Saturday, 31 January 2009

Teenage kicks

My daughter is now in France on the exchange trip. I got virtually tear-stained desperate texts on the first (Thursday) night.
"I'm scared. It's awful here. I love you so much now."
On Friday evening I got the news that my daughter's best friend, who was still in London, had called the school saying that there was a bomb. She then called the police to repeat the same warning. The police traced the call and caught her at a phone box near the school. Helicopters, two police vans, several police cars and sniffer dogs arrived. The whole operation cost over £100,000. 
Some of the pupils at this school, the Lycée francais in London, are diplomat's children. In fact the girl's sister is Madonna's daughter's best friend. A threat like that would be taken extremely seriously.
The entire school, almost 4000 children, were evacuated to a nearby park. This was done within 10 minutes. The children were told that there was a bomb warning. Some of the smaller children were cold, they had no time to pick up their coats. But nobody panicked. 
My daughter's best friend spent the day in prison and has been expelled. Her parents are mortified. Her father, who is Syrian, no doubt spent a few uncomfortable hours with the police. Their house was searched.
My teen messaged me on Friday from Facebook, so annoyed.
"I've been waiting for years for something like that to happen. Why didn't she do it while I was at school? Why did she do it while I was away?"
I think things must have improved on the exchange visit because I haven't heard from my teen since.
Update: the girl did the fake bomb message to avoid a history test that afternoon. Love it. Teenagers eh? 

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Like a virgin

Talking about my teenager's trip to rural France (tomorrow yikes!) a friend from the Irish countryside said
"Well of course in the countryside, all teenagers do is have sex. There is nothing else to do. When I came to London I met people that didn't get round to having sex until they were 21, they were so busy".
That evening I asked my daughter:"Are you going to have sex in France?"
Spluttering her tea she said:"NO!"
"In fact I'm so sick of hearing about sex. That's all they talk about at school. The more they talk about it, the less I want to do it. One girl writes 'I love sex' all over her pencil case and her exercise books. It's pathetic. I know for a fact that she's only had sex once. And she didn't even like it. But she keeps making out like she loves it. To be popular."
It is moments like this that I truly love my daughter and think that I must be doing something right. 
I was at school near Swiss Cottage and we had to walk to Belsize Park to play tennis. There must have been rehearsal studios there because every week we would see men with long hair and guitars unloading their van. One week, a group of us 14 year old schoolgirls were standing around watching them when one of the men stopped unloading. He perused our group and commanded
"Hands up who's a virgin!"
Embarrassed, our hands remained firmly next to our sides except for an orthodox Jewish girl, Esther, who wore thick round glasses and had her hair in pigtails. She was the only one who didn't hitch her school skirt up to look like a mini-skirt. She said daily prayers over her packed lunch. 
Esther proudly put up her hand with the enthusiasm of a pupil knowing the answer to a teacher's question.
The group of long-haired men laughed.
A few weeks later I recognized the same men on the TV, they were a band called Thin Lizzy

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Underground Restaurant

As mentioned on my post about 'Home restaurants' or supperclubs as they are known in the States, I am finally starting my own paladare 'The Underground Restaurant'. 
Opening night 7th February. Location: Kilburn. Price: £10 menu fixe. Drinks can be bought or bring your own. Food: vegetarian, cooked on an Aga. 
Service: teenage goth. 
Email me at marmitelover@mac.com to book a place/table.
Further nights/themes to be announced.

There does seem to be a buzz about this...article in the Guardian.

Food to spoil father with, like a child.

Made a meze plate for the café, a tear 'n share dish. I like that sort of food. In fact being able to eat with someone is a deal-breaker for any kind of relationship with me. I can't stand people who don't eat, who pick, who toy, who don't dive in with gusto. Weight watchers are such a bore. 
I'm not a meat eater myself but my male role model is my dad, half-Italian, half-Irish, who not only eats ALL his own food, leaving not a scrap, even sucking the marrow out of the bones, but will be dipping his bread into your food as well.
Eating and drinking should be communal and sensual.
For this plate, given the limited ingredients available to me plus the fact that the café is vegan, I made baba ganous, falafel, hummus and tzatziki with pitta and salad. Baba ganous means 'food that mother spoils father with, like a child'. Don't you just love Arabic names for food? Like ras-el-hanout ...'everything good from the top of the shop'.
It's difficult to make a decent baba ganous without a wood burner. That smokey taste doesn't emerge from aubergines roasted in a gas oven in quite the same way. I also think the trick with baba ganous and hummus is not to put in too much tahini.

Baba ganous.
Take your aubergines, whole, sling 'em in the oven, forget about them for about an hour. After an hour, pull them out and peel the skins off. The skins come off easily.
Whizz up the aubergines with garlic, ground cumin, olive oil, lots of lemon juice, salt, and a small amount of tahini. Top with flat leaf parsley.

Hummus.
Now I know everybody knows how to make hummus. In my experiments, I've found the best hummus comes from using tinned not dried chick peas. And if possible those tins should be from India. I don't know why, but Indian/Asian chick peas taste the best in hummus.

Whizz up your strained chickpeas, add olive oil, lots of lemon juice, garlic, ground cumin, salt, small amount of tahini. You can add yoghurt, dairy or soy if you want it to be fluffier. Top with paprika.

Falafel.
I'm still working on the perfect fart-free recipe. I like Tamsin Day-Lewis' recipe with chopped up chilli's.

Raitha and tzatziki are similar dishes. I put dried mint in both, I find it works better than fresh mint. Tzatziki: yoghurt, salt, dried mint, fine strips of cucumber, lemon juice. You can use greek yoghurt or if you are vegan, soy.

Warm broad beans with feta cheese (fresh/dried mint with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing) or warm broad beans and artichoke hearts are good meze style dishes, sort of like Greek tapas.

I also made a raw courgette and fennel salad which I liked. The trick is to finely slice both the fennel and courgettes so that they absorb the flavours of the dressing. My dressing this time contained ginger, lemon, vegetable oil, salt. I would have added some orange but didn't have any. 

Activist samba in Israel

Rhythms of Resistance samba band has 'branches' all over the world: London and Amsterdam are the original bands. We have spawned other bands in Manchester, Oxford, Paris, Cordoba (new one), Berlin, Turin, Bremen, Mexico City amongst others. There is also a Rhythms of Resistance in Israel. To be an activist band in Israel today is uneasy. One of the members recently sent out a rather despairing report about joining the protest against the bombardment of Gaza and commented on the general state of affairs for the 'opposition' in Israel.

"We are a band of a few but very devoted players (around 20 people max) and we are playing in most of the left-wing events. especially this last month of war.
I think that the anti-Zionist left-wing movement in Israel is dying. The consensus is becoming more and more Zionist, patriotic, and fascist. This last war was one of Israel's biggest crams (sic), and it was so scary and so depressing to feel the complete sport of the Israeli society. Even the Palestinians didn't protest as much as expected. The left-wing resistance and especially the Palestinian resistors is being strangled by the police. Hundreds of people got arrested for protesting against the war, and some are still sitting in jail. The general feeling here is frustration and deprecation from the situation and from our power to affect any of it. Many people don't come to demos from fear of the police, frustration and a lack of faith.
I think that we really help keeping the movement alive. People are coming especially to demos because they know we are going to be there. We give joy and power to our serenading. People are dancing around us and shouting with us and with our drumming. We make a strong sound that a small movement, like we are in Israel, cannot make only by their voices.
We make the demos more energised and fun and hope full.
I guess that in black days like this, a ROR band can give a lot, especially to the protesters."

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Extraordinary week.

Obama's inauguration. Every astrologer was concerned: dodgy chart for the oath taking, technically the beginning of his presidency and therefore the leitmotif for his period in office. Astrologers were saying, if only he could delay the oath until 12.31 when the moon is no longer Void Of Course (it makes no more aspects before it leaves the sign) which traditionally signifies that "nothing will come of it". This could limit the effectiveness of his presidency or worse; according to this astrologer, a V.O.C. moon inaugural chart means that he is at risk of assassination.
Therefore the most extraordinary part of the event was, for me, the fact that Obama retook the oath the next day. To me this indicates that he has an astrologer on board. It also demonstrates incredible nervousness and caution. His legitimacy for the office has been continually challenged already; his name, his race, even his nationality. Compare this to George W. Bush, who, the first time round, wasn't even properly elected, except by his brother's hanging chad. Didn't bother Bush too much, did it?
Talking with a friend last night who works with a New York office. One of the people in the office who has contacts in the CIA says that Obama is at present getting 200 death threats a day. And that's just the known nutters. The really dangerous ones won't issue a threat.
This morning at my daughter's music group, talking to a black English mum; she is married to a black American man who is high up in the American military. He went to a conference in Washington State. He and several colleagues, business executives who happened to be black, entered a Denny's restaurant. They were refused service. Because they are black. 
Shocked, I googled this and this is not the first incident of racism at Denny's restaurants, a huge chain across the United States. This happened last summer, 2008.
Certainly puts into perspective the revolutionary nature of Barack Obama's election. 

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The school trip looms...

My teenager and I are both anxious about the school trip to Epinal next week.
"Mum, I don't want to goooo" she says.
We looked at pictures of her 'correspondant', the girl she will stay with.
"She's a geek!" declares my teenager in dismay.
"I'm sure she's very nice" I reply firmly but note that both parents are accountants.
My daughter and her friends have started a special group on Facebook, inviting the exchange students to join. The London lycée students are talking, with awe, about the fact that the students from Epinal are allowed out till midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.
"That's because they are in the countryside" I explain "they probably just hang out at each other's houses or play babyfoot in the local tabac. It's not like they are out clubbing, as they would be if they lived in London."
The return exchange happens in March, when they come to us. No way are they going out till midnight or 3 a.m. in London, I don't care what her parents have given permission for or what the form says. 

Interesting random fact: people from Epinal are called 'Spinaloi's'.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Boudicca

Warrior statue of Boudicca beside the Thames

Boudicca, with her long red hair.

Conservative man, Rupert Matthews.

Boudicca is the archetypal British warrior woman and I have always wanted to know more. To the extent that I was even willing to go to a, wait for it, Conservative event to hear a talk about her.
Ms Canal Explorer accompanied me to the House of Commons. We were both rather nervous, having spent most of our lives hanging out with lefties and anarchists. You know that hackneyed phrase "some of my best friends are Jews or Black"? Well none of my friends are Conservatives. To be right of centre in arty circles verges on the socially unacceptable. 
The House of Commons is awe inspiring; from the enormous medieval stone halls with paintings of King Arthur on the walls to the white shirted and tailed ushers to the dark green seating. I can imagine visiting foreign dignitaries must be overwhelmed. Especially compared with today's inauguration which, frankly, to me, looked like a parade from Disney's Main Street, in spite of the heightened emotion. 
Entering the room where the talk was to be held, my first impression was that they looked like Tories; old ladies with Margaret Thatcher hairdo's in Jaeger suits who'd gone up to town, younger men with short back and sides in suits, shirts and ties, there was even a child there. I thought "they even bring their kids to Conservative events". Youth and Conservatism seem an anathema.
The speaker Rupert Matthews is an author and Conservative Euro M.P candidate. Strangely for a Conservative, he is interested in occult phenomena particularly UFOs. I asked him what he thought about the recent tentacled UFO sighted in the UK. 
"Well, of course I was very excited, who wouldn't be? But I'm afraid I don't think it's genuine. It doesn't fit into the pattern" he replied.
We don't really know how the Celts pronounced the original name of Boadicea, which is the Latin translation of her name, but historians have surmised that she was called Boudicca.The reason why Boudicca is still remembered is because her story, the ruthless nature of the battles, were unusual. Her tribe, the Iceni, from today's Norfolk, would have little wars every 3 to 4 years. These skirmishes were fun, profitable for money or slaves and a chance for ambitious young men to earn glory before the King. Celt society, whilst hierarchical was also socially mobile. An act of bravery on the battlefield would transform the fortunes of a family. The general scenario of a battle would be thus: there would be infantry and also chariots, which were not a weapon of war but a chance to show off. For this reason most Celt battles took place on flat open land where chariots could easily gallop at full speed towards the enemy with flashy warriors doing handstands and balancing acts on the horses whilst throwing spears. The side that did this the best would demoralise the other side who would then run away. After that a few families would switch allegiance. Some people were killed but not many. 
The ambition of Celt youth was to afford a shield, a spear and a sword which would enable social advancement. 
The Romans however were professional soldiers. They fought to win, to take land. They wanted to conquer Britain.
Boudicca, 45, was royal; she became leader of the Iceni on the King, her husband's, death. This king left his realm and his land to his two daughters but also left some land to the Roman Emperor Nero in an attempt to soothe. The Romans did not believe women should inherit land or be leaders.
At the time there was a new governor, Suetonius Paulinus, who went off to conquer Wales leaving the situation in the hands of his procurator (or treasurer) Catus Decianus. This procurator was corrupt and greedy. He entered Iceni land with Roman soldiers where they took whatever they wanted. When Boudicca objected they flogged her, tied her up and raped her two daughters. This caused outrage. To treat royalty in this way was sacrilege to the Celts. The priesthood, the druids, also felt their gods were being insulted.
The Celts reacted with fury. They first attacked, led by Boudicca, the Roman fort of Colchester. Every Roman citizen was murdered or raped. 
Rather than march straight to London, Boudicca decided to attack the 9th legion, about 6000 men, on their march southwards. Again it was a rout. Nobody in the legion survived the slaughter. This was shocking at the time. The unruly Celts massacring a professional legion. Boudicca was a very good commander who managed to keep control of the Celts. 
Next stop was London where Boudicca triumphed again killing each man, woman and child, burning every building down. Heading up Watling St. (where I live) her army did the same in St. Albans. This was a war for revenge, not fun and profit. There was no looting. 
Finally Suetonius returned from Wales and took the Boudicca threat seriously. By now the Celts numbered 250,000. They outnumbered the Romans by 4 to 1. It is believed that Suetonius made his stand near Birmingham. He used a clever strategy. Knowing how the Celts fought their battles, he surrounded them in a U-shape. The Roman soldiers had enormous shields and the Celts simply could not penetrate the front line wall of soldiers. When the Celts realised they weren't going to win, they, as usual, ran away. However, and they did not expect this, the Romans tracked them down. Knowing she was defeated Boudicca took poison and committed suicide. She knew her fate if she was captured by the Romans. She would have been taken to Rome and tortured in public.
When the Victorians were building Kings Cross station, they discovered the spectacular tomb of an important Celt, a woman, who was buried with a chariot. This was found under platform 9. (It immediately occurred to me that in J.K.Rowling's Harry Potter books, they took the train to Hogwarts at Kings Cross from platform 8 3/4. I wondered if this was a nod by Rowling to the legend of Boudicca.)
After the rebellion the governor killed anyone who had joined the rebellion. The newly appointed procurer, said if you kill them, we can't tax them. So a new governor was sent from Rome who spent the next 5 years, 'winning hearts and minds' of the Celts. This worked very well to the point that Britain became the last outpost of the Roman empire, even after Rome had fallen. 
Afterwards in the pub, I discussed with Rupert how Britain has always been comfortable with female leaders; Elizabeth I and II, Margaret Thatcher, Matilda, Victoria to name but a few. In France they had the Salic law, which prevented females from inheriting the throne in their own right. And whatever you think of their politics, look how America has responded to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin

Monday, 19 January 2009

Cutting edge


It's my birthday this week. So I bought myself a present. I've never had a decent knife.
If you've never been married, you never get to have a 'wedding list' which enables you to properly equip your kitchen. Hence my collection of charity shop bargains, French brocante finds, stuff my mum got rid of, things found in bins...
Good knives are very expensive. At John Lewis a Global vegetable knife is 70 odd quid. I don't really like the ultra modern design of Global knives (particularly the handles) but they are supposedly one of the best brands.
I decided to go for the 'Global' Santoku knife which cost £53.
"A blade of many talents, Santoku literally means "three good things", referring to its masterful handling of slicing, dicing and mincing."
Must hand wash it and dry it. NOT allowed to put it in the dishwasher.
I have magnetic wall strips to store my knives. This saves counter space and knife blocks are unhygenic.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Home restaurants

Horton at the stove in his Dennis the menace apron






Miso is traditionally served at the end of a Japanese meal...


Warm sake

Waiting for the second sitting...


The original images...taken on my iphone...

The Newington Green chattering classes...


No, I'm not panicking!


Candles/mushrooms.

The onion, resplendent in it's solitude. (It's no longer on the menu)


Lotus roots, glad I got a chance to try them.

Inspired by the 'paladares' or home restaurants in Cuba, Horton Jupiter opened his own home restaurant 'The Secret Ingredient' at his council flat in Newington Green, London. I must confess I have been thinking of doing this myself for about 5 years but it has taken Horton's initiative to give me the courage to do it. Watch this space!
It seems to be a trend. A group I know in London are doing the same thing this month, this time with a Marie Antoinette dress code. As the credit crunch looms, people cannot afford to eat out, so what better weapon to offset the cost of home entertaining than charging your friends to come over and eat? Your friends will bring their friends, so, into the bargain, you meet new people. Horton charged £10 for a meal of about 8 courses with sake wine.
His living room had been turned into a 2 table dining room, with red and white decor, candles and mood music. Horton is in the avant-garde band 'They came from the stars, I saw them...' so even his choice of music adds interest.
As I entered I saw Horton, perspiring in chef's whites, darting about in the kitchen, cupboards open, platters on every surface.
My fellow guests consisted of a lute maker who also refurbishes a Scottish castle; Ms Canal Explorer, always sparkling company; an anthropologist who investigates brands not tribes and two other delightful ladies who unfortunately I didn't get a chance to speak to, but knowing Horton, they had to be cutting edge arty types.
The food was Asian in theme: miso soup (delicious), cabbage wrap sushi, interesting pickles served in oyster shells, rice, lotus roots, new potatoes in a rich tamari sauce, nicely seasoned Chinese mushrooms. The strangest item was a solitary large onion, one each, apparently a Japanese speciality, but which looked like one of those pickled onions in a jar that you get in fish n' chip shops. (Horton asked for feedback on the food a few days later and had noted that the onion was left. Now how many restaurants do you get asking for your honest opinion?). Food was aplenty, we were all fair groaning with the amount we had eaten.
For dessert we made room for a strange waxy dessert, a mixture of salt and sweet bean paste. We then played by sticking our spoons onto the remainder of the mixture and lifting our plates with the spoons.
The dishes were stylishly presented on star, leaf or shell shaped dishes (we all had different plates) and we were served by Horton's fragrant girlfriend Rachel, as silent and smiling as a geisha.
At the end, Horton, slightly pale, came out and flopped on the sofa. We all applauded. It was a magical, unusual evening, very enjoyable and had that individual touch.
Unlike my personal experience in Cuba of a 'paladare' home restaurant. Maybe I was unlucky but the food was poorly cooked, (despite pretending that the husband had fished it himself that morning, the clearly frozen langoustine was dry and tasteless), the children stood around looking resentful and the whole meal was over in 40 minutes. It was as if they couldn't wait to get rid of us. Although I speak good Spanish, conversation was desultory and we had to argue about a bizarre surcharge at the end, which also spoiled the mood. Their goal in earning a few quid from tourists was a little too evident. But, I must say, in general Cuban food is pretty bland, even before the revolution.

Similarly there are 'mothers' restaurants in Bologna (link). Everybody knows that the best Italian food is at mama's table, this project enables you to eat with an ordinary Italian family, experiencing regional traditional rustic food. As a stranger guest you become a "companion" (companion is derived from cum panis, which means "with whom I break the bread"). The cook, the mama is called a 'cesarina'. Don't you just love that? Like a female Cesar, you are in her domain!
Homefood says "we have affectionately named "Cesarine", in praise of all the grandmothers, the carers, the aunts, that have enriched our childhoods and made them happy with tastes."

Lastly there are Jim Haynes, an American ex-patriate, Sunday suppers in Paris, just the thing for that city, which can be so hard to penetrate if you are an outsider. He has been doing this for over 30 years. In the next few months I am going to visit them all.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Smirnoff black vodka

One more drink and I'm under the host”. Dorothy Parker.

To celebrate the traditional Russian New Year. Smirnoff brings out a product to rival ‘Stolly’: 'black' vodka is smooth, pungent, and distilled 4 times, the last distillation in a copper alambic, resulting in an almost alchemical elixir.
Your correspondent bravely 'tested' 7 different vodka cocktails, hand-mixed by a frozen bartender, Tristan Stephenson, in mittens. The Smirnoff Black Winter Ice Lounge is actually located on a outside terrace on the 4th floor, with a view of the bastions of capitalism. To hell with the credit crunch! The lounge was atmospherically decorated with Fabergé eggs, frosted windows, icicles, candlelight and sofa's draped with fur.
The cocktails ranged from long, tall and fruity to small berry-bright shots. The most unusual cocktail was the 'Choccochilli', containing Smirnoff black, chocolate and fresh chilli. Burning its way to the base of the stomach with a fiery glow, this would be good with dessert.
The Smirnoff 74 served in a champagne glass would be a refreshing aperitif, consisting of vodka, lemon, gomme and champagne. It was the sort of drink that needed a spring picnic by a river and the opportunity to drink it forever.
My favourite had to be the bartender's own creation, the 'Strawberry and basil mule': vodka on bed of torn basil leaves, it steam-cleaned the senses (Smirnoff black, strawberry, basil, lime, and ginger beer.)
I did ask the bartender if they did girly favourites like ‘White Russian’ but he said it would be a shame to spoil the taste of the higher quality Black Smirnoff vodka with cream.
After approximately 3 of the cocktails, I found myself under one of the fur drapes with the Time Out correspondent's boyfriend. He worked in "fitness", he told me. "You mean, you are totally fit!" I slurred. Within about 5 minutes we were cooing at each other saucy terms such as 'tromboning' and 'figging'. No, I'm not telling you what they mean, look it up.
The Time Out girl didn't look too bothered, she was as sloshed as we were. Looking opposite I noticed about 5 journalists snuggled together on a sofa, declaring profound love for each other, like a bunch of exiting celebrities from Big Brother.

Smirnoff Black, it has that effect!

Address: Smirnoff Black Winter Ice Lounge at Plateau, 4th Floor Canada Place, Canada Square, Canary Wharf, E14 5ER. Nearest tube: Canary Wharf.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Pan European Education

This evening there was a meeting at the Lycée Francais Charles de Gaulle. Big changes were rumoured to be afoot. 
The minister for French education, M. Darcos, is coming to London this week to discuss the possibility of a Franco-British qualification, a 'bi-certification', with his British counterpart. The lycée, which up till now exclusively pursued the French system, will gradually merge with the British system. At the age of 14, the lycée splits into 2 schools, the French section which follows the baccalaureat and the British section which studies for GCSE's and A' levels. Already one of the French junior schools (Clapham) that feeds into the Lycée, has classes that are 50% anglophone and 50% francophone. The first year at the lycée, (year 7 or 6 eme), has now half a dozen classes that are taught bilingually.
My daughter who is in her first year of GCSE's will not be affected. This new system will take 4 years to be in place. 
The 'proviseur', the head, announced these upcoming changes to the parents of pupils in the British section, who immediately, French style, panicked and started rowing. They seemed to feel that some of the teachers in the British section would leave. They worried also that the new qualification would not be taken seriously by universities.
The proviseur said:"We need to talk to you parents who have experience of both systems and we need to keep our British teachers as they will now start to teach our French pupils. We want to open up our very Francophone school to England, to the England that lies outside our doors."
In my opinion, this is a good thing. It always stuns me how many of the French pupils do not adequately speak English, arguably the lingua franca of today. (Link to this story)
I was surprised however to learn that even in the French section, 60% of the pupils apply to British universities rather than French. The Lycée Charles de Gaulle, more than any other international lycée in the world, has a higher percentage, 68%, of French pupils, no doubt in part due to proximity to France. Only 18% of the school are non-French. The majority are of mixed parentage. A mere 9% are purely French.
However there are genuine practical problems with opening up the school to British pupils. Already the French lycée in London is over-subscribed. I actually had to move to France for a year in order to gain entry for my child.  During the last 15 years a huge influx of French people have come to London for work. When the credit crunch really hits, this may change.
Some French parents were concerned because one of the advantages of the French system is that it is homogeneous. If it is 9 am on a Wednesday and you are doing Geography, then every class in that year, in the world,  is doing Geography. (Something the National Curriculum attempts to emulate). This is useful for French parents who regularly move from job to job throughout the world. Their children will have a consistent education throughout.  
Germany, always at the forefront of any European initiative, has been pursuing the 'abibac' for several years now and are the driving force behind merging European education systems. 
This has taken place in Spain, Italy, Czech, Slovakia and Austria. True to form, Britain is last on the list for this merger. These bi-national agreements are part of the Lisbon agreement.
I asked: "Is this a pilot scheme for an eventual pan-European system of education and certification?  A bit like an educational euro zone? Is this what we are looking at in the next 10 to 20 years?"
There were a few chuckles and somebody quipped that Britain needs perhaps to adopt the euro first. The proviseur didn't answer clearly but at the end of the meeting admitted that there was a 'political desire' for a 'fusion' between European educational systems.
It could be an exciting development, the best of the French system; the academia, the emphasis on hand-writing, presentation, and generalisation; and the best of the British...creativity, lateral thinking, multiple teaching methods, specialisms, inclusion of art, sport and music. However the bac generally contains at least 6 subjects whereas few people do more than 4 A'levels and people are reluctant to drop their own systems.
As one mother said: "If your child wishes to become a vet in British education, it is impossible with a bac or an I.B. They will only accept A'levels. The British are chauvinist about their system just as we are about ours".
The I.B. is the International Baccalaureat, but apparently this isn't taken very seriously by universities.
One parent asked "How is history going to be taught? Will there be a special textbook? I imagine the German point of view on World War II is rather different from the French view."
He has a point. French perspective on history is very different from the British. For instance Dunkirk, for the French, was an example of English cowardice, hence the phrase 'filer à l'anglaise' (run away like the English) whereas for the British, it was our finest hour. 

Cross


Saturday night was invited by the Wizard to go to a cross dressers club, London's 'premier' transgender club, no less.
There were a handful of biologically born women. One of them had a birthday and was given an enormous cake with a huge erection and large breasts covered in pink chocolate. 
The club is run by Vicky, wearing a fetching silken babydoll dress, who has been doing this for 15 years. She is undoubtedly providing a much needed service. I recently had a date with a cross-dressing male "Don't worry, for the first date I will come dressed as a man" who made his living out of giving dinner parties for men who "like to be comfortable". No sex, just dinner and dresses. He has an email list of 2000 men who like to be 'T girls'.
All of the 'ladies' at the club looked pretty grotesque. I'm sorry. I totally understand why men would want to dress up as women. Why not? It's fun! Make-up and heels.
But dressing like a woman, even getting your bits changed to resemble a woman is not, I'm afraid, the same as being a woman. 
The ladeez tottered exaggeratedly on their heels, skittering about like nervous race-horses, flicking back their hair untold times. Others looked like butch female characters from Otto Dix paintings. 
My 'date' was so turned on by his stockings and suspenders and rubber mini-skirt, he could not stop preening in the mirror. I was the invisible drip-feed to his narcissism.
"You look so pretty" I told him, experimentally.
He sighed with satisfaction. He then told me about his new love, a whispery hippy girl. Inwardly I seethed. Surely it is the prerogative of the dumpee, not the dumper, to confess to meeting someone new.
"Why didn't you ask her here tonight then?" I snapped.
"Oh she's not into this, she's terribly fragile. You can hardly hear what she is saying." he replied. "Unlike me, she has no dark side. She's into yoga. I love her energy. She's really submissive."
Knowing this guy is a power-tripping, game-playing sexual pervert par excellence, with a thin veneer of hippydom, all drawstring trousers and dreadlocks, it was all I could do not to scoff. In fact I don't think I managed to hold back.
"It's like all those men who fancy Thai women, thinking they are so docile. What rot! Those women are hard as nails" I commented.
I stood around bored out of my mind. It was the opposite of sexy. The vulnerability is so evident, wafer-thin under the pancake foundation.
 "I don't know who to fancy". I complained to another bio-female."The ones that look like boys are probably gay, the ones that look like girls could be either way, 'gay' (depending on whether they have had the op, which would mean they fancy women), or 'straight' (if they were pre-op and fancied women) or ...well it's all rather confusing."
A female impressionist did a performance, miming to Cher (black Charles I wig), Kylie (blonde wig), Dusty (tight lurex evening dress). Her spandex leotard barely contained the bulge in her groin.  Her face was odd, huge eyes and grin, no hips.
The birthday girl was hauled out to the dance floor and asked to lick the penis of the cake.
The wizard said "She looked so embarrassed."
"Well that's the difference between a real woman and a trannie" I shot back. 
Perhaps I am being cruel. There was warmth. I accept them. I do. Just don't tell me you are a woman. 

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Mayfair squat

The occupied space in Mayfair.

Drama workshop during the 'free school'.

Tall elegant windows.

More architectural details from this Mayfair house, abandoned for 30 years.

The elegant room with the priceless wall-paper. The squatters have been careful to make sure that nobody smokes or drinks in that room.

Detail of the 18th century chinese hand-painted wallpaper.

'Peckham diamonds' from 'The Spike' squat in Peckham; these are actually bits of smashed windscreen. Very witty. Rather like Del-boy's Peckham Spring water from 'Only Fools and Horses' ?

Another large room, parquet flooring and art projects.

Learning to build flat pack yurts which could be used as emergency shelter in disaster relief in the courtyard.

Free school schedule on the wall.

The banqueting suite.

Post box.

Last week I visited the 'Temporary School of Thought' at 'Universecity', an 'occupied space' in Mayfair, one of London's most expensive quarters. (And one of the most expensive properties in the London Monopoly game).
This building has been unoccupied since the 1970's when it was last, illegally, used as office space. It is listed as being for 'residential' use. Around the corner from the Royal Academy of Arts, Fortnum's food hall and opposite Green Park, this building dates from the late 18th century and is an architectural gem. As previously mentioned in a post about squatting, property owners deliberately leave buildings to rot in the hope that they can demolish and build more profitable spaces (flats? Offices?) on valuable land. The owners of this building reside off-shore. Squatters are, rather than the crack-smoking freeloaders as depicted by the press, frequently the saviours not the destroyers of valuable buildings.
I was shown around by Claire, an 18 year old girl glammed up in bright red lipstick and a leopard print furry coat. The press have shown interest, just as they did with this group's last squat in Grosvenor Square. No surprise, this group of young people are living out a dream, inhabiting graceful millionaire's houses in the centre of London.
The squatters work hard escorting visitors on almost continuous individual tours around the building. They have been in residence about a month. The solicitors for the absent owners have been in contact. Despite friendly negotiations,  court proceedings were issued last Thursday for eviction. 
The squatters are generally young and male (it is my observation that girls tend not to squat in the winter); they are art students and activists. One of the men in residence was part of the Stansted airport protest last month.
I said to Claire: "Strange I heard nothing about that beforehand, no rumours at all..."
Claire: "Nor did I, and I know him! He explained to us afterwards that anybody that was interested in the protest was told to come to a meeting well prepared. Bring everything they would need for a few days in the cold. People who wanted to participate in the protest were warned that there was a strong possibility of arrest. After the meeting, anybody that didn't want to take part in the protest was not allowed home and was taken to a flat and kept in hiding. This way there would be no leaks."
Last week there were workshops in role play, finger-dancing (doing hip-hop and break dancing with your fingers, easier than with your body eh), yurt-building, de-schooling, home schooling, films and traditional French book-binding. They also cook dinner for about 70 people at a time, using mostly 'skipped' food from local supermarkets and restaurants. At one point about 20 people left to build tree houses in Green park, using rope and wooden platforms. They didn't last long. I attended the 'hexayurt' building workshop run by Vinay Gupta. Afterwards we had an interesting discussion on the energy wars. This is real education. I just wish my daughter didn't have to spend so long at school.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Kensington intifada







A demonstration today against the Israeli bombing of Gaza. This bombing is Bush's farewell no doubt...drop a few before Obama gets in?
I joined the march at Lancaster Gate, it had come from Marble Arch. As I exited the tube, I could see hordes of people, not just women in headscarves and men in Palestinian scarves, but also Jews holding placards, stating their opposition to the bombing.
It was so cold, snow was falling but not settling. One sensible man had a flask. The chant went up "Free, free Palestine". Freeze, freeze for Palestine, more like, I thought.
As we neared the back of the Israeli embassy, people sat atop the gates and burnt flags. Huge clouds of smoke emanated from the embassy and panic ensued. 
"It's tear gas!" people shouted as they ran. 
I have been in tear gas riots in Chile, during the period that Pinochet was removed from office. It wasn't tear gas but it did make me feel light-headed. Some kind of soporific?
Accompanied by Ms Canal Explorer, who valiantly sported glittery eye-make-up for the cause, we made our way to Kensington High street where we finally found the samba bands. 
Drumming kept us warm at least. 
As it grew dark, Muslim teenagers dragged the barricades across the road and started to throw sticks. Intifada in Kensington? Police on horseback moved towards us threateningly, but horses are helpless against barriers. Riot police heaved.
Police vans, more like tanks, flew to the action, but were stopped by barricades placed in front and behind and across the windscreen. Things were getting heavy...
We are in the poshest part of London. They do not want smashed windows here. Lets not frighten the tourists...milling towards the Science and Natural History museums in South Kensington. Hotels glittered with Christmas decorations still. Some of the most expensive properties in Britain line this route. 
After 4 hours in the cold, I made my way home.

Bossy

Yesterday there were mutterings about my bossiness when in the kitchen. When I'm the chef. I tend to feel that when I'm cooking, it's my domain and everybody else can just fuck off. Sometimes I just don't have the sang-froid to be cool and polite when say, another member of staff chooses peak rush hour to come in and ask for food. I may well respond irritably. They complained that I
"act as if I'm in charge".
So sue me. 
Oh well. I wasn't put on this planet to be liked. 
Yesterday I cooked a bunch of stuff. But I do find English vegetables incredibly uninspiring. I did something interesting with tempeh which I slightly nicked off another blogger but cannot remember who. I marinated the tempeh in lemon zest and juice. Then made it into risotto by stir-frying the tempeh, rice, ginger and garlic in sesame and olive oil. Then added water. I topped it with roast fennel.
The dish was a success but tempeh is basically pretty disgusting. It tastes like bum hole. (Not that I've ever tasted bum hole. Coughs.)

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Anarcho-bollox and guilt

I have just had a big falling out with the activist samba band Rhythms of Resistance. RoR are not doing very well, with falling membership, enthusiasm and attendance, mainly because they haven’t had a proper rehearsal space.
So I, on a late night whim, without recourse to interminable consensus meetings, struck out on my own and set up a facebook RoR group, inviting members of the group who were already on facebook as individuals.
This caused uproar and I ended up leaving the band! But, hehe, I still manage the facebook RoR group so in effect I am now the leader of a breakaway virtual RoR sect.
Anyway, my argument was that who gives a toss if the CIA owns it, tracks it or whatever. So they’ll get to find out that I’m interested in remote viewing, spirals, Judy Garland and wood fires. Big deal.
The revolutionaries of RoR got really offended when I suggested that that CIA might not find them as subversive and dangerous as they imagined. In fact, as it’s an open band,  the CIA or MI5 could easily join.
"Let’s hope they have rhythm!" I joked.
In the end, avoiding then wading through dreary arguments, justifying my appalling action, I ‘lost it’ around Christmas and told them, on their list (no doubt tracked by the secret service) to shove it up their collective (big c and little c) arses.

Bad people on the left, good people on the right. Can you spot why?

Have you noticed the all-pervasive guilt we are tripped into feeling nowadays? We may have given up religion but we now have the opportunity to have a bad conscience about so many new things. Going shopping for instance, is an orgy of remorse. What shop shall I chose? If I go to Tesco's I am evil. Shall I drive there? Evil. If I don't buy organic and fair trade, evil. If I forget my reusable shopping bag (which I always do) I am evil. If I can't be arsed to recycle the packaging, definitely evil.
Sometimes this nouveau guilt can be taken to ridiculous extremes. Recently at a party, I met an old friend, an activist. He told me that his girlfriend had broken her back on holiday in Turkey. Shocked, I asked:
"Oh dear. How is she? What happened?"
He replied:
"Oh it was awful, we tried so hard to be carbon neutral we even thought of taking a train to Turkey. In the end we got a flight because we didn't have much time off. But the holiday was fantastic: an eco-resort with yoga, organic food, meditation."
"So what happened with your girlfriend?" I ask again.
"She was hit by a motorcycle. Terrible, we had to fly in doctors and nurses, get extra seats to fly back. Our carbon footprint was severely affected. We felt really bad about that."
I stood there, trying to process this. Finally I said:
"Surely, when your girlfriend has a broken back, that is one time when ecology and the state of the planet just isn't important? If something happened to my daughter, it would be the least of my concerns."
He smiled, thought and said "I suppose so".

Comedy is a feminist issue

I've also had an interesting exchange on twitter with Jonathan Ross. As everyone knows, he's been suspended from school for being a naughty boy. The annual Big Fat Quiz of the Year therefore, missed his presence. There was the usual ratio of 5 men, 2 women. The five men, all comics or comic actors, were funny in varying degrees. The two women were not comediennes but attractive presenters, in other words 'totty' who act as foils for the funny men. Davina McCall, who presents Big Brother, generally comes across well, but Claudia Winkleman, an intelligent woman, decided that her only route to keeping up with the boys was to act as if she were ditsy and a bit thick. She did that 'I'm so silly' act to which women often resort.(1) It was truly embarrassing. I twittered this observation to Jonathan Ross who wrote back:
"Find me a woman who can be funny for hours without a script. It's a huge problem. Plus Channel 4 will not use women that are not already known."
How do women become known in comedy? By doing the stand-up circuit, which is notoriously gladiatorial. I would also argue that confidence, an essential component, comes later for women, who often take time out for bringing up children. Combine that with the obligation for women on TV to be young and beautiful as well as funny, and you end up with a dearth of comediennes. Women can be funny. I personally know several who are as quick as men although it is said that women's humour is more observational, less combative and therefore less suited to the quick-fire repartee of panel shows. 

In this Guardian article from 2004, the writer optimistically predicts that women will become more visible in comedy. It didn't happen. There is still the same minority trickle of humorous women. I found this quote from Ronni Ancona, the female impressionist(2) revealing:

 'You're sitting in a room with male writers and you say something, and it's ignored.' she complained. 'You say it again and it's ignored. And then a man will say it and everyone goes, "That's brilliant."'  ...Ancona says she had to petition the BBC to get the show's title changed from Alistair McGowan's Big Impression ."

(1)Apparently the suffragettes were well aware of the uses of humour in politics and used 'sillyness' as a weapon.

(2)Meaning she is a female that does impressions not a man dressed up as a woman, ha, even the job descriptions for funny women have been co-opted by men!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Celebrity twitter

Those of you who have been following my twitter feed, you will already know how fortunate I have been in that British national treasure, ex-Monty Python member, comedian John Cleese recommended that everybody 'follow' me.
This has led to me spending less time writing and blogging and more time adding new followers, reading their profiles and building relationships with them. It's been fun!
It is also a discipline in itself to use the 140 character format: you either whip off pithy little comments or do a series, each one ending in a cliff hanger.
The national newspapers have belatedly picked up on this story but have misquoted John Cleese. The Daily Mail used it as an opportunity to be bitchy about the supposedly 'boring' lives of the famous, leaving off half the quote and complaining about John Cleese's love of marmite and mustard. 
The Guardian today made the same mistake. These papers do employ subs do they not?
The Mumbai massacre was first reported on twitter, by those trapped by terrorists. It's a useful tool although I do take the point that it can be disconcerting when serious matters such as war and terrorism are written about in teenage text speak, due to the limitations of the twitter format.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Bloomsbury Set


The door girls in polka dots.

Pool.
Beatles movies in the cinema.

Stylish.

Table dancing 50's style.

You have to wear bowling shoes.

Shoe exchange, they spray your bowling shoes with disinfectant after you've worn them.

Vintage night 'Shake, rattle and roll' at Bloomsbury bowling in London. Girls in circle skirts, boys in hats, waistcoats and moustaches. Jivin' rockin' girl D.J's, pool, diner and movies. I made a fool of myself by trying to bowl properly and ending up sliding down the lane like something out of a cartoon. Couldn't get my fingers out of the bowl.