Make like Patti

I went to New York recently (she says casually like Cindy Crawford would, or a businesslady from the 1990s).  Okay it was April in fact, but it’s been a turgid few months since then, filled with regret and lassitude at no longer being in New York so it has taken me a while to write.  New York is ridiculous; having haunted my imagination since I was of Athena poster buying age, I wasn’t disappointed  by the steam from the drains, the yellow of the cabs or the sheen from the mirrored skyscrapers.  It all felt unreal and familiar.

 

Boozed up and jetlagged, I took notes from every day of my stay, but do you really care what I did?  Does anyone? That’s my business.  From childhood, I vaguely remember ‘slide shows’, where we would formally gather with other families at nieghbour’s houses to have a guided tour, with projected images, of what they did on holiday. You may remember Don Draper singing the praises of the home projector on Mad Men, but he clearly never visited the denizens of Hull, because all I recall of the slide show is the click and the whirr of the machine and Uncle Brian or Aunty Sue telling us the date and time that the picture was taken, where it was taken and normally who had been sick or was about to be sick at the time of execution.To be honest, if I ask you ‘how was your holiday?’  Just say ‘fine’ or ‘shit’ and leave it at that (actually if it was shit, I’ll probably want to know why.  I’m such a schadenfreude freunde). Looking at my travel journal (which I imagined as a full blown epic) I can tell where I got bored of writing about what we did, because it becomes a ‘did list’.  And it’s awful.  If you really want to know what I did, go and read ‘Just Kids’ and pretend that I’m Patti Smith.  That should do it.

 

So now, we’ve established that I’m not going to give you the blow by blow of my trip, what am I going to do?  I’m just going to write about two things that I noticed, that’s what.  

 

New Yorkers have to have the last word, which means, as a Brit, you can get stuck in some serious politeness showdowns.  Here’s an example from a restaurant that we went to.  It’s between a waiter (played by Don Draper), me (played by Patti Smith) and my husband (played by Betty White – why not?)

 

HUSBAND:  I see what you mean about slide shows and i totally agree.

ME:  Great

WAITER:  More water?

ME:  Yes, please.

WAITER:  You’re welcome

ME: That’s great, thanks

WAITER:  Not a problem

ME:  Great job, well done

WAITER:  My pleasure

ME:  Lovely.

WAITER:  Fantastic

ME:  Nice one.

WAITER (running away, shouting over shoulder)  ENJOY YOUR MEAL!

 

As a Brit, I like to patronise waiting staff, to make them feel cared for and listened to, but most importantly I like to seal off the conversation by having the last word.  Every rejoinder takes away from my benevolence!  Really, I should face facts; my platitudes are squat: a damn big tip is worth more than a feigned grin and attentiveness.

 

Unless our visit coincided with a Tresemme conference, the men of New York have hands down collectively the best male hair I have seen anywhere on ths planet!  It is spectacular: lustrous, bouncy and product free.  Curls the colour and density of wet sand, worn long, nestling on shirt collars and flopping over foreheads.  Full white clouds of cauliflower.  A crisp afro.  I had full blown middle aged man hair envy – something in the water, perhaps?

 

Yes: everyone shouts at each other a bit, sandwiches are massive and the skyline is amazing.  But should you visit  New York, I recommend that you check out the pompadours and try to out-polite a waiter.  

 

And pretend your Patti Smith.  But that’s just a general life lesson, isn’t it?

 

Spanish Castle Magic

I’m puzzled by the parts of my childhood home that I can remember in detail; I would have no idea on what colour the walls were, or the bathroom even (though it was probably avocado, let’s face it), but I remember certain parts very very clearly.  Our house was a converted telephone exchange, but few of the original features remained.  Thank God for the ambition of the architect though; where many may have seen a functional bungalow type thing, she saw …. a Spanish villa.  So the walls were white, the patio was red tiled, and running across the facade were a series of arches which continued over the driveway.  I loved how it looked.

The stairs were awesome.  They were big wooden slabs driven horizontally into the wall with a balustrade of wrought iron.  What magic could I create here? Would I scale the underneath of each step? Would i wriggle straight through between the slats and enter a world of intrigue and mystery? No: I would spend most of my time wedged between two slats, my legs dangling freely and preted to be in an office. At a desk.  You see, I also had a little typewriter in a briefcase, which featured a series of images guiding me through what people did in an office and at what time.  At 9.30, according to the pictures I would arrive at work.  11 meant time for a black coffee, 1 oçlock was a ham sandwich.  I was supposed to down tools at 5 pm, but hey, sometimes I finished a little earlier to beat the rush home.

 

What I did during these hours is anyone’s guess. This was pre-internet, so I couldn’t even access real online information through my office space.  I wasn’t building an app empire, and there was no-one to email.  So I think I spent most of the time … pretending.  Pretending to do things that I associated with offices; like typing letters, making up imaginary data, sighing and musing on lunch.  Turns out I was scarily accurate on what office life was like!

 

Granted, there was probably a hella lot more engaging things that I could have been doing, like building dens, bike-riding, dancing in my pants, but hey, it’s not what i was pretending, it was how I was pretending.  I could pretend, quite happily, to be in an office for entire days, so much so that my mum and dad became adept at walking right over my little head if they needed to go upstairs.  I was part of the furniture (buh-bum-cha).  

 

It turns out that my husband was similarly fascinated by the stairs in his house, but his big challenge was seeing from how high he could jump down and not slam into the wall at the bottom.  He’s a bit like that.

 

My niece and nephew live there now (with my sister and brother-in-law, thankfully) and the house has adapted into a new home.  Fashions change: the arches are still there, but the inside is much sleeker and spacier.  Regardless, they’ve found their own pretend adventures.  In spite of their myriad toys, one of their favourite games involves sliding off the back of the sofa, pretending to be innocent fairies in the thrall of the wicked witch, my mother.  They can play this game for hours, something which takes a year of the wicked witch’s life each time they do.  The stairs have gone, but the sofa remains.  Space is adaptable, as are we, but what is re-assuring is that we still have the guaranteed imagination to find joy in pretending. 

 

 

Currying favour

Three of my favourite feelings are: the joyful realisation that there is another layer in the chocolate box; the glee at discovering a cold spot in a too-hot bed on a cold night; and the familiar comfort of my mum’s voice on the phone.

 

The latter takes me right back to childhood.  Even though the words and tone may have changed along with our relationship, the melody of my mum’s voice remains the same and puts me right back at the kitchen table, listening to her and my nana put the world to rights, largely through anecdotes involving Mrs Muckybum who lived down the street.

 

I sincerely hope that wasn’t her real name – how unfortunate if so.

 

Anyhow, last night’s conversation covered pillboxes, Night of the Hunter and her upcoming flying lesson.  My side of the dialogue was nowhere near as smart or sparky.  She was on speakerphone as I chopped onions and I realised as we nattered, that I was no longer the child at the table, witness to the conversation, I was part of it!  We’ve both upgraded a role: I’m her and she’s nana!  I felt a great happiness at this and relaxed into my natural non-teacher idiom which, like my mum’s, is much more aside-based and riddled with inuendo.  We’re basically drag queens without the vibrance (me, not her.)

 

I’m hoping that this recipe will have a Proustian effect on you.  It was a real treat for me to make it as I listened to my mum’s voice, as pleasant an accompaniment as a glass of prosecco or a favourite playlist.  It’s a made up curry, and I apologise to anyone who knows how to make a serious curry.  This is an end of the week, let’s put everything in kind of recipe.  A ‘ let’s focus on the most important things’ dish: in this case,  a chat with my ma.

 

Made up curry

1 tin coconut milk

Curry powder

1 onion sliced

Chillis to taste, chopped

1 chicken stock cube

Any veg (potatoes/squash, cubed, carrots/courgettes cubed, peppers sliced, whatever)

1 handful red lentils

 

Pancakes

Gram flour

Water

Bicarb soda (1/4 teaspoon)

Salt

Cumin

 

For the curry,

Fry off the onions till translucent.  Add chillis, ginger and currry powder to taste.  Add coconut milk. And stock cube and water if necessary. Bring to a low simmer.  Add in your veg and lentils, according to general cooking time.  Let it cook.  Add tomato herbs or spinach about 5 minutes before end.  

 

Pancakes

Mix 1 cup of Gram flour with 1 cup water and bicarb soda.  Add in cumin and salt and mix together, till it makes a thin batter.  Heat oil or ghee in frying pan and pour in half the batter.  Let it fry through and then flip and repeat on the other side.  Serve with the curry and tell your mum afterwards how great it tasted.