Friday, 9 November 2007

Chameleon 11

John and Amy arrived home just after six, rustling in with various plastic bags of food. Chris had finally showered and dressed sometime late in the afternoon. Having explored the flat Dinner was prepared by Amy while John fiddled with network cables, running them from the office to Chris's room, checking that everything worked and then finally neatly tucking them all under the carpet edges. After dinner, chicken, boiled potatoes, green beans John made his excuses and went off to the office to complete some work, leaving Chris to chat with Amy at the table. Normally he did not like talking about himself, his parents were lucky to get more than one word answers but here he felt so at ease, so accepted, that he found himself responding happily to Amy's gentle prompting chatting about school, his friends, everything really.
" Oh, and this is for you " she said sliding a piece of paper across the table.
It was a phone number. He looked at it blankly.
" Your aunt Agnes" she said, " I wasn't sure if you had it, you know, in case you wanted to call your parents. "
My parents, of course, thought Chris they would be there by now, in the sitting room take the high road on the telly, dinner on plates on their laps. Ah, but not my parents, and I don't have to be there. He looked up and met Amy's expectant gaze. Oh well, he thought.
" Yes, I should phone " He looked up at her catching her concern resolve into a smile. Chris knew when to say the right thing. Glancing at the clock, he ran through the familiar TV schedule in his head, life in Elgin seemed to revolve around the different soap operas.
" Now would be a good time " he said slowly, thinking " If that is ok I mean, Take the High Road is just finishing and Emmerdale is not on for another half an hour " " Of course it's Ok, I'll just pop these plates in the sink then I'd better see how John is doing " Amy made her diplomatic exit as Chris started dialling.
" Hello " said a faint scottish voice.
" Hi Aunty, its me " there was a brief puzzled silence then
" Chris ! of course, you'll be wanting to speak to your mum and dad I suppose "
" errrm . . . ." Chris started to say but there was a clonk then muffled distant voices followed by a sudden breathless but familiar voice, his mum.
" Chris, I was hoping you would call. How are things ?, did you meet John and Amy ? where are you now ? "
" Fine, I'm . . . " he started to reply but was instantly cut off his mum continuing. " I am sorry Chris, it was all a bit rushed really. I mean our trip was arranged and I know how much you dislike Elgin, and when John suggested you stay with them, well it seemed a perfect way for you all to get to know each other . . "
Chris slumped slightly, mum obviously had things to say.
" and I know it was all short notice, and we would have liked to come along too, to the meeting that is, but Aggie was expecting us and you know how much your dad hates driving in the dark . . . "
Chris had switched off and was gazing round the kitchen. How different it was here, didn't his parents realise he was grown up, almost an adult. No, of course they didn't, he was just a child to them, how different to his real parents.
" And is everything ok ?, are you fine ? are they treating you ok ? have you eaten ? are you behaving yourself ? "
" Actually mum, everythings great " Chris cut in across his mums frantic questioning.
" I mean I was wondering if I could, you know, stay longer . . . "
There was silence then his mums voice, suddenly quiet
" Oh . . . "

" I mean I'm just in the way during the holidays really, and I have my own room here, I'm in the middle of town and John and Amy are great, really great "
" Well if that is what you want " said his mum hesitantly
" we'll be back in a couple of weeks, and I am sure we could all meet up and discuss things, come to some arrangement, if that is what you want of course " a pause " What you really want."

" Brilliant mum, I mean thanks that is. Anyway I had better go, John was fixing up my computer so I can get online, he might be finished. I'll see you when you get back, yes ?"
" Yes, when we get back then, errm bye "
But Chris was already replacing the receiver, his mums quiet sadness cut off, unnoticed.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Chameleon 10

Music, he thought, wandering aimlessly around the spacious room. The cd's were in an alcove on a shelf above the player, tucked in beside a green leafy plant and below the books. Lots of books. Chris's fingers flicked along the cds, David Gray, Celine Dione . . . . dull, dull middle aged crap he thought, although The Ramones and The Clash ( digitally remastered ) hinted at a more interesting past. Ignoring the books for the time being Chris's eye was caught by one of a small group of DVDs further down. " Blade runner - the Directors Cut "
" Result ! , I just knew it ! " he exclaimed out loud, remembering last nights test.
Picking out the DVD for a closer look he paused, remembering something he had seen in one of the kitchen cupboards. Back in the kitchen he fished out a flat packet from deep in a cupboard, microwave popcorn, yummy.
Back in the sitting room clutching a large glass bowl of popcorn he flopped down to watch the film.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Be still and know

Monday 3.45pm

Meditation they say is good for you. The problem I have found is finding somewhere quiet and undisturbed to practice in. Not anymore. I have discovered the perfect place, and if you have the same problem don't worry, it is open to everybody, 24 hours a day, in all major cities, smaller ones too. And the name of this oasis of calm - the hospital E.D. ( thats the emergency department or A.&E. - accident and emergency if you are abroad ). Anyway, back to meditation. Firstly you need something to concentrate your mind upon. You could use your breathing but if you think about it, there is something much better, yes the pain ! Now all you need is a place where you will not be disturbed for a while. Well once you have booked in and doen some paperwork a finger will come over the desk pointing to the waiting room and here nothing happens for hours, perfect. Now just sit and clear your mind, thoughts may try to come and go but don't worry, the pain will easily block them out. Are you thinking about how you got here ? what will happen ? Don't, detach yourself from thoughts of the future and the past, there is only now. This is not as hard as it sounds because here no one will tell you what is happening or how long you'll be waiting. A person dressed in blue pyjamas may come and stare around the room occasionally but will leave without speaking and was probably the cleaner anyway, detach yourself, there is only the moment, now. A very, very long now. With practice the human condition will become apparent to you as the room fills with still tableau of human misery, as seperate from you as you are from your thoughts. Let it pass, concentrate . . . . there is only now.
Mind you if you do not take the meditative approach you are in trouble. Your visit will be more like torture by sensory deprivation. Nothing happens, time stretches out and out then stops, becomes still. The warm sticky air coalesces until it is impossible to breathe, talking is stifled, you cannot call for help, there is no escape . . . . . no escape.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Modern Man

When I was little, men were heroes. Sir Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tensing conquered Everest. Shackleton rescued his entire crew in the Antarctic. But today ? . . . nope, can't think of any. The age of women has arrived. My extensive research ( several evenings telly watching ) has confirmed this. As a woman you can look ten years younger or learn how to dress better, but men, well you can be trained the same way a dog can ( by a woman, of course ). I blame comedy programmes. While you are laughing, their insidious message seeps slowly in. Men are a bit silly really we are told. Single men live like slobs of course and are obsessed with sex. If you marry one you can stop all that nonsense but he will probably feed catfood to the kids, lose your invalid mother somewhere and then hang out all your washing upside down. You can try giving instructions of course but do not expect them to be carried out correctly, even if you did have his attention when speaking. If you are a woman try dropping down about a foot and looking back up, you should meet his eyes then. But, like switching on to National Geographic by mistake, I can feel a change coming. The time is right - Mens Liberation is coming and you had better be prepared. At least with a gasmask for when the boxers and y-fronts start burning.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


Due to popular demand (thanks Nicola, Keriann and Katherine) I have returned to blogging. Well I would if I had anything to say !

A whole flock of black swans seems to have flown through our family lately and they are still coming. All this has stressed my brain out so much that all higher functions have shut down. ( you may have noticed that mens' brains go on stand by if not constantly stimulated )

So I am off to read Eating for England by Nigel Slater.

In the meantime here is some music that fits my life perfectly at the moment - happily surreal but with an underlying feeling of mild panic.

Picture is by Nicola of me modelling the outfit I need to wear for my life at the moment

Tuesday, 18 September 2007


Tuesday 6.45am

I hurt somebody close to me with my last post. It was unintentional, and the post was not about what she thought it was. But it happened and I regret it. In lettering, in drawing and music I think it is the spaces inbetween the lines and the notes that just as important as what is written. And in relationships as well, sometimes it is what you don't say that is as important as what you do say. I am not a cruel person and would never knowingly hurt another living thing, so this is my last post. From now on my thoughts will remain private, just for me.

All those . . . moments . . . . will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Blogs are strange, quite often the person just stops posting and you are left wondering why. So if you have stumbled upon this one, I hope this explanation helps. The quote is from Bladerunner.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Choose Life

Friday 1.30pm

At lunchtimes I like to sit outside. Under the bright sun there is just me and the birds, the blackbirds, mynah birds and occasionally a flock of sparrows passing through. Sitting there I look at the birds and wonder about them, what do they have. Just themselves really, and the grass and the sun, which we all have to share. And what do I have. Well, the clothes I am wearing and my lunch. Same as the blackbirds really. Anything else ? Time ? The days must just stretch out ahead of the birds but I only have this hour here before going back to work. And pressure, I can feel it inside me, I don't want to go back to work but must. I have a mortgage to pay, food to buy, all the trappings of modern life. Modern human life that is. A man called Maslow had a theory about a hierachy of needs. It started at the bottom with the most basic needs - food and shelter, which need to be attained before moving up the pyramid to more advanced things like creativity and charity. And yet for all my supposedly advanced humanity I spend most of my time at the bottom of this pyramid. Looking at these birds I cannot say that I have achieved any more than they have, and I certainly cannot say I am any more " advanced " than them. Deep down I have a yearning for a simpler life. It would a brutal life, yes, it would be cold, wet and painfull but I would gladly take that if it meant losing this constant, sucking tiredness that I wade through at the moment.

Yea right you'll say, dream on, you'll never do it, but none of us knows what we are capable of, and dreams contain the seeds of change, it is where it all starts.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Chameleon 9

In Edinburgh, Chris woke late, to find himself under a distant unfamiliar ceiling. White, white ceiling, large white spherical paper lampshade. White plaster moulding round the periphery, faint cracks running this way and that, and a faint powdery yellow stain in one corner. Coving he thought to himself, and then It is all true. He lay there sleepily remembering yesterdays events. The house was quiet. In the background were the muted city sounds, mostly traffic but the house itself had that silence, that stillness that only an empty house can have. The window was a bright white rectangle set into the shadowy wall, the sun was on the other side of the flat, it was still morning. No curtains he noticed, then Ahh, shutters. A dark line down the side of the deep window reveal gave hint to the original shutters tucked away. Clues, all clues to the two strangers that were now part of his life. My real parents. Eventually his bladder threatened to burst forcing him to get up and go for a pee. He wandered down to the kitchen in his boxers and tee shirt, yawning and stretching. The kitchen was exactly as he had first seen it the afternoon before, tidy, neat. On the table, pinned down by a blue and white cylindrical vase was a neatly written note and upon that, two keys. Chris held the keys, front door, stairdoor, as he read the note.
" Teaching up at the university, George square, this week - left early and didn't want to disturb you."
" Make yourself at home, eat anything etc, we will be home around six and will sort out supper then. "
It was signed " J & A "
" ps will pick up a cable on the way home and get you online this evening, see you then "
Make yourself at home, cool, Chris thought and started exploring the cupboards. Most of Valvona & Crolla was there but not much teenager food. Lets try the fridge. Ok, lots of yoghurt and cheese, bottled water, milk and orange juice. Pouring himself a glass of orange juice, Chris took the milk to the table and went back to the cupboards for the big bag of muesli he had found along with some drinking chocolate powder, a white bowl, a spoon and a glass jug. With chocolate milk the muesli was much more appetising and he contentedly munched his way through two bowlfulls whilst strolling round the kitchen, peering into cupboards and drawers once again. One shelf contained cookery books, Indian, Chinese, Italian and some by Nigella Lawson. Pinned to a small notice board near the door were timetables and a calender with notes about meetings "Chris - first contact" it said in yesterday, along with some phone numbers, one of them his. He unpinned a postcard of an old german looking building to read the back. " Prague beautifull as expected. Conference oscillating between interesting and dull, again as expected. Hoping to see some progress in your work when I get back next month, will tell all the gossip then. James " Underneath the postcard a faded newspaper photo was revealed. Chris peered at it and a smiling sheep and lamb peered back but the writing itself had all faded, more clues. Once finished he went off to explore further. At the kitchen door he stopped and looked back, then came back in and washed his bowl and glass carefully in the sink and put everything away. Going into each room in turn he looked out of the windows. Chris always did this, he liked to know where he was, he looked but did not touch. There was something fragile about this new situation that he did not want to spoil. The door to the closed room remained that way, he got as far as putting his hand on the handle but again something stopped him. He went on to the sitting room.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007


Monday 8pm

Back at work today after a weeks holiday. Absolutely worn out now. Not because of work but because I woke up at four o'clock this morning worrying, and did not get really get back to sleep. Well not until six and of course thats when the alarm went off. What is the purpose of worry ? My first patient this morning was going to be a more complicated job and I knew I would be a bit short of time. And so for two hours this morning this went over and over, round and round, in my head, all the things that could go wrong. But in the end it all went fine and we finished on time. So what is the purpose of worrying ? Whatever is going to happen will happen, right or wrong, worrying does not affect it one little bit, yet I cannot stop. And it is always four in the morning for me, I worry about one thing then I worry that I am worrying about it then I worry that I am not sleeping because of the worrying then I worry that I will miss the alarm then I worry that I will be tired and not do that one thing well because I was awake worrying . . . . . help. Actually I think it is a sign of a lack of self confidence on my part. Sitting idly the other day the thought suddenly came to me that what I am really worried about, deep down inside under all those rocks, one of the squirmy tentacled things of my mind is the fear that I will be discovered, that someone will suddenly pop up and say " Aha ! caught you. What do you think you are doing pretending to be a dentist. And what do you mean you're good at it ? Who told you that ? Well, we are all the other dentists and we say you are rubbish, so there " A daft thought that hides when you put the light on but in the dark its the tentacled things that pull the strings in my mind.
If I was an evil demon I think I would send a plague of worrying onto people. That would certainly bring the world to a halt. But I would probably worry about that as well.

Photo is of course an aeroplane, something I never worry about. But the deep ocean where ships sail, well . . . .

Chameleon 8

Floating happily on the thought of a trip to Edinburgh, Chris spent the rest of the day sketching and helping her gran in the garden. As Chris peeled the potatoes for the shepherds pie late that afternoon gran and her agreed upon Friday as the best day to go which would give Chris time to contact her friends to see what they were up to. And Chris as well she thought this holiday might not be so dull afterall. After dinner she sat down at Gran's computer and got onto Msn to find out what everybody was up to. There were only Jaks and Mark online, but it was the holidays and everything got a bit mixed up with not being at school and folk being on holiday and all that. Jaks seemed to be getting on with Mark as expected, very well in fact. But you know Chris found she didn't really care. It was funny she thought, how if you weren't actually there or involved then none of the usual stuff mattered to you. What did matter was that "MoGoodLovin", Chris that is, was not online. I hope he has not gone away for the Summer, she said to herself I really, really want to meet him. Fed up with Jaks and Marks silly canoodleing talk she decided to email Chris. ( It is just my email address mum! he is ok you know, we have chatted for ages I know all about him.) " Hi Chris, am stuck out in the wilderness for the hols but in town Fri. Fancy a meet - email me, Chris " That done there was nothing left to do but sit and watch telly with gran and the cats. Gran had sky as well as broadband but it seemed to be stuck on the history channel whenever she was watching so E! and MTV were out. Interesting people the Romans.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Chameleon 7

Chris got dressed and went downstairs. Then came back up and got changed. Granny was cool, Chris liked her. Mum would have lectured her for hours but gran just said " I thought you might like to feed the chickens while I make breakfast. Those are lovely shoes, dear, but they might get a bit muddy, don't you think ? " Taking off her stilettos Chris had to agree she was probably right, and anyway the country girl look was fashionable at the moment, even Kate Moss was wearing it. Fashion was Chris's thing, her passion. But not that stupid teenage girly stuff, real fashion. Stylishly eclectic she thought, with influences from wartime retro through classic black to post modern disposable. (In her spare moments Chris liked to compose her publicity bio.). She came back down into the kitchen again, a perfect vision of fifties postwar country girl. Gran looked up and smiled through crinkly eyes. " You know where everything is, hen ? " The kitchen smelt of bread, Granny was surrounded by chopped vegetables and behind her rising steam gently danced in the sunlight. " And could you have a look at Polly for me, she was dragging a wing yesterday. " " The gingery brown one ? will do " As she stood outside throwing handfulls of corn amongst the squabbling birds Chris looked around, shading her eyes against the sharp wintery sun. Gran's cottage was surrounded by green, sheltered and quiet in a slight dip. In front, over the road rose tall beech trees marking the edge of a country estate. You could walk in the woods, the owners didn't mind, just so long as you didn't go too close to the big house. Behind, beyond the rasberry canes and wire fence, green fields rose up to a high horizon. Chris could hear the grass tearing as the distant black and white heifers quietly munched away. An unseen rabbit thumped the ground and rustled away in the undergrowth, a blackbird came to join the chickens for a late breakfast. Polly was fine, pecking away happily but keeping her distance, Chris noticed, from Lara the big white one.
An elderly man came walking down the road, and as Chris came into view he was stopped in his tracks, instantly transported back to his wartime childhood by the sight of Chris in her floral prints and head scarf. She returned his wave and he continued on smiling happily to himself. Chris was a people person. She would never have said so, but she was. There was just something . . . if she walked past people would pause to look. If she spoke, people listened.

Back in the kitchen the bread was ready and they sat at the table together eating, the big brown tea pot under its cat cosy between them. " So what are your plans for today, dear ? " From behind the rim of her blue striped mug Chris looked out of the window, " I think as the weather is so good I'll take my sketchbook up the hill, natural images are going to be the next big thing you know. " " what about you gran ? " " I'll be outside as well, there is always of weeding to do. " Chris looked at her brightly " hey, I could do some as well " "That would be lovely, but no rush, you have the whole of the holidays ahead " Clouds crossed Chris's features as she frowned. The holidays, yeah, eight more weeks stuck down here. Alone. "You'll be missing your friends I suppose." " A bit gran, but it's Ok, I'll catch up when I get back " " Not the same as being there though, is it ? " Chris looked at her sharply, gran was smiling across the table she's teasing me. " You know I've been meaning to get up to town for ages, it would be nice to have company " The clouds suddenly cleared " Really ? " " Yes, really. " said Gran, " As long as you don't spend all day outside Karen Millen with your mouth open " " Gran ! I do not ! ", " Oh yes you do ! " . . . . . . " don't " . . . . "do"
They both started laughing at the same time.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

A Work in Progress

Saturday 8.30pm

I love naan bread but making it at home is a kind of work in progress. Not having a tandoor is the problem I think, you need that fiery volcanic heat to cook them rapidly. The dough I just make in the breadmaker nowadays. A simple dough of dried yeast ( surebake ), flour, salt, sugar and water. For naan I now add a tablespoon or so of yoghurt which gives a softer dough. Standing by the cooker tonight, waiting for the oven to heat up I noticed my grill pan. Yes! , thought I, fiery volcanic heat, I could start them in the pan then finish off in the oven. So once the pan was smoking, in the first one went, dry no oil or anything. Once bubbles appear turn it over, and yes, lovely brown stripes and a few charcoaled bubbles. They cooked right through so the oven was unnecessary as was brushing them with melted butter and scattering black onion seeds whilst cooking. All this achieved was huge billowing clouds of smoke ! So next time - roll them out thinner, and brush the butter on after they are cooked.

My Le Creuset grillpan was a wedding present from Nicola. It is cast iron, nonstick and very beautiful. Very much my favourite implement in the kitchen, and yes, for me it has to be circular those square shaped ones just ain't right. It also took ages to find, Nicola hates going shopping with me.

Chameleon 6

Chris woke and glanced at the time, eight o'clock. The holidays, Yay ! But as she reached out for her mobile to txt Jacky she suddenly remembered where she was - Outer Space. Well grannies actually, but it might as well be outer space, how could she live in the only place in the country with no signal. And why did she have to go there anyway ? She was fifteen, old enough to be at home on her own. Just because her parents both worked. But her mum had been adamant, never again, not after last time. Last time, here we go again, the "me, Jacky and the Jack Daniels incident" mum was so unreasonable, it was only one bottle, and they had cleaned most of the mess up themselves, that was being responsible wasn't it ? But no, grannies it was. Jaks was probably snogging Mark right now. Well not right now, it was only eight o'clock but you know what I mean, just because I said I fancied him. Her and her new push up bra, god it was like talking to the fruit display at Asda. Laughing, she got out of bed and stood sideways in front of the mirror, studying her own rather more flatter figure. Stuff them she thought, at least gran does have broadband, I can get on and talk to my real friends. Chris for one, he was cool. Same age same name, they could be twins, name twins she thought with a smile. Chris, she had hoped to meet him during the holidays but that was going to be difficult now she was stuck out in the wilds near Peebles, but granny might want to take me shopping and at least mum was out of the way. No mum he is not a forty six year old balding, grey haired pervert. You can tell you know, they think they are being all "trendy and with it" but they just sound stupid, we always know. And yes I will meet in a public place, and yes I will tell someone where I am going, and yes I will have my mobile on me, if you get me that phone card I asked for weeks ago that is. Parents, they had no idea.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Chameleon 5

As Chris smiled happily to himself, John guided him back along to the office. " I hope you don't mind Chris, but before you get too settled we need to do some paperwork first." Amy stood back from the table behind a chair as they entered. " All ready " she said, and Chris walked round to join her. " Don't sit down just yet, we need a swab first " " DNA test, purely routine but necessary ", she had clear plastic gloves on and was holding a long test tube. " From the inside of your cheek, open wide " of course, just like on Trisha Chris thought as Amy efficiently wiped a large cotton bud inside his mouth and popped it back into the tube. While Amy wrote on the tube label John gave instructions. " Have a seat Chris" " this is a simple psychometric test, purely voluntary, but will help us get to know you further, you don't mind ? " Chris shook his head, John was looking across at Amy who was shaking the tube. She stared into it for a second then returned his look and nodded curtly. " Ok, simple multiple choice, there are a lot of questions but do not think too much, just the first thing that comes into you head. There are no right or wrong answers " " Oh, and there is no time limit. Ready ? " Born ready, Chris loved this type of test. He began.
Do you consider yourself a happy person ? You find a wallet containing five hundred pounds, what do you do with it ? You are asked to give a speech to your whole school, how do you feel ? Chris ticked the answers one by one, quickly, efficiently he was totally absorbed. Your best friend lets you down badly, do you forgive them ? John and Amelia had long since wandered off. You are walking in the desert, you see a turtle on its back, struggling, what do you do ? Chris snorted, yeah right, I may be a replicant. Your brother commits murder and asks for your help, do you ? In what circumstances is animal experimentation acceptable ? You discover the last few pages in a library book are missing, how do you feel ? Do you agree with genetic engineering ? Do you enjoy poetry ? If you could choose the colour of your babies eyes, would you ? Finally the last tick on the last question went in. Chris sat back feeling more than satisfied. An hour and a half had gone by, the evening sun was now shining through the window throwing his shadow onto the far wall where the strange pictures hung. He gazed quietly at them, and as he did so, like Russian dolls, his silhouette enveloped one of the strange cauliflower shapes exactly. Chris's heart stopped. Not cauliflowers, no . . . brains. Slices of human brain. A chill enveloped him as his very being tried to leave him, running. Amy popped her head round the door " All finished ? " Chris came to with a start and looked at her wide eyed. " Hungry . . " she began then stopped, and looked back to where his eyes had been. " Oh, the pictures, creepy aren't they " laughing, she continued " John inherited them from our old professor. I keep telling him to take them down but he won't be persuaded." "Anyway you must be hungry, come on, dinners ready "
They ate in the kitchen sitting at the table. Spaghetti with some sort of cream sauce,bread, and salad. And there was wine as well, he never got to drink at home. These were his real parents, he was convinced now. Real parents would treat you like this, like an adult. The evening wore on, Chris sat quietly listening to John and Amy chatting about their day, watching them, contented. Eventually the wine and the day's excitement took their toll and, as his eyes began to droop he said goodnight and headed to bed. As he walked along the hallway past the office his eyes were drawn in. The pictures were still there, glittering in the reflected orange glow of the street lights.

A shiver passed through him.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Chameleon 4

Leaning back John surveyed the cafe and beyond. The rain had stopped, sunlight was streaming through the windows again and the crush had dispersed, leaving puddles of spilt coffee, napkins and cups on the tables. The staff floated around tidying at last. " Well if we are all finished I think we should take the opportunity to move on" he announced. " Lets go home and fill out the questionnaires, what do you think Chris, ready to settle into your new home ? " Nodding happily Chris rose, I don't have to go to Elgin he was thinking absently. As John stood up Chris looked up. And up, wow, he was tall. Amy as well, Chris was used to looking over his mums head, but Amy could look him in the eye. They walked out together and along the broad stone pavement. As they walked Chris watched the people coming their way. Approaching women would look at John trying to catch and hold his gaze. Men of course glanced repeatedly, surreptitiously at Amy, although their looks somehow rarely made it as high as her face. As he walked between his new parents, Chris tried to copy the easy confidence of their walk, but of course nobody spared him a glance.

Heading downhill towards Stockbridge it wasn't far until they turned left up some stone steps between black railings and stopped in front of a black door. While John fished out his key Chris looked at the brass plates beside the door. " J & A Macdonald " announced one, " Future Mind " Frowning, he rolled the thought round inside his head, future mind, mind ? " Are you psychiatrists ? " he finally asked. "Psychiatrists ? No" John replied as they walked along the hallway towards the stone staircase, " But well thought out. We are psychologists " As they climbed he continued " we study the mind in everyday people you might say, unlike psychiatrists who study the illnesses of the mind. " It was like ascending from the depths of the sea, the gentle light filtering down from above reflected from the worn wooden handrail and shiny walls. Each front door they passed was a different colour, red, green, blue, but all dark shades and well kept despite their age. Muted, distant sounds could be heard beyond. " We lecture at the university and have our own research projects " He continued. " Some of these projects run for years. " "And one particular one is finally coming to fruition as we speak " Amy added.They continued to climb. The very last door on the top floor was black and here they halted once more while John again unlocked it. Above them an ancient oval cupola softened the light as it entered through glass frosted and scratched with age. The door open, John ushered Chris inside. A hallway stretched ahead, bare floor, softly off white walls, a faint smell of coffee. Amy slid past and disappeared ahead while John gave the tour. "The kitchen" he announced as they passed the first room on the right. Chris looked in to see an old fashioned kitchen, big pine table in the centre, painted units all around, one of those big painted fridges with the silly name and herbs growing abundantly on the windowsills of the two large windows through which the late afternoon light tumbled. " Our bedroom" John announced from the next room along, on the left. Old dark furniture this time and an iron bed with a big white fluffy duvet. Everything neatly arranged. " Our office ", the next on the right. This was where Amy had gone. As he passed Chris saw her shuffling papers at a big table in the centre of the room. Around the walls were neatly stacked piles of books and more papers under a series of black framed photographs of cauliflower. Weird thought Chris as he hurried to keep up with his host. "The sitting room" last on the left, a big airy, light room, squashy fabric sofas, television, bookcases, books, lots of books. They had reached the end of the hallway and John turned back, " The bathroom " he said pointing to the last room on the right, old fashioned again, white bath and one of those toilets with a chain. " And this is your room " next along, beside the office, opposite a closed door that had not been mentioned. Chris poked his head into the bedroom and saw, past a big dark wardrobe just inside the door, another big iron double bed with fluffy duvet. This, I am going to enjoy he started to think then caught his breath as, beyond the bed on a table to one side of the window, obviously just put there, not plugged in or set up yet, but it really was there - his computer !

Red Pepper Soup with a Cucumber Salsa

Thursday 1.30pm

Now I am not a great fan of pepper soup, I find it a bit bitter, but roast them till charred and the flavour is much better. Today I had a go at a roasted pepper soup. With only one and a half red peppers you're not going to get much but 3/4 of a pint is enough for two for lunch. ( or one piggy Peter ) Peppers are sliced up into chunks, mixed with some olive oil, a couple of garlic cloves, a bunch of thyme, and salt and pepper and then popped into a hot oven for half an hour or so until blackened at the edges. Meanwhile half a chopped onion was cooking slowly in oil in a pan - I wanted the sweetness of the onion without any burning. Peeling the peppers is slimily messy but it has to be done and I quite enjoy it now. They go in with the onions along with the squeezed out garlic cloves and the peppery orange oil from roasting, trying to keep back the thyme stems. A small potato, chopped, goes in for thickening, half a small red chilli for a bit of a kick and a pint of half strength vegetable stock as usual. Simmer till the potato is soft and liquidise till smooth, and season mine needed a little salt and finally a drop of cream. The colour is beautifull, orangy with some black specks from the bits of burnt pepper skin that sneaked in. And it tastes rather good the red peppers coming through mild and creamy. The chilli was a bit fiery though, hence the cream but when that didn't work I was left gazing idly into the fridge wondering . . . and there was a cool cucumber looking back at me. So a sort of salsa made with chopped cucumber, lemon juice and chopped mint leaves all mixed together. Now we are getting there, and you know although I don't really do "restaurant food" this is pretty damned close.

My bowl in the picture would have been more full but unfortunately Nicola got to the soup first with a bigger bowl ! Mind you she had been working all morning so her need was greater than mine.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Secret Languages

Wednesday 8.30pm

Couples are interesting. Not just married couples or partners, but relatives, families, old friends even. They have a bubble round them separating them off from all around. Going out alone I talk to people and people will approach and talk to me. But as a couple nobody wants to intrude, that bubble excludes them. Some couples even have their own language, one of looks and touch, of eye movements and facial expressions. It is horrible being with people like this, to feel excluded, you'll say something and and a look will pass between them, you know something has been said but not what. For these people the bubble blinds them. They think you cannot see that look, but I can. They forget that when alone we are more alert, more observant, more on our guard. I find it very rude but I don't suppose they even notice themselves even doing it.

I hope I am not like that.

Chameleon 3

The couple and the boy sat silently examining each other. Amelia especially, Chris felt her piercing gaze predatory, birdlike, a blackbird he thought feeling a little uncomfortable and beginning to squirm under her close scrutiny. John on the other hand was more relaxed, distant, a lion thought Chris, a lion seemingly asleep under a tree but really surveying the African plain below, watching his prey. Chris liked animals and always compared people to them. But actually rather smug. Adults he concluded. John broke the silence " I am sorry, would you like a drink ? something to eat as well, perhaps ? " don't say growing boy, please thought Chris. He didn't " Just a hot chocolate please " replied Chris and John got up and went to the counter. There was quite a queue now and it had started to rain, the windows were steaming up. " Well Chris " said Amy, " we know all about you of course but do you have any questions ? anything, just ask away " He had hundreds, thousands of course, but they were all hiding at the moment so he had to think. As he did so he noticed Amy's eyes gradually slide away to look at something behind him. This was always happening, if he didn't actually move or speak then people just didn't notice him, it was as if he just faded into the background. And he was convinced it wasn't just him, why did people just ignore teenagers ? We do exist, you know.
" Errrm, where do you live ? " mumbled Chris. Amy's eyes swung back. " live ? Oh close by, we have a lovely flat in the New Town, top floor, you can see all the way over to Fife and the Forth bridges, if you stand at the window and sort of squint sideways that is, you'll see it soon. " Chris's face must have spoken by itself then because she continued more slowly " George and Maureen did tell you didn't they ? " , "I mean that you are coming to live with us for the holidays " Mum and dad had said nothing at all, Chris just looked at her. " Ah " she said "never mind, we will explain everything soon. " Three cups descended onto the table as John shuffled back into his seat. Amy, looking at John gave an almost imperceptable nod and smiled. Chris noticed though. The holidays, he thought, " My stuff, have you . . ." All arranged said Amy. " Yes George is dropping everything off this afternoon" cut in John, " On their way up north". Up North, Elgin of course, things suddenly made sense. Every year Chris had to leave his friends and accompany his parents on yet another boring trip to his aunt in Elgin. Two weeks of nothing, no playstation, no broadband, no sky telly. Just endless walking in the cold rain, boiled vegetables, and Take the High Road on the telly. No wonder he was always top in English, he read that many books. Why they couldn't go to Spain like all of his friends he never knew. Forgetting all about the strangeness of the situation Chris stopped playing with his empty mug and smiled gently to himself. Things were looking up. Of course his mum and dad would never let him stay at home by himself but now he had birth parents. It wasn't Spain, but he could see his friends and he was right in the middle of town where the action was. Watching this reaction closely, John reached out and squeezed Amy's hand gently, just once and let go.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Chameleon 2

Starbucks was packed, but Chris spotted them straight away. Far window table like they had said, black business suits, white shirts, older, grey haired. The woman, Amelia was facing his way but deep in conversation with the man, John. Amelia, John, his real parents. Chris pushed and squeezed his way between the tables towards them. " sorry ", " scuse me, sorry " but no one really noticed him. As he approached the table he began to hear their conversation. " about time too " Amelia was saying insistently " only one other contact so far, I am beginning to lose faith in this whole thing ". Stopping beside the table, Chris suddenly had no idea what to say, but Amelia looked up at him, so he smiled down at her. " Ah yes, " she said quickly, " a single expresso, that was it wasn't it John ? and a tall skinny latte please " and just as quickly began to resume talking to her companion " so what do you think about the project John ? I mean with no contacts, how can there be any future ?" " errrrm" Chris started to say quietly but John spoke over him, a deeper measured tone "I think you forget this is Starbucks, Amy" , " no waiters " and turning towards Chris, smiled and said " You must be Chris ". Amy suddenly looked up at him then back at John " chameleon " she said under her breath. At least that is what he thought she said, but as he glanced her way she just smiled slowly. " I am John, " said John holding his hand out to shake, a firm confident grip in comparison to Chris's sweaty nervousness. " And this, of course is Amelia " he continued, nodding towards Chris's new mother. "Please be seated" Shaking Amy's hand Chris sat in the chair opposite them as they gazed intently at him. Please be seated ? he thought, this is like careers at school, are they going to interview me, interview their own son ? A new thought occured to him or are they not my parents? some sort of intermediary perhaps? he had read about this sort of thing. " errrm . . . who ? sorry, I mean are you . . . ?" "Your parents ?" replied John quickly, efficiently " But of course we are." " And we have been expecting your call for a while now, everything is ready."

Chris had indeed read about this. As soon as he discovered he was adopted he had gone onto the internet to find out how it worked, how he could find out about his real parents. This was how it happened, as soon as you were old enough your parents, your adoptive parents that is, sat down and talked to you, told you. Then with a case worker you were allowed to find out who your real parents were, and then write to them. If they replied you could write again and when the time was right, perhaps talk on the phone. If things went well you could then all meet with your caseworker there, at her office perhaps or in a public place. And on it went from there. Well it had started properly, his parents had sat down with him, " We think you are old enough to know the truth, Chris", "we'll always love you" etc etc, blah de, blah, "the time has come, as we always knew it would "so far, as expected but then . . . " And so we have contacted your real parents and arranged a meeting " A meeting, just like that, no caseworker, no letters, no conversations on the phone. And here he was now, sitting in a cafe in the middle of town on a Monday afternoon with two weird strangers who were now his parents.

And everything was ready.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Onion, Thyme and Brie Pizza

Monday 1.30pm

At home today with the youngest who has chickenpox. He is rather subdued and happily watching the telly, while I decide on lunch - pizza I think. Breadmaker is filled up to make some dough, nothing special, just surebake yeast, strong flour, salt and sugar. Youngest just wants cheese on his - cheese on toast really. But for Nicola and myself ? Caramelised onions sounds good, like a Nigel Slater recipe for a tart with puff pastry but as a pizza. Three onions are cut into big chunks and gently, very gently, fried in oil and a big slice of butter for at least half an hour until translucent, brown and sticky. Even with the extractor on the whole house smells of onions now, good job it is sunny and I can open all the doors and windows. Meanwhile an email is fired off to Nicola to pick up some Brie on her way home. Slow cooking seems to be a theme with me at the moment, anything that can be put on to cook and left while I read a book . I must be feeling relaxed, the spring weather certainly helps. When Nicola arrives home the cheese on toast has been scoffed by small child and myself (and almost Rana the cat!), so the oven is hot and the second pizza is rolled out ready. On go the onions along with the oniony butter, then some slices of Brie and a small handfull of Thyme leaves from the garden, salt and pepper. Italian onion sandwich really but sweet, creamy and delicious.


As he approached the cafe door Chris paused, hand outstretched towards the handle. This was it, the thought welled up within him as he stood there. He was adopted, these were his real parents inside. But what did he feel . . . . nothing. No that can't be right, try again, his face wrinkled as he thought harder . . . but still . . . nothing.
Looking to the side Chris saw a woman watching him, she had blonde streaks in her hair. She leaned towards to her friend at the table just inside the door, behind the glass, and spoke. Her friend glanced round then spoke and they both smiled knowingly, and looked away again dismissively. Suddenly realising where he was Chris pulled open the door. The man on the other side looked rather annoyed, " sorry " said Chris, but there was no reply as the man pushed past with a loud sigh from under raised eyebrows, shaking his head.

God, it was tough being fifteen.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Beef Goulash

Sunday 5.50pm

Originally a Hungarian beef stew cooked by cowherds in the hills using an iron pot over a fire, goulash always seems a real student dish to me - with lots of gravy a small amount of meat will go a long way, and it holds a special place in my heart. My first job after college was in Hastings on the south coast of England. Susan (my sister) was at Art college in Birmingham, up in the centre of the country. I lived alone at the time in a bedsit, Susan shared a condemned house with two other girls and Harrods the cat, (who would only eat the best catfood). Occasionally I would drive or take the train up for the weekend, going there on Friday and returning home Sunday. There were usually a few other people around when I arrived on Friday, boyfriends, friends, and Jacky always seemed to cook a goulash for tea (her mum was from somewhere in Europe). The atmosphere was always relaxed and friendly, all the more so in contrast to my usual solitary existence at the weekends and the two hours or so I had spent alone, travelling to get there. So here is my version, totally unauthentic, but in the right spirit and perfect for a relaxed family dinner all together on a Sunday.
Gently fry a chopped onion and a garlic clove in some oil. Meanwhile dice up the beef and coat in seasoned flour, I do this in a plastic bag. Fish the onions etc out of the pan once clear but not brown, turn up the heat and put in the beef to brown. Peel, chop and add two or three carrots, (some celery or dark green cabbage would probably be good too) and then pour in a can of tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree, a tablespoon or so of paprika, a bayleaf or two, and enough water to cover. Thats it, it just needs to simmer slowly now for at least a couple of hours. This never works for me in the pan, it always sticks and burns so I put it in a casserole dish, pop it in the oven and sit down with a book and a glass of wine. Once cooked and checked for seasoning I like to swirl some cream in and sprinkle coriander leaves on top. Boiled rice is a good accompaniment or left over boiled potatoes fried till crispy are even better.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007


Sunday 8.40am

Fear is a paralysis. It grips and envelops you tightly, tautly. You cannot move, you cannot think. Your brain has stopped, pinned by indecision. Run, yes run, thats what you want to do but you cannot, things will only get worse if you do. But still you do not want to be here, to do this. Paralysis, indecision, fear. Strangely enough it is all about the future, what might happen, and the past, what did happen, but not about now, nothing is happening now. Paralysis in time. Somehow, despite your whole body screaming " RUN " you force yourself onwards, shaking now so that you have to clasp your hands together to stop it showing. Worried that your voice will also betray your fear you do not speak unless asked and then only tersely. And still nothing has happened. Your very being is now stretched to breaking point, your imagination latches onto every sound, every movement and tells you that the worst is about to happen, is just about to happen. I am a dentist. I see fear like this numerous times every day. And every time a little bit rubs off onto me. I may not be sitting where you are, and I may not be you, but believe me I know how it feels.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Cinnamon and Sultana Drop Scones

Saturday 11.30am

Saturday morning, all quiet, up late but nothing pressing to do. Nicola is bunged up with the flu so is in bed with Harry Potter. Breakfast calls for something comforting but quick and simple - Drop Scones or Pikelets as they call them here, there is nothing more comforting than something your mum used to make. "Sultana drop scones" says I. "Cinnamon and sultana" says a voice that I cannot place but as the cat cannot speak yet, I think must belong to the two eyes peering at me from a gap in the duvet. Well it is a classic english tea time combination - sugar, Cinnamon and butter, evoking memories of childrens teas with nanny and a moth-eaten but well loved teddybear in the nursery. Not my memories of course - I was brought up on Arctic Roll, Jammy Dodgers and Angel delight, and no nanny either, and my teddy got thrown out when my sister lost her's ( I still have the mental scars ) - this was the sixties not the thirties, but here goes anyway. Drop scones are just thick pancakes really so I start with one egg and half a pint of milk. Add self raising flour a spoonfull at a time and whisk until you get a thick batter that slides lazily off your whisk. Let it rest for a bit. I like a contrast between the scone part and the flavouring so I keep the sultanas seperate and add them during cooking. In a small bowl melt some butter, stir in the sultanas and a good bit of ground Cinnamon. A little bit of butter in a nonstick frying pan, hot but not smoking, drop in a tablespoonfull of batter for each scone and wait. Drop a few sultanas on, and then once the bubbles come to the surface turn them. Once they puff up they are ready but go carefully because the sultanas will burn. Serve warm with butter and sprinkled with crunchy sugar - next time I will add sugar to the batter, the taste was a bit flat and powdery without it, hence the sprinkling - but thats cookery for you.

All done by the way to the sounds of Jack Johnson, Portishead, and Led Zeppelin.

Thursday, 23 August 2007


Thursday 1.45pm

Some days are still, quiet, slow. Just waiting. Like today. There is a feeling of spring in the air, but it is still winter. The only sounds are distant birds and faint rustlings in the trees. There are things to do but nothing feels urgent, even cooking on a day like this would be a slow simmering, bubbling away peacefully in the background. A patient, forgiving dish like a stew that will keep no matter how late you are. On days like this it feels good to be alone or with someone you really love so the silence does not intrude awkwardly. Sitting here I have no boundaries, my skin feels dissolved so that I am just part of everything around me, to the distant trees and beyond. If I was a wild animal I would be enjoying the sun, thankfull that I had got through the worst of the winter alive. It is the same feeling I often get when travelling. On trains and planes everything is decided and out of my hands, all I need to do is sit. Things may happen, circumstances will change, but my worrying will have no effect, best just sit and enjoy now. I think Edward Thomas felt this way as well when his train stopped unexpectedly at a small rural station. His poem Adlestrop evokes the feeling beautifully.


Yes, I remember Adlestrop -
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name.

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917)

Picture is by Nicola of the view when the bus broke down on the way back from a quilting trip to Auckland.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Career changes

Thursday 7.55pm

I have been thinking about my career. After listing my key skills it seems that some of my best ones are not being used fully at the moment. Sleeping for instance is one thing I am pretty good at, along with eating, and also staring at people in a strange way. So having explored all the options my ideal job is - Cat. There will be a few difficulties to overcome first - the cats themselves for one have a bit of a closed shop here but I am up for the challenge and I am sure it is against the law to disciminate on the grounds that I am not actually a cat. And also when I mentioned the good news to my family, they were not as enthusiastic as I thought they should be. I think it is because I will be bringing home small dead animals instead of money. Oh, and there is another one - I am usually nice to small animals so killing and eating them might be a problem, although catfood does come in lots of different flavours. So I am now working on a plan. I know where I want to be and I know where I am now, so I just have to break down the journey into manageable steps. Yoga classes would be a good start, especially if I am going to have to lick my own bottom, but I have made a start by stopping what I am doing every now and then and looking around blankly with my tongue sticking out.

Yes . . . Peter the Cat, I can see it now.

Picture is Buffy, my new mentor and role model.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Big Brother

Tuesday 8.20pm

Take one 46 year old responsible adult, one 46 year old child, one 7 year old megalomaniac, one 17 year old who would rather live in a virtual world than the real one, and one 14 year old who just wants to sit and chat with his mates. Put them all in a house together and stir things up a bit by removing the television and computers so they have to talk to each other. Now just watch. On tv this would be called Big Brother, but we like to call it "Our Family Holiday". Seriously though we have just been away for the weekend and it was really good. I think it is modern living, and not just our family where we are all becoming more isolated. Computer games, televisions in bedrooms, we just do not talk much anymore. We try to get together at dinner time, even just on Sundays, but one child is usually glued to the tv, another is trying to squeeze the last few minutes out of the weekend with his friends and another is just "far too busy" to be interrogated by us at the table. So a holiday is good. We try new things, skiing this time, and most of all talk. All those minor irritations get washed out and you realise that your children are people just like you, a bit lazy perhaps but just people. And they are growing up, soon (hopefully!) they will not be here so now is the time to make the most of it. The old post office in Tokaanu, skiing on Mt Ruapehu, a good holiday, good company and at four days just long enough - don't want to overdo things now, do we.

Pic of us at Tokaanu geothermal pools by Nicola

Monday, 13 August 2007

Leek and Bacon Pie

Monday 6.45pm

OK, pay attention now, this may get confusing.

Tea tonight started out as to be bacon sandwiches. But I fancied spaghetti with bacon and had the urge to flavour it with some sage from the garden. Now Nicola is not a great fan of pasta and bacon so a Quiche as well came to mind and then I could have any extra for my lunch at work tomorrow. So I sliced up all the bacon ( about 10 slices ) and fried it slowly with a clove of garlic sliced up and 3 or 4 sage leaves chopped. Pastry case made and some of the bacon went in for the quiche and the rest saved for the pasta later on. Unfortunately I forgot to put any cheese in the quiche ( so bacon and egg pie now ) and nobody showed any enthusiasm for pasta. Or bacon and egg pie. Luckily Nicola had been shopping and brought some more bacon so on went the breadmaker to make dough and back to bacon rolls again ! This left me with a bowl of cooked bacon pieces with sage and garlic and since everybody else was happy I could make one of my favourites - leek and bacon pie. First more pastry was required - two cups of plain flour, 100g butter from the fridge worked together to look like breadcrumbs then pulled together with two or three tablespoons of cold water to form a stiff dough. While this rests in gladwrap in the fridge for half an hour a couple of leeks are fried slowly in oil and butter and the bacon added. The oven is on for the rolls so pastry comes out of the fridge gets rolled out, then into a buttered dish, leeks, with a tablespoon of flour stirred in into the middle and pastry on top. Into the oven it goes for 15 minutes or so till the pastry is cooked. I had also hard boiled some eggs earlier. Leeks and eggs are a wonderfull combination so leek and bacon pie served with an egg salad it was. And delicious it was as well.

Sunday, 5 August 2007


Thursday 8.30am

Social occasions worry me. Entering a room full of people that I don't know is the difficult bit. As I walk in all I can see is the backs of heads, people all in little groups conversing. I usually end up creeping round the edges hoping to spot someone else as lost as I am, and equally gratefull for a friend. ("for a friend" ?, "will you be my friend ?" obviously this all stems from some part of my childhood) At least I don't drink too much and say stupid things anymore, but I am often left to sit and watch everybody else, which is actually quite enjoyable in itself, but not the way it should be done. No, it seems you should walk into the room, go right to the centre and just introduce yourself. I am cringing already just writing that. A black vision fills my head, I can see myself walking in, saying hello, and then a sudden silence as everybody stops. The moment stretches on with all the pregnant nervousness of blowing up a balloon. Time stretches and stretches, and stretches, and stretches until, . . . . pop! the moment breaks and everybody just starts talking to each other again, leaving me alone and looking rather silly. Some people don't have this problem. If they walk into a room people stop and look. If they speak people will listen. There is just something there . . . a certain confidence perhaps, I just cannot put my finger on it. Some actors have it, there is one that if I met her we would not even need to talk, I could happily just watch her breathing, these people just stop me dead in my tracks. Sting for another one, there is just something about the way he photographs, something in his eyes that makes me stop and want to read about him. But it is not all about looks, although there are as many ideas of beauty as there are people in the world, some people are just not that good looking really, but still fascinating. No, there is something inside them that comes through. This quality has a name of course - Charisma, but that does not tell me what it actually is. I am intrigued.

Picture is Helena Bonham Carter film still from "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" I think, I found it on Rockin' Tim's blog but I don't know the original photographer/source to credit.

Now the cynical among you, Nicola, will probably say this is all just a ploy to get a picture of a certain actress on my blog. but in my defence I will say that I have not mentioned her till the picture credit.

She does look good though.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Food is Life

Sunday 7pm

So why do we stuff the same overprocessed, prepackaged nonsense into our bodies day after day as quickly as possible without a second thought ? Why do we raise animals in inhumane conditions caring more about money than their and our health ? I am as guilty as the next person here but have just been reading " Cook with jamie " ( by Jamie Oliver of course ) - he says all of the above much more eloquently than me. But I agree with him, cookery should be taught to everybody in schools, I wish it had been to me. My first cooking revelation was lemon meringue pie. I knew how to make it from watching my mum. You just needed the packet of lemon meringue pie mix. Then I looked in a cookery book and this may sound stupid, but you don't need the packet ! All the ingredients are already in the cupboard ! Of course once I discovered that, a new world opened up - not just lemon meringue but grapefruit meringue, lime meringue or even lime meringue on a chocolate biscuit base instead of digestives. If cookery was taught in schools we would all know these things, and if I still want to eat pot noodles or never cook again at least I would be making an informed choice. Knowledge is power and the only protection we have against those that make our choices for us. That is the same people that decided to feed dead sheep back to sheep and dead sheep to cattle resulting in BSE and the killing and burning of whole herds. The same people who invented battery farming and can raise a turkey from egg to behemoth in a matter of weeks. Knowledge is power.

Oh and in case you were wondering, just as everybody can draw, everybody can cook. Read "Appetite" by Nigel Slater and you will see.

Thursday, 2 August 2007


Sunday 4pm

Do you get cravings for different foods ? Flavours like the biting zingy artificiality of salt and vinegar crisps perhaps or the citrus creaminess of a crumbly lancashire cheese. Or different textures perhaps like the velvety smooth richness of pumpkin soup or even the glutinous feel of a cuppa soup that can be made and burning your mouth in the time it takes to boil the kettle at work. And beer - a glassfull of honey coloured Deuchars India Pale Ale, my favourite beer - smoothly creamy and bitter served in a straight glass cold against my fingers and lips and the beer colder as it slides across my tongue. (Founders Tall Blonde is my favourite NZ beer so far) I think it is my body's way of telling me what it needs. As Autumn turns to Winter and the air begins to chill I turn to soups, stews and lots more carbohydrates. As mid winter passes and the days get imperceptibly longer I suddenly need the crunchiness of raw vegetables as well - a crunchy coleslaw of cabbage, carrots and apple. In Spring and Summer things lighten up, salads reign supreme of course dressed lightly with oil and lemon juice. Meat is flashed quickly past the barbecue and served red and bloody, full of vitality and life. But there is so much more. We grow up with food. ( it is difficult not to ) it can evoke feelings and memories just as easily as poetry and music. Soup always comforts me. Fish and Chips as well, bought takeaway on the way home remind me of coming home late from work to just the cat and a cold house, too tired to do anything except get into bed and eat and read a book, sharing with the cat of course ! From the first meal out with Nicola (Indian) to family Christmases (roast beef) to solitary luxuries (risotto), food is life.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Spinach Soup and Tortillas

Sunday 2.10pm

Nothing much in the fridge today, just half a bag of baby spinach past its best, so spinach soup it is. The usual recipe - half an onion and a clove of garlic sweated slowly in some oil and butter. One potato chopped and added for thickening, then a pint and a quarter of stock. Home made chicken stock would be nice here but there is none left in the freezer so half strength Rapunzel's vegetable boullion it is. Twenty minutes or so later once the potato is cooked add the spinach - a couple of big handfulls. Simmer for a minute or so then blend. Back in the washed pan it goes along with Black pepper, a little salt and 'cos it seemed a bit thin - some milk, so cream of spinach soup now. As beautifully green as a stagnant pond in spring time, maybe a little bit stocky tasting but served with some salty feta, absolutely delicious. And tortillas as well ( no bread left either ! ) dead easy to make - just flour salt and water, kneaded into a soft dough, rested for twenty minutes then rolled out thin and cooked in a dry frying pan 'till speckled brown. I love old traditional recipes, they make the most of simple ingredients, appealing I think to my Aberdonian Scottish ancestry from my mums side ! And as the man on the advert says " when disaster strikes will you be ready, will you have a plan " well I am working on it. We may be sitting in rags amid the rubble of our lives but the cats will be dispatched to find fresh meat and if I can find a bag of flour we'll be eating rabbit kebabs skewered on rosemary stems and wrapped in tortillas before you know it.

Just need to train the cats now.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Black Swans

Thursday 8.30 am

Black Swans. The totally unexpected happening. They happen all the time and yet are always unexpected. You have heard the excuses, "it was a one in a million chance" or "a one in 500 year occurance" or even just "who would have thought that would happen ?" The nuclear industry will probably come up with a good one when they poison the planet or the financial planners when your life savings disappear. But logically, if something can happen then it will. Or it will not. Or it might, we cannot foresee the future after all. So why are we surprised. I have been reading "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and although quite difficult to read ( he rambles on just like I do ) he does explain it better. It seems our brains are set up to recognise patterns, day follows night follows day that sort of thing. It helps us live, a car going along the road in the distance will end up there in a few minutes and so I can cross safely here now. It all done without concious thought most of the time, we presume the ground will be there when we step and so can think or talk of other things whilst walking. But what if it isn't ? You throw a ball in the air and it comes down again, but what if it doesn't ? "Of course it will" you might say, "I have done it a million times, it always comes down". But this is where the unexpected comes in. Our minds see patterns and then extrapolate them into the future, and this is so hardwired into us that we cannot envisage it any other way, and this is why we are surprised when something (unexpected) happens. And Black Swans ? I think it was David Hume who mentioned this first. You see a white swan, and another and another. You might spend your whole life looking for swans and they are all white. But at no time no matter how many white swans you see, can you say that all swans are white. One black swan in a million white ones changes everything. And If you threw a ball up and it stopped in mid air ? As Nicola said about Harry Potter, part of the appeal is that lots of us would like things to be suddenly different, for magic perhaps to be real. Deep down inside I think we know it is and have just forgotten.

Three black ducks, three white ducks, and three brown ducks, but no ducklings. pic by nicola

Monday, 23 July 2007

More of the Pacific

Monday 9pm

Wouldn't it have been great if my first view of the Pacific Ocean had been a twinkly azure blue-green sea, stretching to a distant horizon, glimpsed through primordial Norfolk Pines. It wasn't. It was a fertiliser factory seen in the dark through the rain. Let me explain. We arrived in New Zealand at Auckland in the middle of the night. After stopping the rest of that night in one of those souless instantly forgotten boxy motels with souless service and a souless breakfast, both of which I would like to forget, we picked up a hire car and headed for Havelock. What we thought would be a sixhour journey became eight then ten, and as we came down into Hawkes Bay it was long since dark and the rain had started. We were all tired and just wanted to arrive. Driving out of Napier towards Havelock, as I gazed sleepily out of the car window ( Nicola was driving ) I saw in the vague lighting . . . dusty factories, vandal decorated railway wagons, and chimneys. "Oh my God " I thought, "what have we done " The rest of the journey was coloured by this, all I could see in the dark were row upon row of houses and more factories. ( we were driving through orchards ! ) In the daylight, well yes the factory is still there but on the other side of the road is also the pacific, azure blue-green and yes, bordered by a row of Norfolk Pines. Sometimes we just do not see what is really there. Sometimes you need to look in a different way or different direction, the answer is there.

The Pacific Ocean, for me a symbol of everything we dream of but never expect to find. But you can you know.

Picture of fertiliser factory by Nicola ( hope she was not driving while taking this ! )

Saturday, 21 July 2007

The Pacific

Saturday 6pm

I was brought up in a library. Well, no of course I wasn't but I have spent a lot of time in them. When I was little my mum would often put me in the pushchair and walk down to the library for an hour or two. When I was older and living in Edinburgh, every couple of weeks we would trot off to the library, Blackhall, or Corstorphine for a change some times. And on empty afternoons while at university you could often find me at the central library along with the alkies and slightly greasy seats that you are not sure you wanted to sit on. And still today a rainy day will find me in Hastings or Havelock library, now often accompanied by my youngest. Corstorphine library was an old building, white plaster walls, high narrow windows operated by a long pole with a hook, and row upon row of tall wooden shelves packed with books. I remember it as always dark outside, a chill in the air, the streetlamps glittering with brittle, frosty light and the library windows glowing soft and warm although it as usually cold inside despite the heaters. The adult section was separate but children could browse there with permission. Near the checkout desk under the librarian's watchfull gaze ( I don't think she liked children ) was a low bookcase with an atlas on top. A big atlas, it must of been two foot high, and I could look at it. The whole world was within it, familiar places, distant places. Just dots, and names and squiggly lines really but a book of magical spells to me. There was no National Geographic channel in those days but I did not need it. With just the maps, my imagination, and the quietness I would be off to the strange lonely parts of the world. And this is where I first met the Pacific Ocean, at the very back of the atlas on the other side of the world, as far away from Edinburgh as you could go. A place so exotic, so distant, that I would never visit except in films or on the telly. And yet here I am on its shores. I have come a long way since then in distance and in thought.The Pacific Ocean. Life is a journey.

Picture of me at Cape Kidnappers by Nicola

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Pizza, a winter salad dressed with cinnamon, and a nectarine tart

Thursday 7.15pm

I am very lucky in that I only work four days a week. It is another luxury that I know other people do not have and although I have worked hard to get where I am today I do know how fortunate I am. So Thursday I am usually off and so cook the tea. Tonight it Nicola's choice - pizza. Feta, pepper, courgette, mushroom and olives for us, pepperoni for two boys and a bought in meat feast type of thing for the eldest who does not like my pizza anymore (c'est la vie). Midwinter just now so my body asks for raw vegetables as well, so a sort of winter salad as accompaniment - mesclun, spinach, celery, mushrooms along with some walnuts and pumpkin and sunflower seeds that I found in the larder and toasted. It being winter, spices also appeal to me at the moment so I dressed the salad with a cinnamon dressing, made by warming some oil and a knob of butter till sizzling, popping in half a stick on cinnamon, taking it off the heat to allow the cinnamon to flavour the butter then after a few minutes pour it into the juice of a couple of lemons with salt and pepper. Beautifull - rich and lemony with the cinnamon coming in subtle and warming in the background. Earlier on I had an hour before needing to cook the pizzas, and as the oven was going on anyway, I made a pudding - Nigel Slaters fig, honey and marscapone tart made with nectarines instead of figs and using yoghurt for the custard because I had no creme fraiche. Oh, and no honey, I thought the nectarines (and all that sugar) would be sweet enough. The proper recipe can be found in Real Cooking . All in all very delicious, mind you I was cooking so although I listen to requests I mostly cook what I fancy myself !

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