Another year drawing to a close, another wrinkle on the face of time. The comet Ison, which has been traveling since the dawn of time as we know it, crashed and burned last night in the glorious fireball that is our sun. It has travelled billions of miles over billions of years, from the icy outreaches of the solar system (the Oort Cloud- I have been learning stuff today), a dirty snow ball traveling at speeds of around 900,000 miles per hour. It does rather put a human’s time on earth in perspective, and as a way to go, well, pretty spectacular really; a Thanksgiving fly by, though I think it could have waited another month so we could celebrate New Year by its light, after all what is a month in that time frame? Which brings us on to the knotty issue of what is time? At which point my brain halts in its tracks and re-enacts the outer edges of the solar system by becoming frozen and unreachable.
But did it burn up? There seems to be a slim chance that part of it did survive it’s sling shot journey round the sun. Is this a metaphor? Is it saying ‘don’t give up on me just yet’? If so, who or what is saying that? The Earth? Bristol’s traffic conundrum? The co-op bank? My son*? My stair carpet? Take your pick, from those or any number of other messes (and yes, I am aware of the irony of choice * after my last posting but hell, I am a mother and entitled to such irony) that need to clearing up.
New year is always a time of vows, clear outs, promises to self, diets, surreptitious returnings of tragically wrong gifts, new horizons, new ideas. I know we still have to get through the party month, the gorging, the jollity and general silly season, but while I’m on this slightly darker path bear with me. I have plans for the New Year, uncrystallised slightly fuzzy plans, determined to make changes and make my work life better. At my most bleak I think we are all on a fixed, immovable path into the metaphorical sun, with no hope of bits surviving to make the loop back and start again. At my more positive I am convinced that things can change if we have enough will, foresight and energy. And by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’. I have some will, I have quite a lot foresight, I don’t yet have the energy. Working on that. I have signed up for a one day bookbinding course in May as a start. Turning back time in my own way.
It’s that time of year. Autumn; golden, windy, wet, colder, darker, melancholy, beautiful, happy, emotive. My beloved son, the one and only fruit of my womb, turned 20 yesterday (note to self – must change my ‘about‘ page on here). So exactly 20 years ago I was dazed, confused and slightly euphoric, staring from my bed in the Chelsea & Westminster hospital into the transparent bucket that held my newborn baby, with awe and a the kind of love that literally changes everything, right then, right there.
Three days prior to that I had started my labour. Well, the nurse said I hadn’t, but she wasn’t on the receiving end of the contractions so what did she know? I had a series of midwives visit me throughout this period, including one called Andrew who wore a stripy waistcoat. Jasper, father of said child, stayed with me throughout it all, sleeping (sort of) on the floor beside my bed, eating oysters brought in by his father, with champagne, with the mistaken idea that the baby had been born and/or I might want some anyway. That is most definitely a man’s take on giving birth. That and “maybe a spicy curry might help?” .
It seemed clear that Stormy (at that time baby-no-name-no-sex) was not in any hurry to change his abode. Despite walks down the Fulham Road, propped up between my sister Sue on one side and Jasper on the other for support during contractions, not even gravity could shift him (not much has changed in 20 years thinking about it). Labour and giving birth is one of those times in life when vanity and self consciousness seems to utterly disappear. The one exception to this during my time was the fact that Jasper had, from god knows where, found a pair of pale, institution-green, cotton-polyester track suit bottoms, into which I was inserted for my Fulham Road perambulation. Anyone who has been to the Fulham Road in the last 50 years knows that it is a very chi-chi place, teaming with the beautiful people eyeing each other up in a desperate attempt to out-gorgeous the next person. I, in my bile green baggy bottoms, tummy the size of a small planet, bosom akimbo, hair raised by sweat not gel, knew, even my zoned out state, that I did not fit in. The walks continued on the high up walk ways of the C&W hospital, Sue battling with vertigo, Jasper soldiering on, occasionally remembering some of the things we learned in a pregnancy yoga weekend we had been on, and where everyone looked a little bit more like me; or wore a white coat or stripy waistcoat.
Eventually it was all too much and despite the desire for a perfect birth in a warm pool, with whale music and yogic back massages, I gave in and had an epidural. First on one half of my body, vertically, then on the other, and then both together simultaneously. That ranks as one of the most peculiar sensations I have ever had. Once it all finally worked, after a night’s sleep, Stormy was brought into the world with a giant pair of tongs, making very little noise and with the only fanfare I could muster, a very loud yell. Sue had scrubbed in and come into the theatre to hold my hand, as though to the manor born. Jasper had seen enough to last quite a long time and paced outside.
I was given a little wrapped bundle with a cone shaped head and squinty eyes to admire for 5 seconds before Jasper was called in and there was our family, all present and correct.
Except of course, just like the water birth with whale music, things rarely work out as perfectly and neatly as one would like. It took us six weeks (all the time you are allowed by law before they take the child away and name it Darren 23) to name our baby (Stormy Orlando Samuel Tranter Haughton-Smith), and two years to unravel our little family.
Twenty years on the family is very much together again, in a very different shape, but stronger, more solid and loving than many more regular shaped families I know. Stormy brings together a family that now includes my wonderful husband Russell, Jasper (of course) and Sophie (my niece) their two children and Stormy’s half siblings (and cousins.. it’s a bit complicated). Ron too is part of this family, Jasper’s father and super Dad-dad. My siblings too, their spouses, and ex ‘s, their children and children’s children, and those who came to us as foster siblings and remained within the family dance with their families too. It of course includes my mother Rosemary, and her partner Nancy. My Dad, Algy, died in 2008, but he and Stormy were good friends as well as family. It includes Russell’s family too now, although they might be a little startled to know what sort of a club they have unwittingly joined.
Yesterday, after a stressful drive through central London (who knew there would a be a Diwali festival in Trafalgar Square?), Russell and I joined up with our smaller section of this family to celebrate Stormy’s 20 years with us, with towers of seafood in a Parisian style brasserie, complete with enormous mottled mirrors, gold leaf cornices, banquets and be-aproned French looking waiters. Seafood and fancy restaurants is one of the traditions of this anniversary – he was born with expensive tastes and they don’t seem to be diminishing with age.
I always find Stormy’s birthday an emotional time, but this year even more so. It has been a rocky one for him, but as ever he is aiming toward a better one, never giving up despite sometimes appearing to do so. He has brought and kept a lot of people together in his life. He is a loving and responsible (sometimes!) older sibling, creative, charming and self effacing, self centred but aware, kind, talented and funny. I am so grateful for these 20 years, and so full of hope for the next, and the next, and the next… He doesn’t live with me anymore, but he is in my heart forever – to misquote ee cummings – I carry his heart, I carry it my heart. Stormy, this one’s for you.
While wasting time on facebook recently this popped up – too good not to pass on.
ALERTS TO THREATS
IN 2013 EUROPE
From JOHN CLEESE
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.
The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.
The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country’s military capability.
Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”
The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.”
Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels ..
The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.
Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be right, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is cancelled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.
British writer, actor, and tall person
And as a final thought – Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC.
Life is too short…
It has been a long time since the story of the ring. Nothing quite so mysterious has happened since then but I felt I should make my presence felt just a little so I am not completely forgotten.
I have been lots of places since then, West Wales, Edinburgh, Brighton, London. Most of these trips involved family and of course my nearest and dearest, Russell, and were without exception lovely times.
I have worked a considerable amount since then too, despite closing the cafe for two weeks to give it a jolly good sorting out, lick of paint and some pretty-fying, including new tables with rather fabulous prints of the Folk House brochure covers printed on them.
However, what this entry is about is the revisiting of old school friends. On Thursday, after spending the day with my two sisters, as if that we’re not treat enough, I will be meeting up with three old school friends at the Chelsea Arts Club in (unsurprisingly) Chelsea, London. Well, I say three. Two of them were in my year and in my house, named after the martyr Margaret Pole. I forget what sticky end she came to. We knew each other well then, and were close in a way that comes with living cheek by jowl with each other for four years, spending half terms at each other’s houses (well, me in theirs usually) and smoking in the haystacks together. Their names are Alison and Sophie. Their stories are fascinating and not what you might expect of a well bred, catholic school girl, and frankly all the better for that. And while they may have a slight penchant for the Daily Mail there is more to a person than their choice of newspaper and they certainly seem to cope with mine (hello magazine). As you may have gathered this was a catholic school, a convent, run by the sisters of the order of the holy sepulchre. I was distinctly odd by comparison to Most if my compadres, coming from what could only be described as a hippyish sort of commune in Scotland. Sister Mary Ignatius described me as ” a bit bohemian but quite nice”.
The third old chum is Belinda. Belinda wasn’t in the same house, nor the same year. Belinda was the younger, wilder girl we all wanted to be, well, I did anyway. I haven’t actually seen her since school, apart from once, when I was standing in a queue in the post office on the Kings Road and saw her at the counter. Unutterably glamorous and with even more glam friends I did not speak up or make myself known to her.
Such is the power of a memory of being a misfit. No matter that I made many friends in that school, three of whom I am in regular contact with today, and now Belinda too ( via Facebook – more on that later), that feeling of not being quite right, not having quite the correct look, or parents, clothes, politics (even then) or of course enough money is a very powerful thing, or perhaps I should say disempowering.
Had I known then what I know now, after all our stories have run this far, of course I would know that what makes people interesting, loveable and worth a punt is of course their very differences. I look back at that school and see a mass of very different girls from all over the world, whose only thing in common was the fact that their parents could pay for their education, some easily and some with enormous difficulty, and chose to do so in a catholic boarding school. So many gorgeous and interesting girls who are now women, and too, so many deeply dull, narrow minded girls who are now the wives and mothers of broods of politicians probably.
So, Belinda surfaced on the dread facebook. I say dread because as clever, middle glass grown ups we are supposed to revile it. But actually despite it being a bit of tyrant over my time and some really truly stupid and pointless stuff being posted on there, it brings a lot of amusement and in my case has helped promote my business, find me my husband (another story for another day) and now reintroduce me to Belinda, who apart from being an Old Fish ( yes, as ex pupils of New Hall School we are known as Old Fish. Lovely.) lives as exotic a life as one could wish for, sailing the seven seas, cooking up a storm, sometimes in a storm, meeting chefs and cooks all over the world and still doing cart wheels on the beach at 50. I am still somewhat in awe, but happy to be so. I couldn’t cart wheel now to save my life, so I will sit back, glass of champers in hand in the most elite of artsy fartsy London clubs, delighted to be in the company off my very dear old muckers Sophie and Alison, and my new mucker Belinda who I am hoping will at the very least sing us a shanty or two before the evening is quite done.
The Mystery of the Diamond Ring
Not so very long ago a ring was passed from a mother to a daughter, a beautiful ring that had been bought in a small jeweller in Mayfair for the mother’s engagement. As a child the daughter had tried it on, in secret, while playing with her mother’s trinkets and pretty jewellery, and an image of the stones, grey and misty were embedded in her memory, some sort of semi precious gems, she could not remember, her mother said. It was a very precious and important ring, with a band so thin it looked as though if could snap at any moment. Passing it on to her created a connection with her mother that was unique and very special.
After some time the ring was taken to have the band thickened, and was then worn more often and was much admired. A little while later, despite being rather long in the tooth, the daughter was given an engagement ring of her own by a handsome American chap, and when the wedding day came the daughter wore both the rings; the day and the rings all sparkled perfectly.
The old ring was not taken off when the daughter left for her honeymoon. It was only on arrival at Heathrow Airport that, with a horrible sinking feeling, she noticed a gaping hole where one of the larger stones had been.
On return to the UK insurance possibilities were followed up in the hope that the stone could be replaced but it became a quagmire of bureaucracy and was abandoned. Still she had not told her mother. Married life commenced.
Eventually the daughter decided to get the ring fixed and then tell her mother. It was fixed but the new stone looked out of place, flatter that the others. It was whole again, but not the same. Still she did not tell her mother.
Married life carried on, happily. Life and all its messiness, joy and chaos continued. The ring stayed in it’s box.
One year and three months later the daughter left her place of work, opened the door of her brand new car and noticed a small sparkly object on the seat. Having a magpie’s instinct for shiny objects she picked it up. It was a clear stone of an unusual shape and lovely pinkish colour. She put it on the shelf in the car, loaded the smelly laundry and left over bread and drove home.
The nagging memory that had been triggered grew louder. She got the ring out of the safe and put the stone next to it. It was the same shape as the setting for new stone. It sparkled and teased – was it, wasn’t it?
The jeweller’s shop who had done the replacement was an old fashioned place that still wrote it’s receipts on a type writer. The man who owned the shop was old and dusty as many of it’s beautiful pieces of jewellery and silver plate. He was surprised to see her and amused when she said she thought she might be going mad, and it was probably a piece of glass but….
It was indeed the missing stone, a rose cut diamond, of Indian origin, that had sat in it’s asymmetrical setting with it’s three siblings since it was made in the Georgian era until it had fallen out and been who knows where for one year and three months.
I have since told my mother. There is still no way on knowing where the stone had been or how on earth it got on to the seat of a new car. The dress I was wearing the day it reappeared had no pockets and had been washed several times since last year. I have no explanation, and rather like having no explanation. It’s a little bit magic.
Barbacoa is a Mexican, slow cooked meat dish, a recipe for high days and holidays. Chez nous yesterday was a high day because we had some lovely friends coming over for dinner and Russell was cooking.
Russell studied the recipes, made lists, shopped til he dropped and made little piles of chopped things all over the kitchen and slowly but surely dinner emerged.
adapted from Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers
8 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 cinnamon stick broken up, or teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon pepper corns
1 teaspoon dried oregano
40g very dark chocolate broken up
300ml olive oil
Remove seeds and stalks form the chillies and tear up. Warm a dry frying pan and gently heat the chilli pieces for a few seconds. Then transfer them to a small saucepan and cover with boiling water and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes til soft. using either stick blender or an upright blender puree the chillies with about 1/3 of the cooking water. Add all the other ingredients and blend. The heat from the water will melt the chocolate.
2 kg mutton (if you can get it, or lamb) shoulder, on or off bone as you prefer. You could use beef too – any cheap cut.
1/2 bottle red wine
5 ripe tomatoes roughly chopped
2 tablespoons quince or red currant jelly
100g dark chocolate
4 large floury potatoes.
The night before put the meat in large, heavy pan with the pre-made marinade. Make sure the meat is coated well. The book says put it in a bag, in the fridge. Either way is fine. On the day add tomatoes and wine to the marinaded meat, and cover with water. Cover the pan with a pierced cling film to help keep all the moisture in, and ut the lid on. Bring it to a simmer then turn it right down to a very low simmer so that is “barely breaking a bubble”.
After 3 hours remove the cling film and add the jelly and chocolate and stir in. The book doesn’t mention salt but I suggest 1 teaspoon of maldon salt at this point – taste it to be sure. Add the potatoes, cut up into half fist size pieces. Cook gently for another hour, lid on, until the potatoes are soft.
We ate this with a cabbage, coriander and radish salad. The whole meal was a revelation, not least because who knew Russell could cook like this? Gorgeous, rich, deep and velvety, chocolate has whole new shelf in the kitchen.
June. It is lovely and sunny outside, but any minute now it won’t be again. I recall June always being like this actually, climate change notwithstanding. Being my birthday month and being a particularly self centred person (hard to believe I know) I have been aware of the weather in this month, and whether that weather will spoil my day or not. Yet another reason for a birthday rant.
June is all about flowers, roses in particular, and also a beautiful painting called Flaming June, by Frederic Leighton. This is a controversial painting apparently, thought to be too chocolate boxy for some, and to others a perfect example of the pre-Raphealite (although I don’t think he was one, possibly not having enough velvet jackets or something) style of the time. It now lives in Puerto Rico. I absolutely love it. Its gorgeous and very orange. I get a card with this painting on it every birthday, and this year was no exception, coming from my sister Sue. It is a part of my birthday tradition which I would like to keep going forever, please.
I have a rose bush in my garden, decidedly unromantically named ‘Alan Titchmarsh‘, which was given to me by my friend Sarah as a house warming, or maybe it was birthday, present. Anyway, for the last twelve years it has worked hard at growing very tall, currently about 9 foot I think. It is gorgeous, lush and throws out fat, blousy blooms from May to October, but with extra in June; the gift that does indeed keep on giving and, despite being called Alan, makes you want to put your nose in each flower and sniff long and hard (having carefully checked for earwigs first).
June is also Russell’s birthday month. We are both Gemini. Is that a good thing? For his birthday treat we did a whirlwind visit to Edinburgh, staying in the fabulous Missoni Hotel for one night, visiting my lovely family up there and being culture vultures. His requests were to find a book shop and a record shop. A man of small and few wants which were fulfilled pretty much as we stepped out of the hotel. Coda is a record shop that was created for Russell -all about Folk and Country music, eclectic and interesting. It makes me so happy that these places still exist and more, thrive. Book shops also came within our path and much browsing and sniffing of that lovely smell of old books was done.
Anyway, back to the hotel, which although it was His treat, was also mine because, you know, it’s MISSONI. And the door men wear zig zag kilts. I do like a man in a kilt. And I do like a stylish hotel, even if their breakfast left quite a lot to be desired. That was all we ate there, in bed of course, although without our usual Sunday morning soundtrack of the Archers (it’s good, stop it. yes, i know they are all appalling people, but…) as the radio couldn’t get radio 4! Still, two small faults did not spoil our stay and I think I can safely say that while Russell was not particularly enamoured of the kilts he liked the cocktails and the dressing gown.
On the Saturday evening of our stay we were royally fed and wined by Andrew (who runs probably the most gorgeous shop in the world – Nomads Tent) and Heidi (renowned photographer), with a salmon as big as a house and their entire crop of spinach – god it was so good. Then little cakes made by Gabi who was coincidentally visiting to go to a hen party. Her hen party cakes were bespoke and extremely rude. Ours were very tame, pretty and utterly delicious, and mine and Russell’s had a candle in it. Stupidly I forgot to take any pictures.
After a trip down (my) memory lane, visiting my Dad’s old street and neighbourhood of Leith on the Sunday, incurring sore feet and huge weariness, we got a bus back to town, and headed for the Grassmarket. There we sat on a bench and ate crepes from a van, read the newspaper, and felt very continental and almost Parisien – it has that feel somehow.
Later on we headed over to Benet (lovely paintings – take a look) and Kaaren’s, who fed us some more, before putting us on the bus to the airport, fat, happy and knackered. But not before arranging a return trip in August so we can all go and see the wonderful David Sedaris at the Festival. Cannot wait.