Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Custard Tart

little custard tarts and coffee in Café Lisboa, Portobello, london

Café Lisboa, off Portobello Road market, West London, Friday Morning.
The most divine little custard tarts. Thin flakey pastry on the outside, delicate egg yellow custard on the inside. You bite into it, you get textures...crisp, then soft. Take it with a gallao, a milky coffee, sit at an outside table and people-watch. Then walk a little further down and buy Ras-el-hanout and couscous at the Morroccan shops or aceitunas, atun and olive oil in a decorative tin from the Spanish store.

Sarf London, Brand/Ross and the BBC.

Sunday was spent driving to Brighton to hear Matthew Delooze talk about The Serpent Cult. My daughter and I left late. Not for the first time, I wished that South London would be nuked out of existence as I negotiated stop/start traffic, culminating, just prior to taking the M23, in the irredeemably purgatorial Purley Way, where chavs enacted their godless Sunday victuals of visiting B&Q, Ikea and T.J.Maxx. Simply put, South London is in the way of my house and Brighton. It bears no redeeming features whatsoever, populated as it is with cowboy drivers, tatty high streets and marshy tube-less ground. 
This frustration was ameliorated by listening to an iPod podcast of the Russell Brand radio show. This show, for once not live, had as a co-host Jonathan Ross. My daughter and I listened as Ross, one of the BBC's flagship presenters, on a massive wage from taxpayers money, and Brand, an ex-heroin addict anarchist shagger, egged each other on in the manner of two little boys left home alone on a boring rainy afternoon. Brand/Ross phoned the actor Andrew Sachs, 'Manuel' in Fawlty Towers. He is now 78 and must have forgotten that he was supposed to be on the show. They left a message on his answering machine and Ross blurted out that Brand had slept with Sachs' granddaughter, part of a group called The Satanic Sluts. They went on to leave several more messages, each purporting to make amends for the previous message's failed apology. It was mildly funny in excruciatingly embarrassing way. 
We stopped at a petrol station on the M23. I saw the Mail on Sunday's headline referring to Brand and Ross "obscene" behaviour with an elderly actor. Surprised, we felt that it wasn't that bad, the story seemed another media exaggeration. I then, for the first time in my life, turned out of the petrol station in the wrong direction and drove all the way back to London. I only realised when I recognized 'The Full Monty cafe' again (although my first thoughts were that they had opened another branch at the Brighton end) and saw signs to Croydon. Laughing we did a uey and returned to Brighton, adding 1 1/2 hours to the journey.
The Brand/Ross error is being milked for all it's worth by the granddaughter, Andrew Sachs, the press, the government, the opposition. The BBC are as usual like rabbits in the headlights. They have suspended Ross and Brand although, as the programme was pre-recorded, surely the fault lays with the producers if anyone. In other words, I blame the parents.
Brand's reputation will no doubt benefit as will the granddaughters. Jonathan Ross however may suffer. He is supposed to be the adult one, the family man, the presenter of mature entertainment. Andrew Sachs gets a last flash of the limelight, although his reaction is not really appropriate to an actor mainly known for a humorous role. The Conservatives are using it to bash the BBC who they have always hated for being a bunch of public-funded liberals. The government as usual are being wimps, slaves to what they think the public want to hear. 

I once worked for the BBC as a stills photographer on location in Britain for a year. It was without a doubt the worst job I have ever had. The female producer was a chain-smoking stressed-out balding uber-bitch committed to making my life a misery. She personally ensured that out of the whole team, I got the worst hotel room, no room service and no expenses paid phone calls home. (An easy task as stills photographers are often treated as an irritating irrelevance by the film crew).The director was a pompous pedestrian ass who consistently made personal remarks to female members of the crew. The accountant on the team (?) had just left the army and told me that I wasn't allowed to claim for a taxi from my house to the train station. 
"But how am I supposed to get my equipment (which at that time included lights, medium format, SLR's, a caseload of film and of course my personal suitcase) by myself to the station otherwise?" I pleaded with this ridiculous bean-counter.
The team back at Broadcasting House were nothing more than politicking forelock-tugging civil servants. The only decent people were the technical film crew and the presenter Chris Serlesurprisingly sympathetic and supportive considering his fame at the time. It amazed me that the BBC ever produced anything decent with such an uninspiring set-up, although this was the start of the terrible Thatcher-sponsored 'Birt years'

Latest: Brand resigns
Today: Sun headline...Brand yelled "Que" in bed but "he know nothing" by 'Manuel's' granddaughter. This is getting even funnier. Thoroughly enjoying it all. 
Facebook groups: Russell Brand for the new Doctor Who and I slept with Georgina Baillie (the granddaughter)

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Halloween with the teen

Mayan skull, Jalapa, Mexico
Mayan skull, Jalapa, Mexico

The 'Secret Chiefs moot' at the Devereux pub, Strand. The actor/poet John Constable is giving a talk about the Crossbones graveyard in Southwark.This site was 'discovered' by Constable through channelling the spirits of 'Grey Goose' and 'John Crow'. This graveyard for 'single women' (prostitutes) was in 'The Mint' the poorest area of Southwark, where brothels and outlaws congregated. Bodysnatchers sold corpses to nearby Guy's hospital. It closed in the 1850's and with the Disused Burial Grounds Act, 1884, buildings were erected upon the site. Naturally they fell down.
In 1992 London Underground, during the construction of the Jubilee line (which runs to my house near Watling Street) broke the ground and unearthed masses of skulls and bones. The Museum of London exhibited one of the skulls, scarred by syphillis. The 'Bodies' exhibition in 1998 used some of the skeletons. 
Constable recounts how the spirits of John Crow, scribe, and Grey Goose, a wounded spirit "walked in fully formed" on the 23rd of November 1996. With the information he was given, he wrote The Southwark Mysteries. This was an attempt to turn a brutalised ground into a place of love. 
Every Halloween and in a smaller ceremony on the 23rd of each month, the names of the buried are read out. "A meditation on emptiness is a great protection against bad spirits." At 7 p.m they strike the hour and light candles as an act of remembrance to honour the Goose.
This place is a portal; it has rusty iron gates covered with ribbons, totems and names of the dead. Crossbones is London's heart chakra. Constable says:
"this blessing is performed with generous libations of gin, the crack cocaine of Victorian London, often the only comfort of these women".
Tuppy Owens and Jahnet DeLite often participate.
After a song or two, John Constable asks for questions. The top room of this pub is, as always, shaded with chaos magicians and long-haired tricoteuses. I chuckled at the incongruous sight of a little old lady leaning on her walking stick listening to songs about tantric sex. 
The point is made that prostitutes are not always victims. They earnt in a couple of nights what a parlour maid would earn in six months. I ask Constable why he felt he was chosen to channel this information.
Was it because "as a man, your word is worth twice that of a woman and you would be listened to?"
"The Goose responds very well to a male energy. Even though I am a man, I have, in my younger days, when I thought I might be homosexual, worked in a brothel. The Goose is not into separatism. When I was 17, after an LSD trip, the Goddess was manifested in me. I underwent transformation."
I took my daughter to this moot, as it was half-term, thinking that, as a bit of a Goth, she would appreciate it. But they were all 'losers' and 'weirdo's', apart from one small Golem- like hunched and hatted pale man called 'Frogo' conversing fluently ("thou" and "forsooth") in Shakespearian English, who was pronounced 'cool'. My daughter spent the entire evening glaring malevolently in time-honoured teenage style. During the break, an elderly man sat opposite. He kept staring at my daughter. I get used to this. She is very beautiful. He then said to me:
"Who is that lady next to you?"
Non-plussed hearing a young-looking 14 year old described as a lady, I told him that she was my daughter.
"She has a particular presence. Oh definitely. I noticed her from the other side of the room" he started to wax lyrical.
I snapped impatiently "that's because old men are always interested in the beauty of young girls. If she was fat and ugly you wouldn't think she had 'presence'.
He looked taken aback, his face reddened.
"Shocking isn't it? To hear the truth!" I continued
"You have no manners you, you ..." he searched for words and then triumphantly... "Jade Goody type!"
"How very snobbish" I retorted.
He retreated to the other side of the room. Interesting that he invoked Jade(1) Goody for she is a denizen of Southwark, and, like prostitutes of yore, a disturbing force, a reminder of more vulgar feminine energies.

"Jaded," comes from an Old Norse word, "jalda," meaning "mare." Imported into English as "jade" in the 14th century, the word originally meant just "mare," but then came to mean "old, broken-down mare." As a metaphor, "jade" then was used to mean "worthless person," or, more specifically, "prostitute." This noun form of "jade" is now obsolete, but the sense lives on in our word "jaded," applied to someone who has, as they say, been there, seen that, and done it all."

Day of the Dead papier maché sculptures, Frida Kahlo museum, Mexico

Day of the Dead papier maché sculptures, Frida Kahlo museum, Mexico.

Cupboard love

Inspired by an article in Elizabeth David's collection of writings 'An omelette and a glass of wine', I decided to look in my cupboards for those things I have never used.

Chinese black rice - 'the forbidden rice of Chinese emperors'
Egg replacer- for those vegan cakes I never make.
A mix for chip-shop batter by Golden Fry.
A large box of Cheerios left by tenants.
A tin of green tea (lack of tea strainer?)
Green, that is unroasted, whole coffee beans (lack of grinder).
The (ubiquitous) tin of sardines for 'unexpected guests'.
'Vegeren', vegetarian rennet suitable for cheese and junket making. (Need I say more?)

Monday, 27 October 2008

Race to power

Just back from another fascinating evening at the Astrological Lodge, London.  A talk about Hellenic astrology by a 23 year old American astrological prodigy for the first half. I mentioned to him that I am studying Horary astrology, he declared it "the gateway drug for traditional astrology". Tertiary progressions explained after half-time tea n' biscuits. 
Next week, we will be looking at, on the eve of the U.S. elections, the progressed charts of John McCain and Barack Obama. This has been a hard election to call for astrologers, because all of the parties involved have been reluctant to release accurate birth data. Obama's birth certificate was only obtained a couple of months ago and McCain's just last week.
In the pub afterwards, contrary to the optimistic predictions of the media and most of my friends, my elegant astrologer pal Bethea and I call the election for McCain. I do not think Obama's race is the real problem. If Colin Powell were running, he'd walk it. 
But it occurred to me that Oscar-winning black actress/singer Jennifer Hudson's tragedy, as sad news emerged that her missing nephew is likely dead, alongside the brutal murders of her mother and brother, will not help Obama's cause, reinforcing stereotypes about black people even when they are affluent and successful. I'm sticking my neck out and saying McCain will win.

Bethea noted, during this credit crunch, that it is now 'Thatcherism's ' Saturn return, 28 years on. Hard lessons to be learnt. Milton Friedman's economic lunacy reassessed.
There is debate as to whether Thatcher will get a state funeral (see link), the first civilian since Winston Churchill. I remember watching his funeral on black and white TV. It seemed to last for days. I became obsessed with death for months after that, pestering my parents and anybody else who would listen with questions: "So are you going to die? Am I going to die? Are you sure?". I found the whole concept extraordinary.
Christopher Hitchins-love this guy.

Bethea noted, during this credit crunch, that it is now 'Thatcherism's ' Saturn return, 28 years on. Hard lessons to be learnt. Milton Friedman's economic lunacy reassessed.
There is debate as to whether Thatcher will get a state funeral (see link), the first civilian since Winston Churchill. I remember watching his funeral on black and white TV. It seemed to last for days. I became obsessed with death for months after that, pestering my parents and anybody else who would listen with questions: "So are you going to die? Am I going to die? Are you sure?". I found the whole concept extraordinary.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Vegetable stock

I followed vegan yumyum's blog recipe and made vegetable stock on Sunday. Today I used half of it to boil red lentils. I then added a can of coconut milk. I didn't need to add salt or herbs or anything else as the stock made it so tasty. Even my daughter liked it! Pulses, a first!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Not shouting into the void

Woohoo I got recommended...
Love the way I am now an Italian. Ha.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Leave Madonna alone...

Will Chris Crocker now do a 'Leave Madonna aloooone!' vlog on Youtube? My favourite of his is the advice to guys to be nice to a woman's gay best friend "buy him a fruit basket". I'm sure my gbf Dvd would appreciate it.

Jon Ronson/ Skeptics in the pub

I have no luck at this venue. I arrived with my daughter, ordered drinks and food, and sat down. Half an hour later, a buxom waitress, clearing tables, asked:
"Can I see her I.D?"
"To see if she's under 18".

"She is under 18"

"Well I'm afraid I'll have to ask someone if she can be here". 
"Listen" I plead "can't you leave it? We are hidden in a corner, she's not drinking, we've already ordered, it's a private function and look, you have a children's menu".
"No, it's my job" 
"I take it you have no children" I ask her.
"I'm only 19" giggles the waitress, who, if she said she was 39, I wouldn't have blinked. 
At this point I know I'm defeated:
"Jobsworth!" I hiss. 
The manager comes over and says my daughter has to leave. He refunds the money for the drinks and the food. He agrees that it's difficult for every pub in the U.K. has different licensing laws when it comes to children. In this pub, children can only stay until 6 p.m.
"The skeptics organisers know about this rule" he states.
My daughter gets the tube home. I spot Jon Ronson sitting in a corner, guzzling nervously from bottle of beer and googling details of his talk on his iphone. I tell him about my daughter.
"Really? I was thinking of bringing my 10 year old son".
I mention the situation to a couple of Skeptics organisers.
"We didn't know that" they say.
Later, when I tell the pub manager that Jon Ronson was going to bring his son he replies:
"Well we would have cancelled the talk in that case."
Ridiculous. It's not as if it's a gin palace or bordello. The room fills up with men. To the skeptic next to me I ask:
"Do you think skeptics are mostly male?"

"No, I think they are mostly drinkers" he quips. 
Heavenly music greets Jon Ronson as he starts. He struggles with his microphone, one of those headphone jobs that singer/dancers like Britney uses.
"Is this what the creationist was doing last week?" asks Jon, fiddling.
"No, he managed to use it allright" retorts an audience member.
Jon talks about the importance of skepticism after 9/11. He goes onto to describe his 'partnership' with Robbie Williams.
"Is this what you want to hear? Is it ok?" he asks
"No, get to the nitty gritty" grizzles one skeptic.

"I thought this was the nitty gritty" replies Ronson.
"Snob" I snarl at the skeptic, hoping he won't stop Ronson spilling the beans about Robbie. He attended the UFO convention in Nevada with him...
"the only alien being to arrive at that conference was Robbie Williams on a private plane".
They met Anne Andrews and her son Jason, a reputed Indigo or Crystal child. Apparently you can do an internet questionnaire to find out if your kid is an indigo child. 'Does your child have difficulty with authority? waiting in lines? get bored easily?' As Ronson says, if you look at the questions, most of our kids could be considered Indigo children.  Anne Andrews(1) complained to Robbie and Jon Ronson about Jason being bullied in their small Norfolk village. People shout at him "freak". Coincidentally this started at the same time as she published her book entitled 'Jason, My Indigo Child: Raising a Multidimensional Star Child in a Changing World'. Ronson considers that the Indigo children phenomenon is a counter-reaction to the over-medicalisation of children's behaviour. Approximately 2 in every class of kids (in the U.S.A) is on medication for ADHD
I asked him if he had ever been convinced or swayed by anything, and if not, why Robbie Williams was hanging out with him. Ronson is a total skeptic, he says, and Robbie Williams swings between both camps; skeptic and believer. The only thing he does believe is that many of our leaders could be considered to be mentally ill. 
Ronson has debunked the fraudulent psychic Sylvia Browne who
"always gets it wrong. If Sylvia Browne says your missing kid is dead, he's at the shops".
He's also investigated Omar Bakri, ex-CIA agent Colonel John Alexander and the Bilderberg group. It's clear that when he talks about his subjects that he actually has quite a strong affection for them, even Omar Bakri who told the Jewish Chronicle that Ronson would "burn in hell"
One of the audience asked if there was anyone too "scarily crazy" for him to tackle; Ronson replied that he couldn't write about anybody he hated. "What about Scientology?" asked someone else. Ronson is not afraid of them and told an anecdote about John Sweeney, the BBC reporter who infamously screamed uncontrollably during an interview with the Scientologists (link here).
"Sweeney is a nasty bastard, he screamed at me once".
The most vicious people "Nazis!" he has come across so far are the "Islington mothers" on There is an archived thread on Mumsnet about Ronson. (It's pretty funny).
Somebody asked "What would you have asked Jesus?".
"Are you really the son of God?" responds Jon Ronson "and Mohammed, you'd have to ask him if he approved of what has been done in his name"
People were throwing out names now..."Sarah Palin?".
"Obviously I'm adoring it. At first I thought 'evil geniuses'. Brilliant. How wrong was that? It's all become very sour and snide."
A member of the audience made the observation that Ronson's work is divided between the macro; big themes about conspiracy theorists, Bohemian Grove, alien goats; and the micro; domestic everyday observations.
"What interests me is why people behave so crazily? It can be small scale or large scale. In my writing, there is always opposition to the domestic stuff. But I prefer small scale, Nick Hornby style stuff, like how you fuck up your kids inadvertently. He does it well. Some people, like Liz Jones, do it badly. The domestic stuff has become devalued. Some of my editors think it's icky."
Ronson talks about the pressure of producing a weekly column:
"You can see the writers, like Tim Dowling, my replacement,  falling apart, every week, people destroying themselves, using anything, everything, to write the column". 
I mention cringing when I read his weekly Guardian column which repeatedly mentioned his annoyance with his actor neighbour who wouldn't ask what Ronson did for a living. "Have you lost friends from your column?" I ask.

"Yes. Like Patrick Marber, who I hate. Also my neighbour who eventually asked me if it was him I was writing about. You see, being a writer is all I have" says Jon sweetly.
 Ronson stopped doing the Guardian column and is concentrating on writing screenplays. 'The men who stare at Goats' is now in production starring George Clooney. (At least he hasn't got Simon Pegg playing him, which was Toby Youngs' fate). 

(1) Anne Andrews, in true Rolls-Royce driving Indian child guru stylee, gads about town  in a pink stretch limo with the number plate UFO1, I am informed. Now that's the kind of highly evolved behaviour I could get into!


An Italian neo-realist film directed by Matteo Garonne, about the Camorra, Naples' real-life mafia. Try to see it if you can, it makes 'Goodfella's' look as inauthentic as Disney. The author of the original book, Roberto Saviano, is in hiding, under threat of assassination. Several members of the cast have been arrested since the release of the film for extra-curricular mafia activities... (see this link)
I'm of Italian extraction, from caves in Minori, south of Naples. Between the wars one half of my family came to England, to run a café, become boxers, actors and make ice-cream whilst the other half went to America, reportedly part of the mafia. 
Every family party is like a Scorcese scene: men in tailored suits exuding menace, women glinting gold, aunts cutting a swathe on the dance floor whatever their size, children dancing on feet. The menu is always bi-cultural; English bland stodge (stale vol au vents/pineapple and cheese on a cocktail stick) interspersed with penne al' arrabiatta, melanzana parmigiana and salami.
My great grandmother, Nanny Savino, even at 80 years old, would sell Woodbines and Silk Cut from the doorway of her Holloway council flat, which we would proudly collect from under her bed. Children love to play shops and Napolitan habits die hard. She cooked tooth shattering toffee in tin pans, dark or light, and apple fritters. Sometimes she would buy us pomegranates from a wandering seller; sold with pins to pick out the glistening seeds. This scene is not from the 19th century but from the 1960's.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Camille at the Roundhouse

She took to the stage wearing an orange fleece cape and orange bedsocks. I think we can safely say she is not vain. Her vocal dexterity and pure tone are impressive.
Camille was soon joined by a gang of backup singers and beat boxers all in orange and black. They produce an incredible array of sounds considering that there are no instruments. Her big hit is "Je vais prendre ta douleur", a jazzy, unique track perhaps one of the most accessible on her latest album which is quite avant-garde.
At one point Camille asks the audience for black or orange shirts
"No not that one!" she admonished when handed a black shirt "one with long sleeves."
A woman passed over an orange long sleeved Tshirt. Camille sniffed it contemptuously "You sweat alot huh? When was this last washed?".

Then Camille did a bit of 'clowning' that is a section of business with knotting and buttoning the shirts together. Making her stage outfit from the audiences clothes. It was quite funny except that she showed the fact that she had not mastered clowning to the same level as her skill in singing when one of the crew came on to help her disentangle the shirt from a mike stand and she shouted at him:
" No, go away, I can do it by myself"
My sister, who kindly gave me a ticket to this event, has done extensive clown training and observed that a true clown would have incorporated the stagehand into the piece.
Her gifts however are undeniable. I like the fact that she is unconventional and generous with her talent. She gave at least three encores to this mostly French audience. She joked that the concert would last 8/9 hours.
Then she called out into the dark "Jamie? Are you there?"
There was silence. "Jamie? Did you come here?"
No answer. "Maybe he didn't come?".
Then a young man stood up in front of me "I'm here".
"Come onto the stage and jam with us" suggested Camille.
We waited sometime for 'Jamie' to reach the stage, so long in fact that Camille wondered aloud if he had got lost or not been allowed access by security. Finally Jamie arrived in the spotlight, revealed as Jamie Cullum, the young British singer/ pianist. Bravely they jammed, Camille singing, Jamie using the piano as percussion. Whenever it didn't seem to work, Camille would stop the proceedings and say:
"No, lets do something different"
We were watching a workshop on stage. Would Amy Winehouse have the courage to do this? Would Madonna?
Then Jamie accompanied Camille on piano for a swooning romantic jazzy version (Camille used to sing for the bossa nova outfit Nouvelle Vague)of Tuxedo Moon's "In a manner of speaking". Sublime!  At the end Camille turned her back to the audience to reveal that her black dress was so low cut that we could see her bottom. Cheeky!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Street of Shame

I started out in photography by doing an apprenticeship for my dad's news agency. This was in the days when apprenticeships still existed. Trouble was, no woman had ever lasted more than two weeks in 'the darkroom'. I was a girl, a punk and worse, the boss's daughter. 
Head of the darkroom was Scobie, a sarf London cockney and former militant union chapel leader. He was instantly hostile. There were a series of boys, wearing brown printing gowns, and the photographers who dropped in and out throughout the day. The darkroom was in the basement, naturally, and at the end of a long shift, I would emerge, squinting, into the daylight. But I liked the darkness, the plastic trays of chemicals glinting in the red safe lights, the sulphurous smells and the feeling of safety when in an enclosed black space. Perhaps I have an affinity with hell.
I knew it would be tough but underestimated the level of resistance to my presence. I didn't mind the posters of topless girls tacked to the walls, the swearing, the drinking and the teasing. In fact I enjoyed, and always have, the company of British men, their dry humour, their emotional currency of 'piss-taking'. But the men felt uncomfortable and gradually, as it became obvious that I wasn't going to leave, the posters came down. One day, I was dunked in the 'fix', another, my shoes were stolen, and I never had anybody with whom I could  go to lunch. The only time I went to my dad for help was when I discovered, during a spate of thefts, that I was, conveniently and of course falsely, regarded as the culprit. One of my hands turned green from repeated immersion in chemicals. I developed a skin allergy on my face, with sores that dripped pus all day. In some ways, however, I grew fitter and stronger. Part of my job was to deliver the photographic prints to Fleet Street.
Every day, I was walking, running if the pictures were urgent, miles. The first time I entered a newsroom, trying to locate the picture desk, the atmosphere was overwhelming. A huge room, a floor of a building, filled with hundreds of men tapping on typewriters, on phones, yelling to each other. So unlike the hushed muffled computer-driven offices of today; everybody in their own private Internet world. I'd find the picture editor and sling the brown envelope containing 10 x 8 black and white glossy prints onto the desk and scarper as quickly as possible.
The 1930's Daily Express building was the most impressive, with black and chrome curved exteriors, an exotic lobby and art deco lifts. The Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, The Sun, The News of the World, The Telegraph, The Express were all on Fleet St. The Financial Times was, appropriately, nearer to the City; The Mirror group were in High Holborn, and The Guardian and The Times were further towards Kings Cross. 
I was relieved during the Murdoch era, with The Times strikes and subsequent move to Wapping, because it meant one less paper to deliver to! 
Scobie's mentoring comments about my prints included such technical observations as "black as arseholes!" But mostly the rule of the day was "faster, faster" or even "print 'em wet". Sometimes, when pictures were really hot news, the photographer would develop and fix the film, not wash or dry it, and we would run the wet negs through the enlarger. I learnt to develop a hundred prints at a time, all identically, by hand, flipping through them rapidly in the 'dev'.The methods were unorthodox, nothing you'd be taught at college. Dusty negs? Wipe a finger down the side of your nose, collecting as much 'face grease' as you can, and clean the neg with that finger. Prints taking too long to develop? Add a jug of hot water to the dev
The photographers didn't know what to make of me. One said that I wasn't a normal woman.
"No normal woman would work down here." 
A Scottish photographer, Mac, was gentlemanly but disapproving. He was the racing photographer, having started out shooting finishes on glass plate 5 x 4". He still shot on medium format. I grew sick of printing racehorses. 
We were supposed to gradually work our way up to becoming photographers, after having learnt all the technical skills in the darkroom. There's nothing like looking at negatives all day to give you a good idea of what makes a good picture and what constitutes perfect exposure. The boys however got their chances much earlier than me. After 3 and a half years, the full length of the apprenticeship, I was still in the darkroom, the boys having surpassed me, rising to the newsroom on the upper floors, long ago.
One night, plucking up my courage, I asked my dad:
" When am I going to escape the darkroom and become a photographer?".
He dissembled. Then finally
" I can't see it happening for a long time."
Shocked, for I was already getting my own pictures printed in the music press (the earnings of which he took 50%), I realised I was never going to succeed there and resigned. Devastated, I went straight to my bedroom (for I still lived at home) without supper. In the restless and anguished night, I resolved to go travelling, to a place I'd fallen in love with during a holiday, the United States. In the morning, my mother knocked on the door and said:
"Did you hear the news? John Lennon has been shot." 
Despite this, I decided to go to America.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Persian meal in Olympia

Persian meal in OlympiaLavash, a thin crispy bread, the oldest bread in the Middle East, they say.
A strange kind of thick lentil, pasta and rice soup.
A plate of fresh herbs, with radishes and feta.
Tea in a teapot on a table-top warmer poured into red glasses. There was a portrait of a military man with a large moustache on the teapot and glasses.
"Who is that?" I asked the waiter who also had a big moustache. "A king?".
"I don't know", he said. "My grandfather?"
Aubergine dishes...the 'potato' of Iran.
Would have liked to have tried polo, a kind of par-boiled rice, a sour cherry dish and something with pomegranates. Will have to try another Persian restaurant for those, this one mainly had meat dishes. Although it was charming, the whole place smelt of blood.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


My friend Nathan and I are doing the pub quiz at The Prince of Wales on November 4th. I'm doing a round on one of my favourite subjects: sweets.
Every Saturday morning I work for my daughter's music group. I get to sell sweets to kids, fulfilling a long-held childhood ambition of working in (not even owning!) a sweet shop. I have intense memories of getting my pocket money on Saturday morning and spending it on sweets and girls comics (Bunty, Judy and Mandy). For children, this an important educational stage; learning how to budget.
Now I relive this. Little kids standing over the sweets, brows furrowed, asking how much each item costs... you can see the cogs turn...
'If I get a Kit-Kat, a packet of crisps, and a drink, have I got enough? Can I get a Milky way too?'
Look at the pictures above, aren't they pretty? They represent Christmas, Easter and Halloween with their tinsel jackets. 
Refreshers (a sweet from my childhood with reassuringly unchanged packaging) at only 20p are really popular. Some children have a serious Refresher habit, buying 4 or 5 packets at a time. We haven't had any in for a while, there seems to be a nationwide shortage of Refreshers. The kids are starting to panic.
Very few people like Bounty bars, quite sensibly. Nobody likes Picnics.
The trend in sweets is towards sour or fizzy... which I love, especially if they make your tongue sore to the point of bleeding.
I also like Rowntree's fruit gums, and at 170 calories a pack, they are practically a health option. 
Different countries like different sweets: the Portuguese like anything egg flavoured, and favour sweets and desserts in the shape of breasts. The Scandinavians and the Dutch love salt liquorice (I love this too, but it's a love it or hate it thing, like Marmite). The Spanish have their 'Chupachups' lollypops, which come in hundreds of flavours.
The British buy the most small bars of chocolate in the world. Nice to know we are tops at something! Sweet shops are on every corner. 
The French, of course, are dead classy with their sweets; featuring artisanal bonbons from certain regions: berlingots (a home-made boiled sweet) from Nantes and Carpentras, aniseed sweets in exquisite little tins from Flavigny (made by nuns and Agatha Christie's favourite sweet), powdery mint lozenges from Vichy, marrons glacées (candied chestnuts, delicious and expensive) from Provence, toffees made with salty butter from L'ile de ré (caramels au beurre salé). 
Childhood holidays in France were cherished for little toffee sticks of Caram'bar, in Austria for 'Mozart' balls (chocolate and marzipan with a portrait of Mozart as a child on the front), in Switzerland for bars of Milka chocolate by Suchard.
The Quaker firms Cadbury's, Frys and Rowntrees have dominated chocolate in the U.K. for centuries, legacy of guilt about the exploitation of cocoa and the slave trade plus a desire to get the working classes to eat chocolate rather than drink alcohol.

7 year itch

As a statement was put out that Madonna and Guy Ritchie are divorcing, after 7 1/2 years of marriage, my thoughts turned to a talk on relationship astrology at the Lodge last Monday night. The speaker said that most relationships last 7 years, a quarter of a Saturn cycle.

One of Guy Ritchie's reasons for divorcing Madonna is her obsession with the Kaballah and, as a confirmed atheist, I sympathize. However recently someone dumped me apparently because of my interest in astrology which he said was "as bad as being religious"... that really hurt because I thought of him a friend too. (Although it may have had more to do with the fact that I'm not 25, a size 8, and with a brain the size of a pea. In the immortal words of Sharon Stone..."If you have a vagina and an attitude in this town, then that's a lethal combination. ")

Men don't like you to get upset or emotional. If you do then you are 'mental'. Right. Being fucked, if I may speak so boldly, means having somebody inside your bodily cavities!!!! Literally inside you. Women are supposed to take this lightly? Excuse me if I don't get over it in ten seconds.

I don't believe in astrology, I'm interested in it, simply because it seems to work. I don't know why, it just does. I view it's unerring accuracy with fascination. There are times when I am more interested... Recently, with the credit crunch, which has been predicted by astrologers for decades, astrology has proved itself worth a closer look don't you think?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Rock n' roll kitchen

A little bit of life in the overflow...

One day a week I cook at a restaurant. Anthony Bourdain in 'Kitchen confidential' talks about a kitchen with a vibe, a kitchen that rocks. You cook better with cool music, a glass of wine or beer or a joint in one hand and a hilarious gay kitchen assistant grooving right beside you. Sometimes it flows like a finely choreographed ballet, you are in the zone, you are sweating out those meals, and you get the biggest buzz.

Today I made the sweetest roast tomato and basil soup with toasted garlic oatbread... 
  • (Delia recipe...) blanch tomatoes, skin them, cut in half, put in baking tray, cut halves upwards, put basil leaf on each, a few cloves of garlic with skins on, slather with olive oil. Roast for one hour. 
  • 40 minutes later: peel and chop a potato,boil in water until cooked, and add tomato purée. We had some fennel stock so I added that too.
  • Then pour contents of baking tray into it. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins. Liquidize with a hand blender. 
The delicious bread was made by the bakers at Pogo cafe.

Autumn vegetables with a pomegranate and maple syrup glaze.
  •  Do the usual roasting thing...this time I used parsnips, leeks, sliced corn on the cob, butternut squash, red onions. 
  • I then got a small pan and simmered pomegranate syrup, garlic and maple syrup. You can add red wine, but I didn't have any. 
  • When vegetables have roasted, I poured it over them.

Kale/mushroom and cashew curry with brown basmati and spiced coconut lentil cake, mint yoghurt dressing and home-made tamarind and walnut chutney.

The curry was similar to previous curries. Except with Kale, which I'm not mad about but we needed to use it up.
I don't really like English seasonal vegetables. I know we are supposed to be concerned about food miles and all that, but my thinking is, it's not my fault I'm English is it?

Painting by Naked John, Stik
A painting by Naked John, soon to exhibit at Pogo's café.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Keith Moon

The house where I grew up.

I grew up in Highgate, a tiny North London village at the top of the hill where Dick Whittington stopped and turned back. 
It isn't as trendy as Hampstead. The houses are bigger. There aren't any fashionable clothes shops, nor a Macdonalds (which Hampstead fought against for years). 
Autumn always reminds me of Highgate. I spent my childhood running around Waterlow park and Highgate Woods playing with conkers, kicking up the leaves. Across the road from where I lived was a nurse's home, a huge gothic building with extensive gardens. (There aren't any nurse's homes anymore, Thatcher sold them all off for real estate. Now poorly paid nurses have nowhere to live in London).
Over-imaginative as a child, I fervently believed in fairies, ghosts and witches (still do). One morning in the nurse's home gardens I saw tulips. The next day, when I returned, the flowers were huge. Giant pink flowers. Stunned, I was convinced it was magic. I looked for evidence of magic everywhere.
Highgate has many pubs, some of them very old. I still go, almost weekly, to The Prince of Wales,(1) a tiny dark creaky pub, crammed with orbs and spirits. Sunday lunchtimes, my parents left me, my brother and sister in the car with a packet of crisps while they went for a drink. We didn't mind, it was exciting and also we could devote time to fighting, uninterrupted by parents.
I drank in the pubs from the age of 14 (something I'd never let my daughter do). One evening, one of the regulars, Graham Chapman of Monty Python (he played Brian in The life of Brian) was with his friend Keith Moon, drummer for The Who.
Keith had on a huge fur coat, a pudding bowl haircut (actually quite naff but he was cool enough to carry it off) and big brown button eyes. He checked me out. Eventually he beckoned me over. Buying me drinks, he asked me back to a party at Graham Chapman's house. 
I was with my boyfriend of the time and said, loyally, "only if my boyfriend can come". 
Keith looked askance as if to say 'I'm picking her out of everyone and she's turning me down!'.
So it shows that Keith Moon was in fact a bit dodgy. I was under-age and looked it. 
The boyfriend grew to be a Hollywood movie director (albeit minor) and has dined out on the story ever since. 

(More Keith Moon at this blog).

(1) I go for the famous pub quiz, reputedly the toughest in London. My friend Nathan and I are hosting the quiz on the 4th of November. I'm a bit of an anorak at heart, and often one of the few women at pub quizzes! I'm always complaining about too many sports questions and not enough questions on boys and make-up.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Currant bun

I adore the British tabloid press: The Sun makes me it's the headline 'Cashier No 10 please'.  Above is last week's front page turning Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling into a Thunderbird. Classic. I've recommended this before and I'll do it again: for the full and hilarious exploits of our top tabloid read 'Stick it up your punter'


Big porridge making competition today. Interesting thing in the link above is that the Scots used to have a porridge drawer! They used to cut out sections of cold porridge and take it out to the moors. Hmm, could this applied to other foods? A pasta drawer? You just scoop out a load of cold pasta and take it with you. Rice?
I did buy some really posh stone-milled porridge, Alford's. It was so fine it set like concrete. Pretty horrible. Maybe I was doing something wrong. But soon it'll be porridge weather again.
I used to love it when my mum woke up early on school days and made us porridge with lots of golden syrup on it. Often it was still dark outside. One did feel like the Readybrek kid, walking to school with a red glow around you, if mum had made porridge.

Sunday, 12 October 2008


cheese from Langres

Cheese is the reason I cannot go vegan. Yesterday visited a wonderful cheese stall. I bought an orange skinned cheese from Langres, France. Yellow gold flows out of it.
This stall had the names of the makers on each cheese. One cheese, rinsed in brine, looking rustic and weathered, is made by a monstrous looking goat farmer. Goat farmers have a high suicide rate as do farmers generally. They spend much time alone. They never go on holiday. They can never leave their goats alone. They have to turn the goat cheeses every day. 
The girl who served on the stall spent a month in France with an 'affineur', the people who age the cheeses. I'd love to do something like this, like Bill Buford who wrote one of my favourite books 'Heat',  who spent months in Italy. (Ok he learnt to be a butcher which I wouldn't like, but the principle is there.)

Teenage pregnancy

Amusing though I found the film 'Juno' to be (see previous post), I also had reservations about it's message. Coasting along the zeitgeist, did art follow life or vice versa? teen pregnancies seem to be the order of the day: Britney Spears younger sister, Jamie Lynn, and of course Sarah Palin's daughter. 
For several decades, certainly when I was growing up, becoming a teenage mother was considered a tragedy. But is it? Certainly the scores of women that I know that have left getting pregnant too late (trying IVF desperately in their 40's, seeking sperm donors) would revise their opinion on that issue. 
The right to bear children is a fundamental human right. Clearly there is an optimum age, biologically, to have children (between 18 and 35). In fact, even that has changed in my lifetime. You used to be considered an elderly mother after the age of 27. Now more 30-34 year old women have children than 20-24 year olds. In the West that is. 
Even getting pregnant at 18 is considered ridiculously young. But why? 

Anyway I've had this post on the back burner for a while...but this article puts the case against teen pregnancy being the new cool thing to do very well; particularly the writer's observation that in the film Juno, pregnancy is treated as no more problematic than a bout of acne.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Jamiekan news

This news clip is from the site which seeks recognition for the Jamaican patois. Check it out, it's really interesting. Even the bible will be translated into Jamiekan. Patois leaks into everyday language even in Britain, particularly among the young. My daughter will come home saying "Wagwan?" (What's going on?). 
Some people are demanding that lessons at school in Jamaica be taught in patois. It's certainly a rich and descriptive dialect, one which adds to the already enormous English vocabulary. 

Friday, 10 October 2008

October menu

French Onion Soup recipe

Sweat finely sliced onions, lots of them (preferably organic) in olive oil.
Throw in some celery seeds, garlic, salt, white wine, vegetable stock. Add water.
Serve in bowls topped with a slice of toast with grated cheese. Cheese will melt.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Roasted Autumn Vegetables recipe

Bake squash, parnips, butternut squash, garlic cloves, sweet potato; cover with cinnamon, salt, maple syrup and olive oil. I didn't bother taking off the skins and it was fine.
Then fry onions, add cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, lots of white wine, salt, then fry risotto rice (I used sushi rice). Add vegetable stock and water.

Top with roasted veg and add chopped parsley (flatleaf is good) at the end.

Did you know that they don't have parsnips in France?

Pluto in Capricorn

Thinking, thinking, thinking. Pluto in Capricorn is, ok, world financial melt-down. But, Capricorn is the sign of old age. Maybe there will also be a transformation of how we view and treat old (er) people. What with the population as a whole getting older. High time. We've been obsessed with youth since the sixties.
Now all the people born in the 60's will have natal Pluto in this transit will be trining their natal Virgo's. They are in their 40's and were probably hoping for a last decade of earning well to prepare for their retirement. This is not going to happen.
Trying to work it out...what to would seem the smart idea to sell your property, especially if you have a large mortgage, because otherwise you will soon be in negative equity. I'm also thinking freehold. No flats. And a garden. And digging a well, keeping chickens, growing vegetables, all that self-sufficiency stuff. Maybe learn to shoot. In some ways it's better to live in a city when things get tough, there is more to scavenge. But in the countryside, you've got land. In the last war, the people in the countryside did better. How bad is it going to get?
You can feel the fear around as everything crumbles, true Pluto style. Need to build up again from the roots, the foundations. This is what immigrants have been doing for years. They have the skills. So in a few years when Pluto enters Aquarius, will we all be living in communes?

Are we headed for a Minsky moment?

My friend Dvd says "Nothing is happening. Some fictional zero's are moving from one computer to another."

I'm going to quote from Merriman, the financial astrologer (link in side bar):
"If you want to succeed in the next 15 years, you have to get past the urge to hype, past the urge to feed into fear, past anything that is not real… and be accountable. If you want to succeed, you will have to be patient, dedicated to something beyond yourself, and able to apply all the spiritual and life lessons you have learned over the past few decades in your daily life. It is no longer about “me,” and what others can do to help “me” get what “I” want, regardless of whether I really deserve it or not. It’s about the world, the group you belong to (socially or professionally), and how you can contribute to the greater whole. Anyone who thinks they can make it on their own will find out… they are alone, and it will be a lonely place. Everyone will need a little help from their friends, as the Beatles once sang, and to get it, you have to be a friend and give a little help. This is the message of Uranus and Neptune in mutual reception (2003-2011). This is the message of Pluto crossing the Galactic Center and Solar Apex (2007-2009). This is the message of Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto forming a T-square to one another, and all entering cardinal signs (2008-2014) for the first time since 1930-1931. It is the message of Saturn and Pluto in the downside of their cycle (2001-2020). It will require conscientious regard for the impact one’s actions will have on the well being of all others with whom one is associated. It is possible to succeed big time, of course, but not by the same means used in the past.

… We are now in another “down phase” of the Saturn-Pluto cycle from 2001-2002 through 2020. If history repeats (and so far it has), budget surpluses will give way to greater budget deficits, higher interest rates, higher taxes, and a more difficult economic and equity-investing environment. We are in the midst of an 18-year period where individuals are to be encouraged to save their money, protect their capital, and not focus on “capital appreciation” through the stock market (investing in companies that are not your own). Gone are the days of annual double-digit returns through equity investments. Oh, there may be a year here and there whereby the overall stock market performs well. But the years of little gain - or even of loss - tend to be more numerous now, especially when adjusted for inflation. On the bright side, one can anticipate that the stock market (and the economy) will bottom out sometime before the end of 2021. A great investment opportunity looms ahead – for those who have the cash (and courage) to invest when prices are at extremely attractive levels. That is likely to happen within 18 months of Saturn in its waning square to Pluto (November 15, 2009-August 21, 2010 +/- 18 months), or when they return to conjunction (January 12, 2020, +/- 18 months). Whichever happens to be the lowest low will tell us whether there is a dominant 72- or 90-year stock market cycle (see “Stock Market” section). But even if the lowest level in stock indices is realized in the first instance, the stock market and economy are not expected to break out to the upside until the conjunction period is reached (2018-2021)."

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Healthy snack

Healthy snack: seed mix

You know those tasty little tubs of seeds that the FoodDoctor does? That cost about a fiver? Well, it is so easy to make them yourself.

Seed Mix recipe:

pumpkin seeds
sunflower seeds
hemp seeds
sesame seeds

Toast them in a frying pan with no oil, but add some tamari or soy or similar. Stir about, properly covering the seeds. Then take off heat to cool.
A good cheap healthy snack for adults and kids. Can also be sprinkled on rice or salads. 
Today I added poppy seeds, which I love but not sure they worked so well toasted. You could also add chilli flakes or garlic or ginger.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

They came from the stars, I saw them...

My friend Horton Jupiter's band 'They came from the stars, I saw them...' the new single. An interesting mix of Yellow Submarine and The Moomintrolls...notice that Sparks are in there!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Sinning on Sunday

I only went down there to help out a tired friend selling clothes...but it turned out to be an interesting day. 
For starters, it's great to do a job in which you are actually required to flirt with the customers. And the customers: men being led by a chain along the clothes racks; newbies nervous about their first fetish clothes item...gingerly trying on rubber shirts (try talc); learning the correct fastening for corsets; being offered one woman's partner as a 'playmate'...
"He'd like you. He'd love to get his hands on your breasts" she told me, eyeing up my cleavage "I'm his primary partner but we are open. I need my space. He likes variety. Do you like punishment?
"Not really" I confess"and I'm very possessive. I couldn't share."
"That's ok. I've always said to him if you find someone more suited then that's fine by me."
"My god, you are like the Mother Theresa of the fetish world" I say to her. 
This was the last Alternative market being held at the pink and baroque theatre Clapham Grand which is being transformed into a winebar. The organiser got up and made a speech about proposed government legislation:
"What I do in my bedroom is my business."
He is referring to the new law making it illegal, punishable by up to 3 years in prison, to possess certain types of sexually explicit imagery:
  • 'Extreme images' which result in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals.
  • Is grossly offensive, disgusting or obscene.
  • Has been produced principally for the purpose of sexual arousal. (Love this one!)
Leaflets were scattered around, produced by The Spanner Trust, giving advice and solicitors numbers in case of arrest. 
The fetish scene is a strange mix of the mundane and the exotic. As I was wandering around the stalls, a nasal suburban voice announced:
"The whipmaster has been delayed due to traffic on the M25. The workshop will take place as soon as he arrives."
The elegant Zahira

I am impressed by the sheer craftwork involved in some of the goods for sale. Zahira's Boudoir makes chokers, bags and jewellery in intricately punched leather, giving a feminine lacey effect to a material that is usually associated with butchness. Zahira herself spends weeks making each item. She is an Aquarian as were many of the other people I spoke to, confirming previous observations (here) on the astrology of sexual 'deviance'. 
Another stall, Erotic_jewellery run by a husband and wife team had witty items in silver such as earrings in the shape of women's bottoms.
They also had nipple jewellery. Looking at the star shaped pieces, I mentioned Janet Jackson.
"Oh yes our 'Janet Jackson' is a popular item."
It appears that this is what Janet will be remembered for.  

I saw a demonstration at a stall which sold restored vintage 'violet wands', a Tesla based technology which administers a mild electric stimulus to the skin. Nick was administering this to a large girl, starting on her arm and progressing to her nipples. The girl had a beatific smile on her face.
"I'm a pain slut" she said. "This is good pain."
The sensation is mildly unpleasant to start with, like being stung by a bee. It's a sweet and sour experience. But afterwards you feel quite refreshed and stimulated, energetic.

Another stall '' sold hand-crafted wooden sex toys. I spoke to the 'sculptor' who is a bushcrafter, teaching survival skills in Surrey. He alerted me to the dangers of phthalate, the material used for modern day vibrators and sex toys. This material is deemed dangerous for children's toys but, despite containing 50 times the safe amount, it is allowable in  sex toys because they are classed as 'novelty items'.  Therefore these wooden toys are eco-dildos.
 Butt plugs on a keyring
The whipmaster had arrived. One lady was enthusing about the 'bang' of a bull whip. "I can't have sex now without the bang sound". The 'bang' is actually a sonic boom produced by the sound waves travelling down the length of the whip. The speed of the whip breaks the sound barrier. I looked at a £65 'snake whip', beautifully crafted, intricate strands of leather weaved to a feathered point. 
On stage the whipping demonstration started. Two girls stood either side while a man in camouflage showed skill and accuracy with his whip, curling it around their waists and spinning them. I got told off for taking a picture. You can't identify these girls. Five minutes later one came down showing off her bloody welts and I didn't recognize her with her clothes on.
"How long do the welts last?" I asked. "Oh, 4 or 5 days" she said proudly.
The other girl's scars were just raised lines where she had been whipped.
"This is all I get," she lamented "I don't bruise either".
Later, back at the clothes stall, a timid looking pale young man with greased down hair and moist blue eyes is looking for a Halloween dress. He picks a Dynasty-style 80's frock with padded shoulders.
"I'm quite new to the scene" he says "they thought I was a sub. But I'm not you know. I'm evil, I am".
 Afterwards people went to the after-party in a pub. I didn't go. It does however bring new meaning to the phrase "Who's for a whip round?"