This Charming Manc

It's a condiment!

The last couple of months have been filled with the kind of dread and anxiety that I imagine baby cows experience on the veal truck to nowhere.  Leaving London felt impossibly big and the time I had to complete all the ‘things I haven’t yet done’ seemed ridiculously small.  Even the shit bits were romanticised; I gazed at the puke on the pavement like it was morning dew, the shouty smelly weirdo at the tube station became the last bastion of eccentric London.  Sullen moody queue pushers were smiled on fondly.  Could I really be leaving all this splendour behind?

To be honest, by the final week, living as if I were in a film was getting a little tiresome so I was ready to make the break.  The only time I remember being genuinely upset was when it was time to say goodbye to the guy who works in our cornershop.  Friends I know I will stay in touch with, maintaining relations witnewsagents will be more difficult, so the reality of not ever seeing him again was genuinely affecting for both of us.

The move was stressful and long and everything we hoped it would be, so enough of that.  Permit me to be really smug instead.

Manchester. is.  great.  Possibly (and it’s early I know and I haven’t been to work yet) even better than London.  There, I said it, Cockneys! Here are my reasons why, a wide ranging mix of cliche and genuinely excellent observation:

1.  Less pigeons.  This is a major factor for me as I hate those little turds.

2.  Black pudding is practically a condiment.  And it is really good black pudding!  In fact, breakfasts are across the board fabulous; I recommend Teacup (which has a very hands on owner in Mr Scruff, purveyor of fine tea, fine music and a Manc legend) and the Koffeepot, which is like your favourite bits of every previous era rolled into one.

3.  People are friendlier.  Boring but true. The only snake in the grass that we’ve come across so far has been the estate agent!  Football fans are not known for their top table manners, but at Old Trafford recently, people were kindly stepping aside to let people out of the rows in front and everyone was thanking everyone else profusely like it was Oscar night!

4.  I can walk everywhere from my house.  To the station, the theatre, the best bars and pubs.  No more Transport for London Journey Planner!  And I can get to proper real-life countryside (see pic below) in less than 45 minutes!

5.  Traffic lights turn green quicker.   I offer no empirical evidence for this, but I have waited on enough stubborn red men in my life to know a quick and fortuitous change when I see one.

6.  Great Northern Institutions, like Wilkinson’s, where you can get everything for £5.  Never knowingly undersold?  Pah!  Never knowingly disappointed, more like.

7.  And finally; 2 x fish and chips with gravy = £10.  This one alone is enough to guarantee a mass exodus to Lancashire.  Please don’t come.  We don’t want you.

Why stay south, I ask you, why stay south?

Try not to sing the Emmerdale theme tune - this is a shot from Ramsbottom (fnar), which is about 40 minutes from Manchester

Radio silence

We went on a visit last week – a sort of trip into my husband’s homeland, which is actually a grandiose way of  saying we went about half an hour out of London to Hertfordshire, to visit my father in law (who was fine, thanks) and one of my husband’s oldest friends.

I didn’t notice it to begin with, but his house (apart from the sound of his daughter upstairs and the weird wheezing of his mastiff) was dead silent.  The friend has given up television AND radio.  AND RADIO!  I totally understand the desire to chuck out the gogglebox, but radio I have always identified as the acceptable intellectual’s choice.  His reason was, he was sick of being broadcast at, and now read the newspapers (the sections that interested him) and watched TV series online when he wanted to.  I really admire him for this – at university, we learnt about ‘flow’, the idea that television is an endless stream of image and sound. You may switch on to watch something at 3pm and find, because the switch between programmes adverts, adverts and programmes is so smooth and subliminal, that the TV is still on at 2 in the morning and even though you are not consciously watching it, it is still spouting forth in you living room – which is bound to affect the old brain waves.

So I’m on a mission to reduce the television and radio that I watch – and to absolutely switch it off when not engaged with it.  On the evidence of tonight it has been lovely – I’ve done some writing, had a nap and actually listened to my own thoughts (you may argue that I have now ruined this by immediately blogging about it, but I’m actually quite proud of my non-tv evening).  I even found a use for the cauliflower that has been hanging around in my fridge for a while – a delicious and speedy curry, which I shall share with you now……

Cumin seeds

Coriander seeds






Any random veg that is left at the end of the week – the more the merrier.

Get a wok on – add in chilli, garlic, ginger and fry for 30 seconds, add in dry spices and toss it around. Whack in the veg, get it coated in the spices, add a glass of water and let it cook down.  Add salt to taste.  Serve with rice, quinoa, whatever really.

Super good and a welcome break for my innards, which are still processing greasy cockney chips from lunch.  And most of my internal fluids consist of various white wine tributaries at the moment.  Not good at all.  A nourishing evening.  Please Buddha give me the strength to keep it up!

Amateurism rules!

Thick and fast at the moment, eh? An impressive rush of what Julia Cameron (no relation to David, thank God) would call abundance.  Here’s today’s missive.

Still on a bid to do better, be better – took myself on a jog round the park, finally used the incredible Japan Centre near Picadilly to buy wonton wrappers, lovely fresh sushi and a can of oolong tea – just soaking up London on the first warm day of the year.  And then I did the unthinkable – I entered the ICA.

Unthinkable because the place is so bloody aloof.  Firstly, the door is small, more of a portal, so you never sure what awaits you – in fact all you can see is a large white desk with an aloof intellectually coiffed person sat behind it.  They don’t want you to come in – you’re wearing trainers, not brogues and may smell of sweat.  Not the welcome I imagine Billy Childish would want, and it was his exhibition that I wanted to see.  So I made it through the door, did some pretend texting while I got my bearings (no way was I going to ask one of the desk people, they would probably point out that they were part of the exhibition and I was an idiot for not understanding).  Finally, after much pretending to look at phone while actually peering through my jogger’s fringe (in your face art person!)  I located the gallery, established that it was free and entered.  Tentatively,  behind a robust German family who had felt no need to indulge in any performance art to find it.

I really like Billy Childish – I don’t know anything about him and the ICA keep you guessing by leaving out those effusive notices that accompany exhibitions at the Tate and tell you everything about the artist, the picture, the medium, the response, the period.  I think I heard on the radio that the ICA is a bit hard up, so the only introductory note points you towards a perspex box  full of leaflets on the wall and suggests that if you want to know anything, pay a quid and read away.  Being a student, I declined – not only do I not have any money – I also have the brains (what with being a student) to work my own narrative out.

The first room I enter is some of his more recent paintings and they’re stunning – really bold, a crazy palette, often appearing unfinished, but great.  They contain stories, relationships that you can invent, not in that abstract wanky whistle on a toilet bowl way, but including things like shadowy half glimpsed figures near a dead body – Kent noir. I’ve been reliably informed by the art critic (my boyfriend) that his paintings are shit, but I disagree.  I liked looking at them up close and at distance and when I left the room I kept peeking my head round the corner to reconsider.

Then I have to bury my head back in my phone as I try to work out where the rest of the exhibition is (this place is so arch and unwelcoming).  I end up in a cafe where people are sitting with Apple Macs.  Clearly whatever they are ‘working on’ is dull, as their heads tilt upwards whenever the next stranger stumbles in. I pretend text my way up some stairs into two rooms joined by a flamboyant yellow suit with an arm band emblazoned with ‘British Art Resistance’.  Turns out Billy’s a big one for causes and movements and then rejecting said causes and movements.  I like him.  One room is dedicated to his poetry and these woodcut frontispieces he designed for his publishing house, Hangman – so there’s writing and art – the poetry celebrates his dyslexia, pays no attention to punctuation or spelling and is quite conversational but never derivative.   Next door is playing Billy’s tunes on a loop and displays much of the artwork he came up with for his many albums.  And I had no idea he was so prolific!  More guises than Prince!

The music supports the impression that I’m building up of Billy (no thanks to the ICA leaflet) – its ‘jangly and shouty, but melodic, not arty Fourtet weirdness.  Eminently danceable.  There are two people with fifteen haircuts apiece on their head and they’ve decided to glue themselves to headsets attached to a video display of Billy Childish moving around on a screen.  I can’t be bothered to wait.  I think Billy would approve.  Actually, he’d possibly stage his own live performance art in the opposite corner (time to pretend text?), but I decide its best to go.

I liked the artist so much, I looked him up on Wikipedia.  He’s big into Amateurism, which I am translating as ‘having a bash’ – this I like, be it attempting to make dim sum or performing feminist cabaret.  I am an acolyte and I have found my true leader.  Childish, this one’s for you.

True beauty lies within (a plastic packet)

Number 2 in my occasional series of things I love and why:  Cheap food.

And I don’t mean the kind of cheap food extolled by gastronomes in the Sunday supps – not for me home made scotch eggs or a hundred ways with chitterlings.  No, I mean genuinely cheap, processed food, that comes ready wrapped in aluminium or plastic as brightly coloured as the sauce it contains,preferably with an ingredients list in an obscure language, the sort of stuff you can only buy in bulk, 5 for £1, generally from a late night corner shop or discount store.  In fact they have to be from here- when I see these beauties on the shelves in Tesco – I feel a sort of regret, I can’t look them in the eye.  They look out of place, like porn would in a doctors surgery.

So what am I talking about?  I’m talking about cheap packet noodles, tinned breakfasts, Fray Bentos pies, tuna mayo in a can, campbells meatballs, dusty smash packets, crusha milkshake mix.  Gorgeous, the taste of youth, real youth, not in the poetic sense of  apples from the tree and tiffin.  I mean real youth.  Nostalgia food – my overriding childhood memory?  Eating noodles on a Friday night watching Golden girls.  Rock and roll.

I was an adventurous child and am still happier to eat something that resembles nothing than something that resembles something too closely (Pigs ear?  No thank you.  Bacon grill?  2 slices!) I appear to have given up most of my adolescent savourings, but I still get excited in corner shops at the strange things you can get on shelves – I swear that  the pickled eggs over the road are the same tin from when I first moved here.  I’m going to put a small undetectable-to the-human-eye mark on said tin and follow its movements….

One thing that has stayed with me is my love of the packet noodle, particularly chicken or curry flavour.  Basically because they taste the same – brothy chicken bovrily goodness wrapped around the slinkiest blandest of wheat based wiggles…delish.  I’m happy now.  I had them earlier.  With this in mind, I’m goin to share with you my classic recipe for eating these noodles, Aldi Ramen (giving provenance – Aldi – and style,  Ramen – after Wagamama)

Aldi Ramen

1 x packet noodles (Koka are good, not super noodles)

1 x tin tuna in oil

Spinach leaves (or if you’re really going for the cheap food angle, tinned chopped spinach works well).

Cook noodles according to packet instructions.  Add tuna (drained if preferred).  Add spinach (drained).  Keep heating for a bit till its all mixed in and lovely.  Add soy sauce if you want.

Pour into serving bowl.  Leave to cool for a bit.  Switch on Murder she wrote, eat noodles and enjoy.

My guilty secret.

Stuff these up your jacksi, Blumenthal.

A call for positivity

This is my promise to you, cybersphere.  I, Nefny, do promise to try and be a little less cynical in my daily goings around town and will try and see the light side of life and people, again.  In order to maintain this change in perspective and hopefully help my optimism blossom, I will keep an occasional series of blogs about things I love  and why i love them  …in no apparent order, on no apparent theme, with no apparent reason.  Just things I love.

Number 1.  Kurt Russell

5 words.  Big.  Trouble.  In.  Little.  China.  A great film, made even greater by Kurt’s willingness to send himself up.  Bruce Willis would have been too knowing, van Damme and his ilk too self-believing but Russell MAKES this film.  He’s a trucker, for godsake!  When will action stars realise that they genre that they work in is high camp and by aiming to promote some sort of zen message (I mean you Seagal), they make themselves ridiculous?  When?  This is surely one of the biggest concerns that our planet currently faces!

But…Kurt.  He’s just wonderful in this film, and pretty much everything else too.  Point in hand – he turns up in films which I’d forgotten he was in and its always a nice surprise!  Stargate anyone?  Had too much of James Spader?  Lets cut to a shot of Kurt to liven things up.  Even my boyfriend greets him like a long lost darts partner in the pub;  ‘Ah, Mr Russell, forgot you were in this’.  We know there are some quality moments ahead.  The fact that he topped the Onion’s underrated actor list says it all.  Never won a major acting award?  Who cares when you’ve got some hot wheels and are welcome at every roadhouse in the state……..

No one else would be as good in The Thing or Escape from LA.  He genuinely seems to have fun in his roles. He is the thinking woman’s Patrick Swayze.  All hail the Kurt!

All hail the Kurt!

A little list

5 things to do on the tube whenyou’ve finished your book, your ipod has run out and the games on your mobile are crap  (this list may expand as I discover more….)

1.  Play which of your fellow tubefarers would you eat first if the carriage got stuck underground for a long period of time and you went mad and couldn’t get out and had to eat someone to survive?

2.  Play which of your fellow tubefarers could you beat in a fight? (Perhaps the same answer as question number 1)

3.  If your opposite passenger was an animal, which animal would they be.

4.  Bet on whether the new entry to your carriage will make it to the seat in time or…. oh no….fall over into adjacent passenger’s lap.

5.  Play ‘spot the stylist’ shoe’. This involves browsing whichever shit free paper is lying around at your feet, identifying starlets on the red carpet who are wearing shoes that are visibly too big for them (usually a big gap at the heel of the shoe which should be filled with ankle).  So called as they are clearly the quarry of some harrassed stylist’s assistant who has picked up the nearest stillie and shoved on starlet’s foot to complete the ensemble, regardless of shoe size – foot incompatibility (see visual).

6.  Guess the smell.

Okay, that’s 6, but I knew it was a grower.Rocking the stylist shoe

Suggestions welcome.