Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The best possible taste

I don't often write about food, which is surprising given how much I love it (and accordingly, I'm no sylph). For some reason I was feeling very hungry on the bus today, on the way home from work, and this made me think about the fact that actually it sometimes doesn't even matter what you're eating: the environment, the company you're keeping, the weather, the music, something unpredictable and unique or even just how stupidly hungry you are can make the following list of things, for instance, taste better than anything you've ever tasted:

a cup of tea in a plastic mug outside my just-pitched tent;
fish and chips from Joe's Fish Bar in Tranent, straight out of the packet;
a bowl of Doll instant noodles (probably chicken flavour);
fish fingers and tomato sauce, eaten with my fingers;
cold baked beans from a tin with a bent fork;
a spoonful of crunchy peanut butter from the jar; or
a slightly burnt sausage in a bap at a badly organised barbeque.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Our velocity

Terry was one of the founders of the "little school" which my sister and brother and I attended. We were taken out of state school in 1979 and started at Woodhall, as it was known, a large cottage set in the hillside near our village, with a walled garden and outhouses. Due to local authority requirements, the school had to have a set, approved curriculum and was regularly inspected.

Terry and his then-girlfriend, Mary, were teachers and they created the environment around which the school, and the other teachers, coalesced. Terry was a maths teacher and enthusiast and had a powerful presence which had a strong impact on my sister and I as pre-adolescents - so much so that we professed to "hate" Terry and formed the "Terry's Rotten Apples Club" (a cipher for "Terry's Rotten") which met in a cupboard under the stairs. We teased him and Mary mercilessly - I remember my sister saying boldly, to shocked silence, "Terry and Mary are going lick the cream bowl in bed!", for their relationship, which they had clearly agreed was not to be acknowledged in the school environment (and justifiably so: it was none of our business), and for the fact that they were both vegetarians (I once hoodwinked Mary into eating a beef crisp which I'd cunningly disguised by placing it in a bag of cheese and onion crisps). We really behaved quite appallingly.

Terry taught me probability using thousands of throws of the dice, the results meticulously logged; he taught me calculus, and we drew beautiful pie charts. I loved my maths lessons, although I behaved as though I hated them; I loved Terry too. After I left when I was 13, to go to a "normal" school (which turned out to be Steiner school, so not that normal), I'd see him from time to time and always felt as though we had a special connection, not least because of my faint guilt at the way we had behaved; but also because I felt that no matter what I had done, I was forgiven.

Terry went on to become a counsellor, drawing on the infinite reserves of patience and good humour he used with us. He died three years ago, in his early fifties, of a brain tumour. For a few years before he died he suffered operations, and bloating from drugs, and periods where he was vague and slow; but he was still recognisably Terry, even though he was no longer the powerful, vital man he used to be. Even now he still seems so alive to me that I can't quite register that he isn't.

When my sister called to tell me he had died, I stood and cried on the platform of the train station in Singapore where I was waiting for a train to take me to the airport.

The last time I saw him was at my dad's birthday party. Terry held court in the corner, clearly very ill, but smiling; and in a slightly tipsy state I went over and talked to him and hugged him for a while and then said "You made me what I am". He replied "You made me what I am".


Joan Didion writes succinctly on Salon about the real issues obscured by the farrago of misinformation surrounding the US election.

Finding Number 1 of the recent report into whether Palin abused her power in having a state trooper fired: "For reasons explained in Section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute".

Sarah Palin's reaction? "I'm very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing ... any hint of any kind of unethical activity there."

No wonder the rest of the world is observing this election with a mixture of apprehension and astonishment.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Oh music come and light my heart's dark places

When I was a kid I used to share a room with my younger brother (happy birthday, Robin). I had the top bunk on the bunkbed, which was against the wall. Directly on the other side of the wall, my mum's piano stood in the living room; I used to lie in bed at night listening to her play, the chords resonating through the wall. She often played my favourite piece of music, Beethoven's Sonata No. 8, Pathetique, 2nd Movement (here, and this is the best version on YouTube, played by wonderboy Freddy Kempf), and even now when I hear it I'm instantly transported back to what seems to be, for me, a rare moment of peace and tranquillity. My mum put together a series of photographs for my 40th birthday recently and looking at the earlier ones, I look so sad (there's one particularly piercing one which I clearly remember being taken: me and my sorry little face, standing with a group of people on the doorstep of our cottage, about to go to school, dreading it, my little plastic bag of belongings in my hand).

People ask me what it's like to be 40 and I tell them, without exaggeration, that the older I get, and even though there are lovely memories in there too (Beethoven through the wall), the further away I get from my childhood, the happier I am.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


The headline on CNN this morning: "Many Iraqis not focused on vice-presidential debate". That may be because they are focused, inexplicably, on surviving.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury

In the South China Morning Post this week, news that the Hong Kong government is considering promoting Hong Kong as an environmentally aware city, and redesigning the dragon, Hong Kong's current logo, to reflect that (they will presumably engage a team of consultants at great expense over several months to come up with the innovative conclusion that the red dragon should be green, and perhaps have a plastic bag wrapped around one of its claws). This is, with unassailable logic, due to the high level of environmental awareness amongst the population due to the fact that, er, we live in an increasingly and unbelievably polluted city (see photographic evidence below) which the government is, also er, doing nothing about.

Silhouettes and alcohol

I had a red-hot chilli martini with some friends in the bar at the top of the Mandarin Oriental and then with my head spinning and throat burning, came home and watched the video of Alexander McQueen's A/W collection on net-a-porter. Clean lines, perfect silhouettes and simple but elegant tailoring. It might be the vodka talking but these seem to me to be things of beauty, with no hint of gimmicks (though I could have sworn the model wearing Look 5 has knock knees; you'll have to watch the video to spot it).