Thursday, 21 February 2013

Misc. with capercaillies

A good way to ensure you fail to update your blog, I find, is to post something you're faintly ashamed of and really don't want to leave hanging around for ages. Thus it has proved with the last post, though your comments were heartening and often hilarious, thank you. To obliterate my whining about my misshaped midsection AT LAST, let me tell you about the mating call of the capercaillie. I'm not really sure how I stumbled across this, file under 'and you wonder why you never achieve anything meaningful'.

"The mating sound of the male has been described as beginning with a resonant rattle, continuing with a pop like a cork being pulled from a wine bottle followed by the pouring of a liquid out of a narrow-necked bottle and ending with the sound of knife grinding. 

The males can be very aggressive and have been known to attack deer, dogs, sheep and even humans if  they are disturbed".

I would really like a capercaillie. B suggested a part capercaillie share and that we could send the bird to and fro on the Eurostar. I can imagine it would be very popular in the Carte Blanche lounge, trying to chat up the hostesses with its distinctive cork/knife grinding melody and attacking wheely suitcases when disturbed.

Apart from that I:

- Made skeleton biscuits:

Sweet baby Nathan, that was hard. I don't think I left the dough thick enough so the indentations were barely there, and then I didn't have a fine enough piping nozzle ("nozzle" is such a good word. If I ever get another dog, I'm calling it Nozzle. Ps, I am never getting another dog). Also, my gingerbread was disappointingly soft when it reached the recipe's required golden brown colour: does anyone have a better recipe? I am looking for your traditional gingerperson, the kind you buy in cheap bakeries in the North East.

- Painted my nails the same colour as my shoes, inadvertently, in an attempt to jolly myself up:

- Went on another trip to Paris yesterday for a farcically chaotic interview (not my fault, for once and indeed I was proud that a tiny shred of iron entered my soul and I was, very briefly, Assertive) that left me craving the sweet embrace of gin and a proper job. Instead, I bought 3 cakes, a jar of jam and the François Nars lipstick recommended to me in the previous post's comments. If and when bankruptcy finally comes, the official receiver is going to look particularly coldly, I imagine, on my serial purchases of (i) pinky-brown lip colours and (ii) preserves. Because the interview was, ahem, delayed, I was unable to enact my cunning plan to go to the Hermès cafe in Rue de Sèvres and to buy nail varnish in Bon Marché and drop in at La Pâtisserie des Rêves, curses. Instead, I walked from Batignolles to Boulevard Haussmann in the chilly February sun thinking about the amazing bits in La Bête Humaine that happen around there, death, guttering fires, confessions, cake, uncontrollable murderous impulses, trains. I am a bit obsessed with La Bête Humaine. Also Caillebotte's Pont de l'Europe, Manet's the Railway, Monet's Saint Lazare, the Batignolles rail accident in the 1920s .. Everything that happened in that triangle around Saint Lazare, really. I had the most horrible time living around there, but still I find it completely fascinating and could wander around there for days. The age of steam and the arrival of modernity and so one could ever call Zola subtle, but he was really great at pinpointing and shouting about huge themes in (then) contemporary life. This is quite interesting on that whole area. It doesn't really fit in my cake book, but nevertheless I am obsessed and need to find somewhere, some way, of writing about it. Want my rambling essay on rail and danger and modernity in late 19th century Batignolles with a tenuous association with my son's infant fascination with trains and peril? Apply within!

- Picked at the side of my cold-inflamed nose until it bled uncontrollably for hours. Wondered if one could die from side-nose blood loss. Asked F, who said she thought it was very likely. Cried a bit at the state of my face generally (self-inflicted! Suck it up, idiot!). I need to have my hands bound like an infant with eczema. I am thirty eight.

- Had an interesting discussion with the eldest about the current craze in the playground for playing "Findus contre l'Angleterre". Apparently they form two teams, and 'England' pretends to be furious at 'Findus', saying things like "my ponies, how could you", while the Findus team is unrepentant and tells them how delicious horse is. It's not quite British Bulldog, is it.

There we go. Now there isn't a picture of me moping about my face leprosy at the top of the page. Job done.

Friday, 15 February 2013

I seek to address a personal style crisis

I think I'm having one of those mid-life style crises you read about in mature women's magazines, where the person is photographed bare faced in a shapeless beige cardigan looking apologetic and faintly depressed before being zinged up and zhuzhed (sp?) and made to wear a deep V neck in some outlandish shade of purple and some flattering boots and glittery highlighter.

Elements of style crisis:

1. Bottoms
I used to be a trousers person, then about six years ago I turned into a skirt/dress person. Then I mutated back into trousers person. Now, it seems, I do not know how to wear either. I currently alternate between (i) a pair of old and not very flattering jeans (ii) Isabel Marant sand coloured skinnies when I emphatically do not have the body shape (= thighs) for skinnies, but I bought them so now I need to maximise wear; and (iii) a grey tulip skirt from Comptoir des Cotonniers c2006.

2. Tops
They are basically all stripy and having looked at some photos recently, I do not actually think the stripe is doing my matronly bosom any favours. I am confounded by necklines too.

3. Mid-section 

Oh, this is the worst. Between top and bottom there is a sort of unprepossessing sagging, sausage like mid-section that looks very middle aged. This, of course, is what sack dresses are for. I should go back to the sack dress.

Today is fairly typical, though I am leaning forward and you cannot see the lumpy bosom (trust me, it is fully present):

(I make an exception for the man-repelling shoes. I rediscovered these in a cupboard after a good ten years of neglect and I love them)

I kind of know what I want to look like. I want to look like a Margaret Howell model crossed with an uncompromising Cork Street gallerist (though without too much assymetric Japanese nonsense). Instead I look like someone's mum who had an attack of amnesia on a trip to Jaeger then lived on the streets for a month. With an ill-fitting bra (is it ill fitting? I don't think it is, yet my bust looks all .. eh. Wrong).

4. Face
My make up isn't working. I can't even quite identify what it is, just that what used to look good doesn't any more. My skin is definitely drier, my foundation isn't quite right, I can't find a lipstick colour I like. I'm "trialling" a bright pink one for Facegoop and it's nice, but it throws the rest of my scabby face into sharp and unflattering relief.

5. Other
(i) I have developed a nervous habit of picking at dry skin and tiny blemishes on my face until they turn into giant weeping sores, which is absolutely delightful.
(ii) My wig is going quite badly bald and I am too impoverished to pay another £1000 for a new one. Given that the lead time for delivery is about 4-6 months, things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. I will need to investigate hats, or something.
(iii) My eyebrows are fading (and when they fade they fade to a garish orange) and need to be tattooed again, but again, money, time, opportunity to go to London.

How does one turn such a personal style crisis around?

1. By devoting oneself to good works and ceasing to be distracted by the shallow blandishments of vanity. This can easily be combined with eg. growing a beard or becoming an anchorite. Possible future perk: canonisation.

2. By pouring one's energies into having a nice looking house instead (hahahahahaha fat chance)

3. By returning, chastened, to the forgiving embrace of the Cos sack dress. And possibly inventing or acquiring some form of equivalent Cos head covering.

4. Picture in attic.

5. Other? I will take any suggestions. Be kind. I am feeble and in possession of a sausage-like mid-section.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

I attempt to catch up

I have, like, five unfinished draft posts lurking around at the moment, which is very rare for me. God knows what it signifies, probably that they are shit and ill-conceived. Let's see if we can kick this one into shape. I should warn you I am in bed with a manky throat and have spent most of the day watching back to back episodes of One Born Every Minute, so I am emotional and confused and unable to form coherent sentences in any medium. Perfect!

So, I went to Paris earlier this week and spent most of the time in a state of exaggerated panic due to my poor interviewing technique and crippling social anxiety (even though I was only asking nice, unobtrusive questions about cake for god's sake, it's hardly fecking Watergate), but apart from that it was its beautiful, scornful self.

Things that I bought:

1. Cat bus from Totoro biscuits:

2. Skeleton cookie cutter:

3. Decorative edible skulls:

 (this led to an entertaining conversation with Peter who was trying to convince me that all skulls are edible, which may be the case if you have sturdy, impeccable American Teeth, but is certainly not so when you have British Teeth made of dust and tannin and apologies like me. We are, however, entirely in agreement on the vexed subject of meringue (=wrong). Yes meringue is vexed. Well, it is in my head. I can vex pretty much any subject you like, given half an hour on my own. Shut up)

4. A sack dress in the sales:

5. The most wildly expensive glass of red wine, accidentally. Even my sister laughed at how appallingly I was fleeced by an unscrupulous waiter who declared it le vin préféré des femmes as if that would make it OK. I really needed wine though since my chest cavity was about to explode with tension. My sister is living in Paris at the moment, and seems to be faring much better than I did when I lived there nine years ago. Momentarily I found myself wishing our mum knew about her living there, because she adored Paris and it always astonished me with how well she knew the city, she was always leading us to all manner of ancient brasseries and back street bars and secret parks, and the thought of her getting to visit my baby sister there and do lovely things makes me wistful. Conceivably she would have been less enamoured of my sister's mystery Calvados related head wound, but passons (actually, I think she would have absolutely understood).

Things I was given: 

1. Two eclairs, salted caramel and pistachio. Pistachio looks a bit like a metallic gherkin.

2. A dainty black forest gâteau:

3. An absolutely delicious Mont Blanc shaped like a ball of wool and filled with a sort of light blackcurrant compote and whipped cream.

(this is what happens when you write about cakes, and very bad it is too, I have about ninety five chins and by the time I got back I was hallucinating about melted cheese and tuna)

4. A free pass through the Metro barrier when my ticket failed. Whilst Parisian generosity can fall short of the full 'milk of human kindness' standard at times, in acts of altruistic civic disobedience you are ALWAYS OK with a Parisian.

5. A bed for the night by the lovely Beatrice, who now lives in Paris rather than Brussels to my great sadness.

Things that I did: 

1.  Walked round and round and round and round and round, mainly in the 3rd and 4th, to try and walk off my lunatic anxiety. God it was cold, I felt like the little match girl or something, especially since my anxiety seemed to preclude me going into eg. shops and cafes. The weather was not, however, the 'showers of Christmas decorations' my phone seemed to be suggesting we should expect. What the fuck kind of hail is that supposed to be?

Raining baubles

2. Sat in the BHV (venerable and deeply unglamorous department store) canteen, as advised by a recent interviewee, who said it had the best elderly people watching opportunities in Paris. This was excellent advice, there was a great variety of elderly people in good knitwear drinking tea out of tiny institutional metal tea pots, and also a wonderful view over the rooftops of Paris and a rather forbidding, stormy sky (perhaps pondering the imminent assault of Christmas baubles).

3. Interviewed patissiers. I'll link to the article when it comes out in April. I still have two more to go, including one who I have most unwisely promised, airily, that I will drive around Brussels. Ha. Ha ha ha ha. Ha. Oh god. Which will it be? The ludicrous getting lost? The inability to park? Possibly a minor prang involving a static piece of street furniture? I dread to think. It's ok, it's not Pierre Hermé. Imagine if I killed Pierre Hermé in a tragic Toyota Yaris/bollard incident. I am making myself laugh thinking about that, but it's the laughter of terror and prophecy.

While I was away, the dog ate a lemon cake I had been saving, and a gigantic radiator in the bathroom collapsed.  As a result and via the agency of Lukas the builder (I mentioned recently on Twitter that one of my most dependable and long lasting relationships was with Rick of Digital Photo Editing Services who appears without fail daily in my spam folder; the other is with Lukas who is a near constant presence in my life), I have spent the last 36 hours without heating but as of 7 tonight IT IS BACK. I declare Lukas my Valentine hero, even though strictly speaking, and he admitted as much to me, it is actually his fault the radiator fell off the wall in the first place. But it is a day of love and forgiveness, so we let it pass and he didn't comment on the fact that 80% of my wardrobe was piled on the radiator which may also have been a contributing factor.

I will leave you on this puny, yet vital, high. What news with you, the internet?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

It's custard bath night

One of my favourite blogs is this one and one of my favourite things about it is her list of joyful things down the left hand side (even better, indeed, is the list of advice - "considering over-wintering roosters in your study? Don't" -  but I don't have any of that, except GET AN ACCOUNTANT and that isn't quite in the spirit of the thing). So I thought I would try and do mine today. I made myself avoid all the obvious ones (nest webcams, Yorkshire Gold tea, David Sedaris, hairy ponies, Nancy Mitford, salted caramel, gloomy crime fiction). I know this is the blog equivalent of a warm bath of custard but I don't much care, it has been a long week  and I am feeling quite fretful and a warm bath of custard sounds very nice, actually. A warm bath of anything, indeed, our bath is buggered.

Joyful things:

Jays in the garden (I only found out they were jays last year, but they're wild like something out of a zoo, or something that got lost on its way to Africa).
Brightly coloured fine leather gloves. My current ones are a sort of acid green and even the children covet them.

Relics, the grislier the better, but especially whole preserved digits, limbs, or indeed saints.
Orange spine Penguin PG Wodehouse books, inherited from my parents.
Kenneth from 30 Rock.
Having enough scissors.
Béchamel with spinach and a pinch of nutmeg or mace. I had this in a pasta gratin last night in front of that ludicrous Richard III documentary with a nice glass of cheap red wine.
Spotting tiny dirty brown mice, all busy and surprising, on the Central Line tracks.
And getting divebombed by packs of delinquent parakeets.
Lemon curd.
The smell of stables, straw and turpentine and leather and dust and warm horse.
The smell of sugar beet on damp North Yorkshire autumn air, even though it is actually an awful smell.
Or the smell of After Eights on cold North Yorkshire winter nights, which is wholly delicious.
The smell of Soho on hot summer evenings before it all kicks off: spice and posh cologne and beer and hair product and hot tarmac.
Mars Attacks.
3/4 length sleeves.
The produce tent at village shows. And the tea tent, actually. And the 'dog that looks most like its owner' class.
Vuillard interiors.
Christine Ferber rhubarb jam.
Vetiver (especially Miller Harris Vetiver Bourbon).
Warm pub gin and tonics with the barest sliver of melted ice and a crappy half slice of lemon.
With a packet of Walkers Cheese and Onion. (Oh god I want this so much now).
Parrot tulips.
Patent leather.
Sunday breakfast at Midi market, Moroccan pancake with honey and a glass of sweet mint tea for €1,25.
The word 'baleful'.
Working at my kitchen table. I have a perfectly good office, but I just can't resist. This morning the light was just beautiful, with a tiny dusting of snow and a fat pigeon making its rounds. Here is a terrible picture of it.

You can just see a fat pigeon sitting on the wall to the right. 

Mexican wrestling outfits.
Tiny dark red Spartan apples.
Urban foxes, all insolent and unruffled and rifling through your binbags.

I would love to hear yours, ideally avoiding your top five or ten. The weirder the better.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Round up

I don't know what happened to this week. Perhaps the dog ate it. He's eaten everything else. I feel like it started shitty and improved, which is a lot better than the other way around, but you know, if I were drinking corner shop wine and watching ludicrous Richard III documentaries on Monday mornings, there would be something wrong (or very, very right). I know that until about Wednesday I was whining constantly about moving to the Ardennes and opening a donkey sanctuary and now I'm not.

Consulting my photos over the last seven days I have:

1. A bottle of scent.

I got sent this by courier by a PR, which is about as exciting a thing as ever happens to me, apart, possibly, from the day we got VIP access to the giraffes in London Zoo many years ago and I was allowed to feed one a slice of Mother's Pride. It is Hermès. It smells nice, of flowers and so on. I took the picture thinking I could somehow find a way to thank the sender in a social media style, but I can't. I just feel embarrassed and shifty about that kind of thing. But you know, thanks, Hermès (this isn't quite cutting it I fear. THIS IS WHY I CAN NEVER HAVE FREE NICE THINGS).

2. Returning to more familiar territory, we have the Roomba ambitiously trying to eat a large metal boot remover in the shape of a beetle.

The honeymoon is over between me and Roomba, with all its officious whirring and attempts to swallow whole aprons in the manner of a boa constrictor. I appreciate Roomba and its stellar services, but I no longer love it, because of all the time spent trying to persuade it to disgorge cables and emptying its dust tray of Lego pieces and money and discarded socks and dental floss. Yes, I am a fickle bastard.

3. A picture of the dog hogging an expensive Svenskst Tenn cushion, just because he can. There is only one expensive cushion in the house and it invariably ends up under the dog's delicate head. I came in yesterday to find him licking it meditatively with the self-same tongue he uses to lick up pools of urine on the street at excruciating length. THIS IS ALSO WHY WE CAN NEVER HAVE NICE THINGS.

Very busy not giving a shit about your soft furnishings

4. Two pictures of my newly discovered spirit animal, which is a neurotic horse called Noblesse. Noblesse is sweet and well-meaning but she has a lot of nervous tics and unfortunate habits. "Oh Noblesse" I said to her yesterday, leaning my head against her neck whilst being careful not to touch her sore ointmented shoulder. "You shouldn't rub yourself raw". Then I remembered that I spend 36% of every day picking at dry skin on my face until it bleeds, and I let her be and gave her a piece of apple. She makes my heart ache.

Five other things this week:

1. I did a bird census in the back garden last weekend (if my seventeen year old self read this, she would beg to be put down like a wounded animal). I was somewhat hampered by being too short-sighted to see any of the birds and it was a bit tragic, me on my own, squinting out at the various Small Brown Birds in the garden in terminal confusion. Occasionally I would collar a child with a mad yet infinitely determined look in my eye and demand that they look at some pictures of various tits and compare them with what was lurking around the fat balls.

"Is that a mésange charbonnière or a mesange à tête noire?"

And they would get a sort of shifty look in their eyes and lie to me and then run away again. I have now learnt how to say "starling" and "coal tit" in French which is almost as useful as my extensive butterfly and soil variety vocabulary in Dutch. If I combine all my language skills you get something like:

"Starling! Loam! Dog is grey pink brown! Duck billed platypus! Happy new year!"

Maybe I need to go into surrealist poetry.

2. I watched this five million times, courtesy of M. "Can it like, fly and shit? " "Nah man, that's Pegasus".

3. I bought a cardigan. It is grey and unearthly soft and was in the sale and it is the first thing that is not food or a book for my eldest son that I have bought in an age. It is by these people, but when I wear mine I do not look like any of those haughty moddles with angular cheekbones, I feel soft and welcoming like someone's granny and like I probably smell of Yardley lavender and talc and might just open my stout handbag and bring out a packet of Rolos for you (my granny did this. She also had a biscuit barrel IN HER BEDROOM and this is now the standard of domestic luxury against which all other bedroom amenities are tried and found wanting). I doubt this is what 'Majestic Filatures' had in mind. The only problem is that now I need a post-it note attached to my granny cardy in the manner of Liz Lemon that says "DO NOT WEAR AGAIN UNTIL WASHED". Especially since the smell of Yardley lavender and buttermints is now joined by the insistent smell of Old El Paso Fajita mix. I forgot to mention that I was approached by Old El Paso's social media "team" a few weeks ago asking if I might like to link my Old El Paso posts back to their site. Erm. I believe the term I habitually use in relation thereto is "MSG and despair". I am at a loss as to how to respond.

4. My Kindle in its infinite wisdom mysteriously decided to unilaterally download Sheila Heti (or I pre-ordered it months ago drunk and forgot, this is conceivably the case). I have only just started but am loathing it with a fiery loathing. Have you read it? Should I force myself to continue?

5. Actually, there isn't a number five. I am going to Paris next week to stalk pâtissiers though, so there is a suspicion there may even be actually leaving the house style events to report. If you like poorly lit photographs of eclairs and reports of violence perpetrated against me by elderly ladies, that is, and honestly, who doesn't.