Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Book reviews

I once decided to review all the books I read in a year

It was really fun - especially as my reading tends to wiggle from contemporary books to some real old treasures. I also enjoyed doing it – there is a nice art to reviewing, in that you share the essence of the book but don’t give away too many clues. This helps massively with synopsis writing, as you’re looking for the big themes within a book, not the minute detail.

So I’m going to start doing it again, here and there, and am looking forward to keeping a record of what takes my fancy this year.

Do you like reading book reviews on blogs? 
And what are you currently reading? 

Always good to have recommendations!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Herman the German Friendship Cake

‘I’ve got something for you,’ said a friend at work. ‘It’s a Herman.’

‘It’s a what?’ I asked, staring in bemusement at the tub of goo being pressed into my hands, along with a photocopied sheet of instruction.

‘A Herman!’ she replied. ‘It’s a German friendship cake. Follow the instructions and then pass it on.’

Ah. I thought. It’s like a chain letter, only one you can eat. A chain letter with no horrible consequences, apart from... I looked again at the mixture. What exactly was in this, again?

The instructions stated that he is a sourdough cake, and that you can't put him in the fridge or he'll die. If he stops bubbling, then he is dead.

I frowned. Herman’s immediate future didn’t look good. Still, with the greatest will in the world, I took him home, announced him as the new house guest and made him comfortable.

‘Here you go, Herman’, I said, popping him into his new bowl, aware that I was already making a fatal error.

You see, I’m not very good when objects are anthropomorphised. I get horribly sentimental and then refuse to part with them. And now, not only did I have to keep Herman alive, but at the end of his sojourn with me I was expected to eat him.

And so began a peculiar ten days of Herman related activity and enquiries after his health. Was he still alive? Just about. We’ll keep quiet about the day I forgot him. Has he been stirred? Yes, either very early in the morning as the cats clamoured to be fed, or very late at night (with the cats still clamouring. My cats default position is to clamour as soon as anyone steps foot in the kitchen. Pavlov would have saved himself an awful lot of time if he’d just shared his home with a cat.)

But Herman was a fairly easy addition to the household, I have to admit. He didn’t require any scales, for one thing. None of this two confuddled ounces and sixty confusing milligrams nonsense. Instead everything was a ‘cup’ of plain flour, a ‘cup’ of sugar. Marvellous. I was beginning to think that this Herman may yet live to be eaten another day.

Not only that, but you can easily make up a song about Herman, set to the tune of Madness’ Driving In My Car:

Herman’s hiding in his bowl / It's not quite a casserole.

On Herman’s Day of Reckoning, I felt a bit sad. Poor Herman, I thought, giving him a final stir. And then I tasted him (just as the cats default is to clamour, mine is to taste-test ALL cake mixture). Mmm, I thought. There was no denying it. My Herman tasted damn fine. And that was all the impetuous I needed to shove my weird cake pet into the oven.

The friendship part of Herman is that just before you cook him, you divide the mixture into three or four and give some to friends. So the Son of Herman also found his way to an oven (and again, tasted gorgeous.)

Herman Junior, photo from the lovely Kerry Lucy

I am now addicted to Hermans and volunteered to take the grandson of my original Herman home with me. I'm not quite sure where this will end, blogger buddies. I have the feeling Herman may always be found bubbling away under a tea-towel in my kitchen.

Bwhahahahaha! Herman Lives!

Instructions for Herman the German Friendship Cake

My Herman was soya-free - substitute olive oil for vegetable oil, and use apricots instead of raisins. Yum!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Sixth sense

I’m a huge believer in gut instinct. If my inner warning bell starts ringing, I listen. On Sunday I think it saved me from being mugged.

The driveway in front of my house only has room for one car, so I usually park my car on the drive and my mum parks her car in front of mine on the street, a bit like a ‘T’ formation. She uses her car more in the week than I do, so it works out easier this way, although if I want to get my car out I have to jump in both and do some manoeuvring.

Whenever I do this I like to pretend I'm in The Sweeney.

I’d returned from the supermarket so had moved mum’s car, parked mine on the drive, and moved mum’s car back in front again. I’d just jumped out of mum’s car and was locking it when I noticed a man slowly cycling on the pavement across the street.

He was a fair distance away but as I walked around the car my inner alarm bell started ringing, softly at first. I saw out of the corner of my eye that he had seen me and had suddenly crossed over to my side of the road.

I went to my car, intending to get out my groceries. This is when my inner alarm bell went off like a siren and my subconscious clocked seven things simultaneously.

  1. He’d sped up. Before he was aimlessly cruising down the road.
  2. There was also no reason for him to cross the road, no junction for him to turn down into, no obstruction his side that would stop his progress.
  3. The road was unusually quiet and totally empty.
  4. He was an adult on what looked like a teenage boy’s bike
  5. He had his hood up despite it being a sunny day
  6. I had the keys to two cars in my hand
  7. I look quite young

I quickly locked my car and practically bolted to my house. As I turned to shut the door I saw he had got incredibly close in a short space of time and was just passing my drive. We caught each other’s gaze and his look was so malignant that I knew my feelings were justified. And then he carried on down the street.

I’m not a paranoid person but there is a big problem with drugs (and knives) in the area that I live, with the gangs behind the trouble cruising the streets on bikes. So perhaps I’d clocked there was a reason to be careful from the moment I saw him. Whatever the case, I am so grateful to my internal warning system, and so very glad I listen to it. Please make sure you do the same with yours. x

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Out of focus

I am struggling a little these days. My focus has slipped and run away.

Run! Run for the hills!

Do you ever feel like someone else has your life? I look at others and think – hey! How come you’re living my life? That should be me over there, doing those things. Instead I’m here, doing... well, not much. Not much at all.

‘How can she say she doesn’t do much when her blog details amazing nights out?’

Yes, it’s a conundrum, but easily answered. Those nights are the rare stars twinkling high in a sky the texture of a course scratchy blanket. I arrange things to do because otherwise I’d bury my head under the blanket and never come out. I know my tendencies. I like to hide away.

The rewrite continues (well, I like to think it does. In my head it gallops. In real life it snorts steam and stares balefully from the stalls.) However, I fear it’s the wrong rewrite. I think perhaps there is a third, better, way to tell this story, which would mean yet again grabbing the edges of my Word document and giving it a shake, letting the sentences settle down again in a new pattern. I don’t want to do this. I’d rather lick the road, go on a five-mile hike on a hot day with a pail of defrosting fish, or ride a home-time bus surrounded by shouting territorial schoolboys with moustaches. But it’s an idea. A thought. A nasty, prickly, jabbing sort of thought, true, but it’s there all the same.

(I believe in the story, but don’t trust myself in the way I'm telling it.)

I know what’s wrong. The core of me is desperately unhappy, despite me shoring it up with bent lollipop sticks and cheap Primark jumpers. This is reflecting in my health, which has been annoyingly whiney of late, and feeling low is impacting on my focus. I know it’s all connected but still can’t seem to do what’s needed to make a change. It’s because dem big things, life-changes. But it’s getting closer for me to make some decisions and, really, it should be a simple one to make.

I have to choose to be happy.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Churchill War Rooms

Take my hand on this dark winter’s evening and walk with me down the wide expanse of Horse Guards Road. The black skeleton trees in St James Park stand tall on our left; the Portland stones of Her Majesty’s Treasury on the right seem to glow with their own ethereal luminescence. We join a group waiting in the night gloom, breath steaming in the air, faces cheerful with chatter. Big Ben in the distance solemnly chimes the hour. We are now allowed to scurry down the cold steps and enter the Cabinet War Rooms, Winston Churchill’s nerve centre throughout the Second World War.

Deep under the bustle of Whitehall hides an old sturdy rabbit warren of corridors. Let’s imagine for a second the uniformed men and women who worked down here. Their footsteps echo ahead of us, rushing important communications to the Map Room. The blue haze expelled from cigars and cigarettes cloaks the ceiling, making the rushing figures hazy and indistinct. We rush with them, a glance to the side revealing a stark room with a cot-bed, a desk, a lamp, a washing basin with a jug of water on standby. A telephone’s shrill demand for attention makes us jump; in the distance we can hear the rumble and shudder of distant bombs, the low wail of sirens warning Londoners to beware, to take care. Closer to us a BBC radio announcer’s clipped tones speak over the wireless; we hear the steady click-clack-click of typewriters, a faint floating burst of music, hastily muted. The hands of the clock on the wall point the way to midnight, 6am, midday. Time means nothing down here; it has been cancelled. The smell of sleepless toil, of urgency, of expectancy, soaks through the corridors. That was then.

And this is now. The books and charts in the Map Room have remained exactly as they were left in 1945.

This was Churchill’s bedroom. The walls are covered with maps. The last thing he saw on closing his eyes, and the first thing that greeted him on awakening, was the territory of battle.

One of the many telephones. Whose hand last held the receiver and what was the message?

Of course, we had to look the part...


Lovely friend R

...courtesy of the 'vintage boudoir', which I was delighted to find consisted of Fleur at Diary of a Vintage Girl, and her Vintage Mafia! Thanks lovely ladies.

We spoke to museum curators, and followed the drifting sounds of music, past the group sketching caricatures of Churchill at his bulldog best, until we found the dance hall, manned by the London Swing Dance Society. Here we danced the Charleston and the lindy hop, and gathered in a circle for the Big Apple. All too soon it was time to climb the stairs and emerge back onto the street, blinking under the stars.