If food be the music of love

There’s not many things that I miss about London; friends obviously, the occasional supericilious pigeon and the yellow light of a vacant taxi at 2 a.m on a blustery morning after a good night out.  Like Proust (pretentious, much?), my memories revolve around food: I can still fondly recall a steak pie the size of a toilet bowl at a restaurant in Stoke, enjoyed at the age of 7.  And I’m always attempting to recreate what I call ‘1980s Spanish hotel soup’, which was thin and bisto-y, but which I yearn for because it reminds me of the excitement of going on holiday as a kid.  


My London food memory comes from a vegetarian restaurant/shop tucked away in Neals Yard.  The staff were always sleepy eyed and moved as if suspended in lightly set aspic, but they served the most incredible cheese breads.  They were stiff with a black olive crust, but once mascerated, chewy and moist and oily inside.  I ate them every time I visited the West end; it became part of my experience, the feeling of owning part of London, of being part of its machinery, essential, loved and looked after.  And they only cost a pound!


I spent a long time missing these little beasts of beauty until inspiration struck.   I needed to turn to the great God of my living room: Google.  Lo and behold there are a million recipes for Brazillian cheesebreads online and if pushed, I would say that mine are as good as the real thing.  This is what you need:

Cup and a half of tapioca flour

Third of a cup of milk

Half of a cup of olive oil

1 egg

As much grated cheese as you can handle (at least a cup’s worth)

Blend all these ingredients, pour it into a buttered muffin tray.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 200 degrees.  Take out and rest.  Hop from foot to foot with impatience until they are cool enough to devour.


Then devour.


And never say that I don’t give you anything.

Driving Miss Lazy

Can  you remember what your old classroom looked like?  I have a friend who showed me a photo of hers recently; it was a portacabin with a broken window and a peeling woodchip wall.  What was most remarkable about the picture is that 20 years later, 5 of the people in that photo were present in the room, well adjusted responsible adults who were still friends.  It made my heart warm, I tell you. And it made me wish that I had a photograph, because I honestly can’t remember what mine was like.  Classrooms have been landed in the same pile of instantly dismissable as doctor’s surgeries and banks.  There were probably some posters or ‘display work’ on the walls, but ultimately who cares?  If I can’t remember it, neither can they is my doctrine, which, as a teacher, gives me carte blanche to leave the walls pretty much as they are;    a few bits of neat work (timewasting) and some inspirational posters.  But my lassitude makes me a rarity in this profession: if they ever run out of ideas for makeover programmes (they are near the bottom of the barrel – an episode of Doggy Styling is on as I write) they should talk to some of the teachers I have worked with; their rooms could induce epilectic fits, so bedecked are they with advice on apostrophes and inspring quotations. But maybe I’m wrong.   Maybe just because I pay not the blindest bit of notice to what is going on around me unless it is to poke fun of it, doesn’t mean my students are doing the same!  In this spirit I have decided to actually read the motivational quotes emblazoned around my room and live by their creed, something which I am pretty sure my colleagues don’t manage.

A dispatch from the field: there is a vogue in teaching at the moment to encourage independence, to foster resilience, to applaud effort and challenge rather than natural skill and talent.  I heartily approve of this: too often and too easily are the ‘bright ones’ and the A grades rewarded and not the students who work their arses off for a D grade.  So a sea change in research has been embraced, at least superficially by teachers and our first port of call  when embracing a new idea is the poster cupboard.  Let’s whack some mottos up, create a banner in publisher: make them independent!  But in my honest opinion, we teachers are the last out of the traps when it comes to practising what we preach.  And I use myself as a prominent example of this.

I passed my driving test when I was 19.  I passed it on my second attempt and only because the examiner, who was a little man in a pork pie hat, was on his last day of duty.  He told me all this as I perched nervously on the edge of the seat, wondering why the handbrake looked so far away.  I nodded manically, actually unable to hear at this point.  He sat low in the seat: I closed my eyes and turned the ignition. 40 minutes later and I’d passed! Though whether either of us had opened our eyes for the entire journey is debatable:  he seemed pretty tired and why not?  Can you think of anyone more grateful for relaxation than a driving examiner on his last day of duty? Good for him, I say, but the nagging doubt that maybe I shouldn’t have passed my test all that time ago has hung over me ever since, like a Disney princess under some sort of spell.

I have driven twice since that day.  My dad thought it would be a good idea for me to drive him back from the pub once (thus enabling him to get royally rat-arsed).  Surprisingly the jump from a two door panda to a 5 series BMW was a step too far and I nearly wrapped it around the lamp-post outside our house.  The second time has provided a rich and consistent seam of comedy gold for my older sister, because I took her round a corner in third gear.  Haha!  She trots this one out whenever she can, even when I just happen to mention anything even vaguely motor-related, like so:

ME:  “There’s nothing on.  Just Driving Miss Daisy and I don’t want to watch that”

HER:  Driving? Bahahaha! Can you remember when you drove me round the corner? In THIRD GEAR?  You’re an idiot.

ME:  Yes.  Yes I am.


This was over 15 years ago now.  Her act is very, very tired. Truth be told, I’ve held on to these minor setbacks longer than most and,coupled with a prolonged 12 year stay in London, where you have to be mad or rich or both to own a car, I conveniently forgot to drive again.  I like to get driven: I have an annoying habit of leaning in the same direction as the car as if I’m propelling it on, but otherwise I sit and am chauffeured.  Which is fine when  you live in London, but when you live in Manchester and work elsewhere, it’s a hassle.  The trains are real adventures in “Goodnight Sweetheart” land, and not in a quaint way.  They smell, they’re old, there’s flakes of pastry everywhere and I feel like a non-human when I have to rely on them.  Please don’t misunderstand me if you are still reading at this point: public transport is essential and I would continue to use it even after learning to drive again.  My bid to get behind the wheel has everything to do with control, my control over how I get around.  Good Lord, maybe I’m finally become an adult?


So, I’m finally heeding the advice that Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Oates et al have been shouting at me from my classroom walls (I’m sure that it’s exactly what they had in mind when writing about overcoming hardships, facing adversity, etc etc).  I’m actually going to practice what I preach and relearn this driving malarkey.  The best New Year Resolutions involve the acquisition of something rather than the denial; much better to vow to learn Mandarin than give up trifle for a year, methinks.  And besides, how hard can it be?  I will let you know, but you may wish to stay off the roads in the meantime.

In a Nutshell

When I first met my husband 10 years ago he lived in a rundown house right where the Olympic stadium now is.  I can’t remember much about the house as I was mostly drunk at the time, but I do remember it had a fantastic deep, over-run garden which I disappeared to enigmatically on our first date.  I had watched too many Fred and Ginger films and I was hoping that he would come and find me in the moonlight and we would kiss.  Instead, he thought that I had had a terrible time and gone home.  I stood outside for about 20 minutes before going back in and trying to laugh it off in a cavalier (if still slightly enigmatic) fashion.


He then moved to a house in Stoke Newington, to a road where everyone else was Orthodox Jewish.  Literally, everyone else.  He had a really high bed (yes we overcame the moonlit garden incident pretty quickly) and a great little courtyard with white brick walls outside the kitchen window where we would hypothesise on which animals we would be able to kill in one-on-one combat, naked.  Notice I say hypothesise, although it did come pretty close when, to our derision, a spectacularly wet friend of ours stepped up and said he could finish a goose off barehanded.  The courtyard was going be the battleground (and we would have an executive box at the kitchen window), except he suddenly stopped calling at about this time.  And my husband only stayed there for another 6 months.


He then moved to a flimsy-walled new build near Victoria Park, where the bedroom dimensions made me weep and vow to seek vengeance against the vindictive architect who had it so designed.  The final straw was when his flat mate started watching suspicious videos in the room next door.  So he moved in with me.


At the time I lived in the real East-end of London, by which I mean the scabby bit, neglected by Pearly Queens and Del-Boy.  In my East-end, everyone was miserable all the time and any remotely aware person would have immediately moved out.  I loved it!  I was unknowingly subletting a flat from a man who shall be known only as Dave.  I lived on the top floor: below me was for some time a lady who eventually went back inside for more treatment and guy called Ed, a complete bounder, who had declared himself bankrupt and chipped to Brazil in the middle or the night, got married, moved back with the girl (way out of his league) and then disappeared for a second time, leaving her behind.  I thought I was Holly Golightly. I was in fact Raskolnikov.  But with less romance and flogged horses, thank goodness.


The flat had its upsides.  It looked out on to a cemetery which to some minds is outrageously close to a Stephen King setting.  But if you live in a city, it’s rare to get a view of the sky, no matter how persistently grey.  Besides, the funerals round there were proper East-end, full on parades with carriages and black horses wearing those tall feather showgirl hats.  The flat consisted of a little kitchen with mould, a bathroom, no shower and an exceptionally vocal fan and the remaining third comprised living/sleeping space.  No, I lie: a quarter was taken up with the stairway leading up and an in built wardrobe which I generally ignored after I tipped a whole pot of paint on my head trying to dislodge a sleeping bag.


So living and sleeping made up about a quarter of the space, which probably equated to about 100 square metres.  For a TV, a sofabed, a computer and a wardrobe.  And bookshelves.  And a bedside drawer thing.  With two people in it, who’d never lived together before.  And a George Foreman grill, which wouldn’t fit in the kitchen.  Normally it looked a bit like one of those pictures the astronauts send back from space, where they’re all desperately trying to look relaxed and cheerful in their pods but stuff is just floating around and nothing is where it should be.


This is how we lived for 3 years.


If you’ve ever lived in a studio flat you will know that you start with good intentions which gradually erode until one day, you just can’t be arsed with making up the futon again.  And from that day forwards it is just a bed, a sofa nevermore.  Now, as this is very often the eating space as well, the bed quickly takes on a muesli texture, with little bits of ciabatta or peanut falling into the cracks.  Again, you start the fight bravely, shaking off the crumbs (maybe even out of a window?) and then …well who cares?  Eventually you romanticise it, and the bed becomes a safe haven, the big pirate ship in the middle of the turbulent sea of discarded knickers, DVD covers and phone chargers.  Home is truly a crusty bed.


I like to think of our years together in the studio as relationship survival training.  Arguments were ridiculous.  You couldn’t storm off; if you went outside you may get shot or procured for Fagin’s gang and if you sat in the kitchen you’d die of consumption.  So you sat it out, on the crusty bed.  And to this day, I think my husband and I could co-exist in a phone box.  Even now, we can quite happily spend a day on the sofa getting on with our own things without feeling the need to meddle in each other’s business.  I still find the sound of Pro-Evolution Soccer being played on an X box as meditative and sleep inducing as any Chopin and he (mostly) still overlooks my psychological need to pile things by the side of my bed.


If personalities are forged by the age of 15, then I reckon that relationships (and one’s tolerance levels) are fixed by the time you flee your first shared nest together.  And if you are having misgivings about your current choice, I would like to fly in the face of conventional counselling wisdom.  Don’t give each other time or space: go live in a studio flat for a bit.  I know a guy called Dave who could sort you out ….

In the club

Forgive me, sad old sop that I am.  I still hope, when someone casually mentions ‘meeting at my club’, that at some point during the evening an elderly gent will challenge me to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon or a juggernaut or some such.  This is how delirious I become at the casual mention of ‘one’s club’.  Naturally, I don’t belong to any – as none, quite rightly, would have me.  And its all in the belonging, isn’t it?  The possessive pronoun is king.  ‘Fancy going to a club?’ is not the same and should not be confused because ‘a club’ means vomit and techno and no comfortable seating.  But ‘fancy going to my club?’  Wowee.  That’s decanted port hitting crystal, cigar smoke and bottle green chesterfields. Much more welcoming.  Old men.  Paintings of dogs in mocked up courtroom scenes.  I’m thinking Hogarth, Hobbs and Harris tweed.

Before I disappear up my own portcullis, I’d like to point out that I’m not an idiot.  I went to a red-brick university and I appreciate that clubs are redolent of a particularly nasty brand of the good old days – when Empire was all and Britannia ruled the etc etc.  A previous boyfriend belonged to The East India Club – how unnecessarily colonial is that?  But for the purposes of today lets (say we can) wrench the style from its context and reach a concensus – old school club aesthetic is hot and I get excited when I think I’m going to get in one.

So when my oldest mukka, Chas,  drops an invite to her club (hers, not mine) into the conversation, I pounce on it.  Impatiently, I ask her what the odds are on discussing the Suez Canal with a bulldog in a bowler hat over boiled eggs and soldiers?  She doesn’t understand.  Ah, if only she could see what clubs are like in my head….

Instead, we’re left with the reality of her club, the one that really exists, that she belongs to and I don’t.  And here I am outside its entrance, somewhere off Moorgate, in scuzzy chic Hoxton.  Its evidently so cool that it looks like shit from the outside .  I’m a little dejected –Mayfair it isn’t.  I’m already downgrading my pre-selected topics of conversation.

I am suffering a severe status downgrading as well – this club, behind the mystery door is busy!  Tanned people in good but bland clothes saunter in and up the stairs.  They know how to get in.  I don’t.  Snatches of conversation put me at ease but set me up for what’s to come.  I over hear one member say to her guest ‘Go in, have a drink, just see who talks to you.’  Are we, as mere guests, not allowed to instigate a little chat? This is not and has never been my idea of a basis for a good night out.  And I’m beginning to think I’m a little out of touch with what member’s club means….

So here’s a simple guide.  Using tonight’s venue as a template, I will enlighten you as to the differences between a members club and a bog standard bar/restaurant.

The good about clubs

  • Less people.
  • Nicer décor.  Inside it sort of looks like Monica’s flat in Friends – exposed brick and fire escape, low warm lighting and a dull bronze bar façade and ceiling.
  • Bar staff – both hunky and less arrogant than other places.  I’m going to go with ‘bar staff from Amaretto advert’  as my point of reference.
  • Key difference in my view – loads of people check on you all the time.  Like a really good BUPA hospital.

The bad about today’s clubs:

  • People stare at each other.  Obviously this happens in all bars, and some would say it is in fact, the sole purpose of bars, but when there are less people around, it’s a little de trop.  I think this exposes the club psyche – members are hoping that the exclusivity of belonging will introduce them to those of a higher status – but isn’t it entirely possible that the club will be composed purely of people who were stupid enough to pay in this hope?  Hence, at one point the place looks like its holding some kind of en mass plate spinning event, so many heads swivelling in different directions.
  • Nicer décor, nowhere to sit.  I love plonking down somewhere comfy in a bar – it’s the only way to drink.  But I’m informed by my friend, that all seats are reserved.  Even the shy retiring banquette in the corner?  The modish stool cum work-out apparatus?  Apparently yes, all are booked up – despite the fact that they remain empty for the time being.  So all around me, weary Londoners are shifting from foot to foot, looking enviously at unfurnished furnishings.  This strikes me as Britishness at its most ridiculous – there are enough seats free for everyone, yet we prefer to queue and practice our passive aggressiveness.  Someone who followed the rules and booked may show up and be horrified to find some royster-doyster in their seat.
  • And this brings me to the staff.  Wonderful and attentive as they are, beyond providing one with a constant supply of booze (2 cocktails and a bottle of Rose by this point), there’s not much they can do to relieve the situation.  So we try some low level bartering…’We’ll see what we can do’….’You’re at the top of the list’…a constant reassurance of how popular one is, with no guaranteed results.  Maybe this frustrating game of monopoly appeals to some, but I just find it ….frustrating.

So back to the first bottle of Rose, which has now been turned on its top and deposited on the bar.  We’re onto the second – this is as thrillingly close to sampling the Bullingham Boys’ way of life as we get.  Finally we are allowed table and nourishment.  Never has it been so needed.  We’re quite tipsy by now, so my notes get a little garbled, but I recall being led to a table on a lovely exposed terrace just outside the kitchen.  Great, food is forthcoming.  Another man in a white shirt greets us as old friends, so I assume he is a waiter.  He steers us towards the fish.  Now coming from Grimsby, my friend and I always have a line ready for this.  Its not a good one, but it plugs the gap in conversation.  This time Charlotte chips in with ‘Well, we’re from Grimsby, I think we’ve seen enough fish’.  See, I told you it wasn’t a winner, but it usually raises some sort of smile.  Instead, the waiter immediately breaks all ties with us as we decide to go with the cheese.  It’s the only word I could make out on the menu in my half lit, half pissed state.

Cheese is rustic, served on a wooden board that I SWEAR has been stolen from my mother’s house circa 1983.  Its fine, it all tastes of Rose by this point, anyway, but I can’t say that it feels like the sort of welcome sustenance one would appreciate at this stage of the evening.  This may explain my surprising determination to find Pot Noodle when we eventually leave.  The cab home is comfier than anywhere that I have sat throughout the preceding events.

I could talk about the toilets, that were lovely and the hallways, which were lovely and it was all lovely but it wasn’t a club.  Not my club, the one I belong to in my head.  I could also shamelessly borrow from Groucho Marx here, because I feel he has a point.  I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me a member, but I’d like to add, if I may, that I don’t care to belong to any club that wouldn’t have me on the books, either.  Not if they flatter to deceive in the way that tonight’s little haunt did.  Smiling, welcoming, but a club to belong to?  To aspire to?  I’ll stick with Wetherspoons.

Club in my head
Club in reality. More like Lasseters off of Neighbours.

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

Why fear the fennel?

Having a husband who eschews eating any beast that he can’t kill with his bare hands has somewhat curtailed my culinary education.  I’m an expert with a breast or two (fnar – I mean chicken) and a dab hand with a whole fish.  I get my carnivorous rocks through gutting and scaling, the nearest thing to butchery that my kitchen is likely to see.

But here’s the really irritating equation; people who are fussy meat eaters are fussy anything- eaters.  Being a vegetarian/pescetarian (unless on ethical grounds) does not mean that one will automatically embrace every jaunty veg on offer.  Richard, my husband will sniff out celeriac at one hundred paces and throw his bib down in defiance.  Likewise any attempt at subterfuge with a  kohl rabi (sliced thinly, served unannounced in a salad of lettuce and tomato) is met with disdain and said tasty root is left to linger untouched with the dressing dregs at the bottom of the bowl.

So my adventures in cooking have narrowed considerably, which means I always jump for joy at an opportunity to go out and eat adult food.

Adult food is stuff that doesn’t make its way into your trolley in an average shop; sumac, chicory, roquefort and quail.  Adult cooking is when you artfully combine aforementioned ingredients using adult methods (braising, sauteeing, ceviche-ing). Adult cooking is Moro, the much lauded near-veteran of the East London restaurant scene, which popularised Middle Eastern cooking and whose eponymous cookbook has assumed erotic status in my kitchen.  This place has also been on the hotlist of my friend Rhi, who, as a mum, worker bee and actor/singer/muso with a fussy eating partner also rarely gets to eat adult food.

A good sign – it was packed as we entered and remained so even after we had royally out-stayed our welcome.  I could tell you about the room, which was light, subtly Moorish and elegant, but who cares?  It’s the food that counts, right?

Moro runs a tapas menu throughout the day, which seems like a good idea as it was practically impossible to choose just one starter and main from the lunch list.  After much cogitation, I went for the scallop, pan-fried caper, paprika and shaved fennel.  I was heartened when the waiter double checked out order and pluralised the scallop and was fully expecting three little beauties – but lo, it was a solitary queen who arrived, replete with a delicious coral.  The paprika oil was an unctuous counterpoint to the delicacy of the fennel and the capers added naughty texture to a well-balanced dish.  Rhi plumped for the seared pigeon, served as tiny rose red petals of gamey flavour with a puree of something (garlic?  honestly I can’t remember) which carried a pleasing slightly sour top note.

Scallop with pan fried capers, paprika and shaved fennel. On the tiny side, but very tasty.

When the mains arrived, it turned out that Moro know everything and that I’m an idiot – the one scallop starter was a perfectly sized prep for a whopping main; lamb with carrots, caraway, yoghurt and lentils and vermicelli.  Not so heavy on the adult ingredients, but brilliantly cooked by a smarty pants chef; the lamb pliant and pink, holding its shape against the comforting mush of the lentils and vermicelli.  The carrots were the breakout star, however, laced with caraway they were soft and savoury-sweet.

Charcoal Lamb with carrots, caraway, yoghurt, lentils and vermicelli. Om om.

Rhi’s Wood Roast Bream (max points on the adult food scale) looked like a gorgeous cartoon fish with a delicious minty green Borani.  I have since found out that Borani is a middle eastern spinach yoghurt dish – but please, Moro could you define these hidden wonders on your menu?  Lots of your glorious dishes sound like minor Star Trek characters.  Needless to say, everything was delightful and none too heavy in the afternoon sun.  We topped off with Malaga ice cream with raisins – I’m not a pudding person, but since in this context, Malaga meant rum, I dug in. We drank a light non-snooze inducing Txocalli (‘Yes Captain, the Txocalli have just hailed us‘) wine which proved a fabulous accompaniment to a memorable meal.

So back to my kitchen and I’m experiencing a sea change.  I’m a great believer in salt, chilli, lemon and garlic and I put them in everything but the dishes at Moro used very little ‘catch all’ seasoning in favour of  the natural taste (enhanced by some jaunty herbs) to create long lasting flavours.  Maybe I should have more faith in the ingredients themselves- for too long I have been hiding my beetroot under a bushel.  No more parading the chard as spinach, disguising the anchovy, camouflaging the turnip – the husband will just  have to embrace my adult food revolution.

Countdown conundrum

So, I’m finally leaving London.  Things in this respect have become increasingly real over the last few weeks – getting a job up North, looking at flats, thinking about how we are going to jooj up our flat for rental.  Although I know it’s going to happen, I am going to leave London, I can’t stop getting thick and tight throated just writing it down.

I love London.  I’ve lived here for over twelve years, it represented the centre of my world back then and it still does now.  Nowhere tops it, nowhere and though I understand the reasons why we are leaving and that practically it makes sense, I just feel so unbearably sad, so undone by the fact that I am slowly marching towards the leave date.

Having had some time off recently, my thoughts have turned to lasting London memories.  I read an article by Harriet Walker in the Indie, in which she claimed to remember where she had been every Friday night since her teens.  I envy her – at least I wish I had kept a diary so I could have logged all the places I have been, all the strange encounters, bad food, good laughs I have had since I first moved here, an arrogant 21 year old destined for stardom.  But I don’t have the luxury of  (nor do I have the willpower to keep) a journal, so I am stuck with spidermaps and scribbled notes, remnants from sudden flashbacks to Polish restaurants in Clapham or Ethiopian nosh in Notting Hill just before I fall asleep.

I don’t know why I am logging this as I don’t imagine anyone is particularly interested apart from me, but London is such a massive part of my life and one that I have taken for granted for a long time. Hopefully, my thoughts on departing will take some shape over the next few weeks (please don’t ask me to work out exactly how long I have left, that’s too painful, hence the countdown conundrum of the title) I feel very very fortunate and very very sad.

My other combative tactic is to do the things that I have always said that I would do in London but never got round to.  Like my memory flashes, these tend to revolve around food.  But today, I crossed three off the list.

I think I started thinking about Eel Pie Island when I first came to London.  I moved here to start my first acting job, a production of All For Love at Battersea Arts Centre.  It was directed by a very genteel opera director and we rehearsed in St Margarets, a super rich and super boho patch of Londinium – I’m sure it has its own pyramid but I can’t find anything on the web about it – but it sounds right – it’s exactly the kind of place to house an expensive individualist folly.  Next door is Eel Pie Island, which really is an island, the nomenclature has something to do with Henery the Eightf, I think.  During the 60s, its was rock and roll central – the Yardbirds, the Stones, the Who, George Melly and Ivor Cutler all played there.  It  has also housed a commune, continues to be a vibrant artist community and home of a new breed which I am going to call ‘theurban jaunty’; inventors, actors and indie bands.  Always fascinated by this place, I put it out of my mind for convenience sake – it’s the other side of London when did I have the time?  But when the weather is fine and I can afford the luxury of work avoidance, I can break my duck and make it to the mystical isle of the urban jaunty folk.

Stepping off at Twickenham rail station, I’m disappointed by its lack of semblance to Middle Earth- I am greeted by generic high street, differentiated only by the choice of charity shops (not Oxfam, but Princess Alice Hospice).  But I fight my way through the consumerist hubris to the footbridge.  Fellow moochers are making a similar pilgramage and I am surprised at how quickly they retrace their footsteps back over the bridge.  But Eel Pie Island is bijou, one thin path cuts through the middle of the land – it takes about five minutes to follow it to the other side and back.  On either side are a succession of private houses, some more extravagant than others, painted tin or wooden shacks with all the signs of the urban jaunty, shop dummies in the garden, old tin letterboxes, kitsch house names.  the waterfront properties have a jetties and boats tethered outside – to be honest on a beautiful day like today, there are few places as conveniently and pleasantly cut off as this.An Eel Pie Residence

On my way back across the path, I decide that I like Twickenham,  a decision that I think one has to be in their thirties to arrive at.  I walk the Thames path over to Richmond, taking the time to meander and follw my own curiousity – I take in the incredible terrace of Montpellier Row, Turners’ pad, , Sandycombe Lodge and Marble Hill House, home to George II’s mistress.  Crossing the bridge at Richmond I could be in Paris suddenly – until the doppelganger high street looms up on the horizon.  I breathe in, lower my gaze for the first time in hours and make it to the train station.

And my third off the list – I tried pho for the first time and Vietnamese summer rolls at the aptly named pho in Wardour Street.  Delicious.

I already miss London.

Pho at Pho
Pho at Pho