Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Kate Bush: Before the Dawn, Eventim Apollo (review)

28/08: Following on from people who are getting silly money for this, I've put four pieces of confetti from the Kate Bush concert on eBay - all proceeds will go to charity (TBD - am thinking along the lines of Amnesty Int'l, Oxfam, or British Red Cross.) Auctions end this evening at 8:30ish UK time.

29/08: The auction has ended and £50 is now in the hands of Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders! I'm floored that people will pay £10-15 for one piece of confetti, but really pleased I was able to raise this much for charity. Bless you, you crazed Kate fans!



In case it's not obvious, this post will contain spoilers and information that people who don't know/care about Kate Bush may find utterly pointless. I won't list all the tracks, although if you're curious, here is the setlist: http://www.wonderingsound.com/news/kate-bush-setlist-2014/  Also, this isn't really a proper review; it's a collection of ramblings from a middle-aged Kate fan who has a terrible short term memory and needs to write this stuff down before she forgets.

Right, let's carry on.

We had tickets in row E, and I was absolutely astounded to learn that this was the front row. They had removed rows A-D to accommodate the deeper stage; I had expected to be peering between the heads of the four rows ahead of me (as often happens when you're only 5'4".) We followed the letters along and when they stopped at E, I had Paul check the tickets to make sure I wasn't misreading something. A woman a couple of rows back called over, "Congratulations - you're in the front row!" as other people around her smiled at my shocked face. Hands shaking, I took a few photos of the stage. You cannot take a panoramic shot with your iPhone when you have the shakes, just FYI. We tucked our phones away knowing that we'd been asked not to view the show through a lens, and remarkably, everyone else did the same. Not one glowing screen appeared (that I could see), just like in the olden days when I used to go to concerts as a teen and all we had were chalkboards and quills.

The show started promptly at 7:45 with a barefooted Kate leading her background singers out on the stage. No opening act, no messing about, here's bloody well Kate fucking Bush. We erupted into applause, roaring at the sight of this woman we've waited so very long to see. "Where have you been?" she joked with us. She seemed a bit tentative, which may be just my interpretation based on what we know about her reluctance to perform live, and the audience seemed to cheer her on in encouragement. It was like 8,000 people were saying "It's alright, Kate - come on out now."

Once I got over the fact that I was looking at actual real life Kate Bush (about four songs in), I worried a bit. Although she could have come out and burped the phone book and I would have been elated, the fact that the show started out so...normally was troubling. She stood, she sang, she twirled around a bit. She thanked the lighting director (which seemed a somewhat awkward thing to do after only the second song) and then thanked her son Bertie for encouraging her to do this tour, who stood in front of us with the other backing vocalists. She talked a bit between songs, punctuated by enthusiastic applause throughout. She launched into "Running Up That Hill" and the place imploded. It was amazing and exciting, but where were the theatrics?

The lights suddenly dimmed and French percussionist Mino Cinelu stepped forward, whirling an object around his head that made an ethereal humming sound. Cannons shot yellow slips of tissue paper with words from Tennyson on them at us. A screen dropped down to show a short film about an astronomer reporting a ship in distress. Well okay then, this was the show I was looking for.

"The Ninth Wave" was performed in its entirety, combining film, dialogue, and dance. Huge billowing sheets were swept across the stage by performers draped in alien-like fish skeletons (stay with me, here), falling over the front of the stage like a waterfall. Frantic rescuers chopped at the ice with axes, finally making an opening with a chainsaw, as Kate momentarily bobbed up to the surface from underneath the stage. A film of Kate projected on a screen at the back of the stage was her "reality"; a woman in a lifejacket struggling to stay afloat in icy water. On stage was the "dream". A fairly rudimentary (i.e. it was controlled by a couple of blokes pulling on ropes) but incredibly effective helicopter sort of contraption moved across the audience, puffing out fog and panning its search light over us. Paddy Bush's tinny voice reported the loss of one female overboard to the rescue team back at the base. The following songs told the rest of the story from drowning to rebirth, ending with the lights brightening in sunrise and an utterly joyful, soul-lifting rendition of "The Morning Fog."

After a 20 minute intermission, during which we all blinked in a daze trying to register what we've just seen, the second half led us through "A(n Endless) Sky of Honey." A wooden puppet that looked like an artist's model, a child, wandered around the set observing everything and everyone in wonder. I felt less connected (what a pretentious word) to this half simply because "Hounds of Love" was such a big part of my teenage life and the later albums happened a little more quietly in the background of my adult life. I got a similar sense from the audience around me; there was less head-bobbing, chair dancing, and singing along. I feel like this section created a different atmosphere, similar to watching a West End show in which you aren't overly familiar with the songs. This is not a bad thing, by any means. I just had to switch gears and take it in differently.

Kate's son Bertie was central to this half, although he was very much present throughout. It's obvious that he was the main motivation and inspiration to do this tour (is it a tour when it's only at one venue? I dunno.) I often caught him casting a close eye over his mother during the performance, non-verbally reassuring her. Bertie fit into the show perfectly, and performed a solo with a new song called "Tawny Moon."

In between the polished, powerful two main performances she was just Kate - for example she remarked "Oh, there's a tree!" when a piece of the set was still lodged in her piano from an earlier scene and "It wasn't even for real!" with a large smile when we all cheered her return to life before "Morning Fog." She thanked us for receiving her so positively and seemed to visibly relax by the end of the show, which went out with a bang with "Cloudbusting." Being able to stand a few feet from one of my idols while singing at the top of my lungs "Yay-e-yay-e-yay-e ohhhh!" along with her will be a moment I will cherish for a very long time. We whooped and we waited, but that really was the end of the show. That lasted for three hours.

I don't want to call this a "comeback tour" because her last album "50 Words for Snow" is a relatively new release. The fact that she hasn't been on stage for so many years doesn't negate what she's been doing in the studio. She's not being hauled out at Newmarket Races to sing the three hits she had in the 80s with five other ageing, balding bands from the same era. I don't really feel like she's been absent, this is simply a new tour. A very long overdue tour, but a just a tour nonetheless. I think this is reflected in the songs she chose to perform. This isn't a "Kate's Greatest Hits" show, it's an intricate piece of theatre.

I'm glad that there were no special guests (despite rumours of Peter Gabriel hopping up on stage to sing "Don't Give Up" with her), a huge chorus of professional dancers, or a rendition of "Wuthering Heights". After I saw the show, I knew that would have been out of place. It was an elaborate production however it was simple in that the stage only ever contained the musicians, Kate, her vocalists, and a very small number of performers to help with some elements such as the fabric sea and the wooden puppet.

It was mostly what I expected but still surprising and amazing. The hamsters that run my brain are still making the wheels whizz round in my head as I try to take it all in. And the Internet is undoubtedly billowing smoke as we all post our thoughts about the show over the past twelve hours.

"Does that mean you liked it?", she asked at the end. Yes, very much so, Kate. Please come back and do it again sometime.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

five (a bit late)

Isla is 5

Oh my dear Isla, youngest child of mine and often (unintentionally) forgotten. It was your birthday a week ago today and I'm just getting around to writing your blog post now. But I know you won't be too bothered about the lateness as it means your birthday is being dragged out a little bit longer.

You were my biggest baby and I think you often have the biggest personality. I love the faces you make when I take your picture and even the tantrums you throw when you're having a diva strop (sometimes.) It's so hard not to laugh. I love how brave you can be; you have no qualms about belting out "Frozen" songs over a microphone in front of a crowd or being a fairy in a ballet show. Your "YouTube videos" are hilarious (and no, we will not upload them to YouTube ever.)

You are my big little girl, Isley Piley. Small enough to still pick up and cuddle, but big enough to walk confidently through life. Never, never stop being you. I love you to the moon and back.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

seven

Mia, my middley, you have shattered all preconceptions I had about little girls. You would rather wear your brother's rugby top than a dress, play Minecraft instead of Barbies, and by the end of each day, you're covered from head to toes in a layer of something.
But you also love ballet classes, making (those godforsaken) loom band bracelets, belting out songs from "Frozen", and having your nails done. You are actually quite shy and can be incredibly self conscious, contradictory to the roaring Mimi most people see.
You are, most importantly, your own fabulous little person. Happy 7th birthday Mia Yoshiko, my rainbow baby. You are full of awesome.


Monday, 12 May 2014

what the hell am i doing here?

I think it was Mother's Day everywhere else in the world other than the UK yesterday. It was definitely Mother's Day back home in Canadaland and with it came lots of posts from Facebook friends about motherhood. Most of it sentimental, some quite funny, and a few about how difficult it is to be a mother and how under-appreciated we are.

A friend posted a link to this video about "the toughest job in the world", which turned out to be motherhood (note: it's a greeting card ad, so don't feel enraged when you get to the end to find out you've shed tears over a commercial.) The message is that we're unpaid, work 365 days a year, and do most of our tasks standing or moving around. As the unsuspecting interviewees put it, they're inhuman working conditions. "Why would anyone have kids?" a friend of my friend asked. Well. Good question.

I've always said that being a parent is the toughest job I've ever had. There are no sick days, no holidays, and they always want something. I cannot tell you how many times I hear "I'm thirsty/hungry" over the course of a day. I'VE JUST FED YOU A MASSIVE ROAST DINNER. YOU DON'T NEED TO EAT AGAIN FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER HOUR. NOW LEAVE ME ALONE SO I CAN HAVE A PEE.

There is no privacy. They howl and try to bash the door down in a zombie-like frenzy if you ever attempt to shut yourself in any room in the house.

You cannot make or receive phone calls because there is a special signal installed in all telephones that incites children to riot as soon as you say, "Hello?"

You will never eat a hot plate of food ever again. Just eat sandwiches or vegetables and dip from now on and save yourself any disappointment. And make sure the sandwich is a variety your kids don't like because they will stop at nothing to eat it.

Being Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny will add a whole new level of stress to your life. If you get caught, you will be the crappiest parent of all time. Retrieving a tooth in the pitch dark and sticking a coin under your kid's pillow without making any noise is like Tom Cruise dangling from the ceiling in "Mission Impossible."

And sometimes they can just be little shits.

I think I've aged 20 years since having kids. I'm always tired. I'm always on the verge of losing my rag with someone. I'm an introverted only child so why I decided to fill my house with kids is a mystery.

But being a parent is also a pretty great thing. My kids make me laugh, like proper belly laugh. They ask me questions that make me wonder why things are the way they are. They give me an excuse to see Pixar films at the cinema and ride on merry go rounds. They love me unconditionally, throwing their arms around me for hugs each morning. Even when I've been a little shit.

It isn't at all logical and I definitely couldn't sell this job to anyone. I think having kids simply makes me a better person. I'm no longer self-centred and I've discovered I have this endless supply of love for these little beings. I want to teach them things and learn along with them. I'm so curious to see what sort of people they'll become. It's not why we decided to have kids in the first place - that I can't really verbalise - but it's what I've discovered since becoming a parent.

Having kids is not for everyone and not everyone has a good time with it, but for me, it's just what makes sense. Sticky walls, Lego foot injuries, and all.
Still one of my favourite photos of the kids: Christmas Card Fail
Christmas Card Fail, 2010

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Mamta's/Kavey's lamb biryani: AKA what to do with leftover lamb

A well-used recipe from Mamta's Kitchen
A very well-loved Mamta recipe I printed up in 2010
I've used and loved the recipes from the wonderful Mamta's Kitchen site for ages now. When I want an Indian recipe, I head to Mamta's because I know it'll be failsafe and delicious.

I stumbled upon her daughter Kavey on Twitter and discovered that she's been posting recipes, too. I had a lot of leftover lamb from Easter dinner and remembered Kavey's post about her mum's lamb biryani (http://www.kaveyeats.com/2014/03/mamtas-delicious-lucknowi-style-lamb-biryani.html), which happened to be posted the same week I made the Worst Biryani Ever.

I should have realised when I read the recipe that it was never going to even remotely resemble biryani. It was sort of like a pilau rice dish or maybe a distant relative of paella if you used your imagination, but whatever it was, it was not biryani. It was incredibly sloppy due to far too much stock. How it got 337 five star reviews on the BBC Food site is beyond me. And don't even get me started about people giving recipes five stars when they have to amend most of it to make it edible.
Really, really not biryani
This is totally not biryani and I can only apologise.
So anyway, proper biryani. Had I done two more minutes of Googling I would have realised that it is a dish of two parts that are layered and baked. Kavey's recipe reinforced this, and I bookmarked it with a promise to give it a go one day. Enter my copious amounts of leftover lamb and a need to get at least one more meal out of it without resorting to shepherd's pie. I used leg of lamb, but I think shoulder would be much better (and cheaper.) 

I didn't stray far from Kavey's recipe; I didn't have saffron or rose water for the rice and used coconut oil to saute everything instead of ghee. As I used cooked lamb, I only simmered it for about 20 minutes. The final dish was absolutely, gloriously scrumptious and I would very happily eat the lamb curry on its own. 

I prepared it ahead of time so I only had to pop it in the oven when I got home from work. Kavey asked her mum about preparing it in advance, and Mamta advised that I chill the rice quickly under cold water before assembling to prevent any nasty bacteria from setting up house in my baking dish overnight. I would add that once you've made this dish, don't reheat it again to avoid the nasties. You ever wonder what often causes "Delhi Belly"? Rice that's been sitting around too long or has been reheated too many times. It ain't pretty. 

The onions do take a while to brown, so heed Kavey's note about it taking about 20-30 minutes until it goes sticky and lovely like this:
Browned onions
 
And don't freak out about using so many onions because they will shrink big time. There is a Japanese word that escapes me for the crunchy layer of rice that forms at the bottom of the pan, but it is one of my favourite things in the world. I greedily scooped out all of this golden layer for myself. Oh yes I did.

So, thank you Kavey for sharing your mum's beautiful recipe and for giving me something more creative to make with my leftover lamb. All five of us loved it and I would make it again in a heartbeat.

Lamb Biryani



Sunday, 6 April 2014

review, sort of: savion glover, sole sanctuary

It's not often you'll find one of my reviews on this site but as no one asked me to review Savion Glover's latest show "SoLe Sanctuary" (currently at Sadler's Wells theatre in London), here it is. Actually, this isn't a proper review; it's more of a response to the lukewarm reviews I came across on t'internet (of which there were only two, but both for major British newspapers.)

So here's the thing - most people here will know Savion Glover as the tap dancer who was digitally tracked to animate the feet of Mumble, the penguin from "Happy Feet". For those of us from North America, we also know him from the wildly popular production "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk" that had a good run on Broadway in the 90s. We also know him from the films "Jelly's Last Jam" and "Tap". And yeah, probably "Sesame Street", too. The point is, we know what to expect when we see him tap.

We know he's not going to leap into the air and turn a sofa on its side or shuffle his way up a grand staircase. He's not going to do jazz hands and big-toothed smiles to big band music. He's going to use his feet like percussive instruments, moving very little else. He is going to blow us away with his intricate rhythms and make us wonder how he's making any sound because we can't really see his feet  moving.

His latest show, SoLe Sanctuary, does exactly this. It's 80 minutes of percussion, sometimes with music or singing, but mostly just his and Marshall Davis Jr's taps. He strips tap down to its essence: sound. He doesn't look out into the audience because he doesn't need to; I spent the entire show staring at his feet, my jaw on the floor.

His segments with Davis Jr were like conversations, moving between finishing each other's sentences and trying to outdo each other. They smiled broadly as the other danced, showing a longtime familiarity but also marking respect. It was difficult to tell if these segments were ad libbed; their faces made us believe that some of the steps were being seen for the first time on that stage.

I think drummers would enjoy this show or at least get something more out of it. I don't think I fully appreciated how intricate these rhythms were and my rudimentary understanding of tap didn't help much, either. Still, I was transfixed. I found myself shaking my head at these impossible steps and nodding along to the sounds. The audience erupted with applause and whoops at the end of each segment and gave a standing ovation at the finale.

There was no intermission but I think a break would have disrupted the flow of the show. It also left us wondering how the hell these men could tap for that long without collapsing. It was, in a word, astounding.

Thank you Savion for educating me about traditional African American tap and for blowing me away with the sounds that came out of your feet. I am inspired.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

and then the kate bush ticket gods smiled upon me

My first year at York university was in 1986. I had really big hair and I thought I was pretty cool because I was a Fine Arts Student. I was on my way to get my BFA (or as most of us fondly called it, a "Bachelor's of Fuck All") and I wore a lot of black and was very, very deep.

I made friends with a guy called Tony during the first week on campus. He was gay, so don't get all excited - this story doesn't involve true love or anything like that. It mostly involves nose piercing, hair dying in the co-ed residential bathrooms, and Kate Bush.

Tony was a massive Kate Bush fan and a vegetarian. "I'm vegetarian too," I blurted out. I wasn't, but from that point on, I was. I did know who Kate Bush was thanks to "Hounds of Love" becoming a huge hit that year, and I was already a fan. So Tony and I became inseparable, did a lot of very silly things at university, and I was now a Kate-loving vegetarian because I was incredibly impressionable and keen to please. Good thing I didn't bond with a heroin-smoking Kajagoogoo fan, really.

Tony introduced me to Kate's back catalogue along with some B sides from his "The Singles File" boxed set. I made cassette recordings of everything and Kate became my soundtrack to my weekend job; the graveyard shift at the Shell station. Her music was also a handy way to coax my uni roommate out of our room. Playing this at full blast usually had the desired effect:



I fell in love with her music. I still know every word to every song and certain songs always evoke specific memories. "The Dreaming" will always remind me of my job at Shell because it was my favourite album and I played it over and over during my shifts.

When I moved to Montreal, "Sensual World" came out which introduced us all to the wonderful Trio Bulgarka. I learned that one of her songs was based on Molly Bloom's words in James Joyce's Ulysses and immediately set out to read it and love it. Which was a really stupid idea because I had absolutely no idea what the book was about (although a later course in Irish literature would help me decipher the story.) And of course there was Book of Dreams by Peter Reich ("Cloudbusting") and millions of other references I would pick up over the years.

28 years later (god, really?) my friend Steph alerted me that Kate is going on tour. WHAT? A quick Google confirmed she was indeed touring for the first time since 1979. Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt.

I knew I had a one in a bazillion chance of getting tickets. She has a huge fanbase and this was to be her only tour, made up of just 22 shows. I cracked my knuckles last Friday morning, opening up a few browser tabs, and hoped for the best. I didn't expect to get tickets, but I had to try. But I did. I got tickets. I got opening night tickets in row E. I just kept refreshing the page and magically the little icon went green and I clicked madly, not even looking at what night or what seats I was getting.

Even with the confirmation page staring back at me, I couldn't believe I actually got tickets. I wouldn't close the window until the confirmation email came in and even then I had to read the email a dozen times to make sure I had indeed secured tickets to Kate Bush.

I don't know how I managed it, but by the gods, I am absolutely thrilled about it. My 45-year-old self is high fiving my 17-year-old self. And telling her to stop smoking and acting like an idiot.

(I'm not vegetarian anymore, sorry Kate.)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

(not) an open letter to other mothers

Dear stay at home mums and working mums,

I recently came across open letters from a working mum to stay at home mums and vice versa, and it was pretty cool. It went against the Mommy War grain and put forth messages of support for those in the trenches at home and in the office. How lovely to see something written about mothers that didn't make anyone feel like shit. That's a big step forward for the Internet.

I'm a both a working mum and a stay at home mum. I work in an office and I work from home. I'm employed part-time by several clients, which actually totals more hours than I ever put into my Monday-Friday job. Then I do this mummy thing which takes up quite a lot of time, too.

"What will you do with all your time?" people asked me when my youngest started school. I replied through gritted teeth "I'll still be doing all the jobs and errands I was doing before." This is the stay at home mum dilemma: people think you have nothing to do unless it involves childcare or physically going into an office. Legally, you are allowed to poke these people in the eye with your car keys.

All school events seem to fall on my office days, meaning I miss out on things like sports days and assemblies. Sometimes I can go into work late, but I can't swap my days due to childcare and after school activities. This is the the working mum dilemma: you miss out on kid stuff because you're stuck in the office or putting your nose to the grindstone to meet deadlines. Legally, you are allowed to consume vast amounts of gin to help cope with your deep resentment for conference calls. (Take the bus on these occasions though, obvs.)

In the end though, we are all mothers. We all give up sleep, money, personal hygiene, food, sanity and a host of other things for the sake of our kids. I see you staggering around the aisles of the supermarket, trying to do your weekly shop in 3 minutes before your child has a meltdown (who is not at all happy despite the fact that you've given him a baguette, a punnet of grapes, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies.) I see you in your office raising a cup of hot tea to the sky, eyes closed in a prayer of thanks for the opportunity to consume a warm beverage in its entirety. I see you at home, your eyes fretfully oscillating between your laptop that contains a looming deadline and the enormous pile of laundry. I get it. And as an in-between mum, I am totally with you.

I would hold up my fist in solidarity, but then you'd see my bingo wings.

Sincerely,
Another Mum

*(I can't call this an open letter because it'll vex my friend Heidi.)

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

for my littlest one, left behind

Yesterday, we took our nieces and our oldest two to see Wicked in Milton Keynes. We didn't think our youngest would be able to sit through a 3 hour (plus intermission) musical and we wouldn't be home until almost midnight. Feeling very guilty, as mothers are wont to do, I booked a babysitter for her while the rest of us were out.

I'm an only child so my only knowledge of sibling dynamics are through my own children and my husband's experience. According to him, the youngest always misses out on stuff (although apparently the youngest always gets away with everything, so I'd assume this would all balance out) and an incident involving the Harlem Globetrotters traumatised him for life.

His sad tale begins in the 70s, when Paul was a young boy. All he knew was that his family had gone out for a bit, but he didn't learn the horrible truth until years later: they'd seen the Harlem Globetrotters without him. Like us, his parents thought he was too young to sit through a whole show...however he learned that they'd taken his cousin and middle brother, who are only 3 years older. The man is now 44 years old and he still talks about this deception to this day. Not that he's bitter or anything.

When Isla isn't included on something he is adamant that she's told outright. Amazingly, she has never once thrown a hissy fit about this. Her siblings have been to Disney, Legoland, and Chessington without her. Either she has no concept what a theme park is about, or she's genuinely not all that bothered about not going. Paul took the other two camping while Isla stayed at home with me (and at nursery.) She was thrilled to be able to sleep next to me and watch movies on my laptop in bed. Yesterday, she was pleased as punch to have a babysitter all to herself. This morning she woke me up with a hug, beaming "I had a great night! I had three bedtime stories!"

So here's to you Isla, my littlest who often gets left behind. Thank you for not having a temper tantrum when you're not included and for finding great joy in the little things that are all yours. This year, you ARE going to Disneyland.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

girls can't do tech: thanks a lot, Lottie

The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Education Secretary have today (Tuesday 4 February) announced a new £500,000 fund to train teachers in software coding, so our schools can inspire the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.
(Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/year-of-code-and-500000-fund-to-inspire-future-tech-experts-launched)

Teaching kids how to code is a great idea. Not only does it teach them about logic, it gives them skills that can be applied across many careers. Getting kids familiar with tech and into the nitty gritty of the architecture of those endless games they play is hugely beneficial.

Except that Lottie Dexter, the director of this initiative, can't code. Nor does she seem to have a fundamental understanding of what's involved in coding. She told Jeremy Paxman that teachers could be trained to code "in a day" and that programming basics could be learned "in an hour." When asked to explain what coding is, she paused then admitted that she didn't actually know how to write code.

My understanding of programming is very basic; I took a course in C+ a bazillion years ago and I know enough HTML to put together a fairly basic web page without using a WYSIWYG editor (which isn't a programming language, I know.) I can decipher developer's comments in the code enough to put together an SDK. That's about it. But that's okay because I'm not in charge of anything that involves programming. Like most normal people, my job is doing something in which I'm actually qualified.

How Lottie Dexter got this job and then managed to make a mockery of herself on Newsnight is beyond me. Who let her go on national television without briefing her on the definition of code? Not only did her television appearance show that she's out of her depth and ignore the complexity of programming, it reinforced the stereotype that us laydeez don't do tech.

I watched the interview through my fingers, cringing at Dexter's responses. In comments below blog posts about the interview, people made references to her good looks and Tory connections. So not only can girls not code, pretty girls most definitely can't code and only get jobs because they're hot and know people.

The problem is, this interview happened a year too soon. Dexter said that she was devoting a year to learning how to code (which is a vague statement, but let's assume she means learning the basics of a particular language.) What would have been great and inspirational is seeing a woman learn a high tech skill and then have a chat about it on national television. In an age where parents struggle to teach our kids that there are no "boy toys" and "girl toys" despite what the ads tell us, this would have been a very good thing.

I don't mind that she is learning along the way and that she's not an experienced programmer, but for goodness sake, don't throw her to the Paxman when she hasn't got a clue. Despite all the sneering comments and this shambolic interview, I genuinely hope that this initiative does teach the next generation about tech. Particularly, I hope that it inspires girls who think being technically inept is "cute" to give it a go.

Programming isn't for everyone -we're not all wired for it - and I'm never going to get excited about Java or C#. I want my kids to be able to visualise logic like a flowchart and program a Raspberry Pi. I want them to understand the technology in the world around them. Let's just hope that whoever trains these teachers is far more prepared than the person leading this initiative.

the unfairness of germs

When my children get any sort of bug, they might seem a little tired for an afternoon or maybe go off their food for an hour or so. When they pass the same bug along to me, I want to die. I want to crawl into bed, take all the drugs available over the counter at Boots, and cry. I can't move, I can't think, I can't speak, I can't even stand upright. Meanwhile, my children skip off to the toilet to be sick then sashay into the kitchen asking when it's time for lunch.

WHAT ARE THESE CHILDREN MADE OF?

I've got a lousy cold that's settled into my chest. I'm on extra inhalers and my head is pounding from coughing so much. All three of my children have had this cold, and the most I've heard about it is "Mummy, I'm a bit snotty." Well good for you! Aren't you lucky! Why don't you make yourself useful and look up a YouTube video about how to make mummy a hot toddy, there's a dear.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

my glamorous life

Poor Jack has been unwell for two weeks now. Well, I say "unwell" but he's actually been his normal self but with extra coughing and being sick for an awfully long time. Paul took him to the doctor for the second time and was sent home with a little plastic jar in a clear bag and instructions to get a sample from Jack to check him for stomach bacteria.

All morning I was willing Jack to have a poo when Paul was home because lord almighty, I did not want to be picking up poo and trying to stuff it into a tiny bottle. All of our kids are out of nappies now, I'm done with poo. I've got a horrible, hideous cold and I can't cope with such things at the moment. And of course I was the one who had to deal with it, in the middle of the afternoon when all three kids were home and the dog decided he was going to tear his bed apart and eat it.

So I shut Max in his crate, instructed the girls not to set anything on fire, and headed upstairs to put cling film over our toilet bowl. "You've heard of YouTube", I said to Jack, holding up the sample pot. "Now there's POO TUBE!" Much hilarity ensued, including using a very tiny little scoop that came with the pot to chase the poo around the cling film and having to put the sample in the fridge as it was too late to take it to the surgery.

We all found this pretty funny and really, you've just got to laugh. Otherwise, you will realise that you've just spent your afternoon scooping poo and you will fall into a deep depression.

And how was YOUR day?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

cheddar and jalapeno pepper muffins

So what do you do when you're stuck indoors with two poorly children, attempting to work from home, while it's absolutely pissing down with rain? You bake, obviously.

I was looking through the Internet (I like read the whole entire thing when I'm procrastinating) for a grain-free baked good recipe. I was going to make something sweet but as I'm attempting to wean myself off sugar/the need for sugar, I went for something savoury instead. And anyway, healthy substitutes for cakes always taste like a loofah covered in Stevia powder. Don't try to tell me they don't; you're just so ravenous from being on a diet that you think it tastes good. I've been there. I know.

Anyway, I decided to make something resembling cornbread muffins to go with my leftover chilli for lunch. I found this basic almond flour muffin recipe on Elena's Pantry, added some extras, and doubled it: http://www.elanaspantry.com/ratio-rally-quick-breads/ To my huge surprise (see my comment about substitution failures) they turned out to be pretty damned tasty.

They aren't corn muffins because they don't, you know, contain corn. They do have a very similar texture and a little bit of sweetness you'd get with cornbread. They are very passable and tender cheesy muffins that went well with my chilli. And then I ate another just to be sure. It was still good, but I'll have to try another one tomorrow to make sure they're still delicious the next day. Shall keep you posted.

You could add all sorts of things to the basic muffin batter, sweet or savoury. I was thinking of doing a breakfast version with bacon (I know, I know - this will do nothing to dissuade people from posting bacon jokes on my Facebook page), spinach, mushrooms, and cheese or a pizza version with tomatoes, basil, cheese, and pepperoni. It'll just depend on how many deadlines I'm trying to avoid.

Here's the recipe.
Cheddar Jalapeno Muffins
Cheddar and Jalapeno Muffins
(Makes 8 large 'Merkin sized muffins)

Ingredients:

8 oz blanched almond flour (approx. two cups)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup shredded mature cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced (or more if you want more heat)
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp mild chilli powder
8 oz eggs (four large eggs)
2 oz honey (approx. two tablespoons)
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180C/170C fan assist/350F. Line a muffin tin, or if you've got a very well seasoned tin like I do, just spray a little oil on it.

Put the almond flour, baking soda, cheese, jalapeno peppers, chilli powder, and sea salt in a bowl and combine. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, honey, and vinegar. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir well.

Bake for around 15 minutes, until the edges are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before storing.

Monday, 6 January 2014

i don't wanna, you can't make me!

Back to real life tomorrow. I'm in the office then the kids are back to school on Wednesday. The extracurricular activities return, gotta make the lunches tonight, meals change back to Stuff Wot I Can Bung Together and Eat In An Hour After I Get Home. After I don't know how many years of never sleeping past 6:30am, all three kids have started sleeping in until 8:00. What a cruel, cruel world we live in.

I don't mind returning to work, especially as my brain has started leaking out my ears. I need some time to myself, focussing on something other than preventing my kids from beating the shit out of each other. What does it say about my life when I consider the office a "nice break"?

So I won't wish today away and won't waste it all pottering about online. Tomorrow, there may be some kicking and screaming. Today, maybe I'll make some soup and glue beads to stuff with the girls.

Friday, 3 January 2014

holey tops, batman!

The other day, I noticed my black t-shirt had tiny little holes in the front, just below my belly button. Annoyed, I chucked it thinking it must have been damaged in the washing machine. Then the second t-shirt got holes in the same spot. Then a third. Either some sort of moth was living in my navel (possible as I can't actually see it) or something else was amiss.

Thanks to Google, I found out that this is a common occurrence when you switch to a granite worktop (counter.) It's caused by rubbing up against the edge and seems to affect jersey tops more than others. I cannot even make this stuff up. 

I suppose this means an apron is needed until I lose enough stomach or grow longer arms. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

aubergine (eggplant) with ragu sauce

I stopped writing about food on this blog because I thought people who were here to read all about my thrilling life wouldn't want to read about the food I make. As only about three of you read this blog anymore and food is a huge part of our lives, the food is back.

This is also to help keep me on track with the Not Eating of the Crap. If I blog about the Not Crap I'm eating, I might actually not eat Crap. (I really need to get back to work; my brain has obviously packed it in.)

Yesterday was all about carbs thanks to too much bubbly the night before. And Pringles. And chocolate cake. I made a big batch of spaghetti bolognaise last night, and the world seemed a slightly better place. A little leftover sauce made a healthier lunch for me today, with the addition of one small aubergine and mozzarella balls. I'm feeling all smug and virtuous now. I've stuck to my diet for 6 1/2 hours so far. BOOYAH.

Oh Christ, I'm annoying. Here's the recipe.

Aubergine Bolognaise With Mozzarella
(Serves 4, or less with extras for the next day)

For the bolognaise:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 onion, oh you get the idea. Cut everything up small.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500g beef mince/ground beef
1 glass of red wine
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 box (about 2 cups) of passata/tomato sauce
Dash of worcester sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of fresh basil

For the aubergine/eggplant base:
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 aubergines/eggplants, thinly sliced
250g fresh mozzarella
Fresh basil to garnish

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large shallow pan over medium heat. Fry off the beef until it browns - try not to move it around too much so you get some nice crispy bits (rather than boiling it.) Remove the beef from the pan.
Add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic to the pan, and stir until it starts to soften.
Put the beef back in the pan along with the glass of wine. Let the wine bubble and reduce a bit, then add the tomatoes, passata/tomato sauce, worcester sauce, and salt and pepper.
Let it simmer, covered, for at least half an hour but ideally 1-2 hours. This can also be left to simmer in a slow cooker, or cooked ahead and frozen.

For the aubergines, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Toss in the aubergines and cook them off until they brown a little. Add the sauce and heat through. Just before serving, tear up the mozzarella and add it to the pan, and let it melt a little. Garnish with fresh basil if you like that sort of thing.

it must be that time of year again


If it's January 1st, it must be time for my annual post. I can save you some time by letting you know that I am still fat, still writing, and my house is a bit tidier. If you've got a moment to spare, the longer version follows.

I don't do resolutions. You should just aim to be a better person all the time and sort your shit out if/when you can. I guess what I put together each year is a wish list of things I hope to sort out, but if I don't, hey that's okay. There's always next year. 

My goals for 2013 were:

  • Again with the house decluttering and making bigger thing. The mess. Oh god, the mess. Make it go away.
Well excellent, we did manage to sort out this one. Making it out the other side of renovations has been cathartic. It was incredibly stressful but it was a great to get rid of a lot of things we didn't need, pass them along to others, and find space for the things we do need.
  • Stick to the damn diet. 
Holy crap, am I bad at this or what? Here we go again...
  • Keep writing. 
Still writing, although I didn't go for any new publications/sites last year.
  • Do something interesting.
I didn't do anything of interest because I was too damn tired and choking on plaster dust.
  • Spend less time online. 
I am very bad at this, too. It doesn't help that one of my gigs involves social media management.

And now, my goals for 2014, because everyone loves bulleted lists:
  • Learn when to say no (and yes.) I'm terrible at delegating; my first instinct is to say yes to everything. On the other hand, I'm not always good at accepting social invitations and sometimes my instinct is to find an excuse not to go - then I do end up going and having a brilliant time. I suppose I just need to think a little more before giving anyone an answer. 
  • This year, I WILL learn how to use my camera properly and do a photo a day: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisadurbin/sets/72157639300084926/
  • Okay seriously now, get that weight off. This is getting silly.
  • Figure out what to do for our 10th wedding anniversary.
  • Continue with the organising and purging, starting with the mahoosive pile of paperwork that's been shoved in drawers in the spare room.
  • Get back into knitting. Because I'm wild like that.
  • Get my veggie plot going again.
Things I don't need to do this year:
  • Stress about things that aren't actually happening and things I cannot change. What the hell does this accomplish? Nothing. Move on.
  • Go outside of my comfort zone/do something daring or that I would never think I would do. I like being comfortable. And that's okay.
  • Think too much about what I see on Facebook. Because it's Facebook, you know? Real life is over there ----->