for them, they couldn't linger, it was all at someone elses pace. I did get a feeling for how horrible things could be when we ended up in the Sistine Chapel. Don't get me wrong, it was impressive, but I was more impressed with the breadth and depth of material elsewhere in the building.

I was also surprised at the range of things on show, including items from ancient Egypt. This really fascinated me, just what was the Vatican's interest in this?

And then there was the gift shops. Or should that be gift stops. They are everywhere, it seems every 40 yards or so. I did suggest to the elder offspring that maybe it was so they could catch you in the mood and before you were exhausted at the end. Or perhaps, like the endless beggars, touts and purveyors of tat they hope to catch you at a moment of weakness after wearing you down.

Or am I just a cynical old harpy?

When in Rome...

Arriving at a place in the dark and late at night is never going to give the best first impression. Especially when you're staying in a hotel near the Stazione di Roma Termini, a place that a cursory glance at the guide books suggested is best avoided at night.


It was all a bit familiar. Not that I tend to hang around dodgy railway stations at night. The garish lights. The dodgy hotel touts. The even dodgier kebab places.

And a McDonald's.

No. Sorry, make that two. One in the station, one on Via Giovanni Giolitti. Outside of the station. Opposite the entrance. I fear Rome has changed since my last visit.

Not to worry.

With our best colonial pluck we marched in to the night for the short walk to the hotel, only being accosted once by said dodgy hotel tout. Further contact being avoided by my steely glare.

As we walked and took in the typically neglected buildings the elder offspring commented that it looks just like it does in Assassin's Creed.

I'm not really sure that's a good thing.

Anyway, hotel was found and it seems perfectly adequate. Even if the rooms are ORANGE, yes, ORANGE. As in you've been Tangoed ORANGE. I didn't bring my sunglasses, I know, schoolgirl error, but fortunately I have Neurofen if it all gets too much.

As an army matches on its stomach, or at least teenagers do, next stop was the restaurant opposite the hotel on the ground that it was... opposite the hotel. It was disturbingly empty but then I imagine any around there would have been at nearly 11pm. Food was okay which is infinitely better than bad.

And so today I sit writing this as I finish my breakfast. Rather annoyingly the elder offspring decided against food and went back to the room. So yet again I'm the only person alone in a room full of couples. I think this means I won't be making any trips alone. Being alone sucks when it's the status quo.

Anyway, next stop the Vatican. The perfect place for a confirmed atheist to spend a Saturday.

One final thought... A good friend of mine suggested last night:

"When in Rome... do a Roman"

I can assure you dear reader, it's not going to happen ;-)


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Violas, trumpets?

What wonderful weather we had this weekend! When it's over 20 degrees, you're in shorts and tee-shirt, it seems odd to be buying autumnal squash but they were so pretty. Also I noticed that the House of Lidl had a selection of heathers and bulbs in stock. Bulbs? Already? I hadn't realised that they had to be planted in late summer. Oh. Rookie gardener...

I had already clocked whilst sitting on the balcony admiring the group of swans, two adults and three large grey cygnets, that my tubs of greenery were looking rather worse for wear. Not really weather related but they have been there since the spring and they needed some refreshing.

When I say refreshing, I mean a wholesale grubbing up and replanting. Today we went down to the local plant emporium to see what was on special. I'd had a conversation about 'Eric Aceous' compost with  my mum before setting out - apparently Heather is only interested in this acerbic young man. Still, as it happens, I was distracted by the smiling faces of the little purple violas and the trumpeting miniature narcissi.

Violas, trumpets? I hope the neighbours at the illegal shisha bar opposite won't be complaining about the strains of classical music piping across the Cut.

I made a vast selection of bulbs, violas and some little variegated shrubs. Planting the small shiny silver and bronze bulbs was like burying treasure. I like to know these dry plants will be hiding for the rest of the year, only to pop out excitedly in the spring. And we all need a dash of colour in the darkest days. In the meantime, whilst they sit snuggly in the earth, the friendly purple of the violas will entertain us. They have now been transplanted to their new homes and all of the tubs have been filled.

There was a moment of ditz when I changed my mind about putting violas in round plant pots, so removed them, tipped out the compost and out fell some narcissi bulbs. I hope that I dug them all out of the bag, otherwise, I'll be having a colourful surprise when I next go in the compost.

I also refreshed the rosemary with extra compost. There had been a rookie gardener error earlier in the year when I crowded the herb with geranium so they have suffered in the flowers exuberance. So I shall see how they perk up. I've added a few viola around the base of the rosemary so the tubs don't look so thread bare. There may be the odd random bulb to come up in those tubs too.

So pics to follow and roll on spring!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Fireworks of taste and festivals of heat

There is something about autumn which appeals to all senses. Like taking off sunglasses when entering the shade or removing earplugs in the morning, whatever has overcome your natural sight, hearing or whatever, Autumn is a rediscovery of intensity. The afternoon sun seems to saturate even the city trees and the morning damp grass smell permeates your layers; even though everything is dying, there is a vibrant melancholy. This sustains us as we move towards November and semi-permanent darkness.

So to have the London Chilli Festival in this amber, umber and burnt sienna world is perfect. Its location at Spitalfields City farm enhances the harvest festival feel and allows a welcome breath of wholesome air. This was before the smoky roasting, grilling and frying of various meats enveloped the occasion. This was the first of what will hopefully be a regular festival occurrence and the vendors at the various stalls were keen to educate, showcase and of course, sell their goods.

As you'd expect, most stalls were selling chilli based comestibles like sauces, dipping oils and dressings. Some had added frighteningly hot new varieties to piccachillis, jams and other condiments. My favourite stalls were the 'raw ingredient' ones, with the boggling range of dried chillies on offer from Capsicana Chilli Co making me salivate as I bought a selection. Pepper and Stew offered spice mixes to create African dishes at home. Other stalls were selling seeds and plants but my urge to garden has been replaced by the need to create some warming soups! 

Which is what I did this evening. Taking a Mexican pumpkin soup as my inspiration I adapted it to the ingredients available at home.

In a bowl, pour some hot water over a couple each of chipotle mora and Ancho Poblano and steep for 10-15 mins. At this point I couldn't resist inhaling the smoky, sweet fragrance from the two. 

Chop a large onion, several large courgettes, a red pepper and fry, allowing to singe slightly whilst stirring occasionally so they really soften. Letting them roast in the oven would have worked. Once the dried chillies are soft, chop roughly and blend to a thick paste with some of the liquid. Add a tin of tomatoes, the paste (don't drop some on your foot like I did) and the rest of the soaking liquid. Add seasoning, with a generous sprinkling of ground ginger, cumin, cinnamon and allspice - I added a sprinkle of celery salt which is very savoury. Stir well and add a little chicken/bacon/vege stock to loosen. 

Bring to the boil and reduce the heat so it simmers healthily for about 10-15 mins. Once the veg is soft, remove from the hob and blend. At this point my soup resembled a meaty sauce, thick and satisfying, so you could thin if you want something more polite. Personally, I would have also added some kidney beans if I'd had any... I ladled into bowls, drizzled with Dave's chilli oil, and sprinkled with strong cheese. It would have looked amazing with some chopped, fresh, green coriander leaf.

The soup's fragrance was that heady mix of bonfire night, cough pastilles, gingerbread and cinnamon hot chocolate. A soup to set off fireworks of taste and make one glad that the nights are finally drawing in. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Magic in four colours.

Art is a funny old thing. Not just the actual art, but the art scene. Lots of beautiful people (and me) wandering in to tedious white rooms, be proffered wine and then largely ignoring the thing that they are meant to be there for. Well, except for me. The thing is I lost faith, the first night scene was feeling more like a chuffing cocktail party than a chance to have an early glimpse at some art.

Good for people watching though.

Anyway, as I say, I lost faith and stopped attending openings as, frankly, they were usually full of people who think Damien Hirst is actually a good thing. Idiots. Fast forward some time. Lots of time. Well, maybe not that much but I am dealing with the single biggest upheaval of my life at the same time.

Some months back I gained a new follower on twitter by the name of Matt Forster. From time to time he'd tweet images of watercolours he'd been working on and I liked what I saw, they had a certain something, a simplicity with depth.


Time passed a bit more and I saw that he had an exhibition about to start a little way from my office. Well that had to be a good thing. I at least knew I liked what I'd seen so far and was curious to see how it would measure up in reality. This was helped by the fact that the exhibition wasn't going to be in a white cube, but a coffee shop. In SW1. Crikey.

It was going to be a memorable evening. And not completely in a good way.

My plus one would be my bezzie, oddly this is only the second time I've dragged her kicking and screaming to an evening of art. And last time it was erotica. A bit different.

We started the evening in the Tom Cribb on Panton Street so we could cover the important business of the evening, namely love interests, in my case non-existent, obvs. And maybe have a little wine. Before we had more wine. Look, it never does to turn up on time and I never do!

Time passed...

...And then we wobbled off to Charles II Street to the Borough Barista which was to be the host for the evening reception and ensuing month long showing.

The interesting thing about this place was it seems to be downstairs so as you walk down said stairs you actually get a quick chance to view all of the art at once. Which I liked. I also like what I saw, especially one piece lurking in the corner, but more of that later.

As expected the beautiful people were out in force, which is quite tedious, but, unexpectedly, we were warmly greeted by Simon de Pinna of the Town and Country Gallery. Now this was nice, genuinely and does mean you know who to collar if you see something you like. Smart.

Artist holds head shocker...
So, there was just enough time for Simon to introduce us to the artist and have a very quick, yet detailed, chat about what we were here to see before it was abruptly halted for the inevitable speeches. Yep, we were that late. What I hadn't realised was this was the first proper exhibition that Simon and the T&C had put on, he went on to explain that he wanted somewhere different, a place that would make people feel comfortable.

It worked.

I was getting a little tetchy though. As Matt was explaining his technique and what it was that made his paintings so special the beautiful people were busy fannying about with their iBastards and not showing due interest.

Honestly people, you were being fed and wined. *whines*

After I may have said something quite rude about said beautiful people. We talked a bit more with Matt and worked our way along the wall of images until we reached the corner and the picture that had caught my eye on the way in.

It didn't have an orange dot.

Deep breaths

I made my excuses and went to look for Simon with the classic opening line, we need to talk. And we did.

The Lake Side was mine. *cackles*

Actual sheepish
After a short time secluded in the back room with nothing more than the gentle hum of a card machine to serenade me, we returned with the magic orange dot and marked the frame. Oh yes. The best thing was getting a brush by brush description of how Matt had carefully built up the image with just four colours and the order that he did it in. Utterly fascinating stuff, this is truly approaching magic in what is achieved. Needless to say the snippet of image above doesn't do it justice. Not even a little bit.

The funny thing is I know the technique well, it's an approach we took in the 90s to give new effects in videogames, though I strongly suspect this was far more painstaking and will be around long after some dodgy games are thankfully forgotten. I hope.

The pictures really do have a magical character and, which is a delight, the more you look at them the more you notice fabulous little nuances.

I'm starting to sound like an insane art luvvy. I'll stop.

Northerners. Pub. Naturally.
As the evening drew to a close we skipped back to the Tom Cribb for more of teh winez eventually being joined by the artist as we'd mentioned we were going there afterwards. What followed can't really be recalled with clarity as, well, you can guess, but did involved talking about life, art and avoiding tourists. As you do. It was the fab end to the evening that anyone would want, just such a shame it all went horribly wrong a little later when some thieving toerag decided that my bag looked fetching. But that's another story.

So, here I am, nearly two weeks later. A delightful latte in front of me, cool music playing in the background and a selection of business types holding meetings.

And my picture.

It's still glowering in the corner, the shadows giving a depth and intensity missing from the others. And you know what? Even given the trials and tribulations I suffered later that evening, I'm still overjoyed that I managed to secure such a lovely piece of art.

As for the Borough Barista, I can definitely say I like it, nicely quiet, easy on the eye staff who look like they give a monkeys and not too far from the office. I will definitely be back again soon.

The Matt Forster exhibition is showing at the Borough Barista until the 7th of October 2013, do go if you can. The coffee is pretty good too.

And don't forget to say hello to my picture!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Gardening part 8

The garden has taken a back seat recently due to sunny foreign festivities, therefore this is just a quick update on the progress of the contrary greenery in the sky. There was a small issue with a weekend without watering but I've been doubly nice to the plants since I got back, going up there with food and water.

Some beans today
When I say I've been 'nice', I've actually plucked, uprooted, boiled, picked and steamed the fruits of my labour. I can report the 3 smallish beetroot were extremely tasty - the beets themselves went into today's salad and the leaves accompanied our dinner last night. The mushrooms also had a few home grown radishes in the stuffing which added a hot crunch. 

The peas I continue to think of as my favourites and the best thing I've grown. They are filling out in a very satisfying way; in a couple of weeks I will be podding excitedly and they may even make up a portion of side veggies. The yellow beans have finally flourished and I've picked the first crop this evening - I honestly didn't think they would produce anything because the plants were so tiny, quite amazing really.

There are potential issues with the sprouts which had a load of white bugs on them. Perhaps they were holding a welcome party for my return? In any case, I toasted them with some seriously poisonous spray...and I hope the leaves uncrinkle. The cauliflowers have still not caulied, nor has the purple broccoli sprouted but who knows, they may surprise me.

All tidy and vacuumed
In other lettuce news, out of the 30 or so transplanted, I have 4 proper ones becoming proper ones! Still, lettuce is for decoration right? The other leaves seem good value for money and have grown again and again. The chilli and pepper plants were happy to see me and perked up with some watering - they seem to be flowering and have plenty of foliage. Whether they will have enough time to produce vegetables during August, I have no idea.

I was fed up with the flowers looking tired and dropping petals over the decking so I attacked the plants with scissors which has allowed the begonias some space and light in their busy trough. I got rid of a few geraniums giving the rosemary breathing room. So the balcony looks fresh, clean and bright again - I've also been investigating autumn colours for later in the year. So I'm being far too organised!!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

What we have learnt

Travelling is all about learning so I asked my travelling companion what he'd learnt on holiday. This is what we came up with:

1. Standing up on a kayak capsizes it
  a. T-shirts don't float
2. Naturism should only be attempted in warm countries. We will not be doing *that* on the Isle of Sheppey
3. Cycling across rivers has to be done at speed (and done by girls with sexy legs apparently)
4. When on foreign trips, don't get distracted by buns of the sweet variety
5. A cemetery is called a hareem in Bosnia - the 'protected'. Is this true?!
6. Check your snorkels BEFORE you go on holiday for leaks
7. Avoid restaurants on a Friday if you dislike seafood *snork*
8. Massages should only be done by hot men in an idyllic location
9. Fishes are curious and come to investigate where ever possible
10. Swimming in clothes feels a bit wet
11. When they say jumbo pizza, they mean it
12. British and German stereotypes are true
13. Though rude French people get called f***ers by travel agents  
14. Orange pivo is pretty damn fine
15. I can cycle and kayak further than I thought
16. A better understanding of the Yugoslavia wars in the 90s
17. Being 40 isn't that bad 
18. Croatia is, once again, a perfect place to holiday

Friday, 26 July 2013

A stitch in time...

And so the contrary holiday rumbled on. Traditionally on holidays one is awake until late then has a lazy lay in before rushing down to the hotel breakfast at the last minute. Not in my book. At 6am I was watering the garden and by 7am I'd breakfasted and started to lay out the pattern pieces I'd prepared the night before. A bit like germans doing the towel thing by the pool.

Only with scissors.

That all went swimmingly well though it did remind me that I really ought to get another cutting board and rotary cutter as it makes life an awful lot easier. The day though went swiftly and remarkably efficiently, my only break being a trip to the best shop on the planet for evening winez and a pack of hand sewing needles. Honestly, I was on an actual roll with only one mishap involving scissors and the bodice. Oops. Oh well, I really wanted to re-cut pieces and make again.

Or not.

By 5:30pm I was finished all bar the zip, strap placement and final hemming. Oh yes.

Which was why I started making pasta dough as I had both my bezzie and the boss coming round for food and wine. Which would be great except for the fact that the living room had bred actual contrary chaos with little bits of cloth and threads everywhere.

The vacuum cleaner has never been so busy so often!

This is okay. As everyone knows, making dough for lasagna sheets means you have to leave at least 30 minutes for the dough to rest which was when I ran round like a woman posessed trying to clear up the chaos. I was finished with literally moments to spend as first the bezzie and then the boss managed to breach security at the front gate and were literally buzzing my buzzer...

Any dreams of having at least started the ragu was completely lost. To make matters worse I also lost the garlic I was going to use.

Oops. Again.

See the trouble is I like to slow cook for intense flavour so it wasn't until around 8:15 that I was ready to roll the pasta sheets... Or come out with a stream of euphemisms and double-entendres to end all streams of euphemisms and double-entendres. You wouldn't think rolling pasta could be such a giggle.

Or an excuse for pervy behaviour.

Yep, the boss decided to video the process, or our cleavages and, being slightly tiddly, we might have done the whole Nigella thing. Shameless. Quite shameless.

And then it got worse.

Pasta making with #boss
picture by @PrincessOfVP
The boss decided that he would also like to try his hand at turning the roller and stepped in. Of course he then also had to unbutton his shirt to show his own (lack of) cleavage.

I don't think I'll be able to face him on Monday without giggling.

Which reminds me, I must tell my flatmate that we froze some of the resulting lasagne in case she needed to eat on her return. 45 minutes after the giggling we were ready to eat, I'd magically removed all the removed al the remaining chaos on the table so we could actually eat and the evening rolled on until eventually even I had to stop eating.

It really was a fab evening.

Contrary peas!
This morning was another early start. The big news is that we have peas! I'd not really noticed them yesterday but once I saw one I realised there were loads, very exciting. I was amazed at how fast they went from flowering to actual pea pods showing. Quite stunning.

The rest of the morning was almost a repeat of the day before, breakfast, sewing, looking at ducklings, but I did at least finish the second dress. Or at least finish for now as after wearing it for a couple of hours I decided I needed to shorten the straps a little to stop them falling off my shoulders (my hips hold the dress up) but for that I will get somebody, we'll call her my flatmate, to help by pinning them whilst I wear it.

I'm sure that won't hurt.

Finally though it was time for my little holiday to end so with a flurry of bin emptying and packing my
It fits!
weekend bag I scampered off in the general direction of Kings Cross and a trip to Norfolk.

But that's not quite where the story ends.

On the train to Cambridge a lady sat opposite me, I blurted “I've met you before”, as I had, maybe four years ago on the Cambridge to Norwich train. I think she was slightly taken aback that I remembered she was a biologist studying fruit fly fertility for her PhD. You see, I might not be able to remember names or what day of the week it is, but I do remember the story and detail of most things.

It was lovely to chat and catchup as the train roared its way to Cambridge and hence my journey beyond...

Until next time.

Passport to Bosnia

Mostar was our destination yesterday but as anyone knows it's usually the journey rather than the end point that provides the giggles. We knew it was quite a way and contrary to popular belief I'm not silly, I checked the map. So four hours, three border crossings later we finally arrived. 

Of course, somewhere along the way we were accidentally abandond in the Bosnian coastal town of Neum. Clearly our lesson for the day stated 'buns and cheap rum will be the ruin of us'. We were one minute late back for the bus and helplessly we watched it pull off, complete with our passports and suncream. As we stood there, there was that dual scream of laughter and disbelief. 

On the bright side, after a quick Google and call to the hotel, they came back. They'd already reached the next border crossing and the gruntle in the other guests was extremely dissed. The lovely guide was mortified though. Still, we had our buns to munch...

The scenery of mountain, river, plain was astonishing. A perfectly dramatic stage setting for the incredible history of this region. The beauty of the Neretva river belies the terrible crimes perpetrated against the people who lived here. I'm not going to go into the story of the creation and destruction of Yugoslavia; the senseless waste of life on all sides is well documented elsewhere. However it is clear that the effect on the collective psyche of the people continues and 'never forget' will remain with me.

It is a cliché to say that Mostar was a collection of contrasts. But it's true. An ancient town which feels like it's been newly discovered; shops which should have catered to locals, all selling the same copper trinkets; mosques celebrating the vine; and colourful tourists wandering amongst bullet riddled buildings. 

Asim our Guide took us through the Muslim way of life and we visited a 'Turkish' house. Not that it was Turkish, merely traditional Bosnian but such is the feeling of the Croats and Serbs, anything Bosnian is regarded as Turkish. I like the Bosnians; they have an innate contrariness. For instance, before they were Muslim, they had a breakaway, 'heretical' form of Christianity. This upset the pope, but he was even more upset when they converted to Islam. I wonder if this was a universal decision, or something more politically expedient?

Still, our ham, cheese and salad roll was unusual. The concept of serving food in the cafe we collapsed in was a novelty; the drinks were served by a harassed, stunning and bubbly young lady who told us she loved England. We asked about food and she promised us the best sandwich in Bosnia. Anyway she scampered down the road and came back clutching 2 bags with our sarnies. For 8 euros, we giggled with her, watched the world shimmer by and discuss the insanity of tourists. She told us that she wanted to leave the town, I hope she follows her dream because she was a massive personality and deserves so much more. 

I understand more about my Bosnian friend and I hope I never feel what she went through. But to go there and sense a town making a new start gives me hope for the people's future. I could say more but I'll save it for further ponderings at a later date. 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bosnia Bound

Today I'm attempting to get to Bosnia again. This time last year I was laid up with a migraine and I wasn't going anywhere so I cancelled my trip. When I had the chance to try again, I booked it immediately. The early ferry beckoned, as did the hotel packed lunch (6/10 - how the heck am I going to eat an orange without spraying half the bus with juice?!). 

I'm not sure what to expect. My vision is muddied by a montage of TV stills; war, destruction of heritage, complex politics. In a previous life I knew a Bosnian Muslim and she had suffered greatly in the mid 90s, losing friends and family. However she carved out a life - university, marriage, children, career  - for herself in the UK. Over dinners and wine she did talk matter of factly about her experiences, and it had been horrific. 

And that's the thing, despite the horror and strife, she's proud of her heritage and religion. She returns frequently to see her remaining family. Her views on most things appear entirely moderate; apart from her children who are her world. She opened my mind to what it would be like to lose everything, yet remain strongly focused on rebuilding, recreating and relating her stories. 

This strength in the face of adversity is the overwhelming sense that I get from the people in this part of the world. It sounds like a sweeping generalisation but the troubles here seem relentless. Not depressingly so, just How It Is. And the people pick themselves up, dust off the damage and continue, more determined than ever before. 

Apart from this personal connection to the history of this part of the Adriatic, I remember little detail of the wider political events so I hope to come away with an improved understanding of historical place. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A very Contrary holiday

Much to the annoyance of my flatmate I've rather last my way over the last few months, and I don't mean in the way her boyfriend is incapable of getting to the Tesco in Bow with less than four attempts. That's the trouble with big life changes, they have an impact and it's rather inevitable that my changes wouldn't bring a well of goodies.

So, with Clare escaping the insanity of Contrary Towers for lots of sun, sea and I presume wild sex, I also decided to actually take a few days off to see if I could get my mind to try and join up some of the unjoinable thoughts that are rattling around...

Yep, I took a holiday.

Admittedly not one that might be recognised my normal people. I kind of started on Friday night and did something I've not been able to do in ages, I went to the cinema alone. Really this was because I needed to see something silly and not have to think about things too much, so The World's End seemed the perfect solution. Inevitably I asked for opinions on Twitter and, well, only got one and that wasn't great, so I ignored it and, after popping in to Tesco for a box of Maltesers to pig my way through, went anyway.

It was good.

Not the most comprehensive review I'll grant you, but honestly if I was to explain why I thought it was really quite clever it would be an epic spoiler to end all spoilers. So, good one liners, some references back to the previous outings of Pegg et al and a bit of a rekindled bromance to suit. Oh, and a mint cornetto.

So film done I headed back east, changing at Bank as I didn't fancy Mile End, really, who could. Trouble was the DLR was going to be a seven minute wait. SEVEN MINUTES. I blame Boris.

I'd already been toying with walking so I decided this was a sign, left at Monument and wandered towards Tower Hill. As you do. Trouble was I still couldn't decide what to do. So I did what any sensible woman would do. I sat down and presented my options to Twitter: tube, DLR, taxi, Boris bike, Bus or walk...

First response from a good friend of mine was to walk as it was cool, so walk I did. It was certainly a lovely evening for it and I only thought "what the hell was I thinking" a few times as I walked through some of the more desolate parts of Wapping and Shadwell. After all, it was now getting dark.

The next morning I was up not as early as I wanted to be so I could spend the day in the office, things I wanted to clear up. I did have a deadline though as I intended to head to Brick Lane at some point in search of fabric. And a baegel.

Oh yes.

As I was determined to do things differently, or I couldn't face the hell known as the Central Line I found a comfortable number 25 omnibus, got out my book and settled down to read as it fought its way from Oxford Street to somewhere near Aldgate. It was really quite a pleasant journey and nicely set me up for my contrary holiday as I couldn't understand a single word that people were saying.

Fortunately the journey was swift and with a flourish - read: nigh on emergency stop - I hopped off and meandered on in search of a mad fabric. Which, naturally, I found.

Trouble with holidays is they have tourists.

Baegel. Nom.
And Brick Lane really has tourists. I don't like tourists. Meandering bastards blocking the pavements in random and unpredictable ways, couldn't they see I was a woman on a mission?! Eventually I made it to the 24 hour baegel place so I could indulge in a hot salt beef filled baegel and, of course, send a picture to annoy my flatmate. So I did...

Burgers were being promised back in Contrary Towers so back I crawled though I didn't expect to see people for long as the travellers had to be up at 3am. I've not had a burger in a while and these really were quite lovely.

Sunday dawned rather early, I was wide awake long before their alarm went off and enjoyed the delicate night sounds of Poplar, such as something that was very much like a pistol shot. Next noise, after the alarm, was Clare making an almighty clatter before texting to say she could never be stealthy. If I was mean I would have said I'd been woken by it...

Good job I'm not mean!

Baby carrotz
The only worry was that I was going to be held responsible for anything that happens to the Contrary Garden. Oh dear...

I was awake nice and early to water the garden before having a day of generally sorting bits and pieces out. I had intended to start cutting fabric for dress making, but, being a ditz, hadn't remembered to pre-shrink by washing so cutting and sewing would be delayed until Monday. I could live with that and, with a an maniacal diligence proceeded to do very little all day.

Chillie putting out...
Actually, I say very little, but that's not strictly true. I did some work, made some deductions, sent emails about deductions and... Buried a ghost. I'll not say any more about that to anyone other to Clare if she wants to know, some things really aren't for public consumption.

Oh, I also made a bag. As you do.

Monday. 5am. Awake. Not just awake, up, ready and resisting the urge to head for Mile End and ultimately W1. At 0701 I was in the Fortnum and Mason of Poplar (Lidl) to stock up on, well, everything. Turns out it was the grocery shop where we need all the really heavy stuff. What was worse was the probably alcoholic gentleman - he had a trolley with many loose bottles of lager - decided to flirt. *sighs*

Sew, a needle pulling thread.
Anyway, little trolley filled I struggled home, actually struggled, and collapsed in a heap. But not for long. I spent the day pattern making, watching cranes being erected, sewing, cleaning, vacuuming and generally being busy. I even found time to poke my legs out in the sun. It was really quite an eclectic way to spend the day.

Which was nice.

Happy Birthday Clare x
The evening saw a visit by my bezzie which mostly consisted of us chatting for England, drinking teh winez, eating lasgna (the last of my frozen batch) and toasting my flatmate on her big birthday.

Tuesday was a bit weird. I needed a few bits and pieces and vaguely thought that the Waitrose/John Lewis at Canary Wharf had a haberdashery. Turns out I was wrong. Pfft. So I scooted on the Jubilee Line to Bond Street and needed supplies. And went home.

Fortunately the effect of being abroad continued, I didn't hear another english accent or, indeed, speak with
*our* crane
anyone again including until now on Wednesday night. Uh oh. Now the irony is that when abroad I do speak, at least once I re-acclimatise myself to the relevant language, but here I just saw nobody.

But that's okay, I sewed and fiddled and thought and slowly but surely switched gears.

Which brings me to Wednesday. Another early start, more sewing and twiddling. More looking at cranes and wondering what the hell the builders actually do. And more watering the garden at 6am before the sun decides to be mean.

Checking it fits!
I did though finish my dress, or at least the first one. And made a matching tote bag. And I am in the middle of getting ready to cut fabric for the next dress. So that's good.

I've also cleaned, vacuumed, done washing and eaten probably too much. I know it's not most people's idea of a holiday but, really, this is progress for me. I still can't see myself going off to sunny climes and sit by a pool alone, but at least I managed a few days. And sure it would be nice to go off and spend time somewhere with someone but, well, I don't know anyone insane enough to do that with me.

So, I'll sew.

Chin-chin darlings.

The Costa del Contrary, complete with sun and authentic building site.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Clare's Guide to a Perfect 40th

1. Rise early because you no longer need 9 hours sleep
2. All old people should take some gentle exercise; run wildly into the sea, fall in and swim as far out as possible. Warning: this may upset youthful injuries such as broken toes
3. An emotional challenge like a lady's 40th requires a varied breakfast. Take one breakfast buffet of fruits, hams, cheeses, bread and demolish thoroughly
4. Embrace your wobbly bits by hitting the nudist beach. The startling view of your white flesh in deep crystal clear water makes you realise your body is brilliant!
5. Even better get someone else to embrace wobbly bits
6. Go exploring, sensibly taking enough water, sun protection and stop for a few beers on the way. Forget the advice and arrive back sweaty, thirsty and hungry. 
7. Go for another naked swim
8. Old people need their rest so let your companion sleep while you are pummelled in a beach facing massage tent by a young man
9. Get dressed for dinner. Decide to play a lazy game of bat and ball instead. 
10. After a substantial dinner it's healthful for the elderly to go for a stroll. Round off a perfect day by heading to the nudist bay and watch the moon rise on a new night. 

Monday, 22 July 2013

A Place called Sunrise

A landmark birthday inevitably leads to introspection and reflection. To be in the geographically same place as last year enables an easier comparison of the mental healing processes. The daily routine should be a comparator but when it has more of the treadmill feeling about it, that's unhelpful and unhealthful. 

I suppose there is a sense of sunshine being conduicive to warming and lifting any sense of depression and lingering grief. However I think everyone knows it doesn't work like that. There are rocks in the soul which enable shade to reside; an impermeable, hopeless darkness. 

It's been either years or days since the death of my dad. Ten years ago on my thirtieth we were all together in the Italian sunshine, without care or thought for what would happen. It hurts deeply that he's not here for this turning decade. It's been a massive time of learning and not of the academic type.  I was once accused of coldness because of my career and university focus but that's just my way of coping. The more buried in study I am, the more I'm hurting.

As I say and write this in a village called 'Sunrise', this passage of time leads to musings and turning over of lifeless mind spaces. Sometimes it turns out sunshine is a cure and though I don't pretend that all is well all of the time, when I compare how I was last year, it is better. 

From where I'm sitting the only way I can describe it, is that the dark rock pools in my mind are slowly being refreshed with the aquamarine clarity of time. And I can live with that. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A day in the life...

I don't really know the person who I'm on holiday with. I do know about his inability to find supermarkets, innate capacity to find and cause trouble and generally spread chaos. But today he went international. And it was special. It turns out;

1. He can't dress. Seeing him trying to put underpants on whilst hopping around with his size 12 sandals still on his feet was either hysterical or a mind bleach moment;

2.  Clear patio windows pose a real problem. Once I could understand but twice is borderline idiocy. I'm waiting for third time, obviously;

3. However the truly special moment was the realisation that he was splashing merrily around the Adriatic with a wallet full of kunas. Silly kuna that he is. Once we'd let the money dry out we bought some proček - we aren't going to dry out;

4. Slapping himself in the sunburned face because a small bug landed on him, leading to howls of pain;

5. Chocolate flavour shower gel leaked all over his smalls. On the bright side, they are now irresistable to women, if the adverts are correct.

All these, amongst flooding the bathroom, being on permanent speedo watch and tiny crab patrol and eating his own body weight in  gorgeous hotel food leads me to believe we shouldn't do anything dangerous. 

We are planning kayaking, a cross country bike ride, a beach BBQ and a trip to Mostar. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?! 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Gardening part 7

Sometimes gardening, like a hair cut,  can reach that tedious in between stage. It's been a cute and tidy bob but now it's just straggly whilst waiting to be put into a pretty French plait. The hair, that is not the plants. Though the spirally tendrils of the peas look very fringe like. 

This week I'm pleased to announce that the broad beans increasingly have large pods on many of the plants. I dispatched the black fly colony on their stalks hastily so I am still hopeful we can have a bean salad!

In other bean news, the slightly neglected dwarf yellow bean plants have produced the tiniest slimmest protuberances. I'm expecting at least one tuna niçoise salad from those. Not the tuna or potato, obviously. That's probably unrealistic...

The proper lettuces that we transplanted and immediately discounted as DOA seem to have Lazarus-like tendencies and perked up. Not all of them have taken but I wasn't sure what I'd have done with 30 webbs wonderful so that's probably for the best. 

Gardening should come with a mental health warning. I now find myself yelling obscenities at butterflies and frowning at weeds. Where is this going to end?