Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ink, inspiration and love apple.

1. Fountain pens because they make my handwriting halfway acceptable.

2. Meggiecat, who generously shares a new craft idea every day.

3. A perfectly ripe tomato that tasted of summer.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Rice, beer and aged aged man.

1. The food that you are allowed to eat while fasting. Bland background foods like rice have intense flavours and textures that you usually ignore..

2. Breaking a fast with beer. It goes straight to your head.

3. An ancient man in the pub. We went to see a band at the top of town, and the crowd was all ages. The oldest man - whose name is Jack - is everyone's favourite. People come up to him and shake his hand. He is very short and bent, wears thick glasses and a big hearing aid. He wears a trim grey jacket and a knitted tank top, with old man trousers right up to his chest. He has more gaps than teeth and he mumbles terribly. He pretends to shove some of the bigger men around, safe in the knowledge that everybody loves him. Every time he passed us, he caught my hand and made me dance with him.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

On time, little books and nibble.

1. Friends who get in touch out of the blue at the exact time you need them.

2. Fenella has been having a clear out and passed on to me a dozen short stories published by Travelman as crisp pamphlets - perfect fit for a handbag.

3. Squash seeds. Whenever I bake a squash, I put the seeds on a tray and toast them in the same oven. They are yum with a little salt. I always try to save them for the next day's trail mix, but I have normally nibbled most of them while I wait for the squash to cook.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Strike, psychic and bust.

1. Not making a packed lunch and so having bags of time in the morning before I left for work.

2. Randomly buzzing off a note to a friend using a guessed email address and being told that not only had it had arrived but that he had only got that email address the day before.

3. A highly respectable journalist informed me that my cleavage was the best he had seen all evening. I explained that this was the point of my top and he said felt slightly ashamed at being caught out by such a trick.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Handwarmer, drums and look up.

1. Mulled wine on a cold night.

2. We found a parade marching up town to a samba band. Everyone above waist height was carrying a wax flare.

3. Fireworks when you didn't expect any. These were splendid ones, too. They were launched from the roof of the town hall so that the bangs boomed back and forth around the crossroads. They had fireworks that puffed out blue and red and yellow stars and ones that made fireflies waggle about the sky and ones that threw showers of tiny sparks high above the crowd.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Dogs, coat and meat.

1. A woman being pulled up a hill by two very enthusiastic spaniels.

2. Trekking round the shops at lunchtime looking at horrible coats that were the wrong colour and the wrong shape and the wrong price and not being helped by snotty shop assistants and then suddenly coming across exactly what I wanted in Kew - it's charcoal grey in the softest, snuggliest cashmere.

3. Looking at a piece of free range chicken and finding that its darkish colour and firm texture made it much more appetising than the pallid, floppy lumps of gloop that come from the supermarket.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Aroma, brown study and one by one.

1. Fenella bought me a little packet of exotic spices - nutmeg in mace, ginger, allspice and cinnamon bark and leaves. I love cinnamon because the smell makes me believe for a moment that I can never be cold again.

2. A martini unwisely poured into my empty stomach plunged me into a brown study about single life - which I normally thoroughly enjoy. About to fall into a miserable doze at 9pm, I was pulled up by a sharp 'This won't do!' from a bossy part of my brain and within minutes, HMS Pinafore was on the record player and my sewing was in my hand.

3. Stitch by stitch my little piece of aida is transforming into something quite different.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Black and gold, floribundulous and seed cake.

1. Autumnal gold trees with the sun on them standing before a thunderous sky the colour of wet slate.

2. Coming down the foetid, miserable commuting smelling stairs at the station you walk into the middle of a flower and fruit stall. Last night, they had anemones in bright crimson and velvety purple and royal blue. And metal bowls of enormous russetty English apples - fruit scoops all £1.

3. Biting into a little cake covered in sesame seeds and being zoomed back to a trip I to China back in 2001. I recalled a dark cake shop in Xian where I was told off for not helping myself quickly enough. But the cakes - little balls of pastry covered in sesame seeds - were delicious.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Lick, D-I-S-C-O and warpaint.

1. The icing that gets caught up in shop chocolate cake packaging.

2. Dancing with PaulV to a charity shop disco LP.

3. Putting on a little makeup before going to the pub.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Alone, postcards and square meal.

1. Drinking coffee and scribbling in a quiet coffee shop. Although you are in public, it is also very private because no-one will speak to you. And being English, we don't look at each other, either.

2. Old postcards. I love the ones with messages - 'I have worn the yellow nylon blouse nearly every day.' and 'I only know four words of English - "I love you"' and 'It's full of foreigners'. I think my favourite are the two from a little girl thanking her great aunt and uncle for presents - I suppose they were written in two successive years, because her hand writing improves!

3. Delia Smith's cheese and onion soup. It is creamy and sweet and savoury and sustaining.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Friday feeling, just a little further and congratulations.

1. Friday is always beautiful because it is the end of my working week and the start of the weekend. I relax a little, get a second wind and find a little extra energy for a burst of speed down the home straight.

2. A mother trying to persuade her toddler that a nice bench a bit further on is much more comfortable for lunch than a low wall on a street corner.

3. Reading that House of Joy has had her baby. House of Joy is a 'Mommy blog' set in Israel. I love it because the writer knows how to find happiness in simple pleasures like swimming, coffee shops and smoothing away a household friction.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Nine beautiful things.

My grandfather died yesterday, so these beautiful things are about him. There are nine of them.

1. He was always absurdly modest about his carpentry. He made me a doll's bed and table when I was about eight and took as much care over them as if they had been for his own house. I imagine that my children's great grandchildren will still be playing with them. When I mentioned this to him once, he scoffed and changed the subject.

2. He built swings. The best one was in an enormous oak tree in his garden. It hung on two strong chains so you could twizzle round and round on it, and it had a seat of polished oak that was lovely to touch. I remember him testing it himself before we were allowed to use it.

3. He wrote about his war and gave it to me to edit. It made me understand the Second World War better than anything else I have ever read.

4. When we were little, he always had a pound coin or three on hand, and as we got older, overpaid us for working in his garden and woods. He also always shared his Mars bars with us.

5. He kept his woods, garden, stream and fields immaculate but wild-life friendly. I reckon this must have contributed to my interest in conservation.

6. He would take us round the fields in his smelly and tempramental old Land Rover - this was a massive treat because there was room for all of us in the front and it lurched and bumped like anything.

7. He was always gentlemanly and kind.

8. He taught us all to ski and to love the Alps in winter. I remember going down the nursery slope between his knees. And I remember him skiing backwards while filming us.

9. He made miles and miles of cine films, and later videos of us and my mother and aunt.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Sound of silence, light ray and shadows.

1. I listen to BBC Radio 4's Today Programme from when I wake up at 6.30am. I love the silence that follows my stereo switching itself off at 7.30am.

2. The electrician has been in and put new bulbs in the hallways at home. In doing so, he boinked one of the lamps so it makes a shaft of light fall through the doorway on my landing. I have visions of an accident with something reflective bouncing the beam down the stairs to open a secret door.

3. My plants now make a silhouette on my curtains. I think it's because they've put the Christmas lights up.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Theatre, an extra pair of hands and a few chili dogs.

1. Being offered a free ticket to Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward.

2. Audio books - just like reading, but you can do dull tasks at the same time. At the moment, I'm listening to Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari.

3. Drive-In by The Beach Boys. I love the asides sprinkled through it - 'Remember only you can prevent forest fires'.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Lily the pink, ginger peril and two dogs.

1. An old woman whose outfit was drab apart from her lily pink lipstick and her scarlet shoes.

2. A seriously ginger child escaping while his mother was busy in the library by walking his pushchair backwards towards the doors.

3. Two scottie dogs - one black, one white - playing in the dark. The white one leapt up with all four feet off the ground.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Stalks, vines and family dinner.

1. Celery because it makes my mouth go numb and is green and crunchy. Plus it looks cool standing in a white jug.

2. Spotting an olive green ceramic frieze on the wall of a house. It showed a fat cherub face and some vines. On the same walk, I saw a real grapevine droopy from the frost but still covered in grapes.

3. Dinner with PaulV and James and James' mother's house. She does the best roasts and the conversation is both hysterically funny and quite challenging.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

She did, tricolore and midnight feast.

1. What Katy Did. This book has always been one of my favourites, and I still dip into it. The story, which is set in the 1860s, is rather preachy - it's about a thoughtless, careless, happy girl who has an accident and so becomes sweet and patient and loving. However, the preachy bits are interspersed with annecdotes about Katy and her family that seem so alive and colourful that I am sure they must be true!
There's the time Katy befriends a counterfeiter's wife; an important visitor finds and reads aloud Katy's story about Bop the blue poodle and Lady Edwitha of the Hebrides; and her sister Johnny's 'baby', a chair named Pikery falls ill and must be dosed with stolen medicine.
I love the underlying message, which is that good deeds begin at home - think globally, act locally. After Katy falls ill, she lies in bed fretting that she will never be able to perform all the great deeds she hoped to do. However the saintly invalid Cousin Helen points out that because Katy is ill, the household will always know where she is and so will come to her with their problems.
I love the honesty of it - although at the end Katy is adored by her family, she is still sometimes headstrong and impatient, and there are times when being good is an effort. I also love that although Katy has changed for the better by the end, her joyous, impetuous side have not been consumed.

2. Tomato salad with feta cheese, basil from the pots on my windowsill and homemade herby olive oil.

3. Eating chocolate late at night.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Cobbler, almonds and waiters.

1. I got my boots re-lined and reheeled and they are now so comfortable I hardly realise I'm wearing them.

2. Ameretti because I always imagine they taste romantically like cyanide.

3. Italian waiters who turn on the charm.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Flowers are best, frying pan and skiing.

1. I pass a house on the way to work with flowers painted under the eaves. They are quite faded and very high up, so it was a while before I noticed them. But now I smile every time I see them.

2. Discovering that if you fry curly kale with hardly any oil it goes like crispy seaweed.

3. I'm going skiing in January - bought the tickets and now it really feels like I'm on my way.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Prize, hieroglyphs and catch up.

1. Being given a bottle of wine for taking shorthand notes.

2. When I come to transcribe my shorthand, there is always a horrible minute or two when the squiggles make no sense. And then they resolve themselves into words and I can breathe again.

3. An old colleague came to give a talk at my local writers' group. It was good to see her again and to hear all the gossip.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Throwing it down, caramel and ship-shape.

1. Coming home on a wet night and knowing you don't have to go out again.

2. Making caramel. I love the way the sugar melts - one minute it's little crystals, the next it's liquid.

3. Going to bed in a tidy flat. So tidy in fact that I woke in the middle of night and for a dazed moment, couldn't believe it was mine.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

His tail is long, where am I and redolent.

1. The picture of dormice that I have on my desktop. It is by Steven Robinson and comes from a BBC photography competition.

2. Being so absorbed by a book that I don't notice how cold I am. My joints are cracking and my fingers numb and a hot shower is a relief, but all through it I am still thinking about the book.

3. The smell of rosewood. It's supposed to be comforting and uplifting. I think it smells of clean house.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Choux-choux-be-doo, it wasn't us and dumplings.

1. Successfully luring PaulV into my flat with a caramel cream choux bun.

2. In the park, the leaves have been raked into neat piles so the paths are clear. At least they were in neat piles, and then PaulV and I went for a stroll before it got dark.

3. You put dumplings in stew and they are clammy and sticky and lumpy. But twenty minutes later they have puffed up all fat and round and light.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Our gang, chestnuts and procrastination.

1. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The graphic novel is darkly funny and frequently disturbing. Its heroes are Mina Murray (formerly Harker) from Dracula, Allan Quatermain (King Soloman's Mines and She), Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Dr Griffin (a.k.a The Invisible Man). It is thick with references to Victorian adventure stories and every so often, I spot an old friend and feel very superior. I discovered this webpage of annotations - splendiferous.

2. Sweet chestnuts boiled with Brussels sprouts.

3. Putting things off until tomorrow.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Green fizz, unusual conversation and whizz bang.

1. Lime and soda.

2. Chatting with a ticket man on the train. He remarked on the book I was reading. I replied that it was a little impenetrable, being written by two Frenchmen. 'But they have some wonderful science fiction,' he said. And then told me all about a story he'd read about a planet where reality shifted. One minute the characters were in this universe, and then the tide would turn and they were in a different one, where they could only observe, helpless as sea anenomes. 'He really earned his pension, the man who translated that.'

3. At a party, someone put a bag of spent fireworks on the bonfire. But they weren't quite finished and one of them exploded. Babies yelled and guests scattered, dropping their drinks, diving behind tables and falling in streams. No-one was really hurt but Everyone Agreed It Could Have Been Much Worse.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Whirl, jaybird and deer.

1. Dead leaves scuttering on the road.

2. A jay in an Atlantic cedar.

3. My grandmother recounting how she told a builder in the room over the corridor that there were deer in the field outside her window, and he came through and had a look because he had never seen deer in the wild.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Up and away, new coat and glossy.

1. The street is in shadow but the sun is shining on an aeroplane in the sky.

2. The front door at work has been repainted a smart dark blue.

3. When you are cooking a sauce and it turns out glossy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Fairytale, birdsong and stamps.

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1. Habitat's Christmas range - it has a fairy tale theme and includes a gorgeous intricate metal Christmas tree to slot together.

2. Passing a little aviary full of twittering birdies.

3. Stamps with pretty pictures on them. They fool me into thinking postage isn't that expensive.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Meeting mates, new sounds and switch on.

1. Meeting Rob, Lou and Ross for lunch.

2. BBC Radio 2 is so talky I can't work with it on, so we've started listening to BBC 6 Music. It's pretty cool - unusual tunes and lots of them.

3. The temperature in my flat dropped below 20C so I put the heating on for the first time this winter. This means dry, crunchy towels and plenty of hot water.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Sugar, light and greetings.

1. The smell of praline at the French market in the Pantiles.

2. As our fire caught, its light picked out bright red yew berries on the branches above us.

3. Holding a blođ to mark Samhain. Three drinking horns went round and round the circle. We toasted absent friends, our ancesters and those who have gone on before. As the horns emptied, they were filled again and again - with honeyed beer, mead and cider.